An external linking strategy is a process you develop to find the right places and times to link out to other web sources. These links benefit your own website and content. The strategy helps you organize, track, and optimize the links you intend to use for SEO content. Using a linking strategy correctly helps you rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) for your keywords and topics, leading to more organic traffic. But how do you plan and integrate an external linking strategy for new content? We’re exploring that question today with topics like:
Use these steps to create an external linking strategy for all brand content you create:
Topic selection is one of the first steps in any content marketing strategy, including developing an external linking plan. Picking the right topics for content is different for every company. Knowing the topic first matters because a strong external linking strategy helps build and show context for your topic. When you link to other similar pieces within your own, it helps search engines understand your website. This is how the services determine what information relates to a query.
If you’re unsure of how to choose the right topics for all your new content, CopyPress has a tool to help. Request your free content analysis report from our strategy team to understand how your content stacks up against the competition. You’ll also uncover the topic gaps your content doesn’t target. Then, use this data to find valuable keyword opportunities to pair with your external linking strategy for SEO.
Knowing your topic isn’t enough to set things off and running with your strategy. You also have to know what type of content you plan to create before you can really dive in. The content type matters because it dictates how many links you might need for any piece. Linking strategies apply to written and some forms of visual content. All written pieces—like blog posts, articles, and even eBooks—benefit from a strong external linking strategy.
External links can also benefit optimized video and graphic content. Include them in optimized video descriptions or use cards and end screens to direct audiences to related content. Planning content types is essential to outlining link placements. Long-form content typically has more links than short-form pieces. And written content will typically have more links than visual content.
Once you know the basics for a content creation project, it’s time to do your research. The type of research you do depends on the topic and article type. Some content types require interviews, in-depth internet searches, or even surveys. But the research phase is also where you identify potential external links to use in your content. Use a spreadsheet or a text document to track links you find beneficial throughout the research. They might not all be perfect or make the last cut. Even so, it’s better to save a record of all the links you find.
But why? Let’s say your team is working on a blog post on the top 10 things to consider when picking a new veterinarian for your pet. Based on the topic and content type, the written content likely needs statistics and data to back up certain points and show why they’re valid. This is a prime avenue for a place to add links within your strategy.
If you or your team only save certain links during the research phase, that could cause problems when you get to writing. Maybe you don’t have enough links. Or maybe you find that links you thought were credible actually lead to low-quality resources. Now you have to go back to the research phase and find more. It’s better to save all potential links during research. Then you can weed out what doesn’t work during your analysis.
Now that you have your extensive list of potential links, it’s time to go through and validate each one. What’s going to make a good link to add to your content? An external linking strategy has to be just that: strategic. It’s not about throwing in a certain number of links that point away from your site and thinking that’s good enough. There has to be a purpose and reasoning behind why you pick each one.
Ultimately, every link you add to your content should add more value to your piece. While adding value, most links should also back up claims you make or prove the validity of data and statistics. Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking at each link to decide if it’s right to incorporate into your content:
With external linking strategies, there are two types of direct competitors to consider: your business competitors and your search competitors. Your business competitors are the brands you normally consider when you think of competition. They’re the companies that see the same products and services to the same audience as your brand. You don’t want to link externally to business competitors unless you don’t have another choice.
Your search competitors are ones you might not consider as direct competition when developing your linking strategy. But you should. These are any domains already ranking on the first SERP for your target keywords. So if you link to these domains, you’ll inadvertently keep them ranking. And it’s important to understand that your search competitors aren’t always the same as your business competitors. For example, let’s say you’re a content marketing agency developing a blog post about keyword research. When you Google that keyword, you get these results:
Google Ads, Moz, and HubSpot aren’t your business competitors. None of those are content marketing agencies that sell the same products or services as you. But they are your search competitors. They’re ranking highest for your desired keywords right now. If you link out to these sources, you’re putting yourself behind in the ranking game before you even publish your piece.
Once you’ve picked the right links for any piece, then it’s time to incorporate them into the content. Teams may handle this process differently. For most, writers weave in external links as they develop the content. In other cases, the writers create the content and a content manager, SEO specialist, or editor adds the right links before publication. In either case, it’s important to consider where to add the links within the content and how they’ll appear to readers or viewers on screen.
Visually, people expect to see links underlined and highlighted in another color, usually blue. Make sure your publication source lets links stand out in this way. It helps people know where to click. Next, consider the anchor text you use over each link. The anchor text is the clickable part of any link. There are multiple types to use for external links, including:
Both search engines and audiences prefer exact and partial match anchor text. It provides context and clarity about what they’ll find on the other side of the link. Last, all external links should open in a new tab. This allows your audience to travel to the new domain but come back to or reference your original content if they choose.
Finding and adding links to your content isn’t enough. How are you going to track your external link performance and value within your content? Your external link tracking plan often matches up with some of your content marketing goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).
For example, if one of your goals is to get more leads from organic traffic, you may track how adding external links influences conversions. To do this, add testing to your strategy. You can split-test things like link placement or the anchor text you use to see which one is most popular with your audience. You can use this information to influence future link placement, content creation, and optimization.
Even evergreen content doesn’t remain static forever. Some topics can become outdated or require updating with current information. Studies show that we create about 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. With so much new information hitting the internet all the time, your links, and your pieces overall, will become outdated at some point. But if you already have an auditing and replacement plan in place, it shouldn’t affect content performance.
Create a content audit process that connects to your external linking strategy. For example, you might assign a team member to check over a certain category of your blog posts once per month. During this audit, they check the functionality of all links within those posts to make sure they still work. They could also fact-check to make sure they’re using the best resource possible for the content.
You can create a specific external linking strategy for optimizing old content, too. This is helpful if your old content didn’t use external links at all. It could also help you upgrade older pieces for relevance and functionality. Using an external linking strategy for optimization helps make sure that you never take a hit in SERP rankings for another site’s behavior.
If you’re constantly updating and auditing your own content, you’ll catch broken links or outdated information before it hurts your brand’s online reputation. If you want to learn how to create an external linking strategy for your current web content, check out our article called How To Create an External Linking Strategy for Old Content.
A linking strategy doesn’t have to be just for external links. Here are some other options for linking strategies you can use in any type of content:
An internal linking strategy works similarly to an external one. The only difference? You’re linking to content on your own domain rather than to another website. External links aren’t the only ones that help you collect important SEO juice. Internal links help search engines understand your content organization.
Think about it. When you link back your pillar content within vertical content you’re telling bots and crawlers how that content relates to each other. This structure also helps search engines recommend the most relevant content to users.
Link building is a strategy all its own. This process collects links from other websites that point to your own. When another website uses an external link that points to yours, that creates a backlink for your domain. Backlinks matter because they prove your usefulness and domain authority to search engines.
The better your domain authority, the more credible you appear to Google. While it’s not a direct ranking factor, it can influence how your content appears in SERPs. Just make sure your link-building strategy doesn’t include link buying, link stuffing, or other shady practices. Doing stuff like this can result in Google SEO penalties for your site.
When you partner with CopyPress, you don’t have to worry about developing an external linking plan. Our creatives and strategy team do it for you. From international content to blog posts, retail to finance, we know how to find and share the right links. This helps please search engines and readers alike. Don’t believe us? Schedule a strategy call with our team to discuss your content goals. We’ll help you devise a strategy that incorporates SEO, including external linking, to boost rankings and increase traffic.
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