Backlinks as of March 2020 / Link Attribute Cheat Sheet

Explaining Google's new link attributes

Google just rolled out the biggest change to how backlinks work in the last 15 years with the addition of sponsored and user generated content (UGC) links.

So let’s talk about what they are, why they’re important, and what you need to do.

Think of links from one website to another as votes of confidence - you’re endorsing the page you’re linking to. Originally all links were like this, but what if you want to link to a website without endorsing it? 

Google had the same thoughts in 2005, and together with Yahoo and MSN (no, really) encouraged the adoption of ”nofollow” as a HTML attribute to mark links as functional, but non-endorsing.

Sponsored: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements or sponsorships - if someone paid you money to put the link there, use this.

UGC: User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts. 

But what does this mean you nerd?

It’s a change up - greedy outlink strats and the rise of native advertising have finally caught Google’s ire. Instead of the binary yes or no of follow and nofollow, we now have nuance to properly describe the shades of grey in between.

Google’s stated that this will form part of a “hint model” that allows it to more properly understand link relationships between websites. 

They’ve stated that the links themselves will not be considered for ranking purposes, however I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Google was using these new attributes to build link profiles for websites that directly feed into attribution rate.

In plain English? Google will be able to see if your site makes use of paid links, or gives away links for money... and it will react.

How do I support search engines that don't support the new attributes?

You can double stack attributes, so it's entirely possible to have rel="sponsored nofollow" and rel="ugc nofollow" with nofollow acting as a fallback. This allows you to be backwards compatible