rel=sponsored rel=ugc updates

What does Google’s new rel=sponsored and rel=ugc link attributes mean for SEO & websites?

On 10th September 2019 Google announced two new link attributes alongside the already widely used (for 15 years now!) rel=”nofollow” in new ways to identify the nature of links.

This is another way to tackle the SEO link spam and to help Google further understand the intention of different backlinks to improve their search results.

It also follows in the same vein as steps taken by Facebook and Instagram to label content that is sponsored or gifted. And, of course not forgetting that YouTube has a similar policy too.

This is quite a big update and one that could have fairly significant knock on ramifications for SEO. But oddly, it’s perhaps one that you don’t need to do too much about now.

So what does this all mean and what should you be doing now?

When and where should I be using rel=sponsored or rel=ugc?

Well, here’s what Google Webmasters original post states:

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

rel=”ugc”: 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.

rel=”nofollow”: 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.

So for the rel=”sponsored” you could use this in future for any sponsored, advertorial or paid-for content. Many webmasters have been using the rel=”nofollow” for advertorial links thus far. This leads on to the next question…

Does this mean I have to go and change all my links?

No. Google say that you don’t need to change your existing links, but just start using the new method when convenient. They go on to state the following: “Any link that is clearly an ad or sponsored should use “sponsored” or “nofollow,” as described above. Using “sponsored” is preferred, but “nofollow” is acceptable.”

Do I have to change my nofollow links in comments to rel=ugc?

Again, you shouldn’t need to start rushing to change your code and getting your developer to make changes. Many have commented that this is going to be a struggle to implement and get “ordinary” users to implement these attributes.

However one good piece of news for WordPress users and Yoast users in particular is that an update looks to be on the horizon.

Do nofollow, sponsored and ugc attributes carry SEO juice?

So there’s a bit of a change here, particularly with nofollow. Nofollow links have previously carried no link juice (i.e. no SEO impact on your keyword rankings).

A side note: This was debatable amongst SEO professionals – did nofollow links maybe carry a little weighting? Well, a mixture of dofollow and nofollow links are typically a sign of a “healthier” backlink profile (as it shows you’re not just trying to chase dofollow links and manipulate too hard).

So what’s changed? Here’s what Google said…

When nofollow was introduced, Google would not count any link marked this way as a signal to use within our search algorithms. This has now changed. All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search.

So it appears that Google has said that nofollow links will be used as a “hint”. This is a weird paradox of both a big and small change. It’s dramatic in that this is the first change in 15 years to the nofollow rule. SEO wizard Barry Schwartz puts it well:

All external links on Wikipedia are nofollowed, if those links start counting, and you have a lot of links from Wikipedia, you might see your rankings improve.

But what value those nofollow links have and what changes they make remains to be seen. I’d hazard a guess that short term, there won’t be any change, but slowly over time they start to take a stronger influence.

Final thoughts

The technical stuff:

Google is constantly clamping down on spam as well as getting more and more sophisticated in interpreting link profiles. Having said that, some (more risky) SEO professionals have still been one step ahead in terms of playing the SEO game, in that they may use blackhat (or iffy) tactics to manipulate the SERPs.

These methods of manipulation are frowned upon by Google – well they’re not just frowned upon – they violate their policy guidelines. And while there have been known cases of websites being hit with penalties or dramatic losses in rankings, in the SEO community there will still be stories of some sites who manage to perform with somewhat shady tactics.

And that word “shady” is open to interpretation too. Some tactics are clearly spam, others may well be grey areas of manipulation. My view is that if Google one day phoned me up and asked to explain a backlink, then if I could explain it, it’s OK, if I couldn’t, then it’s not OK. But to be honest the days when I would need to ask myself that question are long gone. The methods you should be using have to be genuine and this from Google is another move that dents the efforts of typical SEO spammers.

The bigger picture:

SEO is changing – While there is the technical on-site side of SEO (think page titles, site structure, heading markups etc), the off-site tactics are arguably becoming less algorithms and metrics, and instead more classic marketing just done in an online space.

And in my opinion, that should always be the goal. Even speaking as an SEO professional myself, I don’t believe businesses should be at the mercy of those who know how to blindside or fool an algorithm. There are plenty of small businesses out there who do great jobs but get little recognition in the search engines. But I’m not saying that’s unfair, they still need to have invested time and effort in marketing their business better like others might have done.

But coupling those businesses with Search Engine/Marketing professionals and Google’s everchanging clamp down on spam, will be a great recipe. Sure, there are more traditional (or “nerdy”, as I call them) methods like broken link building which lean on the classic SEO expertise side and can be very effective and will probably be effective for years to come. But there are also methods like sponsoring charities or local events and in return having a presence on their websites – and this is traditional marketing done with an SEO backdrop in mind.

Overall to me this is another sign of Google becoming increasingly intelligent. And while it’s still a robot, I see it as one who’s starting to think more like a human. Humans still have faults and weaknesses (ones that might be exploited by some), but It’s gradually growing into some kind of superhuman.

If you have any questions about this post or need some help with your digital marketing & SEO, you can get in touch with me here.

SEO Hacks for Accountants

Top SEO hacks for accounting firms

Within the accounting industry there is fierce competition. There are lots of firms that at a glance seem to offer the same range of services. You could almost lift the copy from one website and place it onto another and not see any change. The usual USP’s such as price won’t be explicit. And, therefore getting ahead through clever digital marketing is vital.

Getting ahead doesn’t necessarily require a big budget either. While those larger firms, may have larger pots to spend on PPC advertising, they may find it difficult to quickly make their moves in digital spaces due to sign-off processes. In contrast, boutique practice’s are much more agile and open to new experimental ideas but can lack the budget.

This makes it quite a level playing field where search engine optimisation (SEO) is concerned. And getting ahead in SEO can give you huge gains for brand awareness and more importantly new business. And with that, here are some of the key SEO tactics for accounting firms:

Marrying good Web Design with structured Search Engine Optimisation

The website design of your accountancy practice should ideally provide a balance of impressive, sleek design and branding as well as a lot of informative copy.

It can be a difficult balancing act: having lots of information can often clash with the sleek design. And, there is a tendency to “keep things simple” and have minimal amounts of copy. But this can be very risky.

From an SEO perspective “keeping things simple” and using only a few words per page can hold back the chance of a page ranking. This is even more an important point for smaller firms who will tend to have a lower domain score and less impressive backlink profile compared to bigger firms. This means that getting words on the page is an important foundation of your page and site ranking.

Generally speaking adding at least 400 words per page will generally help that page to rank for particular keywords. The impressive design of the site and its user experience will help that user to enquire once they are on the site, but those words on the page will help them get there in the first place.

Aim for the fastest experience on all devices

Fast site speed is becoming increasingly important particularly with Google’s latest update on both site speed and separate mobile rankings. Building a site that’s slow will only halt your progress in climbing the rankings. Using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool will give you a good starting point to understand your page speed. But bear in mind this tool only looks at one page and not your entire site, where your speed could be different.

Turn location pages into homepages

Whether you have a couple of offices or a couple of hundred, making sure there is a page for each location on your site is invaluable. These pages can get found for local search terms in google like “Accountants in [location]”. Because of that you shouldn’t just treat your location page as a place for people just to get contact details. Sure, that’s OK if the user has already browsed through your site and is looking for a telephone number, but these users could be coming from a Google search to your site for the very first time – just having some basic contact details isn’t going to be the warmest of welcomes. Therefore it’s good practice to treat these location pages like a homepage. Here are a few tips on how to get the best out of these pages:

  • Start with a heading that contains both the word, “accountants” and your location.
  • Include contact details such as address and telephone number above the fold.
  • Then further down the page include details like:
    • What services you provide at this location
    • Case studies
    • Latest blog posts
    • Contact form
    • Local images
    • Local telephone number

One of the trickiest parts of creating these location pages is ensuring you still have unique content. It’s no good copying and pasting the text only to insert location [here]. Here’s what you can include to make your content unique

  • How long have you been in the area
  • Any local press coverage in that area
  • Directions to your location

Also, make sure you have a Google My Business listing for each of your offices and link back to your new location page.

Sponsor local events

To help get the most out of you local SEO even more, one of the best ways to get ahead is sponsoring local events. While some of these events might seem small-game compared to the rest of your marketing activity, they’re actually great at boosting your local SEO. Things like local music festivals, food festivals, schools and colleges are great ways to get a link back from a local site, even if it’s just an image link on their website. Of course, there’s also the added benefit of getting your brand seen by the local community.

Turn your news posts into evergreen content

Evergreen content posts are typically those with a longer shelf life as they take a look at the topic on a wider, but also detailed scale.

While reporting on a new piece of legislation and sending an email out to your clients is OK, the chances are they may have been already come across this news anyway. As well as that, your post isn’t going to be very unique compared to every other publication reporting on that new piece of legislation.

One way to change that is to produce an article that takes a reflective look at recent news once the dust has settled. For example rather than reporting on a new piece of legislation, you could instead provide an outlook of what might this mean over the next six months. E.g. “15 ways in which [new legislation] will affect businesses going forward”.

Doing this will not only give you an extra few days to produce that article for your audience, but also provide you with much more unique and carefully crafted content with a longer shelf life. And it’s this longer shelf-life that now makes your content evergreen and let’s it continue to potentially gain new visitors from search engines.

You don’t just have to look at recent news though. You can also provide answers to common questions that don’t necessarily go out of date. Questions like, “what is the difference between a merger and acquisition?” or “what does corporation tax entail?”. The answers to these might not change within a few months and therefore it can pick up new visitors months after it was published.

Sometimes these topics don’t need to be so common – finding a niche area that no one else has provided information on is one of the best ways to get numbers to your well produced article. A quick Google of your potential topic (or question) will reveal how widely covered it is. The good thing with these questions is that they are aimed at generating new site visitors (and therefore potentially new clients) through getting found in Google.

Producing well-written un-rushed evergreen content is the way to go. As a guideline you’ll need at least around 800 words to make it be seen as a quality article, both in the eyes of Google and users. You might think that’s a tough task, but it’s far better to produce three high quality articles a month than thirty poor ones.

If you have any questions about this post or need some help with your digital marketing, you can get in touch with me here.