When To Use External Links in Your Content To Boost SEO

Christy Walters


August 19, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

linked chain on concrete floor to show when to use external links in content

Some companies worry about linking to other websites within their own content. Some of the biggest fears include losing leads and sending your best prospects to the competition. Truthfully, though, linking out to other domains helps your SEO. Using external links also helps establish brand authority and provides additional value to your readers. Today, we’re discussing:

When To Use External Links in Your Content

Wondering when it’s appropriate to include external links in your content? Take a look at some of the situations in which linking externally can be to your benefit:

Providing Expert-Level Insights

One factor to look at is the level of expertise of your content. If another source provides expert information on a topic that your brand only skims the surface of, including an external link can provide more value to readers.

Just because you’re not the expert on a specific topic yet doesn’t mean you can’t be. Or maybe you are an expert on a topic but haven’t created content in that niche yet. As your brand develops authority and publishes content within these new verticals, including expert sources actually supports your brand’s position. If you’re looking to build your knowledge and skills to reach those expert-level insights, subscribe to the CopyPress weekly newsletter and get the materials you need to succeed right in your inbox.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

Including Statistical Data

We can’t stress enough how important it is to cite data and statistics from other sources. If you’re including a stat, study, or result of some kind, link to the source. This establishes information transparency within your brand’s content and builds credibility. External links to data sources also encourage audiences to view your brand as a trustworthy, reliable source, further boosting rankings and increasing reach.

Related: What Is Search Engine Positioning and Why Does It Matter?

Citing Sources

Whenever you quote or cite an outside source in your content, include an external link. Whether it’s two words taken from a study or an entire quote, if you’re including it in your copy, include a link back to the original source. The same goes for using photographs and video in your content. If it’s someone else’s words, work, or creative contribution, make sure you’re crediting the right person and including links back to these sources for readers.

Using Third-Party Content

Most written content benefits from other multimedia components, like images and video. If your team doesn’t have its own photographer or videographer, you can use royalty- and copyright-free content from around the internet. But it’s still a best practice to cite the source of the material. Sites like Unsplash, iStock, and Flickr are several examples of how this works. Using a royalty-free image is simple and perfectly legal, but it’s always a better idea to create an attribution that points right back to the original work.

Increasing Visibility and Reach

Sometimes using external links can help you get the attention of potential linking or content partners. Just like you can easily track backlinks to your own site, other brands and marketing teams can track backlinks to theirs. Externally linking to another source in your topic field is one way to do this. Even if you don’t create a full content partnership with another organization, it can result in building more backlinks and increasing visibility for your brand’s content.

Linking for Context

External links help Google and other search engines better understand the context of your own site. Each one gives more information about how to rank your pages and pieces. With no additional context, how are search engines supposed to know where to group and display your content?

This is why it’s a best practice to include at least one or two external links to reliable and relevant topic sources. Contextual link building like this helps create more context with links and tells search engines more about topical relevancy to user search intent, which can help increase rankings and drive more organic traffic to your site.

When To Avoid Using External Links

linked chain on concrete floor to show when to use external links in content

Image via Unsplash by @kaleyloved

Using external links can be a valuable SEO strategy. Not only does it signal to search engines you know what you’re talking about, but it also increases your chances to get backlinks. If you link to a site, they might link back to you. That boosts both brands’ SEO. But it’s not just about how many links you use. It’s also about quality and relevance to your content and industry. That said, there are some instances when it’s better to avoid using external links:

Links to Competitor Content

Typically, it’s a best practice to steer clear of linking to competitors in your industry. However, there may be times when competitors are the only expert sources available. In these cases, you can either omit the information or provide a link out for readers to the competing site. When there’s no way around using a competitor’s link in your content, you can use a nofollow tag. This will tell search engines not to associate your domain with the competing one.

Related: External Links vs. Backlinks: What’s the Difference?

Top-Ranking Domains

It’s also better for your SEO to avoid linking to top-ranking sources. This is because sources that already rank at the top of SERPs only benefit more from your links back to them. Linking to this high-ranking content—whether they’re your direct business competitors or not—hurts your own SEO. It adds another backlink to that top source, keeping yours from ranking higher.

Instead, look for other credible sources that aren’t ranking at the top of SERPs. Similar to not linking to your direct competitors, there are exceptions to this rule. If the top-performing content for your keyword is the only source for something relevant you’re covering, you can use the nofollow tag.

Broken and Risky Links

Test the links you include in your content, even after it’s been published for a while. Making sure these links aren’t broken and lead readers to the right place is crucial for SEO and content quality. You can test external links on your site with an SEO audit, which tells you which links are good to go and which you need to replace. You’ll also want to avoid any links that look risky or malicious and fail to include basic security protocols, as these can trigger search engine penalties.

Related: How Do Broken External Links Affect SEO?

Sources in Unrelated Industries

Avoid linking to unrelated sources, even if there seem to be some similarities between the topics. This kind of linking strategy confuses search engines. Unrelated external links tell search engines your content isn’t relevant to user intent, which ultimately hurts rankings. Google and other search engines may even flag this behavior as spam, phishing, or illegitimate link building, whether or not it’s intentional.

It’s important to make sure the external source you link to is relevant to your content. For example, a content marketing agency could link to a study from a local auto dealership that discusses how many of their buyers use social media to find their next car. Dealerships and content marketers aren’t in the same industry, but social media’s influence on car shopping is relevant for both.

CopyPress Develops Relevant, Linkable Content

CopyPress creates content with the right balance and volume of external links. Using our content analysis, you’ll have the data you need to create a marketing strategy that achieves results. Request your free content analysis report from us to find out where the topic gaps are in your content and what your competitors are doing to increase rankings and convert traffic. With this report, you’ll have a deeper look at what you can do to improve SEO and content rankings—including with external links.

“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”

Kevin Doory

Director of SEO at Auto Revo

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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