Outgoing links are one of the most underestimated weapons in the arsenal of every SEO and webmaster. After all, you want to get backlinks not give away links by linking out, don’t you? So it seems to be a contradiction. Popular wisdom also suggests that you would lose by linking out rather than gain some SEO value.
Most people seem to assume that linking out leads to:
- Users leaving your site
- Search engines assigning less value to your site (aka PageRank leaking)
- A bad user experience as readers interrupt reading to jump to other sites
- Supporting your competition
- Appearing less authoritative (so that you have to link out to others who know better)
to name just the most obvious perceived drawbacks of linking out people.
All of this can happen, but doesn’t have to. Also, even if it does happen, a short term loss can be a gain in the long run.
You can try to mitigate the negative effects of outgoing links by linking out correctly and by adopting a strategic approach to it.
The SEOptimise blog has thousands of outgoing links in the editorial part and we rank at #1 for [seo blog] in Google UK despite or because of this, so we must do something right, mustn’t we? In SEO terms, you refer to us as a so-called hub site. Some people assume that Google loves hub sites and favours them in search results. Aren’t we the best proof of this SEO benefit?
So the question is not whether you link out but how. Let me split this up into several more specific questions:
Negative Approach to Linking Out
How to deal with users leaving your site via outgoing links
Link out in a new window/tab using target=”_blank” in your link. This way, users will stay on your page or return by closing the new tab or window. This was frowned upon by some Web users before everybody used tabs, but these days it far less of a problem. You can have lots of tabs open in modern browsers without experiencing any issues.
Link out at the bottom of the article. Treat your blog post or page like a landing page and streamline it. It starts with an eye catcher, then some easily readable lists or tables follow; structure it with sub-headlines, citations and small digestible chunks of text using a bit of bold and italic text decoration. Then add the external links at the bottom of the post or page. Just like scientific publications do – the Internet was originally based upon this concept.
Add internal links to similar articles before the outgoing links. Add thumbnail images to these internal links.
How to convince search engines to assign more value to your page by linking out
Link out to very relevant high quality resources using deep links. I see people linking out to the homepage of Wikipedia.com, Flickr.com, BBC or even Google as the source. These links are worthless. Even if somebody clicks them, they are useless as nobody will search on those sites for the actual page you refer to but which you are afraid or too lazy to link to.
Of course Google engineers are smart enough to figure out which links are useful and which are not. Search engines don’t work on a page to page basis; they also form topical clusters. Just check the Google Wonder Wheel to see what I mean. Google does not favour outgoing links just for the sake of them; it also categorises the pages linked out linguistically.
Don’t be stingy. Link out plenty or don’t link out all. Why? Google has been known for years to favour so-called hub sites. Hub sites are sites that link out to many other authoritative and relevant sites. In the SEO industry, hub sites like Search Engine Watch or Search Engine Land have been the most successful publications over the years in spite of other sites like SEOmoz or SEO Book being even more on topic and targeted.
How to make sure your visitors have a good user experience
Link out where it makes sense. Add sources and additional resources below the article. Don’t link out to obvious sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter when mentioning them. Rather, link to actual messages or updates and your profiles on those sites where appropriate. Use self-explanatory anchor text for both internal and external links. Highlight links with CSS, but don’t overdo it. Link to the subject of your article in such a way that people who want to go there don’t have to look hard.
How to ensure you don’t support your competition, or rather how to make it a win-win situation
You can’t prevent your outgoing links from supporting your industry peers; even by crippling them with nofollow. Either you link out to colleagues from the industry or you don’t. Decide not to link out, and they won’t link to you either in most cases. Decide to link out and they will link, like and Tweet you as well in most (or at least many) cases. So, embrace linking out to industry peers wholeheartedly and don’t be nit-picky about every single link.
How to appear more authoritative by linking out
Link out to those people who offer really in-depth articles on parts of the topic you write about. Do not link out to people who are describing exactly the same but better. Link out to those who cover certain aspects that you don’t.
Also, collect the links you want to link out to before you actually write your own post so that you can expand on the issue or concept that others have covered before.
Don’t reinvent the wheel just for the sake of making yourself appear as the first person who has written about a certain topic. You aren’t, and everybody knows it. You can also find your own angle and provide links to others with a more general approach.
Positive Approach to Linking Out
Now that we have dealt with the issues you might face using external links as an SEO weapon, we can add some of the SEO benefits you are after when linking out. Outgoing links are actually the best method to get incoming links. Sometimes it’s as easy as pinging another blogger. Sometimes it can be more of challenge, but it may pay back in manifold ways after a while.
Link out to get noticed
When you start out as a blogger, especially with a business or corporate blog it is quite difficult to get noticed at all. There are millions of other blogs out there and nobody cares about your great content. The best way to make people notice and care is to tell them. You can’t tell them upfront by aggressively self-promoting without annoying people though. This is not a good start. There is a way to make people notice and care: notice and care for others first. Read the blogs in your niche, industry or from your area.
Don’t treat them like competitors. You can’t compete with the whole world anyway. You can cooperate with other bloggers though. That’s the secret behind the concept of the blogosphere. It’s a social sphere made up of bloggers.
Link out to fellow bloggers who are similar to you and write about them in the best case. They will notice you. Do it a few times, Stumble, Tweet, like them, and comment on their blogs. Unless you fail at blogging completely, some of them will start to care for you as well. At least use them as sources and provide ”via” links back to their articles.
This is a strategy that does not work without a blog. So get one. A site without a blog is quite dead these days. A blog is often far less time consuming and rewarding than other options like a forum or a feedback community.
Link out to get backlinks
As noted above, it’s just a matter of pinging other bloggers to get a backlink. Don’t overuse this and keep in mind that ultimately you are after real editorial links from other bloggers or webmasters. Even non-bloggers check their web analytics tools to find out who links to them, and they might link back to you. You just have to provide an incentive to do so.
Link out to become a hub site
The hub site is the holy grail of SEO. For about a decade it’s almost a mystic topic few people write about: a hub site is a site that gets preferential treatment by Google for the sheer variety and resources it connects around the Web.
To become a hub site you have to link out plenty to authoritative sites. Linking out solely to your own properties on other domains won’t suffice. It’s not the sheer number of links, it’s about the authority and variety of sites you link out to.
Hub site success stories
Searching for [news] on Google.com from the US results in Drudge Report being at number 4 in spite of Drudge Report not even having the word ‘news’ in the title or headline of their site, two of the most important on-site ranking factors. Google News and News at Yahoo follow at 5 and 6.
There is barely any “SEO” on Drudge Report at all, so it is really difficult not to attribute its success to plenty of linking out. Alltop is another good example for a link-only hub site. They rank in the top 10 for generic queries like [design], but also competitive keyphrases like [seo news].
So you see: a “one man show” site can compete with huge organisations mostly by linking out.
SEOptimise has been in the top 10 for [seo blog] for years, but just recently when I stepped up my linking out efforts by providing several highly popular 30+ resources lists in a row, we moved up to #1 in the UK.