While they may seem like an afterthought to some, the links that you choose to include on your site can carry an enormous amount of weight. Google looks at backlinks for a number of different reasons, including to assess the quality and credibility of the content on your site, which plays an important role in your Domain Authority. Having high quality links to and from your site can increase its ranking potential in search engines, while low quality links may hinder it.
In order to maximize your current standing in the SERPs, it’s essential to ensure that only beneficial links will show up in your backlink portfolio, even if you have to have a few lower-quality links in the mix for whatever reason.
That’s where link attributes come in, which allow you to qualify certain kinds of links on your site for Google and significantly reduce their impact on your search ranking.
The No-follow link attribute has been around for almost 15 years, and Google has just added two more link attributes to the mix. Let’s take a look at each one, what they mean for your website, and how you should be using them.
The Evolution & History of No-Follow Links
Nofollow links were originally created to eliminate comment spam, which was the practice of leaving comments on someone else’s blog containing links to your own site in attempt to get more diverse backlinks.
Google caught on and started putting measures in place to penalize spam, including the ability for sites to qualify them as nofollow so that they wouldn’t get dragged down inadvertently. Since Google looks for indicators of site and content quality, they’ll almost look at a link on your site as a personal voucher that you trust the information that you’re sending people to. Lower-quality sites can therefore harm your potential ranking, especially if there are a number of these kind of links.
Nofollow links are simply links that have a snippet of code attached onto them that read rel=”nofollow.” It prevents the site your linking to from getting any SEO juice, so to speak, from your link, and it can protect you, too.
These links work exactly like normal links; users who are viewing and clicking on them won’t be able to tell the difference between a normal link and a nofollow link. It’s purely put in place for technical SEO purposes, and it’s a great tool to use strategically.
The Two New Attributes: Sponsored Links & UGC Links
The nofollow link attribute has been the only one for nearly fifteen years, and that’s finally changed. Since sponsored links and UGC both become more prevalent, Google is now recognizing attributes that identify both.
The Sponsored Link Attribute
The sponsored attribute was created to qualify links that have been paid for, or those that are involved in a sponsored content promotion.
If you’re placing a link on your site that someone has paid for in any way, then you should always use this tag. This includes full blog posts that have been written about a product that you’re being paid to promote, or even qualifying affiliate links.
Note that sponsored links can even include content that you aren’t receiving a direct monetary payment to promote. If someone has sent you products or provided a service for free in exchange for you writing about it, this can count as a sponsored link, too.
The sponsored tag will look like this: rel=”sponsored”
Using the sponsored link attribute can protect your site against Google hitting you with a link scheme penalty, which could lower your potential ranking if Google believes that you’re buying or selling links or cross-linking in order to increase your SERP positioning.
Though Google won’t ignore these links entirely, they’ll note that they’re not being used to attempt to find a loophole in their linking guidelines, keeping you in good standing.
Note that you can still use nofollow tags on this content, but if it is sponsored, Google wants you to use this tag, too.
The UGC Link Attribute
User-generated content (or “UGC,” as it’s commonly known) is any content that’s created by other users. These users are most often customers, but can also be influential bloggers, journalists, or influencers. The key here, though, is that UGC can be encouraged with campaigns asking people to share their thoughts, but it is not paid for in any way.
The UGC link attribute tells Google that the link wasn’t even added by your brand at all, and that instead it was a link shared by other users visiting your site. You’ll see this most often in the comments sections, or in forum discussions if your site has this functionality.
This is a valuable way for you to allow users to engage more freely on your site and in your comments without drowning in the need to try to remove every comment with a potentially harmful link.
There are cases where your readers are linking to strong, credible resources, offering value to the conversation. That being said, there are also plenty of cases where people are still trying to engage in comment spam or promote their own products or services. The ability to remove the SEO impact on your site from these links is exceptional as a result.
When to Use These Link Attributes
Today, online marketing is complex, and we’re doing more online for both strategic search optimization and sales reasons.
Finding new ways to profit is a big goal for plenty of businesses, so plenty are open to sponsored content. Even more site owners are often happy to see engagement pouring in through their comments section to indicate engagement.
The ability to have plenty of paid placements or allow users to share content without having to double or triple check every link you run across is an asset. It gives site owners more flexibility with fewer risks of potential penalties from links that may not have even been ours.
You should be using these link attributes whenever they’re relevant. If anything involves a paid placement, use that sponsored tag, and never take any chances on links that other people are adding to your site by taking advantage of that UGC tag.
Note that if Google does catch you accepting anything of value in exchange for links and sees that you aren’t attributing them with that sponsored tag, they could penalize you accordingly.
Good news: You can still use the nofollow tag anytime you want to let Google know that you aren’t vouching for the site on the other end of the link. The nofollow attribute can be combined with either of the new attributes, giving you more control over how the search engine is evaluating your content.
How to Use These Link Attributes
Link attributes look intimidating at first glance if you’re completely unfamiliar with HTML, but they’re actually exceedingly simple to use.
When you’re writing content or site copy and want to attribute a link, go ahead and attach the hyperlink to the anchor text. It will look like this:
Once you do this, convert the document from a text-reader to HTML. If you’re on WordPress, there’s an option to do this in the top right corner by clicking “Text” instead of “Visual.” You can also use HTML converters like this one to take care of this for you.
Then, find the link that you want to add the attribute to. It will look like this in HTML:
You’ll want to add the link attribute within the <a>.
So this link:
<a href=”https://backlinko.com/commercial-intent” target=”_blank” >high-intent audiences</a>
Would look more like this, with the bolded addition showing where to add in the nofollow link:
<a href=”https://backlinko.com/commercial-intent” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”>high-intent audiences</a>
Remember the different tags for each attribute:
- The UGC tag is rel=”ugc”
- The Sponsored tag is rel=”sponsored”
- The nofollow tag is rel=”nofollow”
If HTML isn’t really your thing, there are some tools that can help make this simpler, though it’s important to note that many of them may only offer nofollow tags at the moment since the others are newer.
Some of the best WordPress plugins include:
There’s also a great NoFollow Chrome extension that can help with this, especially when you want to add the UGC link attribute to those you didn’t add yourself or when you can’t edit a comment left by someone else. That being said, right now it works strictly for nofollow link attributes.
Perhaps the easiest tool to use is the LinkCode generator, which allows you to enter in the link, the anchor text it will be connected to, and whether or not you want it to be nofollow. Select this option, and then if you need to swap it out with rel=”sponsored” or rel=”UGC,” then it’s easy to do and see exactly where it’s supposed to go.
Google’s algorithms are more advanced than ever, and with rapid developments happening to make the search engine “smarter” than ever before, it’s increasingly important to stay up to date on current best practices. Understanding how and when to use link attributes is part of that.
Both of the Google’s new link attributes are incredible assets to site owners and marketers who have diverse types of backlinks on their site. It gives us more control over what’s happening with the links we’re sharing and how they’re perceived by Google, minimizing our risk of lowered SERP positioning along the way.
It is important to note that Google doesn’t totally discount whatever links you’ve tagged with nofollow, sponsored, or UGC tags; instead, they read the tags as “hints” of your intentions. Because of this, you should avoid linking to sites that you know can violate Google’s guidelines or even those that are particularly low in site authority, or at least limit how often you’re doing so. This will help keep you in good standing no matter what link attributes you’re using, which is a major goal for most business owners and marketers alike.