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What Do Google’s New Link Attributes Mean for Your SEO?

12th September 2019

How Do Backlinks Work?

Whilst many aspects of SEO are up for debate, one thing is for certain: you need good backlinks to rank well.

The currency of the web, backlinks are the way that other sites vouch for the credibility of your site.     

The more authoritative the sites linking to you are, the more kudos you get in the eyes of Google. The more kudos you get in the eyes of Google, the higher your site ranks.

It’s a beautifully straightforward system.

There’s just one problem.     

Should a site owner want to link to you or your content, but not give you the kudos, they can simply add the rel=”nofollow” attribute. As the name suggests, this attribute instructs Google to ignore the link and give it zilch in the way of credit.

The reason site owners do this is because backlinks pass over link juice. A precious commodity, link juice is what powers the pages on your site. The greater amount you have, the stronger your content is regarded, and the better chance it has of ranking.

You get more link juice with every decent backlink you acquire. You lose link juice with every follow link you send out.

It’s no wonder that site owners get super protective of it.

It’s also no wonder that content creators get super annoyed by people who link to them and don’t drop them a small trickle of well-deserved link juice.   

Thankfully, Google seems to be working towards ensuring that all backlinks stand a chance of passing on link juice, regardless of the attributes attached to them. Indeed, the search giant announced yesterday that they’ve made a pretty significant change to the way nofollow works.

They also announced that they’ve introduced two new link attributes that will help their bots to better understand the nature of the links they find on web pages.

Specifically, they’ve created attributes that allow site owners to tell Google which links have been paid for (sponsored), and which ones are user generated content (UGC).

The combination of these changes could well change the nature of SEO.

Let’s take a closer look at why.

What Are the New Google Link Attributes?

The two new link attributes which were revealed and active on 10th September 2019 are:

rel=”sponsored”: signals any link that has been paid for.

rel=”ugc” signals any link that has come from a user and not the owner of a site.

Google recommends using the first of these new attributes for links which arrived on your site by way of compensation. This means that any adverts as well as links to sponsors you might have should feature an attribute that makes this clear.

Doing this will ensure that you’re not wrongly penalised for being a part of a link scheme- Google really likes honest site owners, so telling them when you’re receiving payment for a link will keep you in their good books.

The second attribute (ugc) should be attached to any links that appear in sections users are able to post in. This basically makes Googlebots aware that you’re not responsible for where the link leads to.        

In theory, this attribute will protect and benefit you in equal measure. On the one hand, it will safeguard you from spam- users who mindlessly link to their website in your comment section won’t see any reward for their annoying behaviour.  

On the other hand, it will mean that anytime your site is linked to from a relevant forum, you’ll receive some link juice in way of acknowledgement.     

How Will They Affect SEO?

If you’re concerned that this change poses a threat to your current search engine performance, don’t be.

Unlike algorithm updates, Google has assured site owners that there shouldn’t be any ranking changes from this rollout.

The potential SEO impact of the latest developments was actually referred to after the unveiling of the new link attributes. Particularly, the news that “it’s time for nofollow to evolve”.

This evolution has to do with the way that the attribute will no longer be treated as a directive. Instead, it will be treated as a hint when it comes to ranking sites.

This has fairly big implications.

Up until now, site owners which added the nofollow attribute to their links were able to hoard their link juice.

Now, Google will decide for itself whether a link deserves credit or not. This means that you and your content at least stand a chance of getting some link juice when on the receiving end of a nofollow attribute.

All in all, this is fantastic news for anyone creating awesome content.

What Do I Need to be Doing?

Right now? Absolutely nothing.

No, seriously.

In a Webmasters blog describing the latest link attributes, Google’s search liaison officer Danny Sullivan explained that:

“If you use nofollow now as a way to block sponsored links, or to signify that you don’t vouch for a page you link to, that will continue to be supported”

Moving forward, you’re welcome to introduce sponsored and ugc attributes if you’d like Google to perform a better analysis of your outbound links, but you don’t have to. Indeed, in the same post, Sullivan described that in the case of paid links, Google would “prefer the use of “sponsored”, but nofollow is fine and will be treated the same”.

With this in mind, SEO best practices remain very much the same, but the value of links is set to change, by how much remains to be seen.

At this stage we can only speculate the end goal that Google is aiming for. Based on similar rollouts historically, our suggestion would be that the changes in link values for each tag will be progressively adjusted to create a link hierarchy, with each value passing a differing percentage of link juice to the recipient. In the world of SEO, we are moving from a black and white, ‘dofollow’ or ‘nofollow’ to a much more fluid way of thinking. Exciting times and new challenges.

A good example would be the ‘nofollow’ links which appear on trusted journalist websites. These are trusted portals and links are set to nofollow across the board as a standard practice. From Google’s perspective, these links should pass some value to the recipient, but with the previous algorithm this wasn’t possible. Going forward, Google will have the chance to count these at its own discretion.

If you’re looking to improve your SEO, feel free to get in touch with our team today to find out how they can help.

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