When it comes to SEO, inbound links get most of the attention – and rightly so, being one of the most (if not the most) influential ranking factors. But what about outbound links?
Whilst inbound links are ones that point to your own website from other sites online, an outbound link is one that links to another site from your website. All too often, they are either ignored completely, or worse, people worry that they’re bad for SEO.
This primarily stems from an outdated view that every time you link out to another site, you’re diluting the authority of your own site. This simply isn’t the case. Your website isn’t a bucket of water that you’re puncturing holes into. Outbound linking can add context and direct readers towards further information, and yet talk about optimising outbound links is scarce.
Can outbound links improve SEO?
Whilst it’s a misconception that outbound links can hurt your SEO, whether or not it has any direct impact on your SERPs is debated. What we do know, however, is that Google actively encourages webmasters to link out where relevant. In this Q&A session with John Mueller, the Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst said the following:
“Linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users. Often, links help users to find out more, to check out your sources and to better understand how your content is relevant to the questions that they have.”
In recent years, Google’s algorithm updates have been geared towards favouring sites that provide a better experience, and more value, to each individual searcher. Outbound links to relevant and helpful sites allow your readers quick and easy access to further information and expertise on the subject, which can only be improving their experience.
It’s also a good signal to Google that you’re properly attributing your sources. Just as you would expect a journalist to correctly cite facts and information, if you manage a website that draws on data from elsewhere, it’s your responsibility to cite this, and from the original source if possible. Aside from SEO, this goes a long way towards building trust with your audience.
I also think there’s an argument, from an SEO perspective, that it’s a good indication to Google of who you associate yourself with. It can help to strengthen topical signals (as we know, Google looks at your overall link profile to help establish what you do and where you sit). If you’re citing authoritative and trustworthy sites and industry bodies, it says a lot about your standards. Which brings us on to the next point:
Best practice for outbound linking
Just as with anything else in SEO, it’s not simply the case that using outbound links is better than not using outbound links, you do have to apply a bit of common sense and consideration first..
Do your research. Before linking out to another site, check that the site is reputable, that it’s not harmful or spammy in any way, and that its content is useful for visitors – because after all, these are your visitors you’re sending to it. Check the accuracy of the individual event, stat or fact you’re citing too, verifying this with another few sources first if you’re unsure.
Remember you also have the option to use the rel=nofollow, or rel=sponsored tags, if the link is due to less organic activity, such as a sponsorship. These were introduced in September 2019 as a way to identify links that stem from paid activity.
It’s also a good idea to exercise a little caution when it comes to arrangements like guest posts. Writing a useful post for someone relevant in your neighbourhood, or vice versa, is not a bad thing, but contrived link swapping or suspicious outbound linking activity can be a warning to Google that you’re attempting to over-optimise.
All in all, outbound linking is a good thing, and it deserves more attention. No, it’s not as important as inbound links, and it’s unlikely to have a huge impact on your SEO, but it provides extra value and authenticity to your content, and is simply a good habit to get into.