From the times when people would try to ‘store’ pagerank on their sites to times when hoarding link juice became irrelevant, there have been different interpretations of relevant outbound links and their importance.
A lot of people don’t quite understand whether (and how?) they add value to a site. Then there’s others who wish to know if it impacts their optimisation efforts and linking structure in major ways.
Let’s go ahead and attempt to understand these issues, as well as grasp the significance of having relevant outbound links on your site.
Relevant outbound links: an important distinction
“The way an online entrepreneur and a blogger (or classic content producer) treat outbound links would vary by objective.”
But this does not mean that Google’s relevancy algorithm would treat them differently. For the algorithm, a site is a site irrespective of whether it’s a lead-gen corporation or a blog. Similarly, a store is a store, an article is an article and quality information is…
(you guessed it)
I state this because I know for a fact that most business websites will have the objective of converting visitors into customers. And Google understands this too. Common…they have an entire section in Google Analytics dedicated to helping with conversions. Hence, stress on outbound links goes down in business sites because it means ‘sending visitors away’.
But on the other side of the spectrum, the blogger or hubpages writer and lens creator would genuinely want to refer people to different sources of information. That’s how blogs have evolved and also how the internet sharing mechanism works. Plus, blogging culture was always aimed at spreading knowledge and gaining some more, encouraging a lot of outbound links from one site to another.
So those are two conflicting ideas around the use of traffic and using links to guide it. This is what I mean by treatment of outbound links “varying by objective”.
Ideally, even if you’re constructing a business website, it would “not” be advisable to use ‘nofollow’ for all links. With changes being better understood these days, it is in your best interests to let pagerank flow. It’s an additive measure.
Additional info: PR Factory have a great article on how pagerank works as a metric with respect to relevant outbound links. And check this article out to deal with outgoing links that embed onto your page or may lead to destinations you don’t have a grip over.
Linking to Authoritative Sources and Credibility
No doubt that linking to other sites is important. But you must cite out authoritative sources and try to have them cite you in order to build some credibility for important information. But never turn it into a link exchange or loop.
And as a rule of thumb, always have a neutral blogger or reader who knows a little about your field read through your site content. Let them give you constructive criticism about the validity of your links. That’ll help you steer clear of any temptations of linking to others incorrectly.
Now, let’s lay down some ground rules for you to follow while building a good set of relevant outbound links from your website:
# 1 : Understand Search Motive
Search engines want to point visitors to those pages and content sectors that are deemed important by a community which “actively relates” to such content. Everyone sends out links to niche blogs or product pages they are affiliated with, but most such links are sales oriented and should be nofolow’ed. This means they don’t have a chance to build authority.
By understanding search motive, you will know what type of authority site or firm is worth your time and effort as well as your visitor’s attention. Yes, heavy scrutiny is a must! When you give a vote it should add to the usefulness of information gained by the user, without sending back a monetary benefit to you.
Using relevant outbound links would position you as a niche leader and trustworthy knowledge source.
Additional info: Here’s Google’s take on linking out
# 2 : Concentration
Like keyword density, outbound link density is also subject to a lot of discussion and misinformation. Stick to 1 to 3 per blog post.
For CSS pages and custom designed pages, up to 3 links in the main content of the page. The content should be about 1000 words at the least. In the rest of the page, you can have recommendation links to tools or services you recommend. Again, don’t have too many of these.
The recommendations can be embedded onto the style sheet. As a result, they appear on nearly every page in that section of the site. Hence, over time with repeated crawling of the page, these links become a static feature. So they do lose their importance by a very small bit, but don’t kill your rankings. It’s good to have a separate recommendations page.
Infact, you can have multiple pages with recommendations. You can choose what links to place on which page and update the pages with fresh content accordingly. Remember to put new content on pages that have more important links.
The links from your content are dynamic and get more weight. This observation is based on many blog experiments.
# 3 : Anchor Text
Take a look at this example:
1Yd/Zz”>Computing & Technology
Using appropriate keywords as anchor text helps both the reader and the spider. Here, it has been rightly selected as ‘Computing & Technology’. As an exercise that would benefit you, do this:
- Brainstorm all the top keywords your target website would be competing for.
- Jot down a list of all keywords you have generated a content page or post for.
- The common set of keywords is ideal anchor text when it comes to spiders.
- It also signifies the relevancy of the link going out. So make sure you have this keyword early and often if you place multiple links to pages on a common site.
But remember, your aim is not to bombard with keywords. It is healthy practice to send out some links in html form as well.
The html links in this article are all good examples.
As an example of what not to do, see this:
1Yd/Zz”>Computing, computers, dell computers, computing devices
This would most likely get flagged as spam. It’ll damage the target page as well as your reputation.
This is where competition must be taken into account. You would not want to send too many links to your competitors. Once in a while, it’s good to acknowledge efforts made by others and do link to them on such occasions – say they came out with a revelatory concept your own readers could find useful. It helps with reputation, contrary to what many believe.
To readers, it conveys you believe in your product or service, because you’re not afraid to have your audience be someone else’s audience, even if they’re professionally a rival.
With the introduction of “search plus your world”, there’s a lot more to outbound links. Your linking profile should have authority blogs as well as new players receiving link juice. Most people have saturated the linking highway in the past 3 years or so by exploiting authority sites.
This would now work against them.
Even comment links count as outbound links with flow of pagerank. So make sure you have a plugin on your site that checks comment spam.
If possible, find people who have great content and would be willing to do guest posting on your site. This allows them to introduce their perspective and links they find valid. Also, they are sure to link to their own websites and your site gets held in relation.
When linking to newer sites, there’s an effective way of doing it. If you find that a new site is going to conduct a JV or upcoming product launch, then it’s good to link to them “after” they’ve built a list and done a small launch to test the waters. Most players would quit by then because they are testing their niches.
Also, it sets you free from their rapid promotion cycle, so you can freely link to them after they are stable and do not need your links to hard sell them all the time. Readers will also stop judging your links as affiliate links.
When linking to ecommerce stores, find those with low traffic but deals people could benefit from. Also, see if a business is rolling out a Google business offer.
If their offers are continuously on display, it means they are willing to pay for the listing month after month. That directly implies their service is able to fund repeated listings and thus I doing stable business.
When the customers of the ecommerce store are “happy” with them. Bingo! There’s your next outbound link.
Also, if you’re short of good sites to link to because all the great information is coming from your competitors, then look at your secondary keywords and tertiary search phrase options. Find websites that have great information on your subject but pop up in search for keywords other than your primary targets. Place relevant outbound links to them.
# 5 : Which Sites To Avoid?
Most people actively link to link farms or sell links. Do not do this! It speaks a great deal to search engines about a site’s inability to rank without giving or getting favours.
Links placed in reviews are great if coupled with honest opinions and information given by users of a service as feedback. But stick to single links in reviews as too many appear as social promotions, even if they are nofollow’ed.
Finally, reciprocal linking should be done cautiously. Be sure to send outbound links to sites with high PR, but winding the link around their sitemap yields little value. The best way to do reciprocal linking is when it adds to the reader’s experience. So find websites that have active forums on different domains.
The good thing about forums is that they have ‘original’ content.
If a site truly deserves your vote, then the reader looking for information is more than happy to follow a link to your blog by finding it on the partner forum of a service related to your area of expertise.
# 6 : Outbound Linking Profile
Let me lay down the unbreakable platinum law:
“Aggressive yet user-friendly Whitehat”
That should describe you!
The most important way in which outbound links affect SEO is user-activity. Say you spend the time it takes and build an empire of content people find useful. Then these people are liable to come back and check your references time and time again.
The more reference you give after building content and relating your links to it, the more clicks, social shares and user activity is generated on your site. It does carry huge bonus points for you. On the other hand, if you over exploit this, your rankings will drop.
Ideally, keep your votes in the center and towards the end of the page body. The <head> tag is the last place you would want to populate with votes!
<img> and <table> content is great with data that has visuals or needs metrics to understand. Links from these are automatically visitor-friendly.
Using the ‘Related’ Google Operator
If you do a google search for your domain with the “related” operator, you’ll see a listing of all those sites that Google holds in direct relevance to what you talk about. Outbound links play a vital role here.
Externally Linking to Sites that Implement “rel=author”
Linking to websites which may have authors implementing “rel=author” for content pages that relate to your niche, is a validation of your reference. The SERPs will show you who these authors are and what content Google accepts them as an origin for. Use it with due diligence. Always credit your source if you use such information on your blogs.
If you don’t, it could bring your entire linking profile into question…which brings me to my next point.
I know there’s a huge debate going on around the whole concept of “natural” and “user-oriented” ever since the Fresh Update. But it becomes critical when even a single vote could make or break your reputation in the SERPs. So pay close attention to these 2 principles:
1. Never go beyond a 2 layer linking profile
This means all outbound links would at maximum have 2 references – 1 content and 1 URL reference. It’ll remove any scope of artificial links or those votes which come from biased opinions as well as those which are used for sales and landing pages. Make sure anyone asking for links knows this criterion of yours, even if they have huge credibility.
2. Send links like a researcher
Those who write research papers keep references for their thesis and project work. These references have to fight a huge battle with thousands of books to be on their notepad.
The same is true for links you send out. If you conduct a thorough research before submitting any content or making a lens or hubpage, you’ll know exactly which links were helpful to you. So you’re the user of the content and the person who’s clicking through the link path, both at the same time. You’ll know in an instant which references will damage the linking profile of your site. Discard those.
References that feel natural and “necessary” to understand a concept or complement it will enrich your link structure with related outbound links. Use them.
That said, if you stick to these points you shouldn’t face a problem with outbound links again.