External links are some of the most important ranking factors for appearing near the top of SERPs for any keyword or topic. It’s surprising then how many marketers and brands don’t know how to use them the right way to get the most out of their content. Do you know the current best practices for external linking in content marketing? We’re exploring them today with topics like:
External links aren’t just top-ranking factors for search engines. They establish authority and relevancy in your content. Regardless of your brand’s expert status in its niche, linking out to a top authority or credible resource provides value and builds trust with your audience.
Readers don’t expect your business, marketing team, or writers to know everything about your industry. But you should be providing the right resources for audiences to get the information they need, even if you can’t answer the questions yourself.
When building brand authority through knowledge and research, consider some of the best practices for external linking in your content:
When linking to external content, relevancy and value are the most important factors. As you plan for outbound links in your content, ask yourself, “how does this help my audience?” If you don’t have a good answer, you shouldn’t be adding the link. It’s also important to remember that external links can come from a range of outside sources, including written content, news posts, infographics, videos, and podcasts.
Your external links are only as good as the domains from which they come. If you want to provide high-quality content to your audience, you have to link externally to other high-quality sites. To find credible content to link out to, research some of the big-name brands, websites, and businesses in your industry.
Look for brand sources that include relevant and fact-checked data. These are the sources you want to link to in your own content. If you’re promoting clickbait or low-quality content on your website, you risk the audience perceiving your brand as untrustworthy. Their behavior could reflect this and tell search engines the content isn’t worth ranking.
Sometimes, when a topic is new or rare, there might not be a wealth of credible sources for external linking. Which approach is better in that instance: linking to a less-than-credible website or not citing your sources at all? Neither option is ideal, so luckily there is a workaround for these kinds of situations: the nofollow tag.
A nofollow tag adds a specific code to the link that tells search engines to ignore it when crawling and indexing your page. The nofollow tag ensures external linking doesn’t affect your SEO or add to the source’s SEO. Essentially, it’s like you haven’t added the external link at all. There are two common situations where you may use the nofollow tag with external links on your website:
In the first case, you use the nofollow tag to keep up your own domain authority. You can also include text in your content that warns people the linked source may not be credible, but it’s the only one available. In the second instance, you use the nofollow tag to prevent your website from helping the SEO of a direct competitor.
Every external link you use is a backlink for another company. The more backlinks a web page gets, the more Google and other search engines recognize its value and credibility. That pushes it higher in SERPs. You don’t want your brand’s content to help the people you’re trying to out-market and outsell. This workaround lets you provide quality resources when necessary without giving anyone else an SEO boost.
Related: Nofollow Links: The Complete Guide
Anchor text is the clickable part of any link. For example, in the related link above, the article title, Nofollow Links: The Complete Guide, is the anchor text. We use anchor text in content to make links readable for audiences. Search engines also evaluate the words and phrases you use as anchor text to determine if your hyperlinks are relevant, credible, and high-quality. As search engines crawl and index your site, relevant and valuable linked sources can increase the potential for higher rankings.
The right anchor text for any link should be descriptive of what people are going to find when they click and get redirected to another webpage or piece of content. Using anchor text like “click here” isn’t descriptive enough, as readers can’t determine the context or value of the source you’re linking to. Plus, vague anchor text confuses search engine crawlers about the context of the source. Make sure the words you choose flow naturally within the piece and provide information about the links behind them.
As we mentioned, other sources may recommend a specific number of external links to improve SEO. These types of suggestions come from the days when you could keyword stuff and manipulate your content to rank higher in SERPs. Thanks to Google’s algorithm updates, those days are over.
Now, link quality is better than link quantity. While it’s not best practice to link every other sentence in your content, don’t worry about linking too much or too little. What’s more important is that the links are credible and relevant.
In some cases, like technical and industry-specific content, you might see more citations than in a blog post. Ultimately, though, the number of links you include in your content should be in line with the topic and the value you’re providing your audience.
One of the biggest fears marketers have about linking externally to other websites is losing business. After all, don’t outgoing links take readers away from your site? You combat this by setting external links to open in a new tab. New tabs ensure readers can view the outside information without navigating away from your site entirely. Instead, they can go back and forth between your brand’s content and the external source, providing more control over what they view.
For example, some people may click external links while they scan an article to open them in a new tab and read through them at the end. Others may just want to see what the external article is about and then continue reading your content. No matter how many tabs they open, they don’t lose their place within your content and can always come back to where they left off. This increases their chances of finishing your content and sticking around to make purchases or conversions when they finish.
We’ve already advised against linking externally to direct competitors because it adds to their SEO results. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, and that’s why nofollow tags exist.
But the most effective way to avoid linking to direct competitors is to make your brand an authority in its niche. You can do this by running studies, collecting data, doing research, and applying this analysis to your content marketing strategies.
Looking for a framework for content analysis? CopyPress provides an in-depth report comparing your content to competitors. You’ll see the topic gaps your content should be focusing on, which are essential to plan and promote content, boost rankings, and increase organic traffic.
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When you link externally to other content, you’re not in control of what happens to it. The publisher may change the URL, delete the page, or rewrite the content and there’s nothing you can do about it. When these things happen it can result in broken links on your website that went to the original content. And if you don’t find and fix these links it hurts your SEO.
Broken links or links that go to irrelevant content hurt the user experience. They decrease trust and credibility in your information. But there are easy ways to avoid this pitfall, such as conducting regular link audits.
In a link audit, you browse every link on your page, within your content, or on your website to make sure it’s working properly and goes to the right place. There are plenty of Chrome extensions you can use to run an audit on any website. With these tools, you can run the audit and use the results to locate and fix any broken links on your site.
CopyPress creates brand content that other people around the internet want to link to. Our creative team understands the best practices of external linking and how those best practices may change based on search algorithm updates and trending topics. We work with you to determine the right external linking strategy for your content and incorporate it into every campaign. Schedule a strategy call with our team to find out how our content marketing services can support your business goals.
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