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The Truth about Outbound Links for SEO

SEO is an ever-changing and evolving thing. I like to call it an invisible science. There’s a lot that goes into it, and most of it you can’t see. One thing you can see are links, both outbound links and inbound links.

Everyone knows that inbound links (also known as backlinks), those are links that come to your website from other websites, are important. Each link is like a vote of confidence within the search engines. It’s like saying, “Hey, this site has good info, check it out!”

But outbound links are a different story, and they, too, are important for SEO. Frequently when I’m working with a client on SEO, they see that I’ve added outbound links in their pages and they question why I’ve done that.

I don’t want people to leave my site,” they say.

Of course you don’t. But consider this: what if the content you’ve linked to helps your site visitor understand your product or service better? What if your outbound link reinforces a point you’ve made. Do you still not want people to go there?

Outbound Links for SEO

When it comes to SEO, do you really need outbound links?

Yes. Let me count the ways.

They add to your site’s credibility:
If your website is linking to sources that reinforce your idea or theory, that explains more about your product or service, or expands on what you’ve already state, this adds to your credibility. Consider it like adding a bibliography to your term paper. Yes, your paper may be great, but when you add that bibliography, then that means other people agree with what you’ve written, thus supporting your point. That’s exactly what an outbound link is to your website. It’s supporting evidence that what you’ve written is right and true and worthy.

Outbound links are a trust signal
When other sites link to you, that’s a signal to Google that your site’s content is good. Similarly, when you link to other sites, it sends the same signal to Google for those other sites. BUT, it also sends signals for your own site. If you’re linking to sites and source to back up your content, sites that are quality sites that the search engines know and trust, then the search engines will start to trust your site more.

Google can help determine the authority of your site by the websites you are linking to. Essentially it boils down to being careful about the company you keep. If you’re linking to high quality sites, your site will start to be associated with those sites.

Links are a two-way street
You want backlinks, right? You want people to link to your site to help get your site better positioned. Well, that goes both ways. Why should anyone link to you if you don’t link to anyone else? Having quality outbound links encourages backlinks.

If you are wondering what Google has to say about it, here’s a video that just came out a few days ago from Google Webmasters with more info.

A study conducted by Reboot Marketing in 2016 confirms that sites with more outbound links will have better placement. They did this by creating ten sites, all registered at the same time and having zero confirmed search volume and hosted on the same server. The sites were optimized for the same keywords. Half of the sites were given outbound links and half were not.

The result was that sites with outgoing relevant links to sites with good authority had a positive effect on the website’s SEO.

I see similar results when I compare outbound links for clients. Take a look at this chart. It should the outbound links for three different websites. Take a look at the number of outbound links between the first site and the other two sites, and then compare the domain authority of all three sites. Those sites with so many outbound links have a much higher domain authority.

Outbound Link Comparison Chart

Of course, those other sites have more inbound links as well and a lot of other SEO factors, but it does verify that other sites aren’t afraid to link to other sites.

The dos and don’ts of external linking

DOs

  • Use descriptive anchor text. Don’t link “click here.” That doesn’t tell the search engines what that link is about. A good rule of thumb is to use the name of the website you are linking to as the anchor text.
  • Look for natural places to link. Don’t just add links to add links. That’s no good. The link you add should be a valuable resource that lends credibility to your own content.

DON’Ts

  • Don’t add too many outbound links. Yes, we like a good bibliography, but don’t be spammy about it. Adding a link in a natural location to a high quality site
  • Don’t link to low-quality or spammy websites. It’s death by association, when you start to link to sites that don’t provide additional value.
  • Don’t do paid links. Any website you link to should have value, should be reputable and have authority. Don’t add a link just because someone paid you. If the link isn’t relevant and authoritative, it won’t help you.
  • Be careful of link exchanges. Remember back in the early days of the web when your site would have a “links” page, where you would link to other sites that were linking to you? The sites didn’t have to be relevant or quality, they just had to link to you. Well, Google got smart, and it doesn’t like those types of links anymore. That’s not to say you necessarily shouldn’t link to someone if they link to you. Just don’t do solely because they link to you. Make sure it’s a natural place to add a link that works.

When it comes to linking, don’t be afraid to share the link love! The search engines like links. Your users like links. The sites you link to will like the links. Creating outbound links will help your website’s SEO if you do it with intention. Think about finding valuable content that your users will want to read and find natural places to add links to that content.

As a general rule, if it helps your user, then it helps your SEO. Link away, friends!

Amy Masson

Amy is the co-owner, developer, and website strategist for Sumy Designs. She's been making websites with WordPress since 2006 and is passionate about making sure websites are as functional as they are beautiful.

1 Comment

  1. Nancy Friedberg on August 2, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks Amy. Your SEO tips on linking websites added value for me in how, when and why to use.

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