Following on from our recent guide to internal linking, we’ve decided to take a look at external links (or outbound links), the other kind of link you can add to your website.
What is external linking?
Similarly to an internal link, external links are links that you place within the content of your site in order to direct the user towards more information on the subject at hand. The only difference is, whereas internal links will direct the user towards another page within your domain, external links point towards another domain entirely, taking the user away from your website. For example, if you want to read more about what an external link is, check out this article from Moz.
When you acquire a backlink to your website, the domain that link has come from has included an external link on their page, which passes authority on to your site. But, providing external links from your domain can have a positive impact too…
What are the benefits?
Now, you’re probably thinking that this is a crazy strategy. Why would you want to guide your users (that you’ve worked so hard to acquire) away from your website, allowing them to possibly go on to convert on a competitor’s website? Because there are a host of other benefits, that’s why.
- Relevancy – The most important benefit received from outbound links is relevancy. Whilst Google (and of course, other search engines) do look mostly at what backlinks are pointing towards your website as a sign of relevancy, they also pay some attention to the links that are pointing away from your website. For example, if a lawyer had a webpage about the divorce process, and then linked out to the government webpage outlining the same thing, the two would be linked in terms of relevancy.
- User Experience – If you’ve read our internal linking guide, you’ll know that one of the reasons you should include links throughout your content is to improve the experience for the user. The same applies to external linking. When linking out to a relevant website, you are offering the user more information should they need it, improving their overall experience, and encouraging them to view your website more favourably.
- Authority – Search engines are looking for one thing when scouring the web – a collective hub of information. Now, we’ve already established that outbound links help improve the relevancy of your webpage, but relevancy helps improve your page authority, which in turn can help improve your rankings.
- Backlinking Opportunities – The completely unnecessarily negative stigma attached to outbound links makes it really hard to get decent quality backlinks from relevant sites. Nobody wants to hand out backlinks anymore, for fear of being penalised by Google, or for fear of directing the user away from their website. But, if you already have a link to their domain on your website, they might be more easily swayed. Most webmasters (the good ones, at least) will check their backlinks on a regular basis, so are likely to find your website anyway. Give them a reason to link to you, and they will.
Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that external links are always the most effective strategy for achieving these benefits, but they’re definitely easier to implement than most methods. You’ll receive more authority from an inbound link for sure, but they’re harder to get hold of. Outbound links offer less powerful benefits, but are essential to a healthy link structure.
Plus, Google want you to use outbound links. We mentioned that webmasters are normally reluctant to include external links throughout their website content, but this is the exact opposite of what search engines are looking for. Google is more favourable to websites that offer great content, and more information on the subject.
Let’s compare it to a real-world example. If you owned a bookstore, and a customer came in asking after a book that you don’t have, you have two options. You can just tell them that you don’t have the book in stock, or also point them in the direction of another bookstore that you know does have it. Whilst pointing them towards the other store means you won’t receive the conversion yourself, you’ve provided valuable information to the customer, meaning they are more likely to return for any other book-related queries they have.
The same applies to your website. If a user comes to your website looking for information that you don’t have, pointing them in the right direction means they’re more likely to remember you next time they need relevant information.
How to properly implement external links
Like everything related to SEO, there are some things that you have to bear in mind when implementing outbound links within your link structure, in order to prevent poor optimisation.
- Relevancy – There’s that word again – Relevancy. It’s one of the most important things to consider when adding external links. There’s no use in an outbound link to a website that has nothing to do with yours, and in some cases it can actually have a negative impact.
- Quality – As with inbound links, the quality of the websites you link to have an impact on the power you receive from them. If you fill your website with links to low quality directories, it can have a negative impact. If you seek out good-quality websites with great content, it can have a positive impact.
- Frequency – You might now be tempted to start adding outbound links everywhere, but be careful about the amount you include within your website content. One thing you really want to avoid is creating a “link farm”, a webpage whose sole purpose is to provide external links, or adding links where they’re not really necessary.
Before adding an external link, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this link add more to the subject of my content?
Does the website I’m linking to follow Google guidelines?
Am I just adding this link for the sake of adding an outbound link?
The answer to the first two questions should be yes, whilst the third one should be no. If you have the wrong answer to any of these questions, stop. This is probably not the kind of external link you want.
Want to find out more about outbound linking? Need to know how to identify a good external link? Why not get in touch with our Digital Marketing team?