In this article:
- Links and SEO
- Nofollow Link Attribute
- Sponsored Link Attribute
- UGC Link Attribute
- Combining Link Attributes
To an untrained eye, all links on a webpage might appear to be the same. But you might be interested to find that is not the case.
While all links do appear the same, it’s the link attribute built into their HTML code that makes them different. A link attribute tells Google how it should handle a certain link.
Known as a rel attribute (sometimes referred to as a rel tag), a link attribute establishes a relationship between a linked resource and the webpage it appears on.
The rel attribute has no value by default. The value is added by the particular element that follows the rel attribute.
For the purposes of this article, the attribute values will be nofollow, sponsored, and UGC.
By default, any link without one of those attributes would be considered a dofollow link.
A link without an attribute would look like this:
<a href="https://example.com">Link text</a>
Links and SEO
Link building is an essential part of any SEO Checklist.
When SEO first started, it was kind of like the Wild West. There weren’t a ton of concrete rules, and marketers quickly learned how to exploit this to their advantage.
It was during this time that marketers realized that they could potentially earn an unlimited amount of links to their content simply by purchasing links from webmasters, leaving spam comments on third-party sites and blogs, or by submitting content containing links to sites that allowed user-generated content.
When it came to links, the strategy was quantity over quality. This led to an explosion of bad links on the internet.
That’s where Google stepped in. In 2005, Google introduced the ability to add the nofollow attribute to links. This gave internet users a way to show a link was untrusted, which allowed for them to no longer count as votes.
Without the nofollow attribute, paid links would count the same as an organic vote. Thanks to the attribute, sponsored links could now be marked nofollow, so the link value wouldn’t pass on to that page since it is not a natural endorsement.
More than 14 years after Google introduced the nofollow attribute, it added two other link attributes to the family.
On September 10, 2019, Google introduced two new types of link attributes in September 2019: sponsored and UGC (user-generated content). This caused a major shakeup for the SEO world and changed many companies’ approach to SEO.
Nofollow Link Attribute
A link is kind of like a vote of confidence in a webpage. If you link to a page on your site, you are telling Google you trust this link, which helps that link’s search engine rankings.
But what if you want to link to a page without it counting as a vote?
That’s where nofollow link attributes come in. With nofollow tags, you’re still able to use a link on your page without telling Google it’s worth following. This prevents that link from gaining value by being on your site.
Now, thanks to the nofollow attribute, internet users could link to low-quality links or even spammy websites and not be punished for it as long as they added the nofollow attribute.
A nofollow attribute serves the purpose of pointing out to Google that a chosen link should not parse PageRank, which means it would not influence the ranking of the destination URL that the original link is pointing to.
Basically, it’s telling Google you used a link but you don’t want your website to be associated with it.
Until recently, Google chose to ignore nofollow links for indexing and crawling purposes.
But as of March 1, 2020, Goggle began treating nofollow attributes as “hints,” which means Google may still choose to crawl them or it might not.
Before the nofollow attribute, all links were valued the same.
A nofollow link attribute would look like this:
<a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="nofollow">Link text</a>
Sponsored Link Attribute
Sponsored links are just like they sound, they are advertising links someone else has paid to have on a third party site.
This could be anything from a sponsored review of a product or service, to a straightforward advertisement on a website, to a simple ad on Google Adwords.
If you do a Google search for just about any term, it is likely that the first two or so results in the search engine results page (SERP) will be sponsored links. Any link you see that has the word “Ad” next to it in green font is a sponsored link.
Until the September 2019 introduction of the sponsored link attribute, sponsored links were counted the same as organic links.
There isn’t a huge difference between nofollow and sponsored attributes. From a webmaster’s point of view, they are essentially the same, but a sponsored attribute may let Google know a link is paid for instead of considered to be untrustworthy.
A sponsored link attribute would look like this:
<a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="sponsored">Link text</a>
UGC Link Attribute
UCG links are links that are posted somewhere in user-generated content or in a forum-type post.
Common examples of this are blog comments, blogging platforms and QA websites and forums.
If you have a website that allows users to create content or links on it, you should be familiar with UGC links.
In fact, if you run that type of website, the UGC link attribute should be you most-used attribute. If you have long-standing contributors that have a history of sharing high-vaule links, they may earn the right to not have the UGC attribute added to their posts.
Until then, it’s safest to mark any user-generated content as UGC links.
A UGC link attribute would look like this:
<a href="http://www.example.com/" rel="ugc">Link text</a>
Combining Link Attributes
While nofollow, sponsored and UGC link attributes all mean different things, it is actually possible to use more than one at a time.
You can use the new attributes in combination with each other. For example, using rel=”nofollow sponsored ugc” is appropriate if the link meets the criteria for all three.
It is good to note that all paid links must contain either the sponsored or nofollow attributes (solo or combined), as simply marking them UGC could result in a peanlization in Google’s SERPs.
The introduction of nofollow, sponsored and UGC links changed the SEO landscape for good.
Knowing what each link attribute stands for and how to use each to correctly is an essential part of any SEO strategy.
For more tactics and strategies on how to best optimize your website for SEO, check out InMotion Hosting’s SEO page.