The Newest Google Policy Changes: Should You Panic Or Rejoice?
On September 10, 2019, Google made a major announcement regarding policy changes to how certain links in the search engine algorithms. Though Google policy changes usually have a ripple effect because of how popular the search engine is, these specific changes were centered around how Google will handle a special type of link called “no-follow” links in the future.
These changes will undoubtedly have an impact on current search engine optimization (SEO) practices and link building policies in the future, so we thought it would be wise to take a minute and explain how this change might affect surgery practice SEO moving forward.
What Exactly ARE Nofollow Links?
Technically speaking, the “nofollow” tag on a link is a hypertext markup language (HTML) property that is added to web links in the code a given page. The history of the nofollow link tag is the history of combatting spammy web bots like robot-commenters on WordPress sites and other such links that a webmaster does not want Google to associate with their web domain. However, as the Google advertising platform gained increasing traction, nofollow attributes were also applied to advertising tracking links and user-generated hyperlinks (UGL’s) from places of questionable credibility.
Although this is all sounds very technical, let’s take a step back and walk through a simple example to illustrate how important it is for medical practices to be able to use the nofollow tag:
So, in summary, the nofollow link property can be quite useful in combating unscrupulous attacks from competitors, also known as negative SEO.
Google Formally Changes The Nofollow Policy
According to Google’s official statement regarding the change in policy on nofollow links, we know they have told the public the following:
“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. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”
In other words, Google is now reserving the right to decide whether or not to include potentially unwanted site links which the search engine algorithms were previously ignoring. Previous to the changes, adding the nofollow attribute to a website link was treated by Google as an explicit directive to ignore the link. Now, Google is stating that it will take the opinion of website owners into account, but that Google itself will have the final say.
In addition to announcing the changes stated above, Google gave publishers some new options for adding nofollow-type attributes to links. Website owners now have the option to indicate that a link labeled nofollow is from user-generated-content. Thus, site owners can specify whether or not a given nofollow link is directing to the website from somebody else’s sponsored content.
The Marketing World Reacts
Immediately following the announcement, digital marketing agencies predictably flew into a panic and scrambled to figure out how SEO for businesses were going to be affected. If Google’s history of policy and algorithm changes serve as any precedent, the reality is that everything is going be fine and the search engine optimization will continue to evolve as normal.
What quite likely happened is that Google has been working behind the scenes for several years to develop smarter systems of figuring out which links are likely nefarious negative SEO attempts on the part of a competitor so that website publishers don’t have to manually introduce nofollow links. In other words, the odds are that Google actually introduced these core changes to their algorithms awhile ago and they decided now is the appropriate time to officially let the public know where things are headed.
Why Would Google Do This?
With marketers in a frenzy over the new changes, the big question is, why would Google do this? In reality, the changes likely stem from a variety of reasons, but the main ones are probably as follows:
1. In Google’s opinion, nofollow links can come from valuable sources, and the search engine algorithms should have the option to decide if this is the case. Links from forums, for example, are often treated as high authority links by Google, and perhaps they feel that these links should not be able to be discounted because site owners don’t want to be associated with them.
2. User-generated-content is different from sponsored content, and introducing the option for publishers to differentiate among the two may help Google’s machine learning algorithms automatically tell the difference in the future.
3. Previous to the changes, websites were able to automatically direct Google to treat every incoming link as a nofollow. With site owners no longer able to do this, the algorithms may find it easier to accurately rank websites.
While many see Google’s recent nofollow policy changes as a broad, sweeping development in the world of link building and SEO, the reality is that it’s likely these changes have been on the way for some time now.
Even though search engine optimization will continue getting impacted moving forward, smart businesses will continue to choose marketing agencies that adapt and survive to innovate new best practices for their clients.
This wasn’t the first major change that Google has announced, and it certainly won’t be that last.