What You Should Know About Google’s New Link Building Guidelines

By James Tredwell on October 30, 2019

In the early days of Google search, many marketers engaged in brute force tactics like comment spamming to build up their link profiles. Essentially, these marketers would visit other websites and look for discussions in which they would post many links to their websites, sometimes to multiple posts within the same site in rapid succession. This practice enabled low value sites to accumulate very strong link profiles very quickly, spurring Google to take action.

In 2005, Google introduced the “nofollow” attribute to fight content spam, enabling users to flag comments as sponsored or otherwise inorganic. This quickly became the preferred method of flagging advertising-related links and sponsored links. Recently, Google unveiled more link attributes and altered their link building guidelines, and everyone working in search engine optimization (SEO) must understand these changes and implement them into their SEO strategies.

Current Link Building Best Practices

Along with nofollow links, Google has also allowed dofollow links for quite some time. Generally, the more dofollow links your site earns, the better your search engine rankings will be. Dofollow links are essentially organically generated links, and Google strongly encourages domain owners to flag guest post links and sponsored links as nofollow, because leveraging these tactics equates to manipulating your rankings.

Never pay for dofollow links or agree to pay another site for a dofollow link. Google can easily detect paid links and urges domain owners to flag any links obtained through financial transaction as nofollow. However, even if an SEO decides to leave a paid link tagged as a dofollow link, the Google algorithm is incredibly smart, and Google will likely detect the discrepancy and flag it appropriately on their end anyway.

Search behaviors have changed dramatically in the past 15 years, and the Google link attributes have changed with them. In addition to nofollow and dofollow attributes, Google recently launched two more attributes considering the new digital marketing atmosphere: sponsored and UGC, for links earned through user-generated content.

How Do the New Link Attributes Work?

Sponsored links are an undeniable reality of modern internet marketers, whether those who participate in the practice admit to it and flag their links appropriately or not. The new sponsored link attribute will allow the Google Search algorithm to more quickly identify paid links, links created as advertisements, and links obtained through paid sponsorships.

User-generated content like forum posts, comments, and guest posts can certainly offer value to the average user, but since they can originate from random users it is very difficult to assign authority to this content. In the days of comment spamming, links embedded in forum posts and message boards would artificially inflate a domain’s link profile and hinder the overall user experience of searching for information related to that domain’s industry or niche.

Modern marketing has changed significantly over the past 15 years, and Google seems to be encouraging digital marketers and SEO professionals to be more transparent in their link building strategies. Obtaining links may be difficult in some cases but earning them organically and tagging them appropriately with the correct attributes enables the Search algorithm to learn faster, apply the appropriate context to more content, and provide users with better overall experiences. Brands that take this to heart and start generating content with user experience in mind are going to see the best results when the new link attributes come into effect in 2020.

New Link Building Attributes and When to Use Them

The addition of the new UGC and sponsored attributes for link building aim to encourage webmasters to mark their links more clearly for the Search algorithm. All of these attributes essentially function as hints for the Search algorithm, which will refer to these attributes as well as many other additional factors to determine search result rankings. These new attributes will go into effect in March of 2020.

Ultimately, it is unclear how exactly Google will use these new attributes, as it should be. It is already difficult to attempt to game the system when it comes to link building through Google, and these new attributes will allow the Search algorithm to learn more about these types of links and understand them in the appropriate context. Google may decide to allow UGC links to carry some weight when it comes to search result rankings. After all, user-generated content like guest posts can potentially be valuable to users. How Google will weigh these and other links remains to be seen.

All digital marketers and SEO professionals must remember that Google’s number one priority is their users’ experience on the search engine. When a user enters a search query, Google strives to provide the most relevant and authoritative results related to the search terms. When these new attributes take effect, it should encourage modern digital marketers to craft their SEO strategies around creating great user experiences for the best results.

Best Practices Going Forward

If you are wondering how to prepare your SEO strategy for this impending change, keep a few simple best practices in mind:

  • You are very likely already using the nofollow attribute appropriately to block sponsored links and indicate you do not vouch for a site you link to within your content, and you will not need to change your typical nofollow attribute usage with the coming attribute change.
  • You will have the ability to combine different attributes as necessary. For example, you may start tagging links as “rel= ugc nofollow,” or “rel= ugc sponsored” or other combinations as necessary, ensuring backwards compatibility with services that do not support the new link attributes once they take effect.
  • Keep using your current nofollow tagging practices to prevent link scheme penalties and other strikes against your web content but switching over to the new sponsored attribute is probably a good idea going forward.
  • It is not necessary to completely revamp your entire link attribution system. For example, you can continue using nofollow attributes for user-generated content but changing user-generated content links to the new UGC attribute will make things easier for the Search algorithm and could slightly boost your rankings.

Ultimately, the implementation of these attributes does not require you to alter many of your existing practices. In fact, you can generally stick to your current attribution practices if you so choose. However, implementing these new attributes will make it easier for Google to crawl through your content and index it appropriately. This in turn increases your domain authority and could have a positive impact on your overall SEO and will organically improve UX.

Although Google will not implement this new change for indexing purposes until March 1, 2020, you can start using these attributes right now and the Google Search algorithm will consider them hints for ranking purposes. Early adopters of these new attribution tags could potentially see significant SEO gains if they decide to do so, and it will make the transition to the new indexing process much easier in 2020.

Link building can feel like a challenge, and earning valuable, authoritative, and legitimate links organically can take a long time. These new attributes may seem like an extra layer of complication on an already complex process, but in reality, they allow SEO professionals to have more control over their link profiles and make it easier for the Search algorithm to analyze web content. This is a net gain for digital marketers, so take time to consider this change with your SEO strategy in the coming months.

This article is contributed by Stephen Moyers, Content Writer at SPINX Digital.

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