For as long as search engine optimizers have existed, they’ve focused a huge amount of time and resources on obtaining inbound links for their sites. There’s a very good reason for that: among the 200 or so signals that Google considers when determining ranking positions in the SERPs, inbound links are of vital importance. However, there is considerable diversity of opinion when it comes to linking out from a site to other sites. SEOs are often concerned that outbound links will degrade their site’s standing and prefer to link to their own content, keeping the link juice they gather to themselves. They are also worried about giving away link juice and hence ranking potential to other sites within their niche.
In fact, outbound links can be beneficial for SEO, so it’s worth thinking about the ways in which such links can both benefit and harm a site’s status in the eyes of Google and other search engines.
Harmful Outbound Links
There is an old SEO trick that involves publishing content on one subject and then linking from it to content of a different subject entirely, usually in an effort to increase the ranking of the second page because it promotes a product or service that earns a client money. These spammy links, often to pornography sites or sites peddling Viagra and the like, are not well-regarded by Google. In fact, if Google suspects that you are linking to bad neighborhoods in order to game the system or are being paid to do so, they may impose an manual penalty.
Beneficial Outbound Links
Almost anyone can bang out a few hundred words on a topic with a few keywords thrown in here and there. Content like that is very often worthless for readers and so, naturally, Google doesn’t want to send its users to it. Outgoing links to content on sites that Google already trusts and that is relevant to the topic of the article in question is a signal that the writer has done some research.
It is similar in principle to academic articles that are stuffed with citations and footnotes so that readers know the provenance of the information they are reading. There is some disagreement in SEO circles about the value of outbound links of this sort, but it’s reasonable to expect that a page that has linked out to high-quality sources is going to do better than an article that shows no evidence of its authority.
There are also additional benefits to carefully and selectively linking out to high-quality content:
It adds value to your content — Readers tend hold sites that provide them with pointers to valuable information better than those that attempt to lock them in. No one site can be the entirety of an online journey. Outbound links are a valuable resource for readers.
Outbound links are great for outreach — Sites know when you have linked to them via their analytics. If you create excellent content that includes links to other sites, the owners of those sites will often link back or promote your content on social media.
Appearance of authority — What possibly works for Google definitely works for people. Linking out to authoritative content demonstrates a familiarity with that content and an ability to engage with it thoughtfully (provided your content isn’t junk). By including outbound links in your content, you are signaling that you know what you are talking about and have considered the issues.
Judicious use of outbound links helps a site to join the link economy that is the knowledge transit system of the Internet. A site that links to no one is an informational dead end, and, while that’s beneficial in some cases (e.g., landing pages) for bloggers it demonstrates a lack of interaction and authority.
Daniel is the Director of Business Development for ASEOhosting, a leading provider in SEO hosting and multiple IP hosting. Follow ASEOhosting on Twitter at @aseohosting, Like them on Facebook, and check out all the services they offer on http://www.aseohosting.com/.
Image via Dave Kirkham