April 14, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
How often do you link to web pages outside of your domain in your content? If you’re not a frequent outbound link user, you’re missing out on opportunities to provide value to your audience. You’re also missing the chance to increase your domain authority with Google and other search engines. Today, we’re looking at what outbound links are and how incorporating them into your content creation process improves readability and audience satisfaction with your pieces:
Outbound links, also called external links, are hyperlinks that take visitors on your site to another website off of your domain. Adding outbound links to your content helps provide references for your readers or viewers. You can use them to cite or prove where you got facts or statistics mentioned in your pieces. It’s also common to use external links to give credit for quotes, images, or other materials created by another person or company. These kinds of attributions typically help you avoid legal plagiarism and copyright issues.
Unlike inbound links, which are hyperlinks on other domains that lead to your website, you can control the number and type of outbound links that you use in your content. Aside from having the authority to pick and choose these links, some other benefits include:
When you link to relevant sites with high domain authority, it strengthens your content and company’s authority on the topic, too. For both your audience and search engines, the company you keep matters. For example, if your company creates an article about heart disease, both your audience and search engines may find your site more credible if you link to resources from the American Heart Association rather than a blog about someone’s heart disease diagnosis. Linking to the right external resources helps build your credibility and increases your domain authority, which helps your search engine rankings.
Sharing links provides citations, context, and additional resources for your content. When you share this kind of information within your pieces, you’re providing more value to the content for your readers. When your audience gets something out of your content, they may be more likely to share it or return when they’re looking for information in the future.
Sharing authoritative content with value also increases your readers’ trust in your brand and content. When they have trust in the sources you use and the things you say, that also increases their trust in your brand. This means they may be more likely to return for more content, engage with your company, or even purchase from your brand in the future.
True experts know that expertise doesn’t come from being a know-it-all. It comes from listening, learning, and sharing what you know with others. When you link to other websites or resources that provide value to your audience and thoroughly explain things, you’re demonstrating that expertise. You’re not so egotistical in thinking that the only good information comes from your company or team. You’re secure enough in your brand to share outside information to add value for your readers.
When you link to an external site and provide a backlink for another organization, the company may be more likely to link to your content. Though not a defined partnership, if you also provide high-quality and relevant content for a similar audience, other organizations may link to your pieces as a thank-you for linking to theirs.
Plus, when you’re linking to highly relevant external sources, Google and other search engines take notice. Doing so could increase your search engine positioning, which allows more people to see your content. More visibility also helps increase your chances of earning organic traffic and backlinks.
If there are so many reasons to use outbound links in your content, why are some brands afraid to do it? They’ve likely only ever heard about the downsides of using outbound links. Here are some of the things that deter companies from including external links in their content:
One of the biggest things to avoid when linking out to other websites is connecting your site to a spammy one. Linking to low-quality, irrelevant sites can hurt your SEO and decrease your readers’ trust in your content. Luckily, you can often tell if a site is authoritative before you link to it just by looking at it. Some characteristics that may indicate a low-quality site include:
Avoid linking to these types of websites as often as possible. If you must link to a site that has some of these characteristics, or you’re not sure if a site is low-quality or irrelevant, use a nofollow link to block the SEO signal from search.
Link farms are organizations or partnerships where one company or brand asks for a link in exchange for a link. This is an explicit and often paid practice that goes against Google’s guidelines for backlinks. Link-building relationships should be organic, as we discussed above when talking about gaining more backlinks. You can’t go begging for backlinks, or make promises that you’ll link to another site in return. To Google, this is cheating and can result in big SEO penalties. Instead, you can try Google-allowed tactics to gain more backlinks, such as content promotion and guest posting.
If you use too many outbound links in your content, search engines might see that as a spammy practice. It’s best to find a balance between creating your own beneficial content and sharing relative and supportive external resources. Too many external links may disrupt or distract your audience rather than make their interactions with your content easier.
There isn’t a set number of outbound links that are “too many” for any one piece of content. Typically, long-form content has more internal and external links than short-form content. A helpful rule of thumb is to only include outbound links where absolutely necessary. This often includes citations, attributions, and links to top-quality information and resources that enhance a piece.
Whether or not external links actually affect SEO is a hotly debated topic in the industry. Unlike some SEO best practices, there isn’t a set number of outbound links you need to include in each piece of content to please Google. Your outbound link volume isn’t a direct ranking factor, and for that reason, some people say it doesn’t affect SEO. But that’s not true.
Outbound links affect SEO in more subtle ways. Linking to other authoritative websites can help Google and other search engines view your site as more authoritative. On the other side of the coin, using unnatural outbound linking practices can hurt your site’s performance and even lead to Google penalties. While using outbound links may not directly affect how your website or content ranks on search engines, it does influence other factors that do, such as credibility and authority. That’s why it’s important to follow linking best practices to stay on Google’s good side.
Here are some best practices you can follow when including outbound links in your content:
Outbound links only help your content when they’re highly relevant to the topic you’re discussing. For example, you wouldn’t want to link to an article about a new McDonald’s hamburger in an article about shades of lip gloss. Without a collaboration or joint venture, that connection wouldn’t make sense. By only adding relevant external links to your content, you’re increasing the readability and user experience of the piece. Relevant links make it easier for search engines to understand the context of your content and index it to appear for the right search terms and queries.
Any external links that you add to your content should go to authoritative and reputable sites. Associating your website and content with others that are already in good standing with Google makes it easier for you to gain more domain authority, too. If you link to low-quality websites, that could hurt your reputation with search engines and your audience.
Always be clear about the anchor text you use for a hyperlink. It’s helpful to link over keywords that describe the information searchers and search engines can find on the other end of the link. Generic anchor text like “click here” or “read more” isn’t helpful for readers or search engines because it doesn’t give them context about what’s on the other side of the link. Misleading anchor text that doesn’t give people the true picture of what they’ll find when they leave your site can decrease trust from your audience, too.
It’s important to open outbound links in a new tab. If you’ve ever fallen into an information rabbit hole, you understand why. You don’t want your audience to leave your website completely to check out the information from an external partner. Otherwise, they may never come back to your site. Opening external links in new tabs allows your readers to browse the content on the other side of the link and then return to your original piece to keep reading or take the next step in their browsing journey.
There are two common types of outbound links: nofollow and dofollow links. Although the link itself works the same for your website visitors, the nofollow and dofollow tags tell search engines how to “read” that link in their systems. Dofollow links allow “link juice” or authority and recognition to pass from your site to another and back for SEO purposes. Nofollow links that include a rel-“nofollow” tag tell search engines not to share link juice with your website and the one on the other side of the hyperlink. For SEO value, it’s almost like that link doesn’t exist.
Some companies that are new to link building and SEO may overuse the nofollow tag to try to preserve their search engine rankings and keep link juice for themselves. But sharing authority with high-quality, reputable sites is actually a better way to increase your positioning. Use the nofollow tag only when necessary. These should be situations where you don’t want search engines to crawl a page on the other side of a hyperlink. Some situations where it’s appropriate to use a nofollow tag include:
Related: Nofollow Links: The Complete Guide
When linking to external sites, try to include “clean” links wherever possible. A clean link or clean URL is the most basic form of a URL that a user can click to visit a piece of content. It doesn’t include any additional characters or Urchin Tracking Modules (UTMs) for specific campaigns. If you still don’t understand what we mean, look at these two URL examples from Indeed:
Do you notice how much shorter and cleaner the second link is? Both of these links go to the same place: the Indeed salary search page. The difference between them is that the first link came from a sponsored Google post that includes extra characters for campaign tracking. The second link came from navigating Indeed’s website. Try to use clean, basic links for outbound sites as often as possible. They look less spammy to your audience and prevent search engines from getting confused about the purpose of the link during crawling.
Don’t add links to your content and then forget about them. It’s important to audit, update, and optimize links in all your content pieces regularly. This is because broken or outdated links can hurt your SEO. When conducting your audit, look for links that no longer work, ones that redirect somewhere else, or that no longer go to the original content. If you find a link that no longer fits your standards, replace it with a new one that’s more reputable and better for your SEO and the user experience.
Ready to dive deeper to learn more about outbound and external linking to help your content development? Check out some of these other great resources from CopyPress:
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