Outbound links are links within your content from your website to another website, unlike backlinks that are links from other websites to yours, and internal links which are links between different pages of your website. Many of us are aware that backlinks and internal links are very important factors for SEO, but what about outbound links?
Optimising outbound links is one of the link building tactics that the SEO industry is divided on; some believe they are an important consideration, while others think they don’t matter or even should be actively avoided. The reality is that you should be paying attention to the links you have from your website for a number of reasons.
When publishing content it is considered good practice to cite your sources, that way the reader knows that it is a piece with authority that has been researched, it isn’t just the opinion of the writer. Outbound links to authoritative sources reinforce the quality of the article or blog.
Why you should use outbound links
They add depth
Linking to an authoritative website helps to add depth to the topic you are writing about. It shows users and Google that you are using other sources to back up your points. Outbound links enable readers to gain further knowledge, especially if you are writing about a complex topic.
They build trust
Outbound links enable readers and Google to trust your content, they show that what you are writing has authority and value. It is important to cite your references so that readers can trust what you have written.
They increase relevance
Links also supply important clues about the relevance of a page, and this is extremely helpful for search engines. Ultimately, search engines want users to find the information they are looking for, so when you feature links to useful content, you are doing them a great service.
They improve reputation
Outbound links can affect the reputation of your site. Having authoritative links shows your site is a reputable one. But you need to be careful not to have links to poor quality websites as this will have the opposite effect and may result in Google penalising you. Sites with no outbound links can be perceived as inferior and untrustworthy.
They encourage backlinks
Linking to other sites may also encourage them to link to you, providing very useful backlinks. If you include links, other journalists and content writers may be incentivised to do the same, improving SEO generally.
Do outbound links affect SEO?
Whether or not outbound links influence your website’s organic search rankings is a subject that has been debated for a long time. There is no doubt that linking out to authoritative sources can help to give context to your content and can also help users to trust you.
In 2019, Google put out a post titled What webmasters should know about Google core updates, it stated a lack of outbound links or low-quality outbound links as a potential reason for being penalised:
“Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?”
Overall, it is about gaining trust with the user. People reading your content need to know they can believe it and good use of outbound links gives you an authoritative seal of approval. Likewise, Google needs users to trust the results it delivers, and this means it is interested in seeing this kind of link in your content too.
A recent study carried out by marketing firm Reboot showed a positive link between a page’s outbound links and its rankings in search results. Reboot hypothesized that Google can determine the authority of a page or website based on the sources it links to.
For the experiment, the company created 10 new websites, each featuring the same keywords. However, only half of the websites included outbound links to authoritative sources. All the sites featured similar content and tag structure, though it was different enough to avoid duplicate content penalties.
Reboot then monitored keyword rankings over a period of five-months. The pages that contained outbound links ranked higher than pages with no outbound links, and Reboot concluded that relevant, outgoing links to authoritative websites have a positive impact on search results.
So, this seems to show a correlation between outbound links and SEO. At the very least as long as you do it properly it will not harm your rankings.
Some things to remember
To use outbound links successfully, bear in mind the following points:
1. Use appropriate anchor text
The anchor text is the underlined words you use to link to another site. The words you use should be the ones that best describe the source text. If you keep using the same keyword it may flag up as spam. Words that describe the link help users and search engines to understand the link.
2. Make the links natural
Too many outbound links will not reflect well on your website, they may look unnatural and annoy users. Links should be to reference sources or provide further information. For instance, links that back up the points you are making in your content, or those that link to statistics or surveys.
In 2016, Google began issuing penalties to websites that featured unnatural or irrelevant outbound links. They believed that the links were an attempt to artificially boost another website’s rankings, so they applied a “manual spam action” to the websites in question. Webmasters were instructed to either remove the irrelevant links or add nofollow tags to each one.
3. Make some links nofollow
Nofollow links tell a search engine not to follow that particular link. These are useful if you have links to sources that are not necessarily authoritative. So, for instance if you allow users to comment on your site or have guest bloggers, they will usually include links back to their sites. You might want to make these nofollow links to avoid having poor quality links on your site. Likewise, if you have paid or sponsored links within your site.
Outbound links are often not given the credit they deserve. When used correctly they can improve your ranking so they should form part of your SEO strategy. For help with your SEO call us on 01202 650 333 or email email@example.com.
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