4 SEO Experts Takes on Google’s New Link Attributes (sponsored & ugc)
On Tuesday, September 10, 2019, Google announced their upcoming plans to evolve the “nofollow” link attribute. On the Webmaster Central Blog they said:
Nearly 15 years ago, the nofollow attribute was introduced as a means to help fight comment spam. It also quickly became one of Google’s recommended methods for flagging advertising-related or sponsored links. The web has evolved since nofollow was introduced in 2005 and it’s time for nofollow to evolve as well.
Today, we’re announcing two new link attributes that provide webmasters with additional ways to identify to Google Search the nature of particular links. These, along with nofollow, are summarized below:
rel=”sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.
rel=”ugc”: UGC stands for User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.
rel=”nofollow”: Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.
Why not completely ignore these links? Here’s Google’s explanation:
Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at. Looking at all the links we encounter can also help us better understand unnatural linking patterns. By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.
When do the changes go into effect?
All the link attributes, sponsored, ugc and nofollow, now work today as hints for us to incorporate for ranking purposes. For crawling and indexing purposes, nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020.
Quotes from SEO experts on the new link attributes
At this point no one is certain why Google is making this change and the implications on organic search, but we scoured the website for some insights from authorities in the SEO space.
We do not know why Google is making these changes, but we have some thoughts.
We think it is possible that Google may want to start using some nofollowed links in their algorithms. Right now, if a link is nofollowed, it means that Google does not use any of the signals associated with that link. This means that if the Wall Street Journal was to write a story about you and link to you with a nofollowed link, no PageRank would pass through that link.
The Quality Raters’ Guidelines talk extensively about how important it is to have recommendations from other people or websites seen as authorities in your topics. While we do think that Google can use nofollowed mentions in news sites for entity recognition, with the current system, those mentions would not pass PageRank if nofollowed. We feel it is possible that Google may start to count some nofollowed links from authoritative sites even if they are nofollowed. However, if those sites have links marked as rel=sponsored they are likely to be ignored.
We all know their algorithm is sophisticated and hard to game. But, just like any other algorithm or computer, it isn’t perfect.
By webmasters and SEOs labeling the type of links they are building and the purpose of them, it will make it easier for Google to learn how we use different link types and it will help their algorithms more quickly and easily identify link types and the context they are used in.
For example, if thousands of people use rel=”ugc” for links generated through guest posts, it may help train Google’s algorithm that these links were actually created by random people instead of the webmaster and they should be discounted.
Perhaps Google could better understand the web if they changed how they consider nofollow links.
By treating nofollow attributes as “hints”, they allow themselves to better incorporate these signals into their algorithms.
Hopefully, this is a positive step for deserving content creators, as a broader swath of the link graph opens up to more potential ranking influence. (Though for most sites, it doesn’t seem much will change.)
Google told us there should be no significant impact to the search results as a result of the change. If Google starts counting nofollowed links on large and respected sites that simply implemented a nofollow link policy as a blanket rule and now Google counts those links, you might see those links start counting for sites; if and when Google decides to change how it respects the nofollow attribute. For example, all external links on Wikipedia are nofollowed, if those links start counting, and you have a lot of links from Wikipedia, you might see your rankings improve.
As it stands, there are no expectations for significant changes to search results based on this rollout. Based on the feedback we’re seeing, this is more of a long-term investment for Google’s crawlers/algorithm to better understand links at a more granular level, and hopefully provide a better user experience for searchers.
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