Ever hear that leading people out of your site is a terrible thing, and that you need to keep readers inside at all times?
By now, everyone knows about backlinks and how they’re supposedly the most important part of SEO (not really). But what about outbound links? Links that lead away from your site? Are external links good for SEO?
The answer is actually a big “yes!” External links are indeed helpful for your site rankings, in more ways than one. They are very important if you want an authority website.
But, in true muddled SEO fashion, this isn’t the full story. If you want the full story, continue reading!
Note: Don’t listen to wannabe SEO experts on this! You absolutely can use external links without hurting your ranking.
What are External Links?
This seems like an easy question at first, simply because it is.
External (or outbound) links are links that lead away from your site, as opposed to inbound links that lead to your site.
This may seem counterintuitive. After all, aren’t you supposed to keep people on your site instead of sending them out?
That’s right. Google does like to see people staying on your website, which is why external links shouldn’t be overused. But when used moderately, they perform some nifty functions.
The best of these functions is niche awareness and relevance. For example, if you have a weight loss niche, you’d be linking to stuff like training programs, supplements, diet recommendations. Maybe the Weight Watchers site too?
These links would eventually inform the search engines of your niche. It gives them an idea of what your blog is about.
Plus, linking to authority sites in a niche establishes a “connection” between you and them. It’s not much, but linking to a big site can get you noticed by it, especially if you send traffic to them.
Of course, these are only the basic benefits. Let’s get technical!
How Do External Links Help (and Hurt) SEO?
There are many ways that these links can help your site’s ranking, but here I’ll explain the three most notable ones.
They Can Improve Reputation
This is a no-brainer. External links that lead to helpful pages will naturally improve your rep, because you’ll be helping (duh) your visitors, and that’s what search engines love.
Remember your weight loss site from a few paragraphs ago? When you link to sites that help your fans, those fans will look at you as a source of information. After all, you did send them to that training site. Or the healthy eating blog. It gets even better when you reference sources.
It’s easy to see where this is going. Once readers notice your helpfulness, they’ll become frequent visitors. They might even recommend you to other people in the niche. With any luck you’ll become a gateway into your niche!
Serebii.net (Pokemon fansite) is a great example of a gateway site. You can literally learn everything there is to know about the franchise through Serebii, and Pokemon’s a pretty big franchise. Many fans recommend it to newcomers, which is how you know it’s a big deal.
Of course, external links can destroy reputation if you don’t watch where you link to. If you link to low-quality or flat-out bad sites, people will associate you with them. and if you spam external links, expect the same result.
Imagine I linked to an article explaining that duplicate content is tolerated by Google. Those articles exist, and they’re either outdated or just plain wrong. I wouldn’t be a very good fact-checker if I did that. You’d see me as out of date.
That’s brings up a good point. Make sure your sources are up to date. When an external link takes you to a post from 2008, you know it’s time to update it (unless it’s evergreen).
No Site is an Island
So you don’t wanna make use of outbound links. That’s fine. But what happens when readers notice that your site is practically a cul-de-sac?
What I mean is, you go in, circle around (internal links), and then leave, because it’s a dead end. Would people spread the word about dead ends?
Search engines like to see connections to others sites. If your site is an island, it wouldn’t be very helpful to visitors, so why would you get high rankings?
A site that offers many ways out is a relevant one to search engines. Remember that when you’re worrying about sending people away.
Just don’t offer too many ways out… then Google would think you’re selling links, and that sucks.
This is more of a general benefit, but external links increase authority. And it makes sense, if you think about it.
A blog that regularly sources quality sites and posts will build up authority over time. The blog becomes “in the loop,” so to speak.
And as I mentioned above, no outbound links means a site is under a rock.
Every webmaster needs authority for their site. If they don’t, they’re not serious about their job.
Don’t Overuse Outbound Links!
It’s important to understand that overusing external links looks understandably shady to Google and other search engines. A sea of hyperlinks is basically a go ahead to kill your site in Google’s eyes. Restrain yourself and only link when relevant and necessary.
So Are External Links Good for SEO After All?
Wait, what? You’re still asking? What have I been telling you this whole time?! Get it together, bub!
…er, anyway, what I mean to say is, yes they are. The benefits are too constructive to ignore. Any serious blogger should make use of external links.
Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that external links don’t help SEO, or hurt it either (which is impossible). It would still be a good idea to use ’em, because your goal is to provide value to your readers.
That’s the idea here. Helping. So what if you lead someone out of your blog? They’ll be grateful you led them to the right place.
Actually, you don’t even have to lead them out! Just make your link open in a new window/tab! That way they’ll stay even longer.
The truth is, unless it’s a Wikipedia rabbit hole, readers could leave your site when they want. They don’t need no external link to show them the way. So you might as well squeeze some authority out of it.
Do you agree that external links are a good thing? Have you decided to use them more often? Leave a comment below, and if you liked the article, please share it!
Or maybe… externally link to it?
Your lackey in links,