Google introduces two new link attributes: “ugc” and “sponsored”

Google has introduced two new link attributes as an alternative to “Nofollow” and has changed the criteria to consider this type of links for the purposes of ranking.

The nofollow attribute continues to exist but, here comes the fat thing, from now on any of the three types can be considered as a “suggestion” for the rankings. What does this mean? I explain it to you in the post.

UGC, sponsored and nofollow Link Attributes: when to use each attribute?

According to the announcement in the official blog for Google webmasters, on September 10, 2019, we have three options of link attributes, to indicate to Google the nature of our links:

rel = “ugc”

UGC stands for User Generated Content, and therefore the “ugc” attribute is recommended to mark links within the content generated by users of a website, such as the comments section of a blog, or forum posts.

rel = “sponsored”

Google recommends using this attribute to mark all links that are part of an advertising action, sponsorship or any other “compensation agreement.” The link to the web or the product advertised in a sponsored post is the perfect example of a use for this attribute.

rel = ”nofollow”

The nofollow attribute was created in 2005 in response to spam, and since then Google recommended its use to mark paid or sponsored links, and it was almost universal to use them in blog comments or forum posts.

Now that these two uses are better defined with the new attributes “sponsored” and “ugc” (see above), nofollow is left for all other cases in which we link to something but we don’t want to send Google a vote in favour of that URL – that is, cases in which we do not want to transfer authority. Although Google will treat these links as a “hint” or suggestion to consider the link for ranking purposes. A bit confusing? Keep reading.

In the next sections, I follow the FAQ that Google has included in its statement to clarify doubts and confusion with this new system.

Do nofollow, ugc and sponsored links transfer authority?

Until September 10, 2019, the “nofollow” link did not transfer authority. It did not count for ranking purposes; That was precisely the reason why it was created in 2005.

As of September 10, 2019, this changes. It is no longer a matter of black or white. Google will treat all nofollow, ugc and sponsored links as suggestions you may or may not follow when it comes to ranking.

In summary, Google reserves the right to decide, which means that certain nofollow / ugc / sponsored links may count for ranking purposes, while others will not.

It can be said that the fact of being “nofollow” does not guarantee that Google will ignore the link, nor that it will take it into account. And the same for the other two new attributes. But it is already an incentive greater than the one that Nofollow had before, which automatically amounted to that link not existing for ranking purposes.

Nofollow in the meta robots also happens to be a suggestion (Updated September 12, 2019)

Only two days after the original announcement, Gary Illyes has announced that the “nofollow” value within the robots meta tag will not be considered as a directive (mandatory) by Google from now on, but as a suggestion as to whether to track the links found on the bookmarked page or not. He has also announced that Google’s official documentation will change shortly.

I translate Gary’s original tweet :

  1. There are no meta robots “ugc” and “sponsored”, it will do nothing if you add that.
  2. Meta robots “nofollow” is a suggestion now, as rel-nofollow.
  3. I will update the documentation tonight to say this explicitly.

Is it necessary to change the links previously labelled as nofollow?

No. If so far you have used nofollow to mark paid links or to disregard links because they do not deserve your vote of confidence or because they have been created by your users, you can leave them as is. That use was correct so far, and it still is.

Can more than one of these attributes be used in a link?

Yes. You can combine two or more attributes. For example, you can combine ugc and nofollow, as follows: rel = “nofollow ugc”, as this ensures compatibility with search engines that, unlike Google, have not yet adopted the new attributes.

Is it still necessary to mark paid or sponsored links in any way?

Yes. You have the option of using sponsored or nofollow (Google says in your ad that you prefer “sponsored”), but you must use one of two ways. If you do not do it and the link is paid, you risk a penalty for link schemes, a risk that has always existed with the purchase of dofollow links.

What happens if I’m wrong when tagging links?

If you mark as sponsored something that really is ugc, there is not much damage possible. Otherwise, it could have consequences. If something is clearly an advertisement, and you mark it as “ugc”, you risk penalties. According to Google, paid links can only be marked as sponsored or nofollow (see above).

When do the new link types and the new way to evaluate these links come into effect?

They have already entered. The changes are effective from the moment of the Google ad. You can now include this tagging on your website, and Google will take these links as suggestions for your rank system.

As for tracking and indexing, nofollow links will continue to behave as usual until March 1, 2020. After that time, for Google, they will also be a suggestion, and therefore a URL linked to nofollow can be tracked and indexed if Google considers it appropriate.

My personal opinion: Will things change a lot? Why does Google do this?

Are things going to change a lot with the new attributes? In the short term, I think not, because after all these changes involve work and take time to propagate, especially for those who do not live on their websites and do not update them frequently.

But there is no doubt that Google encourages the use of new attributes on an immediate effect.

This may reactivate link building based on comments on the forums and blogs (I hope not in spam mode), and brands may even make more sense to make blog posts campaigns sponsored by tagging them properly.

Therefore, in the medium and long term, I do see a scenario where the new attributes will be used regularly, and the clear winner will be Google since it will have the most “organized” links, all thanks to the work of SEOs and webmasters.

I do not want to play Python, but I think it will not be strange to see in the coming months how some online media that have fallen in the latest updates change all their paid links from dofollow to sponsored.

Why does Google make these changes? It is only speculation, but in my opinion, the fact that dofollow / nofollow was an “all or nothing” in recent times was weakening the ability of the link graph as a ranking signal (in this post I explain what the link graph or graph of links and how Google uses it).

It is well known that large media such as Forbes or Entrepreneur had taken in recent years the drastic decision to mark all their outbound links as nofollow, something that by the way they had been doing many sites since the nofollow was introduced (and that for the purposes of PageRank sculpting it was useless since 2009, as Matt Cutts explained in his famous post on the subject).

The reason for these means to apply the 100% nofollow policy was clear: avoid the temptation for its editors and collaborators to sell links to third parties. If PageRank is not passed, nobody is interested in buying them anymore (at least for SEO purposes only).

Obviously, when all the outgoing links of a domain as relevant to the web as Forbes are “turned off” in the graph link, that alters the value of a large number of graph nodes.

They paid just for sinners, and the result was that Google lost visibility over hundreds of thousands of edges (links) of the graph, some of them with a high value to separate the grain of the straw at the time of ranking.

From this point of view, the new attributes should fix the problem for Forbes and co, and for Google.

The media may label as “ugc” by default all posts of contributors, or even mark as “sponsored” those who know for sure that they have been paid, and may leave without attribute any legitimate links. Google when tracking will receive immediate information on this and will recover for the graph the valuable links that it had lost.

In short, my opinion is that when Google makes a significant change, it is because it wants to earn something or make things easier. And in the ad text itself, they say:

Links contain valuable information that can help us improve the search, such as how the words within the links describe the content they point to. Looking at all the links we find can also help us better understand unnatural link patterns. By switching to a suggestion model, we no longer lose this important information.

The bold is mine, but more clearly, water. If you have other opinions or theories, I wait for them in the comments. 😉

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