Google introduces new link attributes: Sponsored and UGC

Johannes Beus
Johannes Beus
11. September 2019
Johannes Beus
Johannes Beus
Johannes Beus ist Gründer und Geschäftsführer von SISTRIX.

About 14 years after the introduction of the nofollow attribute, Google is introducing two new link attributes: Sponsored and UGC. In addition, Google is changing how these attributes are handled in the crawler as well as for rankings. More in this blog post.

Links form the basis of Google’s ranking algorithm. The nofollow attribute allows webmasters to reduce the value of individual links for Google. The rule was that neither the crawler nor the ranking algorithm should pay attention to these links. Now, Google has announced a revision to the Nofollow attribute:

  • With ‘sponsored‘ and ‘ugc‘ google has announced two new link attributes with a different purpose than the old ‘nofollow’.
  • Link attributes are no longer considered an instruction, but an indication to the crawler and ranking algorithm.
  • The adjustments are backward compatible. There is no need for changes to existing websites.

New attributes: rel=’sponsored’ and rel=’ugc’

If a link is provided with the nofollow attribute, it was, until now, been completely out of Google’s link evaluation; the attribute was an instruction from the website operator that they do not want to take responsibility for the link. Today, in addition to the nofollow attribute, which is still valid, there are two more link attributes to describe links:

The sponsored attribute (rel=’sponsored’) is intended to identify links for which some form of payment is involved such as classic advertising, purchased links, referrals and similar links that would not have existed without a payment.

The UGC attribute (rel=’ugc’) stands for User Generated Content. It should be used if the link is created by users on the website. Classic examples are links in blog comments or in forums.

The nofollow attribute (rel = ‘nofollow’) is still valid and retains its original meaning: the website operator does not want to make any recommendation with this link.

From instruction, to advice

Previously, the nofollow attribute was an instruction to Google. The crawler should not follow the link nor should the ranking algorithm use the link as a ranking signal. That has now changed: the instruction has now become advice.

Similar to the treatment of hreflang tags, Google will record the link attributes, but will only use them as an indicator for the correct handling of the link. The consequences:

  • With immediate effect, all the rel-attributes in links will be passed to the ranking algorithm.
  • From the 1st March 2020, Googlebot will follow these links and index the destination sites.

What does this mean for me?

Google’s changes are (almost completely) backwards compatible. There is no reason for website operators to make changes to the link attributes of existing pages.

The fact that Googlebot will follow the nofollow links from March 1, 2020, should be taken into consideration. Having said that, labelling a link with nofollow has not been an effective way to stop page crawling.

Conclusion

Google’s campaign against link-buying now seems to be landing on its feet. Large and important parts of the Internet, such as Wikipedia, characterise outgoing links across-the-board with the nofollow attribute and thus deprive them of Google’s Link Graph.

Google still needs these signals for ranking algorithm though. The two new link attributes will allow Google to better differentiate links. In addition, Google will treat these attributes only as a hint, and not as an instruction.

For website operators, there is little to gain in the changes. If, during a planned review of links, the link attributes are updated, the new values can be used by Google – but ranking advantages should not be expected.

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