Know When to Link: 3 Rules for Outbound Links

Published Dec, 18 2013

We don’t have a million clients (yet), so when more than a few asked me about the relationship of outbound links and SEO I thought I’d try to address it with a blog post. That’s a suggestion I always make to our clients, so here’s to practicing what you preach!

Outbound links can indeed improve your site and contribute to improved search engine rankings. Though less powerful than quality links pointing to your site, outbound links should not be overlooked. Because they can enhance a user’s experience, outbound links send important signals to search engines.

3 Rules for Making Outbound Links Work for You

1) Where You Link to Matters

If you link to an authoritative source that’s relevant to what you’re writing about and contributes to your topic, then you’re on the right track.

Also, first consider if there is appropriate, unique content on your own site that you can link to in place of an external source. Rather than send visitors away unnecessarily, maybe take a moment to build authority by creating a reference post of your own, like Wikipedia does. For example, I was regularly being asked about how to compete with link spammers, and found myself referencing others’ work, so I wrote How to Compete with Link Spammers and Win.

Notice how at the end of that post I included a few hand-picked outbound links to other resources on the topic? I like to contribute to the Great Conversation on the Internet by mindfully referring our readers to other good sources, which Google is all about supporting. I want our readers to trust that if we send them to another domain, it’s to help them further their learning. Though not at all a unique tactic, I personally took the practice straight from syllabi in college, which usually ended with an “additional reading” section I always found useful.

2) Choose the Placement of Your Outbound Links Wisely

We advise that you use outbound links naturally in the body of your text, or as an “additional reading” resource at the end as discussed in the above section. However, if all your links are in one place in every post, things start looking fishy. Try to shoot for a mix, and use hyperlink anchor text that helps explain where the links lead. For example, link the phrase “keywords are overrated” instead of “click here.” That sends a signal to both your reader and Google that they should have confidence in what’s on the other end of the link. As I’m fond of saying, trust is the true currency of the web, so try not to screw it up.

3) Everything in Moderation

According to Google heavyweight Matt Cutts, there’s no automatic rule that a certain number of links is spammy. Assuming that you’re not doing anything suspicious like hiding links or stuffing keywords everywhere, the number of appropriate links has far more to do with user experience. So just try and use some judgement here, and don’t let your links become a distraction. Like my mom always told me: “Everything in moderation.”

Stephen’s Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) Version: Ask the Value Question

Before I consider including an outbound link in one of my posts, I like to ask myself what I consider the golden rule: Does this outbound link add value for the reader? If not, and if you don’t need the link to attribute credit or cite a statistic, then consider leaving it out. No reason to lead your readers elsewhere with no added value or send Google the message that you’re all over the place.

Good luck!

Image courtesy of The 72 Pins.