The Internet is full of links that connect websites and specific pages. Chances are, you probably have pages on your website that link out to other relevant content on the web.
But do these outbound links affect how your website ranks in search engine results?
On this page, we’ll take a look at outbound links, what they are, how you can use them, and how they impact your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. If you'd like to speak with a specialist about SEO or outbound links, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What are outbound links?
Outbound links, also called external links, direct visitors from pages on your website to other sites on the Internet. Unlike inbound links, which send visitors to other pages on your website, outbound links send visitors to entirely different sites.
If another website links to you, it is considered an outbound link. At the same time, if you link to another website, it is also an outbound link.
Typically, external links pass more value than internal links. This is because search engines believe that what other people say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. In other words, if more websites link to your site, you will appear to be a more credible source.
External links are also harder to manipulate, so they are one of the best ways for search engines to determine the popularity and relevance of a particular website or page.
Nofollow links are links with a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag applied to them. The nofollow tag tells search engines to ignore that link. Because nofollow links do not pass PageRank they likely don’t impact search engine rankings.
Nofollow vs. Dofollow Links
The only technical difference between the two is that a nofollow link has a nofollow tag.
From the picture above about the SEO Checklist 2021 article, you can see the red box is nofollow and the blue box is dofollow
As a user, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a nofollow and dofollow link. You can click on, copy and use a nofollow link like any other link on the web.
However, when it comes to search engine optimization, there’s a BIG difference between nofollow and dofollow links.
That difference is this:
Dofollow links help your search engine rankings. Nofollow links don’t.
Google and other search engines use links as a key ranking signal.
When Should You Use Nofollow?
Nofollow links should be a minority of your outbound links. Nofollow links essentially break the chain between your site and the source you’re sending people to. This can be useful, even valuable, in navigating some of the finer points of SEO algorithms, and general etiquette.
Here’s when you should use nofollow:
Paid links – if people buy links on your site, Google can penalize you for that practice, and these penalties can do damage to your ranking and exposure.
Links in comments – defaulting these to nofollow means spammers putting links to disreputable sites can’t get credit from your site, which if they’re found to be fraudulent, can also result in penalties against your site.
User-generated content – If you allow guest posts or user-generated content on your site, no-follow links can prevent you from inadvertently “vouching” for the content. This is a great bit of insurance from a PR perspective, too. It’s one thing to host an open space to communicate ideas, but another entirely to promote and endorse controversial or offensive material.
Embeds – it’s good to embed content from other sources, but if you aren’t fully behind the wider content and you’re only using an excerpt, nofollow links can help save readers’ time by not sending them off to an otherwise low-quality piece of material.
Other times – Essentially, use nofollow any time you think there might be a problem, whether for readers or for algorithms, with you endorsing another website.
The majority of the time, however, outbound links can be invaluable, and while nofollow limits the damage these outbound links might be able to do, they also eliminate any benefits.
Now, let’s talk about the advantages of outbound links SEO.
Why are outbound links important?
Here are several reasons why you should include outbound links on your website.
Search engines, like Google, aim to show searchers the most relevant results for their search queries. And external links are a great metric for determining the popularity of a given web page. The more links a page receives from other sources, the more popular it appears.
This sends positive signals to search engines and can boost a page’s rank in search results, meaning that more searchers will click and view the content.
Links also provide important clues about the relevance of a page, and this is extremely helpful for search engines. Ultimately, search engines want users to find the information they are looking for, and when you include links to helpful content, you are doing them a great service.
In addition, the anchor text used in the links is usually a good indicator of the content on the target page or website. For example, if you are linking to a page about cat food, you wouldn’t make your anchor text say “dog toys for sale.”
The target and source page, as well as the domain contained in a link also provide helpful hints to search engines about the relevancy of a particular page. Since links point to related content, search engines can better establish knowledge hubs on the Internet that they can use to verify the importance of a page or website.
In other words, linking out to relevant content helps search engines understand your niche, and it can increase trust in your website.
Outbound links can also impact the reputation of your site.
If you link out to spammy sites, it will reflect negatively on your own website. The minute someone clicks on a link to a spam site, they will remember that you sent them there, and they will likely associate your website with the spam content. This is why link farms and reciprocal link schemes are such a bad idea and lead to penalties.
Sites with zero outbound links are dead ends, and they people typically don’t like dead ends. This can make your website appear to be unhelpful and inferior, which can negatively impact your rankings in search results.
Not including any outbound links on your website is like reading a research report with no bibliography. People will wonder where you are getting the information and if it’s coming from a high authority source.
On the other hand, including outbound links to relevant, high authority sources can boost your reputation and help you appear as a more authoritative source.
No matter how great your website is, it will never contain all the relevant information someone might be looking for about a specific topic.
By linking out to other helpful content, you can increase the value your website provides to visitors and make their experience more rewarding.
Ultimately, if people know that you publish and link to quality content, they will want to keep coming back for more. And they will consider your site to be a more valuable source of information on the web.
In addition, when you link out to other credible sources on the web, they will be more likely to link to your site. And it signals to other people that you want to participate in the web’s natural linking environment.
Including links to relevant content is a great way to build incentives for bloggers, journalists, and website owners to engage with your site and link to your content. This not only improves the perceived authority of your site, it can also boost your rankings in search results and help more people discover and interact with your business.
Do outbound links affect SEO?
Earning links to your website from other authority sources is an important ranking factor, and it can help you show up higher in search results for keywords and phrases related to your business.
In fact, SEO experts agree that external links are the most important source of ranking power because search engines view them as third-party votes for your website.
But do outbound links on your own website impact SEO?
A recent study conducted by marketing firm Reboot showed a positive correlation between a page’s outbound links and its rankings in search results. Reboot hypothesized that Google can determine the authority of a page or website based on the sources it links to.
For the experiment, the firm created 10 new websites, each targeting the same keyword. However, only half of the websites included links to high authority sources. All the sites contained similar content and tag structure, though it was different enough to avoid duplicate content penalties.
Reboot then monitored and recorded keyword search results over a five-month period. Each of the pages that contained outbound links ranked higher than pages with no outbound links, and Reboot concluded that relevant, outgoing links to authority websites positively impact search rankings.
Though Reboot took as many uncontrolled variables as possible, there are still some unanswered questions. For example, does linking to higher authority sources boost rankings more than linking to a lower authority source? What about follow vs. nofollow links?
While there are still some unanswered questions, this study seems to show that including outbound links to high authority sites can help your SEO efforts. At the very least, it won’t hurt your SEO, so if you’re hesitant to link out to other sites, just consider these results.
Outbound linking best practices
1. Look For Natural Linking Opportunities
First things first, don’t force links into your text. Linking can actually help you be more focused and rigorous in your writing, which in turn will improve the overall quality of your articles. If there’s a tangent that you think would be of value to your readers, but it isn’t the focus of your article, then link to someone who’s already discussed it in detail, and everybody wins. Equally, if you make an assertion, back it up with a link to your sources.
These kinds of natural links will help you keep everything relevant, while further supporting your point. Like a math problem, this kind of linking helps you “show the work”, so your readers can see the kind of commitment you have to research your articles. Building links should be organic, not forced. If you’re doing the writing part right, there’ll be ample opportunities without having to force it.
2. Use Tools To Find Related Links
If you’re struggling to come up with outbound links organically, consider using Google’s related link tool. In the Google search bar, just enter “related: ‘thenameofyourwebsite’” to be furnished with a series of results Google thinks is relevant to your website. Sidebar: if this list is completely irrelevant, it will also give you a good indication that your SEO isn’t pitching you into the right industry.
3. Don’t Use Backlink Networks
Google’s Panda update broke up the mutual backlinking blog and website networks that helped sites quickly ‘fake’ authority and hike their rankings. People still do this, but if Google spots too many mutual backlinks, these will be devalued and their power lost, even dropping into the negative. This may be an appealing way to rush the system, but slow and steady wins the race.
4. Ensure Links Open In New Tabs
Because outbound links deliberately send people away from your site, you have to make sure your site isn’t abandoned in the process. This can be damaging for you and frustrating for readers – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been irritated by having to hit back, right-click, then open in a new tab manually. To open links in a new tab, simply add target=”_blank” to your link HTML. Your readers will thank you, and you’ll save a lot of engagement that would otherwise be lost.
5. Avoid Too Many Outbound Links
To paraphrase Paracelsus, “everything is a poison, it just depends on the dose”. You can have too much of a good thing. If you overdo it with your outbound links, you’ll end up distracting your reader and repeatedly pushing them away from your site and towards the sites of others. If you spam links, you’ll also undo your outbound links SEO benefits.
Only include links that are relevant and helpful to your readers. Keep them relatively sparse, and emphasize the content of the link within the sentence you’re linking from. This way, people know what they’ll get if they click the link.
If you’re linking to support an assertion, often people will just assume you’ve done the research and not click it. If you’re saying “this will help you” they’re a lot more likely to click.
6. Be Strict With User-Generated Links
If linking to well-respected, influential sites and posts can increase your perceived authority, then linking to low-quality user-generated posts like blogs, comments, forums, and subreddits is going to erode people’s confidence in your work.
What’s more, don’t allow links in your comments. I’d even go so far as to manually monitor and approve comments when you’re starting out, to ensure only constructive conversation is nurtured. Users won’t want to become part of a community choked out by spammers, self-promotional guest bloggers, trolls and so forth.
Protect the quality of your content, and you protect your image too.
Pro-tip: use a outbound link checker to ensure all your links are current and up to date. Broken links will be held against your ranking by the algorithms. I recommend the Rank Math plugin
Increase Your Authority, Audience and Ranking With Outbound Links
By now, you should be convinced of the value of Outbound Links to your SEO strategy and the future of SEO. Using them, and more importantly, using them well will help you make a real difference to your website’s bottom line. Just make sure to compose your links so they’re always relevant, easily navigable, and increase convenience for your readers.
With this achieved, you’ll be building your profile, authority, and ranking in no time.