The links between websites, also known as backlinks in the digital marketing industry, are a critical signal used by search engine algorithms to determine how your website performs on the search engine results page (SERP). If you want to boost your online visibility by raising the position of your website on competitive search terms, then backlinks need to play a critical part of your strategy. The No Follow attribute was introduced to let web developers better signal to search crawlers the nature of the link, and now Google has introduced two new ones: sponsored and UGC.

Link Attributes and Search Engine Optimization

Google launched the nofollow attribute in 2005 in an effort to battle comment spam, and it has since evolved into a way of identifying sponsored or advertising/marketing related links. Any link containing the rel=”nofollow” attribute would be ignored by Google’s search algorithms. This will change effective March 2020, when alongside the two new attributes, nofollow links will start being used as signals.

sponsored, ugc and nofollow link attributes

Link attributes help sort through the noise

Sponsored and UGC Link Attributes

Two new link attributes have been introduced by Google, alongside changes to how the nofollow attribute is treated by search crawlers and algorithms. These attributes will be used as signals to help determine whether the links should be used as ranking signals or not. These attributes are:

  • rel=“sponsored”: links that are created as part of advertising, sponsorships, etc.
  • rel=“ugc”: links within user generated content like comments and forum posts.

These will work alongside rel=”nofollow” and multiple attributes can be used on a single link. Moving forward, it is recommended that site owners use the new link attributes instead of nofollow where possible. These changes have gone live, and you can begin using the new attributes.

Search Algorithm Changes and SEO

As we can see, link attributes remain important, and are potentially even more so now. Flagging advertisements and sponsored links remains important to prevent negative SEO effects from being flagged as a link scheme. The new attributes are already available for use, but the most significant changes will happen on March 30, 2020. On that date, nofollow links will stop being ignored completely by Google, and will instead also be treated as hints alongside the new sponsored and ugc attributes.

“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.” – Google

What You Need To Know

Moving forward, there are a few key points to keep in mind. Most importantly, there is no need to change any existing attributes you may have (unless you have previously not flagged obvious advertising/sponsorships). The nofollow attribute will continue to be treated the same until March 30, 2020, until which it will only be used as a “hint”. It should have previously been used for advertising and sponsored links, which is fine to leave, but future ones should use the new attributes where appropriate.

The new link attributes are available now, and are being used by Google’s search algorithm. Keep them in mind when building websites and landing pages, and always follow best practices about link attributes to ensure that even when search algorithm changes happen, your website won’t be penalized. These link attributes help Google sort through the marketing noise, and deliver relevant and authoritative content.

Sponsored and UGC Links Join the NoFollow Attribute

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