We all know that linking to other pages within your own website architecture, also known as internal linking, matters for ranking purposes. It helps search engine crawlers index your site, and the more you link to a page internally, the more important search engines believe that page is to your site (the better that page’s chances are of being prioritized in search).
External linking can also be helpful to your SEO and ranking. However, many companies, agencies, and small businesses are still hesitant about linking to outside sources from their own pages for fear of losing users, or losing search equity.
Outbound Linking Barrier #1
The fear of losing search equity demonstrates a slight misunderstanding of how links work in terms of SEO.
The Hose Myth
Many people think of links like hoses that search equity flows through. In this mental model, search equity originates from users, they bestow it on a site by visiting/engaging, and that search equity flows to other pages/sites via links. The problem with this idea of links is that you view search equity as a very finite commodity—and believe that you “lose” search equity every time you link to another site (this is false).
A Better Mental Model
Think of a link like a recommendation. One site is recommending another site to their users by linking to that site.
Let’s take that metaphor a little further with a scenario: Let’s assume your friend asks you for recommendations on someone to hire. Consider the following two outcomes:
- You give them recommendations for two really good candidates.
- You give them recommendations for the full 523 people you had in your phone contacts.
In the first outcome your friend probably found you very helpful, and would come to you for help again. In the second outcome, your friend probably didn’t find that useful at all, and they are unlikely to return to you for help.
Search engines are similar. If they see a site link out to high-quality, reputable resources, then they feel like that site is helpful, and they’ll reward that helpfulness in search.
To summarize, here are three key reasons why outbound links work for companies of any size.
- Search engines judge you by the company you keep (especially Google). Your reputation can benefit from being associated with other sites that are well known for being reputable on related topics.
- Users prefer information to be curated for them rather than having to find it themselves. Whenever you have the opportunity to do so, link to the most relevant resources in your field. This will encourage a user to bookmark your page or share your content.
- Linking shows that you know which resources are most relevant. This enables you to highlight to Google that you know authoritative content when you see it.
Outbound Linking Barrier #2
The next major barrier most business face to outbound linking is the concern that they’ll lose converting users to other sites.
The Lost Traffic Concern
As pointed out by Moz, it’s true that by linking to another website, you’re directing some traffic away from your own page.
Benefits Outweigh the Cost
Most sites will set external links to open in a new tab for users, reducing the chance of the user being truly pulled away from the site. Additionally, users who are still in the research phase are less likely to have converted during their session anyways.
In your site’s overall SEO strategy, each page is an opportunity to showcase your expertise and depth of knowledge about the topic, space, or industry through your content. When you reference other authoritative sources via outbound links it builds trust for your own website with users, and sends content quality signals to search engines. In this way, outbound linking helps improve the SEO health of your website and reduces behaviors that negatively impact SEO, like u-turns and bounces.
Furthermore, posting an outbound link to a site you find valuable is also a way of extending your hand for potential partnership. This can be a solid way to start building relationships with bloggers, writers, and businesses in the same niche, location, or complementary industry. If you’re a local business, suggesting or recommending other local businesses can even help search engines recognize your page better for local search. In a way, you’re asking Google and other search engines to associate your page with that of other related sites and their SEO efforts/attributes (like location or authority).
How to Select Sites for Outbound Linking
First, only ever select resources that will provide value to your user (informational value, entertainment value, etc).
The easiest place to figure out how to rank in Google? Google itself. Complete a preliminary search of your top keywords and see what Google currently thinks is worth promoting.
Tools for Checking Site Authority
If there are sites that you already know about, and want to check on their authority, you can use a Domain Authority (DA) checker. DA is a metric created by Moz that scores websites based on a scale that goes up to 100. The higher the score, the more domain authority that website holds, making it a strong candidate for an outbound link.
Another great place to start is Ahrefs, using their site explorer you can check the backlink profile for any site already ranking well for your target keyword(s) or sites already linking to a source that you know is authoritative. Look for sites with a high Domain Rating (DR), as a starting point.
Bonus: Screaming Frog, a free tool, can analyze your competitor’s site and provide you a list of their outbound links.
Considerations for Site Selection
Here are a few questions to keep in mind when choosing backlinks:
- What one-to-three pages help to support my claims or share related content?
- Which other pages cover the topic well?
- Do these pages also have good domain authority/domain rating?
- Do these pages operate by bloggers or domain owners in related or similar niches?
- Are these pages ones that get regular traffic and social shares from others in my niche?
- Do I find these sites to be valuable sources of information I trust?
Going through these questions can help you pinpoint whether or not another site is a good choice for a link.
The most valuable sites to link to are those with strong domain authority. Google prioritizes high authority and high organic traffic (OT) metrics. For example, if you were writing a page for your chiropractic business about post-car-accident back injuries, linking to research from the Mayo Clinic could be valuable because you’re backing up the statements you shared on your page with a trusted source of medical information. With Bing, the kings of content are sites that end in .gov and .edu. This is because they’re often associated with government agencies, research, and universities.
If a certain topic is trending in the news, linking to a site that has less domain authority but is the primary source of coverage for this topic can help you jump on the trend while the topic is still fresh in your readers’ minds.
Linking to Your Own Earned Media
A wonderful chance to link to outbound content while also building on your own traction is to link to other websites that have mentioned or profiled your company or your own site. Any form of earned media, such as a mention in a reported piece, a guest blog, or an interview on someone else’s podcast allows you to benefit from the other person’s link to your website and for you to write up a recap for your own site to link to theirs.
Over time, a strategy like this signals to the search engines that you’ve “shown up” as a trusted link by many others in your niche. This is also a much more organic way of building traffic and SEO traction than outdated spammy methods like link farms or linking parties.
You’ll sometimes see sites create an entire section for news or press to highlight earned media.
Outbound Linking Helps Secure Inbound Links
When you create quality content on your own site, you’re also likely to become a hub for outbound links from other people, too! Establishing your site as a worthwhile resource and home for quality content means that over time, you’ll continue to post outbound links to other valuable websites.Your own site might also pick up some backlinks of its own as other people connect to your content. At that stage, link-building becomes a cycle and it’s much easier to build on your own results.
One method we discussed earlier in this article is content curation. Or creating a page that links to all the best resources on a topic, and helps users quickly navigate those resources by providing either brief color-commentary or high-level organization. An example of this would be an article like “The 10 Best Places to Visit When Travelling to Arlington, VA” or “The 20 Best Resources for Getting Started with Inbound Marketing.”
The Outbound Link “Strategy” to Avoid
Avoid two-way backlinking schemes run by private blog networks. These are sometimes referred to as “linking parties.” In Google’s recent updates, they have been penalizing efforts to game the system with links shared between blogs. (They’re calling these discrepancies “link schemes.”)
Worried about your site? If you haven’t participated in any of the following acts, you should be fine:
- Excessive link exchanges: This is what we were talking about in the paragraph above. Google will come after you for participating in “link to me and I’ll link to you” schemes. You also should avoid partnering with a page, influencer, blogger, etc. that doesn’t make sense for your company. Google is watching for relevance. So if you get your link on a site that just doesn’t make sense, Google will ping you for it. For example, a link to an automotive shop shouldn’t show up within the blog pages of a bakery.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns: Sometimes, businesses think they’re sneaky and can use one singular article several times in hopes of getting a few links out of it. Reworking a few words here and there isn’t going to fool Google.
- Exchanging goods or services for links: Google will know if you sent someone a “free” product in exchange for a link. If you do this, make sure it fits your brand and looks natural.
The best way to get on Google’s good side it to create unique, relevant content that your audience will genuinely love. We don’t care what you’ve heard, creating good content pays off. Remember, you’re in this for the long-game.
As pointed out in a July 2019 edition of #AskGoogleWebmasters, outbound linking should always be done without getting involved in any schemes, adding outbound links in user-generated content, and links in ads.
The best way to become a trusted source in your niche is to publish regular high-quality content of your own. Forming relationships with other writers and bloggers in your niche by following their content and commenting can also open the doors for future link-building opportunities.
Remember, Google is evolving all of the time. The company isn’t doing this to punish you or take away your hard-earned followers. The algorithm changes to filter out spammers. Rule of thumb? Do your research. Take the tips we’ve laid out in this article to heart. Google doesn’t play and it will penalize your site for a variety of reasons, including joining the wrong link directory, article marketing (which is spinning the exact same article multiple times in hopes of ranking), keyword stuffing, and unnatural anchor text. (You wouldn’t want unnatural text repping your brand anyway, right?
Your SEO efforts are best spent on pages that are not yet ranking on Page 1 for target search terms. Once you’ve seen what is working on your page, flex your new SEO muscles by selecting an under-performing page and test out how you can make improvements to that page. You can then track whether you’re able to boost your rankings for that page. We have a great article with advice on creating great on-page content.