Google’s Backlink Attribute Changes (Our View)

By QueryClick 25 September, 2019


It was back in 2005 that Google introduced its NoFollow link attribute, all in a bid to combat link-filled spamming in “blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists”. Other search engines and sites rapidly followed suit. However, the digital space has evolved significantly since those days, becoming more complex and nuanced. Now, 14 years on, Google is taking steps to keep up with the times…

On the 10th of September 2019, Google announced big changes for link attributes. Not only will the Rel=”NoFollow” attribute now be treated as a “hint” for ranking, but two additional attributes for identifying link types will be introduced:

Rel=”sponsored” to be applied to sponsored and affiliate links.

Re=”ugc” to be applied to user-generated content links, such as forum posts and comments sections.

Effective immediately, all of these link attributes will be treated as “hints” for ranking purposes. As of the 1st of March 2020, Google will also start considering these link types as hints for crawling and indexing.

What Effect Will These Link Attribute Changes Have?

Since Google announced the NoFollow attribute updates, much of the chat on social media has been around what impact the changes will have and whether or not SEOs and digital marketers need to rejig their strategies.

As Google explicitly stated on its Webmaster Central Blog, if you already use NoFollow to flag UGC and sponsored links, “there’s absolutely no need to change”.

You literally don’t have to change anything if you don’t want. The post is explicit about that:

— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) September 10, 2019

What Does this Mean for SEO?

Taking it at face value, we can assume the initial impact will be minimal.

However, for brands that use content marketing and editorial strategies to earn top-tier news coverage and high-authority backlinks, Google’s latest announcement is another encouraging step in the right direction.

Just over a month before the NoFollow/UGC/sponsored backlink update, Google’s John Mueller weighed in on the DoFollow vs. NoFollow debate. He was quoted as saying that, contrary to popular belief, publishers gained no benefit from setting all outbound links as NoFollow.

This was music to the ears of content creators, digital PR, and outreach specialists who know all too well how frustrating it is when publishers enforce a blanket policy of NoFollowing links.

While many in the industry recognise the value of coverage when analysing the outcomes of campaigns, it’s linked mentions that are the true mark of success. However, key metrics in the minds of clients are those long-sought-after “Follow” links.

Now, with the addition of these new link attributes, and their inclusion as “hints” for Google ranking, new scope for success measurement will become available. As will the rationale for further, bigger campaign projects – given new capacity for increased SEO impact.

Again, it’s worth reiterating that things won’t change overnight and said publishers still have free rein to link as they please, even if you have given them a juicy narrative and an array of creative content assets to help tell a story that is perfect for their audience.

For now, it’s comforting to know that Google has at least acknowledged the nuances of backlinking and appears to be making small steps towards rewarding those who provide relevant and genuinely valuable content. Plus, they’ve already gained allies in the transition, in the form of WordPress – so industry uptake could well end up as widespread as the “NoFollow” response was, back in 2005.


QC Links 4-1

Beyond the excitement of the announcement, and all of the potential it holds across the digital marketing mix, we’ll have to wait and see what the full impact will be on search engine rankings.

Suffice to say, the team at QueryClick will be monitoring things extremely closely as the changes take effect!

Keen to find out how Google’s backlink attribute changes might affect your business? Give the experts at QueryClick a shout!

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