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Google Announces New Attributes to Better Identify Links

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SEO / September 19, 2019

It’s quite rare that we hear Google announcing a big change regarding the way it looks at different factors, especially if it targets webmasters and SEO people. For a few years now, the SEO industry has always been kept in the dark when it comes to what is happening under the hood at Google. When they introduced their RankBrain algorithm back in 2015, the search engine made a statement and started to invest a lot on artificial intelligence and automation in order to provide the best result possible to its end-user. Even after Danny Sullivan was hired at Google as the “SEO voice” of the company, updates regarding algorithm changes were quite scarce.

Recently, Google announced a new way to tag links which offers webmasters the possibility to add different “rel” attributes to their links in order to specify the nature of said links. It is now possible to differentiate user-generated content (or “UGC”) from advertising (or “Sponsored”) links and simple “nofollow” links but using the very same “rel” attribute values. It’s quite an important change when you notice that nothing new has been introduced to links since 2014.

How does it work?

It’s a fairly simple methodology that doesn’t require a lot of work if you’re already familiar with “nofollow” links. In fact, you only need to modify the link attribute (or add it if it’s not there by default) For example:

<a rel=”______” href=”https://makeitbloom.com”>Bloom</a>

Depending on the purpose of the link, it is now possible to add different attributes to it:

  • “follow”: Use if you would endorse the source you’re linking to a link to another page of your site, a business partner’s site or any other link you believe to be useful to your users.
  • “nofollow”: Use if you wouldn’t endorse the source you’re linking a link to a controversial article, a highly criticized piece of content or any other link you do not necessarily believe to be valuable.
  • “ugc”: Use if the tagged link is created by a user or a site visitor. For example, a link in a blog comment, in a forum signature or any other link that isn’t created by the site’s webmaster.
  • “sponsored”: Use if the link is the result of a paid partnership. For example, a link in a sponsored article, an ad banner or any other link that is the result of paying a third party.

There are many more types of links, you can see them all here, I’ve only included the ones with the most impact on an SEO standpoint. Note that it is also possible to match multiple types of attributes together.

What changes?

Many people in the SEO industry think that this new way of tagging links is simply to help Google better understand the different types of links and how they interact with search engine rankings. Others think that it’s a sneaky way for Google to get some insights on who is participating in shady link schemes and penalize them accordingly; which they’ve been doing ever since the very first iteration of their “Penguin” algorithms.

According to us, this specific change doesn’t only help Google better understand the relationship between links and their influence on organic rankings, it will also be incredibly useful to “clean” the web. Many agencies and SEO consultants still use link acquisition strategies where they try to pass promotional content as informative content instead of working on truly helpful content.

For most people, nothing really changes. The same can be said for websites, nothing really changes either. The only cases where this new feature will provoke changes is when webmasters (at least those with an SEO background) will identify a link as being “nofollow”, they will now be able to be more specific on the reason why they wouldn’t necessarily endorse the link.

TL;DR

These new attributes prove once again that Google still gives a lot of importance to links (despite the renewed “Content Is King” ideology) and is not even close to discard this as a main ranking factor. These link attributes will only affect an incredibly small portion of users and webmasters alike for now. Hopefully, the web’s future will be cleaner for everyone!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pascal Côté

SEO Director @ Bloom

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