On Monday, July 26, 2021, Google released a reminder for site owners on how to deal with links that might have a commercial nature, in order to avoid violating the company's quality guidelines.
According to Google, links are one of the ways the company understands what content may be helpful to searchers. However, site owners must be careful not to engage in practices that violate Google's guidelines against link schemes. In particular, when linking out to other sites, it is important to qualify those links appropriately.
More specific guidelines for managing commercial links are as follows:
- If you're selling links or otherwise profiting from them, make sure to use a nofollow link attribute on all such links.
- If you're receiving free products or services in exchange for linking to another site, make sure there's no implied endorsement of that site by adding a [rel="sponsored"] tag or [rel="ugc"] tag.
- If you have any questions about these guidelines or any other aspect of linking, feel free to reach out on our webmaster forums.
Affiliate links are a common way for blogs and publishers to monetize their traffic. In general, using affiliate links to monetize a website is fine. However, Google asks sites participating in affiliate programs to qualify these links with rel="sponsored", regardless of whether these links were created manually or dynamically.
As part of Google's ongoing effort to improve ranking for product-related searches and better reward high-quality content, when Google finds sites failing to qualify affiliate links appropriately, they may issue manual actions to prevent these links from affecting Search. Additionally, their systems might also take algorithmic actions. Both manual and algorithmic actions may affect how a site is seen in Search, so it's good to avoid things that may cause actions, where possible.
Google advises site owners to use the appropriate "rel" values for links in sponsored and guest posts, in order to avoid negative consequences from Google's algorithms. This is because Google has gotten better at detecting and nullifying links from what it considers to be "link schemes" - i.e. posts that are written primarily for the purpose of gaining links, rather than providing quality content.
If Google detects a site engaging in either publishing or acquiring too many links without the proper link tags, it may take algorithmic or manual action against the site.
Google is constantly working to improve the quality of its search results, and it has just announced a new algorithm update that is designed to more effectively identify and nullify link spam. This update, which will rollout over the next two weeks, will have a significant impact on sites that engage in link spamming, causing them to see changes in their Search rankings. Google is committed to providing high quality search results for its users, and this latest update is just one more step in that direction.
As always, site owners should make sure that they are following the best practices on links, both incoming and outgoing. Focusing on producing high quality content and improving user experience always wins out compared to manipulating links. Promote awareness of your site using appropriately tagged links, and monetize it with properly tagged affiliate links.
If you have any questions, you can discuss with experts in the Google Search Central Community.