Sponsored and ugc links: when to use them and what they entail

Merche Martínez

Written by Merche Martínez

On 10 September 2019, Danny Sullivan and Gary Illyes officially announced new changes related to the way Google identifies the nature of links: the inclusion of two new values accepted by the rel link attribute (used to describe the relationship between two documents, when there’s a link from one to another). The new values are sponsored and ugc. Their goal is to categorise links, which do not strictly comply with Google’s guidelines. These not very natural links, up until now, were tagged with the rel=”nofollow” attribute, in order to avoid transferring popularity to the linked page.

It was in 2005 when Google started to use rel=”nofollow” as a means to protect the visibility of a website, in case it had unnatural links. These links could directly influence the relevance of a page or an entire website.

Let’s see in detail what each of these new rel values entails.

Google suggests we use the rel=”sponsored” attribute instead of the current rel=”nofollow” for links, which were acquired through an economic transaction. If we include a sponsored link on our site, be it an ad or any other type of paid link, we must use this attribute.

Ugc links

For user-generated links, we must use the rel=”ugc” attribute. This refers to content like comments or posts on forums, made by users. Presently, many content management systems add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to these links. Despite using this link, it is recommended to take the necessary measures to avoid link schemes.

Nofollow: from directive to suggestion

The rel=”nofollow” link attribute will continue to be used to indicate when a link is unnatural. However, this value, from now on, will stop being a directive and become a suggestion that a link shouldn’t transfer popularity. The new sponsored and ugc values of the rel attribute will also be treated as suggestions. Ultimately, it will be Google’s algorithm the one to decide whether it should transfer popularity from links carrying these rel attributes.

All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.

Up until now, the page receiving a link with rel=”nofollow” did not profit from popularity or credibility gained by the source of the link. From now on, though, it will be Google who will make the decision of whether these links should transfer popularity.

Why this change?

Based on what is said in the article, links contain information, which helps to better understand unnatural link patterns. Maybe this data can be useful for a new Google Penguin algorithm update.

Google’s answers to questions regarding this change

Do I need to change my current nofollow links?

No, sponsored links or user-generated links with rel=”nofollow” attribute are totally compatible. For example, comment-managing plugins are set to include nofollow by default. This will continue to be correct, although it is recommended to use the newly implemented values when possible.

Is it possible to use more than one value in one link?

Yes, it is. For example: rel=”ugc sponsored” would suggest that the link was included by users and also that it’s sponsored. It’s also perfectly valid to use nofollow in combination with the new values, as is the case with rel=”nofollow ugc”, for search engines which do not accept these new attributes.

Should we continue to mark sponsored links?

Yes, if you want to avoid a penalty. You can use rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” to mark these links.  Although it’s preferable to use rel=”sponsored”, both values will be treated equally.

What will happen if I use the wrong attribute?

The sponsored link attribute is the only attribute that could cause hesitation. If we set a user-generated link or an unnatural link as sponsored, Google will see the suggestion, but its effect will be the same as if it was identified as a nofollow. What we do recommend, though, is that if a link is clearly sponsored, it is best to include the appropriate attribute, rel=”sponsored”, or rel=”nofollow” in its stead.

Why should I use the new attributes?

Use of new attributes helps to better process links when analysing a website.

Will it encourage spam in comments and other user-generated content?

Many websites built upon user-generated content have their own tools for moderation. Ugc and nofollow link attributes will continue to be an element providing additional information about a link. Generally, the new attributes will be treated as the current nofollow, even though they are but a mere suggestion. Google will continue to evaluate the usage of links just as it’s been doing up until now in links not including any attributes.

When will this change go into effect?

Google has already begun to register new links for classification purposes, but it will not affect crawling or indexing until 1 March 2020. We are very interested to see what will happen once this change officially rolls out.

Link guildelines

Google’s link guidelines continue to be the same as they were years ago: links should be included in pages with unique content, and take to useful information for the user, related to the content of the page bearing the link. Content is king, and the ultimate goal is user satisfaction. We must work on obtaining natural links, as it’s the safest way to improve our popularity profile.

Sources:

  • https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2019/09/evolving-nofollow-new-ways-to-identify.html
  • https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/96569?hl=en-419
Merche Martínez
Autor: Merche Martínez
SEO consultant at the Human Level online marketing agency. She's an expert in search engine optimization at both national and international levels. She's also a certified Google AdWords user.

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