Labeling the Purpose of Links in HTML could Reduce Link Spam

By | April 11, 2014

ID-100124452In order to help search engines like Google & Bing understand the weight and importance of links on a page, and to reduce link spam, perhaps we need to start labeling the purpose of the links on our websites and blogs.

In a previous article, we talked about “Is linking dead for SEO?” and Matt Cutt’s statement that guest blogging for SEO is dead.  Search engines are finding that using links to determine the relevancy, importance and value of a page is getting harder and harder due to link spam.

But perhaps if we labelled what the links were for, we could assist Google in calculating the value of the links, while at the same time discouraging link spam.

To make things simpler, some of this labeling could be done automatically by content management systems such as WordPress and forum software like phpBB.

Proposed Attributes

Here are some suggestions for how to label links in HTML so Google and other search engines will know what they are for.  The label would be added to your standard link /anchor <A> HTML tag.  Some of these are already part of HTML5, while some of these are my suggestions.

Most of these have not been adopted by anyone yet, but hopefully some of these suggestions will get adopted in HTML5 and by Google, Bing and others.

rel=”sponsored”

Instead of just labeling a link as rel=”nofollow” perhaps we go a step further and declare that a link is an actual sponsored link.

This would allow websites to earn income from advertisers without fear of a Google penalty for the advertiser or publisher, since these links are clearly labelled as sponsored links.  Search engines could simply ignore them for ranking purposes.

On websites that adopt this, these links would naturally tend to become more relevant to the website visitor, since the purpose of the link is exclusively for the visitor to click on, and not there for SEO purposes. After all, if the link is not relevant or interesting, visitors will never click on it.

This also helps bring links back to their original purpose, which is for people to use to get to other related and/or interesting webpages.

rel=”topic”

Using this attribute would indicate that the publisher and/or author is declaring that this link is related to the topic of the page.  In many ways, this serves as an endorsement by the publisher and author.

Google could look at these links and give them more weight if organic, and issue a Google penalty if abused.

Google would also have a better chance of finding link spam, because anyone using this tag is declaring that links marked with this attribute are relevant to the topic somehow.  Irrelevant links would be easier for Google to spot.

If Google finds publishers purposely stuffing irrelevant links marked with rel=”topic” in a page, it could justify a strict penalty since the publisher is purposely declaring these links are relevant when they are in fact not.  This may reduce link spam, since there are strict penalties for link stuffing with this attribute, while at the same time, giving publishers the freedom to link to anything they want using the other attributes mentioned on this page.

If strict penalties are in place for its misuse, honest publishers would be more likely to adopt it, and spammers would more likely not use it at all.

rel=”comment”

A website or blog could mark all links in comments with this attribute telling search engines that these links are not endorsed by the publisher and/or author.

Comment spam would drop considerably on blogs that label which links are from the comments, if search engines started ignoring comment links or penalizing excessive comment spam.

For example, if both Google and WordPress adopted this, the whole reason for posting comment spam would go away overnight (at least for WordPress) since there would be no SEO benefits whatsoever to posting links in comments.  It may take time for spammers to realize this, of course, but taking away any incentive for posting links in comments for SEO purposes would help reduce comment spam, especially the kind that has no relevancy to the topic whatsoever.

rel=”discussion”

This one is similar to rel=”comment” except it would be used in forums, discussion boards and other situations where there is an ongoing discussion.  This would allow publishers to declare that links in the discussions are user generated content, and are not endorsed by the publisher.  This is especially useful for websites that have both user generated content and publisher generated content, to distinguish them from each other.

This reason this is different from rel=”comment” is that it is possible that the links are relevant to the discussion. but it is also possible that it is not, since it is user generated content.  Google could take this into account when analyzing a page, and give such links less weight than links that are endorsed by the publisher.

Since many of these spam links are automated, patterns could be detected allowing search engines to filter out spammy user generated content.  This would allow search engines to ignore certain links, or even entire discussion boards that are know to house a lot of spammy comments.

rel=”author”

This one is already part of HTML5 and recognized by Google and others.  It is used to tell search engines and bots that you are linking to the author’s profile page.  This profile page can be a page on the website itself, or can be an external profile on another website or social network.

Google has started to use this tag with Google Authorship, where if you link to the Author’s Google+ profile and perform a couple of validation steps, Google will know which Google+ user is the author, which gives several benefits including building credibility for the author, and displaying the author’s profile picture in Google search results (SERPs).

Authors with a better reputation would see their content show up higher in search engines.

rel=”contributor”

This would be a link to the profile or website of someone who contributed to the creation of the page or article, but who is not the primary author.  This gives a way to give credit to graphics designers, researchers, web designer, video producer, and co-authors who created the content.  Especially since Google currently prefers that there only be one author to an article.

People should get credit for their work, even if they are not the primary author, and this would be a way to be fair.  It would not give as much weight as an author attribution, but it would help Google have a better understanding of who is actually creating the content, especially content that is co-created.

This would also allow the linking to contributors without fear that it be confused with link spam.  Google could simple take into account that this is a link to a contributor, and not meant to be a relevant link related to the topic, and weigh it appropriately.

rel=”publisher”

This would tell search engines who the publisher is, either by linking to the publisher’s website and/or to the publisher’s social network pages.  This would allow search engines to figure out who the publisher is, and which websites are related by publisher.

Google has started recognizing this attribute for indicating which Google+ profile belongs to the publisher, when a Google+ page URL is entered as the URL.

Publishers with consistently good content across multiple websites could get a boost in their search engine rankings, which would encourage good content.

rel=”publisher-sites”

This attribute would allow a publisher to link to its sister website, without fear of being penalized by Google for irrelevant links.

Google could use this to determine websites with a common publisher, and also use that to calculate a publisher’s reputation.  Google would also understand that these links are, in fact, organic and not sponsored links, despite possibly being irrelevant to the topic.  Proper use of these links would avoid a Google penalty, but be given a different weight due to their nature.

How this can Reduce Link Spam

If labeling the purpose of links starts gaining widespread use, it could reduce link spam by:

  1. Allowing Google to distinguish between user generated links vs. publisher generated links vs. sponsored links, and weighing them accordingly.
  2. Removing the incentive of posting links in comments for SEO purposes.
  3. Reducing the incentive of posting links in forums and discussion boards for SEO purposes, since it carries less weight than publisher generated links.
  4. Making sponsored links more relevant to visitors, since sponsored links would not have any SEO benefits, but be purely for the traffic the links themselves create.
  5. With a possible Google penalty for misuse of the rel=”topics” attribute, publishers would think twice about using it for SEO purposes.
  6. Allow Google to give a boost to rankings to publishers and authors who have consistently good content.
  7. Links marked by a reputable publisher and/or author with rel=”topic” would carry more weight.

Hopefully something like this catches on.  If you agree (or disagree), please comment below and share this post on social media.  Let’s get a discussion started around this topic.

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles / FreeDigtialPhotos.net.

Scott M. Stolz

Entrepreneur, Educator, Author.
Helping people embrace life's opportunities.™


2 thoughts on “Labeling the Purpose of Links in HTML could Reduce Link Spam

  1. Pingback: Is Linking Dead? | BizTechTonics

  2. Scott M. Stolz Post author

    Although most of these attributes were meant to be used in anchor/link tags, many of these could be used as meta tags in the header of a document if that information is desired to be acknowledged, but not displayed. For example, author, publisher and contributors could be listed in the meta tags rather than as links, and that would still be useful for search engines crawling the pages.

    Reply

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