Let’s pay attention to what we publish on the site, and even more to what we host. We can summarize like that the message that comes from the new video of the series #askGoogleWebmaster on Youtube, dedicated to a topic that can sometimes be underestimated: User Generated Contents, meaning those contents freely written by users, and how Google takes them into account and evaluates them for the overall ranking of the site and its pages.

Google and UGC: no difference in evaluation compared to other contents

As usual it is John Mueller who takes charge of the question of a user of the vast international SEO community and turns it into a starting point for a wider reflection on the proposed topic. In this case, as mentioned, the focus is on the User Generated Content hosted on the site and, in particular, their impact on the evaluation of the page made by Google.

The user, owner of a site, expressely asks if the rules of Google ranking – simplified in “relevance and quality of contents (among other factors)” – are applied in the same way at the contents produced by users, as well.

Google analyzes and also takes into account UGCs for the ranking

As commonly known, the UGC expression indicates every type of onpage content produced by visitors and added after the original publication of the site owner. It comes in many forms, from simple comments at the end of an article to live discussions between users, but it also refers to entire pages written by other visitors.

So, there are many different forms of user-generated contents and there is only one thing to remember: Google treats them in the same way as the main content, a.k.a the most important content published by the original author of the page.

There is no difference in handling

John Mueller says it clearly: even UGCs must comply with the standards that the site manager observes for his main and original contents, and it is therefore risky to leave too much room to external people. In fact, the Google Webmaster says that we should not allow users to publish just about anything.

To use its own words, “generally, Google does not distinguish between the contents you wrote and the ones written by users: if you publish it on your site, we will see it as content you want to publish“. As a result, what is published online in its entirety becomes the subject of Google’s ranking ratings.

How to safely host UGCs on the site

Mueller however also provides some practical advice for those who host user-generated content and do not want to risk a bad rating because of their low quality. First, he says, if you “have a higher amount of UGCs, make sure they meet the same publication standards of the contents on your website”.

There are also ways sites can safely accept user-generated content without it affecting the ranking. The most immediate and easy system is to block the indexing of pages with UCG contents until they have passed a revision – a quality control of some sort – from the operators of the site.

According to Mueller, it is possible to “prevent by default these pages from being indexed and allow them to only be indexed if you are satisfied with the quality. For example, you could block them with a meta tag robots noindex“, to be removed after revision if the content meets specific criteria established or if it is well accepted by other visitors, using systems to “collect information on the liking of UGCs by other users, which may be useful”.

UGC and links, Google’s advice

Then there is another aspect examined in the video, and that is the care and attention that the sites must devote to the management of links present in UGC sections: Mueller recommends taking precautions, which may be of the absolute type (completely disallow insertion of links by users) or more moderate.

In this regard, he reminds us that about a year ago Google introduced a new attribute for links, the rel=UGC, which serves precisely to signal to search engine crawlers that the reference link was inserted by users – and that therefore should not be taken into account for the ranking – more specific than the classic nofollow (which however you can still use to the same end, although from March 1 has definitely become a hint that Google could use for its rankings).

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