Are Outbound Links Good for Seo? Will They Destroy Your Rankings?
Disclosure (full version- https://nikolaroza.com/affiliate-disclosure/): Some of the links you’ll encounter are affiliate links. If you click and buy something, I may get a commission. Thank you!
“I am familiar with internal linking.
I know of, use (and adore) affiliate links.
But what about outbound links”?
What about them?
“What are they exactly”?
External (outbound) links are hyperlinks that target a page on a website other than your own
In other words, when you link to a website- that is an external link; when they link back- that is also an external link.
“I see… but now I have another question:
Are external links good for SEO?
I need to know because I’m worried sick whether linking externally will take away from my success.
I’m losing sleep over this!
What if my campaigns blow up just because of those darn links, when everything else I do is near perfect?
If that’s you, you might want to leave it to the pros and pay for link building and blogger outreach services from companies like OutreachMama, Authority Builders and other services similar to them.
They can raise your site’s domain rating without setting off any red flags over at Google HQ.
What then? How can I prevent it?
I won’t ever lose to such a trifle, NEVER!”.
Hey, I get you.
This was my concern too, once.
And now here I am writing about it. I’ve learned a lot, improved a lot, and so will you after you’ve read this article.
Two Schools of Thought
When it comes to external links and SEO, top notch SEO’s are divided into two opposing camps. One group thinks you should, and the other advises against linking out.
#1. The “You Link-You Lose” School
Let’s say you wrote a really neat article about the benefits of coffee for health.
Within this thorough and well-researched article there is an occasional affiliate link pointing to an espresso machine sales page on Amazon.
You feel this machine is “the one”. Perfect to further draw out the great taste of coffee, AND it comes with a decent price tag to boot (hint: commissions).
So, you have your affiliate links in there, you also have a few internal links (good for SEO), but…
What about outbound links? Should you throw them in the mix too?
These SEO experts say you shouldn’t, because:
- You want to hoard the PageRank all to yourself and keep it flowing only through internal links
- You want people to stay on your page and hopefully click on your affiliate links
- You want to tell Google that your page is so valuable the everything the visitor needs is right there (so they better rank you higher for it, or else…:-D )
- You don’t want folks to go to your competition through an external link- wasted work for you
- You don’t want to push your competition up the SERP ladder by linking to them
These are all valid points and actually make a lot of sense.
Let’s see what the other SEO’s recommend you should do.
#2. The “Share it-Invest it” School
The coffee machine example from above stays the same. These SEO’s think:
- You don’t want to be selfish- Google won’t like the misuse of PageRank like that (don’t forget that the entire internet works on a principle of interconnectedness).
- People have a choice and will stay if interested, no matter how many outbound links you have or don’t have.
- Google likes to see your sources- no man knows it all and no site is likewise perfect on its own. Your content can and should be improved upon by consulting other sources and that means linking to them as proof.
- If visitors go through your links to your competition, all is not lost. Those other webmasters will notice that you linked to them and will be looking for a way to pay you back.
- There is a way to link out and not push them higher too much (hint: it has something to do with the anchor text)
I agree with the latter folks and here is why:
According to John Mueller from Google:
“It is not something that we would say that there is any SEO advantage of linking to someone else’s site”.
However, he then goes on to say that if it makes sense then yes, you should link externally
Because it will help your site in other ways. By linking externally you’re showing to your visitors that you aren’t pulling data out of thin air.
That builds your credibility and authority.
Let’s Expand This a Bit
Note– if you find all of this confusing and you don’t know whom to turn to, then you probably lack proper training and guidance. I know how it feels as I was in the same shoes… once.
But then I received help and so can you. There is nothing you can’t overcome with proper support..
If I’ve piqued your interest and you wish to learn more- click here
Many SEOs think that linking externally helps Google determine what your site is about.
If you’re in the SEO game and link to Moz, that makes Google bot think “ah SEO, got it”. So by hanging with the right crowd, you can gain a few points with the search engines.
Logic to the Rescue
We know for sure that linking to bad sites (porn and gambling sites) is a huge no-no with Google.
Does it not make sense that linking to websites in good standing, both morally and with Google, would have the opposite effect?
Finally, it doesn’t really matter. I understand your wish to do everything so you can rank high, but you need to try and distance yourself from SEO aspect of this business.
Remember, real people are coming to your site and outbound links make your content more useful so that it can help better.
That’s what matters the most.
And now (drum roll please):
Here is your answer:
External Links DO Help With SEO, Albeit They’re Not a Huge Factor
Marketing firm Reboot did a study aiming to definitely show whether outbound links have an effect on SEO, positive or negative.
They built ten websites which:
- Targeted the same keyword
- Had the same content (mixed enough to avoid duplicate content penalty)
- Had similar tag structure
- Had done the same SEO
The only thing different was that five sites each linked to three authority websites and other five didn’t link to anybody.
Fast forward five months- all five websites with external links ranked higher that their outbound-linkless siblings.
This shows there is something going on and that external links are calculated in Google’s ranking algorithm.
How much do they weigh?
No one knows for sure.
There were some unanswered questions, though:
- Five sites linked only to authoritative niche websites. What if they linked to less reputable ones?
- Links can be dofollow and nofollow- is there a difference for SEO?
- Are keyword-optimized anchors better or not?
The bottom line:
The prevalent opinion on the web is that external links are something bad, that they will tank your rankings and forever remove you from success.
This is not true.
In fact, I’d say that linking externally is crucial for the development of your precious website.
And I am not talking about SEO. No, I am thinking more of the chance to connect with those who are on the same path as you, but perhaps a few steps further along.
Trust me, when you link to someone, you are patting their back and saying “hey, you did an awesome job”!
Well, expect them to pat your back too 😀
This is the Real Reason Why You Should Link to Others- The Benefits
SEO should never be your main concern when doing or not doing something.
you could probably not have any outbound link, keep the link juice to yourself and not not suffer direct consequences for it.
But what about your readers?
Why are they on your site?
They’ve come to get help. They have a problem.They need a solution, and believe that YOU have that elusive answer.
to really have it, and not play make-believe, you need to pool your resources together.
And that means doing research and linking where linking is due.
I know what you’re saying to yourself now.
No, you won’t lose visitors!
Remember that searchers go with the intent “I have a problem and I want the solution, I want it right now!”.
The don’t go in with the thought “I am going to enter this site here and when I see the first external link, I will bounce just to spite that person”.
They want the solution as quickly as possible and don’t care who delivers it.
By providing a thorough answer, by backing up your data your website can become THE SITE to them.
Next time they need assistance they’ll seek you out intentionally.
Yet Another Benefit- Automatic Outreach
Whenever you link to someone, you send traffic their way and they see it through their Google Analytics.
And they always appreciate the gesture and often feel flattered (especially true for smaller niche sites).
And then thy often feel the “urge” to send one link your way. This effect is Cialdini’s rule #1 of persuasion–
Let’s say I decide to link to Neil Patel’s article on neilpatel.com (this is an authority site in my niche).
Note: This is just a general explanation and neilpatel.com is an example. It can be any page on the web within my niche, from RankBeetle’s SEO Toronto page to ContentKingApp’s Magento SEO guide.
I found there an immensely interesting and useful article on Google’s Hummingbird algorithm and I link to it.
Neil says healthy link profile is the biggest SEO assets you can have.
He recommends link audit once a month and there’s no doubt he does what he preaches.
So he will, at one point, notice a link from me (especially being an unknown site with an eye-catching name).
Now two things might happen
- He will notice the link, check to see if it’s relevant and then move on (he’s got a huge pile to plough through)
- He might decide to check out this article a bit more in depth, think it fine, and at some point link back to me
DA of neilpatel.com is huge(80) so you can guess how that would benefit my website. You can guess but I’ll still tell:
- Site authority- Higher,
- Traffic numbers- Bigger
- Reputation with people- Better
Of course, I don’t expect that to happen because it would be too good and too easy, but I wanted to make a point here:
Don’t enclose yourself in your ivory tower.
Reach out to people within the niche and at some point, they will reach out to you too and you’ll make friends.
Another example is the video below. Julian Goldie, a professional whitehat link builder, asked me to embed his video on link building tactic.
He said it’d be good for my audience to see it.
And he was right. Some of the strategies he mentioned were new to me too.
Best Practice When Linking Externally
I want to show you how to get the best of both worlds.
You will link and build connections in your niche, and you will not pass too much value so as to help them surpass you in the SERPs
Here are some useful guidelines:
- Always have at least one external link per page/post but never link for the sake of it alone
- Link to authoritative sites in your niche
- Link to pages that cover your topic well and also have a high PA (page authority)
- Link to articles with high numbers of social shares (a sign of popularity- if they link back that is trifles of constant traffic for you)
- Link to smaller bloggers in your niche (this will help you connect with other bloggers)
- No linking to PBN’s. Google is ever after this type of link schemes and the people behind it. Even if you link by accident you could get a penalty ( that’s why link prospecting is a must)
- No link farms.
- No exchanging links. It is ok to link once and get one in return. Two times is also fine, three too, but no more than that.
- Don’t have too many outbound links. Link when necessary, and no more.
One Consideration When Linking Out
Did you notice how I linked to Neil’s page from the above? The exact article title is ” How Google Hummingbird Really Works: What We Learned by Analysing 9.93 Million Words of Content”
I used “Google’s Hummingbird algorithm”
“Oh yeah, why did you do that?
Was it a mistake, and if it was, why haven’t you corrected it by know, you obviously noticed it, what gives”!?
Let me tell you a little secret:
It wasn’t a slip (of my fingertips)
I did it to avoid the danger of exact match anchor text.
These were some hot stuff earlier but now, after the 2012 algo update, they are a dangerous ground to tread on.
If I had used the exact title as a hyperlink that might’ve triggered the spam alert at Google.
I doubt there was any real danger (because of the huge authority of neilpatel.com, and because it is just one link) but still, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Instead, I used “Google’s Hummingbird update” which is keyword-rich but also diluted and won’t raise suspicion.
That way I am choosing to actively help Neil’s page rank higher for that keyword (not that he needs it though).
Here is what you should do:
When reaching out to influencers you can draw their attention with a diluted but keyword strong anchor text.
They’re a bunch that know their SEO, and will take notice and, will consider returning the favor in the future.
It won’t happen every time, far from it, but then again, linking out is a natural thing you should do quickly and without too much thinking. Over time it will snowball into a handful of link-backs and mentions.
When linking to your direct competition (and you really should if they have a great resource), be creative and don’t include the keyword you are trying to rank for.
Conclusion- external links; friends or foes?
Don’t shy away from linking to others. You are not alone in your niche and you shouldn’t be alone.
External links can open new doors to more success and faster with your website.
IF you write great content.
IF you do your best.
IF you are willing to unselfishly support others in their quest for a better life;
Then I guarantee you that miraculous thing will happen.
It’s the unbreakable law of the internet.
Just be patient and you’ll see…
Thank you for reading.
Please share this article if you liked it.
Also, I want to hear from you.
Do you have questions, or a suggestions on how to handle outbound links?
If yes, leave them in the comment area, I will gladly read them for I feel I still have so much to learn, thank you.
You are awesome and I, Nikola, am signing out.
Have a nice day 😉
Nikola Roza is an affiliate marketer and blogger behind Nikola Roza- SEO for the Poor and Determined. He writes for bloggers who don't have huge marketing budgets and who still want to carve out a niche online and a better life for themselves. Learn about Nikola here, or read his blog posts and guides here.
I just stumbled across this article, even though it’s a year old. I’d been wondering the exact same thing. Do you know if lots of links early on (both internal and external) would help with bounce rate? I’ve found my bounce rate has dropped since I’ve included more, is there an SEO benefit to this?
Yeah, this article is my first ever on this blog and I’ve improved a lot since then. Glad you found some value in it.
As for your question, internal links will definitely lower your bounce rate as more of them you have, higher the chances that someone will click.
As for external links, they could theoretically boost your bounce rate, but the solution is to have them open in a new tab.
Then your visitor will have a chance of staying some more on your site.
Hope this helps, David!
I am a newbie and love to see such practical tips related to SEO topics like link building.
I have made so many link building mistakes in my initial days. I slowly realized the value of “giving and take the concept”.
However, I don’t link much to others only if it’s a great piece of content. No-follow linking works like a charm in such cases.
I am sharing it on my Twitter. I really loved this article Nikola.
glad you liked the article. And thank you for sharing it on Twitter. I really appreciate it.
If you’re going to link to people- use followed links.
Because when you do, you can let them know about it “hey, I linked to you”.
These bloggers will then remember you and will return the favor sometime in the future.
But, when you nofollow your links, bloggers won’t be inclined to link to you. In fact, they’ll avoid it because they know the’ll never get a followed link from you.
My 2c only.
Sure, I will keep this in mind, thank you.
Yet another wonderful share!
In the initial time of my blogging I too have a notion that the external liking is bad and it takes the readers out from your site and their coming back again is doubtful.
This post cleared many of such doubts.
It’s really good to know the other various benefits of external liking in relation to SEO.
As thou said, Yes it’s really crucial for the development of our websites.
I am bookmarking it for my further studies.
Well done Nik.
linking out can only help your site grow, especially in the long run.
The internet is one large community and we need to support each other, so we can all grow together.