Google Shakes-Up SEO: How New Link Building Guidelines Will Affect SEO

Last month Google changed how website links are set to be earned for reputational value. The change will be the greatest leap for link building since 2005. Additional attributes have now been added. Not knowing the latest updates may jeopardise the efficiency of your SEO and the authority of your website.

Today, link building continues to be an effectual, if slightly tarnished way to increase organic traffic to your website. However, does this mean that you should neglect to execute a strategy? No. Provided your website demonstrates value and authority, link building activities can soundly increase organic traffic.

Before considering any link building strategy it’s important to remember that your content may hold the attention of visitors, but remember, it’s all for nothing if you don’t have both an SEO and link building strategy that works in tandem with other aspects of your digital marketing. After all, what good is having stellar, authoritative and valuable content if no one can find your website?

Google’s announcement on September 10th, 2019 that they are to implement new ways to identify the nature of links is an opportunity for businesses to review their link building and create an effective strategy that earns them a stellar reputation.

Before we dive into the latest news, review the following statements:

High-quality content and link building are the two most important signals that Google uses to rank your website

The average business allocates 41% of their marketing budget to online activities and this percentage is expected to grow to 45% in 2020

So, along with the no-follow link, Google will implement two further link attributes: sponsored and UGC or user-generated content. Let’s look at each attribute in-turn:

What Is a No-follow link?

A no-follow is an HTML value assigned to a website element to instruct search engines that an embedded hyperlink should not influence the ranking of the link’s target in the search engine’s target index. In short, it’s all about trust.

Designed to combat the avalanche of spam, nofollow’s evolved to become essential attributes on advertising and user-generated links. They have been trusted by search algorithms who rely on the number and quality of links to a website to determine the authority and ranking of any given site.

The Evolution of No-follow Links

Though swiftly becoming one of Google’s recommended methods for flagging advertising and sponsored links, after much scrutiny Google has decided to deviate from its longstanding approach when defining link authority.

Just as the online landscape has evolved since 2005, so too must no-follow links to keep up with increasingly intricate digital ecosystems. The new attributes that Google will use to define link authority are summarised below:

rel=”sponsored” – use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site which have been created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements

rel=”ugc” – UGC is an acronym for user-generated content and the attribute value is recommended for links within user-generated content, these include comments and forum posts


rel=”nofollow” – this link was traditionally used to link a page, without implying any kind of endorsement, such as passing on a ranking credit to another page

These hints will, along with other signals, are to better understand, categorise and use links within our systems – according to Google. So, in a nutshell, if someone has paid for a link or individuals purchase links, Google asks that they are labeled as sponsored. In instances when user-generated content is used to build links, these links should be labelled as UGC.


A similar change will affect webmasters who have built a forum (or any other website element that relies on user-generated content) on a website. When using a combination of these elements, or if you have a paid link, the a rel=”nofollow sponsored” attribute should be included.

What About My Existing Nofollow’s, Ads or Sponsored Links?

Whenever Google moves the goalposts or introduces changes with the potential to affect rankings, digital marketers the world over collectively take stock before coming up with effective strategies that benefit clients whilst appeasing Google. A change that’s fifteen years in the making is likely to prompt much boardroom discussion. However, don’t hit the panic button.

For starters, there’s no need to frantically change any existing nofollow’s. Any website which uses a nofollow to block sponsored links or signify that you don’t vouch for a page to link to will be recognised and supported by Google.

Similarly, anyone who uses nofollow’s to flag individual links and avoids link scheme penalties can continue with the method. Those with an existing architecture that appends mark-ups to new links will see nominal, if any, change. However, just to be on the safe side, it’s probably wise to switch to rel=”sponsored” attribute.

Why the Change?

There is one straightforward and obvious reason why Google has changed nofollow links to link hints: the search engine wants to strengthen link signals to create more accurate and better-quality search results.

Google has said the following of its change: ‘All link attributes – sponsored, UCG and nofollow – (will be) treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude with a search. We’ll use these hints – along with other signals – (to) better understand how to appropriately analyse and use links within our systems.’

What this means is that Google is, by adding attributes , able to get a better idea of whether a link is worth crawling or not and how any link should be indexed and affects SEO.

Now, here is the important part. Any change doesn’t come into effect until March 1st, 2020. This gives people plenty of time to prepare and come up with any strategy for next year. More pertinently though, webmasters don’t need to modify old links. Nofollow links can simply be left as nofollow.

The Impact on Webmasters and SEO Professionals

March 1st, 2020 is still five months away, however, this hasn’t stopped some learned and astute industry professionals commentating on what they believe is likely to occur in the aftermath of Google’s link building evolution – and Jungle Marketing has our own insight.

By affording webmasters and SEO professionals the opportunity to label the type and purpose of their links, Google will find it easier to learn how we use different link types. This will help algorithms to identify types of links quicker and easier whilst adding valuable context.

Now, of course, Google can already identify wikis, forum and other types of user-generated content but the evolution of nofollow links allows the search engine algorithm to hone its link interpretations for greater accuracy.

There’s one simple fact that every digital marketer should remember as we move into 2020 and beyond: Google wants you to EARN links.

The search engine will also be able to take a more relaxed stance of specific link types. For instance, Google could decide to count UGC links for link building purposes but only place a limited amount of impetus of a naturally earned link. This provides Google with more signals to decide whether a URL should be crawled.

The goal is simple: Google doesn’t want to index a site with perfect SEO. They want to index the site that people love the most.

What This All Means

Though predicting what’s likely to happen in the world of SEO and digital marketing in the coming years can be like predicting the exact date that Britain will leave the EU or who’ll be crowned Premier League champions come the spring, there are indications that help those in the know to take a well-educated guess.

For starters, it’s more than likely that Google and those in the know will likely begin to educate us all on everything nofollow, dofollow and UGC link related. This will help digital marketers and SEO professionals to build better and more prosperous links.

Also, expect to see UGC links to become more effectual. Don’t necessarily expect a revolution overnight but enough of a change to see the focus on some link building strategies to change, provided, of course, that relevant links are used, the link is used within the right context and that there is distinct value to the end-user.

The last thing to keep in mind is that large-scale employing of sponsored and UGC attributes by webmasters won’t be adopted overnight. It’s likely to be another 12 months before they really catch on. In the meantime, concentrate on dofollow links. It’s better to be ahead of the game than bringing up the rear!

Interested in discovering if your link building strategy is likely to be affected considering Google’s recent announcement? Get in touch with Jungle.Marketing today to find out more.

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