The importance of using relevant outbound links

relevant outbound linksFrom 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)

Important’… Why?

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’.

Con­flict­ing ideas…

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”.

relevant outbound linksNofol­low’ / ‘dofollow’

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.

And don’t miss this post from Mark Trapha­gen on Zemanta: the Word­Press plu­gin that helps find related posts to link out to.

Onward…

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.

relevant outbound linksRules to fol­low While Build­ing a Good Set of Rel­ev­ant Out­bound Links

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:

Code:

<ol>
<li>
1Yd/Zz”>Computing & Tech­no­logy
</li>
</ol>

(End Code)

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:

  1. Brain­storm all the top keywords your tar­get web­site would be com­pet­ing for.
  2. Jot down a list of all keywords you have gen­er­ated a con­tent page or post for.
  3. The com­mon set of keywords is ideal anchor text when it comes to spiders.
  4. 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:

Code:

<ol>
<li>
1Yd/Zz”>Computing, com­puters, dell com­puters, com­put­ing devices
</li>
</ol>

(End Code)

This would most likely get flagged as spam. It’ll dam­age the tar­get page as well as your reputation.

relevant outbound links# 4 : Whom To Link To?

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.

relevant outbound links

Image credit: shoutmeloud.com

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.

(Related:www.your-domain-name.com)

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.

authority outbound linksAnd finally… — Your link­ing pro­file for out­bound links must be 100% natural!

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.

Lee x

About

SEO, social con­tent and sig­nals advoc­ate, closet geek (not fully fledge), writer, speaker, & blogger.

Founder of NOD3x (http://nod3x.com) — Social Net­work Ana­lysis, know­ledge graph ana­lysis application

Lee can be con­tac­ted by email: here

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