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.

5 steps to giving a designer better constructive feedback

Giving your designer feedback is one of the trickier aspects of a marketing project. You’ve been given a new logo design or a new set of brand guidelines or a new website and maybe it’s not quite what you had envisaged or it’s just missed the mark. And now you need to give feedback that is constructive while not being overly negative and not forgivingly positive.

Giving well thought out and considered feedback is tough for a number of reasons:

  • You want to keep a good working relationship with your designer
  • You still want your designer to be creative
  • You’re worried about offending them
  • You have little design experience but understand the brand
  • You’re worried that your brand is going down a road that isn’t right

So how do you go about it? I’ve listed the best practice steps below, but one thing you can always do is simply ask your designer, “how would you like me to provide feedback for this project?”.

First, get your brief right

The very first step is to ensure that the brief you gave your designer was adequate. 99% of “bad” design happens because the original brief didn’t give enough direction or indeed, gave the wrong direction entirely.

Here’s what needs to be in your brief:

  • Aims – This is, in its simplest form, what you need doing e.g. a logo, a 5-page website, new branding guidelines, new email templates.
  • Background – Give the aims some context. Why do you need this? Where is the brand at currently? What is the brand not doing so well at?
  • Audience – What’s the profile of your customers and consumers? Where are they, who are they and what do they like?
  • Brand positioning – Where do you see your brand in relation to competitors? Is it cheaper than them? Is it more approachable than them? How do you want your brand to feel?
  • Examples – Here you can provide a list of example brands or websites. You don’t need to like their entire brand, it could just be a specific tone of voice or font style. You could also explain why the rest of that brand isn’t right. Don’t just stick to competitors either, think about industries that have nothing to do with you.

Now, onto giving feedback…

1. Don’t micro-manage

Angry Season 12 GIF

My golden rule with giving feedback on design is to not micro-manage. Now we’re usually told to present our boss with the solution as well as the problem. For example “Mr/Miss Boss, I’ve accidentally sent out the wrong email campaign… but I’ve lined up another email campaign to go out apologising for the mistake”. Problem, followed by solution. But, for design it tends to be the opposite – Present the problem but don’t give a solution.

For example:

“I think the design at the moment is a little too masculine and might put off our female audience. Is there anything you’d recommend?”

In that example I’ve provided context to the problem. Here’s what not to do:

“Make it pink”

By giving context in the first example you’re educating your designer for other parts of the design down the line. You’re also asking your designer to make use of their creative skills, which they are trained in not like the rest of us. By telling your designer exactly what to do you’re missing out on so much value from what you’re paying them. Plus pink is so 2009, come on.

2. But don’t be vague

Lionel Ritchie What GIF

Now, there’s a big difference between being specific and micro-managing. What we’re saying here is to avoid being vague.

Avoid using phrases like:

“It’s too bland”
“Jazz it up”
“It needs more feeling”

These phrases are really dangerous. Despite having incredible creative skills, your designer is not a mind-reader. You’re going down a slippery slope here as your designer will keep designing until they’ve guessed right… on the 28th time, 2 years later .

Instead try this:

“The colours might be a bit muted for who we are trying to target. Something brighter could appeal to them more”.

3. Be positive (even if its negative)

good vibes GIF by Amanda Cee Media

It’s easy to simply feedback on the things that are wrong with a design, but giving feedback on what’s looking good is not only nice for your designer to hear it’s also incredibly useful for them. They’ll get a better understanding of what you’re trying to achieve.

As well, you can still word your criticisms in a way that isn’t personal or comes across as rude. The key as always is to give context. For example:

“I love how the menu looks, however it took me a little longer to notice the call to action. Could we make this more visible?”

4. Ask questions and recommendations

Music Video Question GIF

Asking questions is a great way to poke your designers creative skills and unleash them. It can spark ideas into life as well as get your designer more engaged.

For example:

“I want to see the logo in pink”

Sure, your designer can create you a pink version – “that’ll be an extra £100 and another week on top of an already delayed project schedule, please”. You’d get a much better response asking:

“What do you think about making the logo pink? I’m just thinking about our female audience – is there anything else you’d recommend”

As the famous quote from Steve Jobs goes, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

5. Don’t make it about you

alexa bliss sport GIF by WWE

While you’ve got to feel comfortable with the design, it doesn’t mean you need to take it personally. To be brutally honest, it doesn’t actually matter whether you like it or not – what matters is that your audience likes it. So avoid the phrase at all cost, “I don’t like it”.

This isn’t about giving designers special treatment. And, neither should you feel like you have to walk on eggshells when giving feedback. Instead, it’s making sure you get the best result for your project and having a better understanding of how to give good feedback will go a long way to ensuring that. Just remember to provide a good brief, give context to your criticisms and ask questions, and these will all help in your quest to get a better design.

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.

Tips on building a corporate website

7 things you shouldn’t forget when building a corporate website

When building or migrating to a new website there are so many considerations to bear in mind that it’s easy to forget some things. While you’re busy gathering photography or organising copy there can be some less immediate concerns that get overlooked.

It’s not just about building a website for launch, it’s about creating something that’s futureproof and flexible for the next couple of years. And, here are a handful of those things to think about:


#1 Image libraries

It’s great having brand new imagery for your new website – It looks fresh and you’re proud of your new branding. However sometimes you or your web designer have collated only enough images for your launch and not much further beyond that. As the content on your website grows over time, whether that’s new blog posts or new services, you may find yourself re-using imagery from other sections.

If you have an in-house designer then great, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter this problem, but if you have an external designer then bear in mind that the costs could rise very quickly. So with your new website, try to build an image library as the new site is being constructed.

Lesson: Try to make sure that you have more imagery in reserve when it comes to adding new pages to your website down the line.

Extra tip: In advance of your site going live, upload your images to your site and optimise them (compress the size and add alt tags) ready for the future.


#2 Contact email notifications

If a user sends you a message through a contact form, or orders a product, you’ll usually want them to receive an email notification. And, if you have several different contact forms you’ll want to make sure that the copy for all those email notifications has been well crafted and signed off by your manager.

This is often thought about at the last minute in the testing stage and can sometimes be rushed through without careful consideration. But these notifications can be incredibly important in providing a positive message about your brand with a potential customers first interaction.

Lesson: Discuss the user journey early and think about how these notifications could enhance your audience’s interaction with your brand.

Extra tip: Think about utilising this area for promotion – include links to services you are promoting or dynamically add your latest blog post.


#3 SEO structure and content

I still see it occasionally, where even big brands neglect optimising their site for search engines. This means they’ll be missing out on valuable traffic to their website which can drastically affect sales particularly if you have an ecommerce site or rely on a lot of web enquiries.

When you’re in your initial stages of your site design it’s vital to get your SEO specialist involved. They’ll be able to make sure that your site will be optimised as much as possible and help the site to grow in visitors over time.

Here’s where your SEO specialist can help:

  • Navigation and site structure: Your specialist will be able to help create the most appropriate navigation and link structure for your site. This is particularly important for ecommerce sites where categories are vital for SEO performance.
  • Which pages get migrated: Some pages have more value than others from both an SEO and conversion value. And, before you decide to just get rid of them you should ask your specialist to check the value of them. I’ve seen sites lose so much value from getting rid of pages where they have spent years building hard-earned links to them.
  • On-page structure: Your specialist will be able to work with both you and the developer to ensure that the page templates have been correctly marked up with the appropriate HTML. Things like H1 and H2 headings are marked up with the right text or that footer links are the made the best use of.
  • Page content: “Keeping things simple” is not always the best mantra to live by with page content. As a general rule 400 words is a good target to aim for. While this may sound like a lot, good design can help ensure that the text doesn’t appear overwhelming. Your specialist should also play a part in the sign-off process of approving copy. They will then be able to optimise your copy and suggest changes to the content to help improve it’s SEO performance.

You may also want to start your new website project by getting an extensive SEO website audit report on the performance of your site 😉 Or at least have a look at some of the SEO tools out there that can help -> See my earlier post: 9 of the best SEO audit tools (free & paid).

Lesson: Think about your site from an SEO perspective as much as you think about the design.

Extra tip: Get an SEO specialist – I might know one 😉


#4 Google Tag Manager tracking

Google Tag Manager is a great tool for customising extra things you want to report on in your Google Analytics. In an ideal world you’ll want to make sure that when your site is about to go live everything is in place to track elements in your new site. This will help with getting clearer reporting and improving elements based on data. Things like:

  • How much of your embedded YouTube videos are people watching and how much are they helping users enquire
  • Are they clicking the main call-to-action button
  • Which blog posts are people reading thoroughly
  • Are users signing up to the mailing list
  • Are people hitting the call button on their phone accidently

Lesson: Give time to set up Google Tag Manager Tracking in the testing phase.

Extra tip: If any of those elements are on your current site then start tracking those before switching over. This will give you extra reporting stats to compare your old site with your new one.


#5 Supporting functionality

Your site doesn’t have to be static – it can contain supporting functionality that can really make it sparkle and turn passive visitors into active ones.

Your new site is more than just pretty colours and nice design. Put your mind in the eyes of the viewer and try to understand what would make them feel like they could easily enquire.

Here’s a few ideas to consider:

  • Twitter/Instagram feed: Displaying a feed of your latest social media messages can show that you’re ‘always on the ball’ and active within the community.
  • Book a meeting integration: Tools such as Calendly have the ability to sync with your calendar so that when someone enquiries they can book a meeting in a slot available in your diary. This not only looks impressive but increases conversions tenfold!
  • Email sign-ups: It’s an obvious one to include but it shouldn’t be neglected particularly after the introduction of GDPR which has made the process of signing up a little harder.
  • Abandonment pop-ups: While pop-ups have a history of being really annoying these don’t have to be, as they’re a pop-up from you on your site. When a user is about to leave your page you can show them a pop-up that highlights an offer to them, which might make them reconsider.
  • Live bots / Chatbots: Not everyone wants to pick up the phone or submit an enquiry the traditional way. Some may just have a question about a product that you can quickly tell them the answer to and see them could turn into a customer. The upkeep of these are a lot easier than you might think and you don’t have to have a customer service assistant on call 24/7. Even just having one shows that you’re willing and happy to help. Check out LiveChat which has some good cost-effective options.

Lesson: Spend some time thinking about how you can make your site even better with functionality. Ask yourself: What will help people enquire? What are the preconceptions people might have visiting my site? What problems may they have?

Extra tip: Use a site like to get inspiration.


#6 Sign off / updating process

Once your site has gone live it’s inevitable that there will be changes you’ll want to make within the first month. This might be adding in more pages, tweaking the content for SEO or just correcting spelling mistakes. Either way, you need to know where you stand when it comes to who has the final say on those edits, as otherwise it can get a little messy – it can take too long to get things changed or sometimes people just get angry!

Lesson: Be clear what things can be edited and controlled at different levels. Write out a process chart for each type of change e.g. spelling mistakes = “web administrator”. New blog posts = “Content writer -> SEO specialist -> Marketing manager -> web administrator”.


#7 Testing testing testing

Testing is most definitely something not to skimp on. Even if your web developer or design agency has said they will happily test everything, they aren’t the ones who will be doing the day-to-day running of the site. Therefore you still need to go through and test everything.

While a good place to start is to go through your site and test links and functionality, the next step is to play different user journeys with different personas e.g. If you have a job website for marketing roles, then pretend to be an SEO specialist applying for digital roles – could you find what you were looking for? How did you feel about the brand going through the process? Then, try to be a recruiter who is looking to post a job and ask other relevant questions.

Lesson: Don’t leave it up to your developer or designer agency – Put aside whole days of testing on different devices.

Extra tip: Decide at the beginning of the project on some other people within the business who can be your guinea pigs and test the site out.


Got any more tips you’d like to suggest? Or perhaps you have a project yourself and need a freelance website project manager to help? Either way, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] 🙂