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Google's new 'rel' atrributes aim to devalue artificial link building

Google looks like it wants to devalue artificial link building by targeting bought links and links in comments and forums. The algorithm update will mean that many already border line links will be discounted by the search engines.

Google new link building tactics on internet search on a tablet

Link building is about to get a whole lot harder!

Google has announced new updates to it’s algorithm that will affect link building. It’s thought that this update will discourage artificial link building.

Fifteen years after the introduction of the rel=”nofollow” attribute was introduced to help webmasters ‘fight comment spam’, two new attributes are being brought in. The attributes are “sponsored” and ‘ugc”.

According to the Googleblog:


Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.


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


Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.

Screenshot from Neil Patel's Ubersuggest showing the importance of link building for SEO

Above: screenshot from Neil Patels Ubersuggest website – “The more backlinks a page has, the more traffic it typically receives” says the app, emphasising jusst how important backlinks still are for website traffic and therefore revenue.

Sponsored backlinks

The ‘sponsored’ attribute will basically be used to identify paid for links, though I can’t see anybody who is selling links being willing to devalue their service by telling Google about the exact nature of the link. I presume that there will be many sites that will make use of the tag, for example blogs and magazine that have guest posters. Within this section there will also be a number of sites who don’t welcome the new guidelines as they are selling guest post slots that are thinly disguised paid for links.

User Generated Content

The ‘usg’ tag will affect forums, blog comments and possible wiki sites. These are already under scrutiny from Google as ways for sites to build their own links, and it’s thought that this tag, unlike the ‘nofollow’ attribute, will still have some value to the sites linked to, but not as much.

So what does this Link Building update really mean?

In short, it means that Google is well aware of all the practices that SEO providers and site owners partake in to build links to their sites and move them up the search engine rankings, and they are taking action. The emphasis on links that are genuinely earned by publishing great content on a website and having totally independent followers link back to is obvious. Google wants only whiter than white hat links to have any value. Anything other than these credible links that have not been sought after will have little or no value.

This could affect many good websites, blogs and directories that supplement their income by selling space on their sites, be it guest post articles or upgraded directory listings, essentially making it harder for these sites to make a living.

Will aged domains be affected?

A note on aged domains – will the sale of aged domains also be affected? Aged domains are old website addresses that have fallen out of use and are up for sale. Businesses buy them because it’s widely known that Google values the age of a business very highly. So a new business can buy and old business’ domain and instantly rank for it. Another reason to buy and aged domain is because it come come with backlinks already pointing to it. The new algorithm will mean that cheaper aged domains with relatively low value sites linking to it will have been devalued. On the other side of the coin, sites that do have lots of the types of links that Google likes will increase in value, I guess.

The bottom line

I think this update will make SEO much harder for small businesses. Websites that don’t generate much content I think will suffer, such as small independent service industries such as plumbers and electricians. I wonder what metrics Google will use to grade these low content industries? Possible social signals, the number of likes and shares a business gets of Facebook and Instagram, and the tried and tested age of domain.

We shall see in time what the take up is on these new attributes. I think ultimately the divide between sites that are industry leaders and generate lots of genuine links, and the low end sites that use Fiverr et al will widen. Though I’m sure that all the Fiverr link building gigs will carry on unabated, adding that they are safe from the Google link building algorithm!