Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Google Quality Guidelines: Link Schemes Update on October 2, 2019

Google updated their link schemes document to account for new link attributes today- among other things.

There were two changes in Google's Link Schemes Guidelines today. The first dealt with requiring a link as part of a terms of service (or other agreement). This is where websites are contractually obligated to link to someone's site. This might happen when someone requires a link for using a widget. Other times web development companies (for example) might require a "credit" for creating the link on the website itself. 

According to Google's updated guidelines the requirements on this kind of link softened a little. Where it used to say a link was a link scheme "without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of using nofollow or other method of blocking PageRank" now it says it's a bad link "without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of using of qualifying the outbound link". 

There's a couple subtle things going on here:
  1. Removing a reference to PageRank. Google is not allowing webmasters to see the PageRank of a webpage any longer. Although they still use this metric internally (according to rumors) they don't make its value publicly-available. This is another way for Google to hide PageRank for us. This isn't necessarily bad- a lot people misused PageRank. It's probably better for us to move away from that metric.
  2. The way this guideline was softened was by the removal of the reference to nofollow attribute on a link. Instead, a website should have the option of qualifying the link. What does that mean? That relates to the second change on the guidelines...

The second change was later in the document under PPC links. This is where someone is charging another person for the link from their website (on a pay per click model- or otherwise, I suppose). This is a way of telling Google to not use these links to pass PageRank. Interesting that Google keeps this reference to PageRank here.

There are two ways to prevent a paid link to pass PageRank, according to the guidelines. The second one (which remains unchanged) is by redirecting the link through an excluded page- perhaps a page that is excluded through the robots.txt page. The first way- which is changed in today's update- is by "Indicating the link is sponsored using a qualifying attribute."

There's that phrase again: "qualifying attribute". What does it mean? Google elaborates by linking to another article: A qualifying attribute is an expansion on the "nofollow" attribute for a link. Sure, you can still nofollow a link but you could send Google further information about the link by alternatively adding a "sponsored" or "ugc" parameter to a link. All work the same: "links markeed with these rel attributes will generally not be followed" The difference is in what you're communicating to Google.

Why is this important? Google will soon start making algorithmic decisions on whether or not a nofollowed (or otherwise "qualified") link will pass PageRank.

Wait! What? Why go to the effort of adding qualifying attributes to links if Google will be automatically deciding whether or not to pass PageRank to a link? That's a good question. 

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