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What are outbound links, and how do they affect SEO?

The Internet is full of links that connect different sites and web pages. If you’re running a site, it’s likely you will have content on your pages that link to external content. These are known as outbound links. But do outbound links affect how your site ranks in search engine results? 
In this guide, we’re going to dive into what they are, how you can use them and how to make sure they’re positively impacting your search engine optimisation efforts.  

What are outbound links? 

An outbound link is a link from your site to another. That means an outbound link for you, is an inbound link for somebody else. 
We typically place outbound links within our on-site content to add more context by linking readers to another valuable source. An outbound link should always provide additional information that is highly relevant and beneficial for site visitors.  
An outbound link essentially makes your content more of an authoritative source, by using another link to back it up. This explains why they are sometimes known as ‘authority’ links. 

What are internal and external links?  

Outbound links do fall into the category of external links – but they are not the same thing. An external link is a link that points to a separate domain – which can refer to both outbound and backlinks. An outbound link from one site is a backlink for another – therefore they are both a type of external link. 

Internal links only point within your own specific site or domain. They will usually take you from one web page to another. We typically use these to build topical authority and improve organic rankings as a result.  

The benefits of outbound links  

We highly recommend considering outbound links when creating your SEO strategies and within your content. The main benefits include: 

 Building a sense of trust 

Outbound links are usually a reference to your sources. If you are citing a source (i.e. a person or study), then you should provide a link to the original location. For example, as a digital marketing agency, we would reference any external digital marketing tools that we refer to, or other digital marketing agencies when referencing a study.  
Referencing your sources and presenting them openly to your audience can build a sense of trust and transparency. When doing this, be sure to check that you are referencing a reliable and authoritative source. The best way to do so is to use the original version.  

Showing expertise 

As well as providing transparency – you can use outbound links to demonstrate expertise by linking to a reputable source. If you are an expert in your industry or field – then your audience would expect you to link to the right sources, and vice versa.  

Adding value  

Linking to helpful and relevant content beyond your site is a way to strengthen the topical signals of your web pages. Outbound links can lead your site visors to further resources so that they can better understand your content. This is especially useful if you are writing about more complex topics.  

But remember, linking to external sources is not only adding providing more solutions for readers but also adding context for Google to understand the value of your site. 

How do outbound links impact SEO? 

Whether or not outbound links have a more significant impact on SEO performance than just showing authority has been debated by digital marketers and SEOs. 

Outbound links best practices 

By adhering to some of the following best practices when optimising outbound links –you could be seeing an effect on your visibility and ranking.  

Look for natural linking opportunities   

Your links should within your content should always be natural. For example, if we were discussing a specific digital marketing tool – we would see this as an opportunity to link to it. This is helpful for users and improves the quality of our content. If you feel like you are squeezing links in – then it’s unlikely that they are going to be of value.  

Use nofollow links when necessary  

Nofollow and dofollow links are a way of telling Google your relationship with the linked page. You would typically use Nofollow links when we do not want to pass on ranking power from your site to another. 

All links are automatically dofollow by default. This means that when changing a link to nofollow – you are telling search engines not to crawl them or pass on any credit. To create a nofollow link, you will need to add the rel= “nofollow” tag inside your code. 

We’ve highlighted when you may choose to use this attribute: 

  • Within comments – Visitors who comment on your site may link drop (link back to their site to receive link juice). If you don’t want to endorse their site, you can use the nofollow attribute to prevent search engines from passing on value.  
  • User-generated content – You may also allow people to contribute content to your site – for example, a guest blogger. Again, you can use the nofollow attribute if you don’t wish to endorse their site. 
  • Paid links – Influencer marketing is a popular digital marketing tactic. However, it’s essential that Google know you are not selling links to improve organic rankings. If you do accept payment for links – you should use the rel= “nofollow” or rel=” sponsored attribute. This can prevent you from encountering any unwanted Google penalties. 

Avoid too many outbound links  

Outbound links are a valuable part of SEO – but that’s not to say you should be overloading your content with them. Like most things in digital marketing – too many could have the opposite effect. 
Think of it this way – when adding a link, you are essentially recommending users to look elsewhere. If you do this too much – it can complicate content and become more of a distraction. Make sure you’re only using outbound links when it will be helpful for users to avoid deterring them from your site.  

Identify any issues  

We recommend using a digital marketing tool such as SEMrush Site Audit Tool. This is a specialist SEO tool that can identify potential problems with your outbound links. For example, you can use this tool to ensure you’re not using the same link attribute sitewide. 
If you have any questions, you can contact our SEO London team here.