Google recently announced a new link attribute called “rel=sponsored” that webmasters can use. What exactly is this all about? The rel=sponsored link attribute indicates to Google that the links in your site that are advertisements, sponsorship, or any kind of compensation agreements. The purpose of this new link attribute is to help Google fight spam links used for search engine purposes.
What Does This Mean for You?
Upon hearing this, it’s likely that you started to assume that you’d now have to go through all the outgoing links to your site and place the right link attribute for each one. Fortunately, this is not the case. If you have been using the nofollow link attribute for sponsored links already, you do not have to wade through all your site links to differentiate them.
In fact, Google doesn’t state that you must absolutely start using the rel=sponsored link attributes for sponsored links on your site. It’s simply a recommendation they are making to webmasters. If you forget and use the nofollow attribute instead of the sponsored attribute, there won’t be any consequences to your search engine rankings.
Surprising Announcements About these Link Attributes
On top of the announcement of the rel=sponsored link attribute, Google has also stated that they will change how they look at these links. Previously, Google would completely disregard nofollow links. This means that the nofollow links would not have any impact on the search engine rankings at all.
However, they are taking a different approach to things. Google has stated that all link attributes including the new UGC attribute would be treated as hints. What exactly does Google mean by hints? As mentioned, Google had completely disregarded nofollow links, but now it seems they will be using these links for some kind of purpose.
According to Google, they plan on using these links and other signals to improve their ability to understand and analyze links for search engine purposes. Obviously, it’s very hazy what they want to do by treating these links as hints. Until professional SEOs start experimenting with these links and see how they will impact search engine rankings, we won’t really know how these new updates affect the SEO process.
And because it was announced on September 2019, it’s going to take many months before SEOs starting coming up with clues about the effect these link attributes will have as well as what Google’s true intentions are.
How Will This New Link Attribute Impact SEO Across the Web?
Google are trying to say some very important things with the announcement. First, they are saying that they want webmasters to take link attributes more seriously. It’s possible that they may decide to get more serious about penalizing websites that are not marking links that are clearly sponsored or a form of spam. SEOs may need to take link attribute more seriously from here on forth.
Second, you never know if Google will change their updates again in the future. Even if you don’t want to go through the trouble of integrating this new link attribute to your site, it may help to future-proof for updates. Google likes websites that are transparent and user friendly. If one website does a better job telling Google the meaning behind their links, it might mean they may give a slight preference to that site. Of course, this is just a theory and is not how things work right now.
Finally, Google has stated that all link attributes will be seen as hints. They announced that the nofollow link attribute will be treated as a hint starting March 1, 2020. Does this mean that nofollow links will have some weight towards search engine rankings starting in March of 2020?
It might actually be possible that nofollow will have some weight (very little) towards search engine rankings. In fact, many SEOs have argued that nofollow links do count towards rankings for a long time. It may be possible that Google is admitting to this fact or simply insinuating that nofollow links will carry a bit more weight. Of course, this is just theory.
What Could Google’s Intention Be?
There are many possible reasons why Google may have made these announcements. First, they may actually have be straightforward about their intentions and wanted to collect additional data to help understand which links to include or exclude towards the search rankings. This could mean that they may want to come up with a way to differentiate different types of nofollow links.
Second, they may want to collect data to better fight spam. They may be using these links as hints to improve their ability to find websites that are using black hat SEO strategies. This can be a good thing for websites that are doing things the white hat way and bad news for websites that have been banking on black hat strategies for a long time.
Whatever the intention is, the one important thing here is that websites need to get serious about setting link attributes. If they are letting advertisers place ads on their sites, they have to ensure that these ads are clearly being marked as rel=sponsored or at least rel=nofollow. Remember, you can be penalized for not marking paid links. It’s possible that the penalties may become more severe.
There’s Still Some Confusion About This Announcement
There are still some grey areas that Google has not clarified. If you accept outside content and your contributors place affiliate links, do you need to mark it as rel=sponsored or rel=ugc (for user generated content). The rel=ugc is the other new link attribute that Google has added with this new updated. It’s a little confusing which one you should be using in this scenario.
The other thing is that Google stated that they wanted link attributes for outgoing links that are advertisements, sponsorship, or any kind of compensation agreements. Does compensation agreements also include affiliate links? Technically, it is a compensation agreement if you’re an affiliate of another business and you promote that business within your content.
It seems like Google has been very ambiguous about this important detail, but it’s safe to say that it may be smart to stick to using rel=sponsored for affiliate links you are promoting on your site. Some have said that it is fine, but Google really needs to come out with an official statement to clarify the issue.
If it ends up being the case that you should be using the rel=sponsored or rel=nofollow on affiliate links, this could mean huge implications for the SEO world. Affiliate networks may have to start telling their affiliates to make sure they put in the link attributes so that they do not get penalized by Google.
You may know that many affiliates use SEO to generate leads and sales for companies or offers they are promoting. Businesses that run affiliate programs may need to provide general training about how to use rel=sponsored and why it’s important to use the link attribute on their sites. This can be a headache for many businesses and affiliate networks.
So What Should You Do with This Knowledge?
Now that you understand what the rel=sponsored link attribute update is all about, what should you do? As mentioned earlier, it’s clear that Google is taking link attributes more seriously. There might be heavy penalties if you don’t clearly label which links are sponsored. Other than that, here are some helpful takeaways:
- Make sure that you do an audit of the links on your site so that sponsored links are given the proper link attribute.
- Some types of links will now have less value. For example, some blogs didn’t auto set links as nofollow in the comments section. But Google now wants that to be labeled as rel=ugc.
- Just to be safe, it might be a smart idea to make sure that the affiliate offers you’re promoting are given the rel=sponsored or rel=nofollow link attributes.
- It may be possible that Google will figure out a way to differentiate between different types of nofollow links to give them different amount of weights towards search rankings.
- Everything is simply speculation right now about Google’s statement about using these links as hints. It will take a lot of time to figure out exactly what’s going on, so make sure you don’t drive your SEO campaign based on assumptions.
- It’s becoming more important to focus on marketing to help you generate links for you SEO campaign. This means that press releases, press opportunities, content creation, viral marketing, and social media marketing will become increasingly more important to SEO.
That sums up everything related to the new rel=sponsored update. While this new update isn’t anything that most website owners will need to worry about, it does pose many implications on how SEO will change in the near future. For now, the only thing that you can do is to wait until all the small details are clarified.