How Do Outbound Links Impact Your Website Performance and SEO?

By: Tabitha Wilson

We constantly fine-tune our websites in the SEO industry to achieve peak performance. Every element contributes to success, from crafting engaging content to building a solid backlink profile. Since there are so many factors to consider in optimizing your website, it’s easy to brush aside external links — the seemingly minor connections that send visitors to other corners of the web. While they might seem insignificant, outbound links can significantly impact your website’s performance and SEO. Let’s explore the fascinating world of outbound links and their influence on website traffic, user experience, and search engine ranking.

What is External Linking, and Why is it Important?

An external link is a link on your website that leads to a domain other than your own. For example, the anchor text here includes an internal link to our blog, but the anchor text here includes an external link to a reputable source. While internal links help funnel traffic to other pages on your site and allow the Google algorithm to understand your site structure, external links bring external authority to your site and place you in a good link neighborhood. 

It may seem counterintuitive to place external links on your site. After all, if you send readers to another webpage, shouldn’t it be one of your own? The truth is that a healthy number of high-quality external links is beneficial to your site because they enhance the user experience

illustration of four people in a meeting coming up with content ideas

 Sometimes, we can get so caught up in meeting SEO metrics and best practices that we forget the root of SEO: people searching for information online. External links allow the user to explore a topic and learn more. That’s why they’re essential to how the Google algorithm determines your site’s credibility. 

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The Relationship Between External Links and Website Credibility

Every external link on your website opens up a connection between your domain and the other one. Think of it as a bridge or a tunnel between the sites. This pathway allows the authority of one site to travel to the other, in a way — we call this fluid measure of credibility “link juice.” Basically, if you link to high-authority sources on your website, the Google algorithm will assume that your website is also high-authority. 

However, to do so, your links need to be relevant to the content itself. The algorithm has been trained to spot attempts at link stuffing and rank pages accordingly. Like any other aspect of SEO content creation, as long as your external links ultimately help the end user, they’ll help your SEO efforts, too. 

Backlinks vs. External Links

Sometimes, people use the term “backlinks” interchangeably with “external links.” While the two are the same, they play different roles in your SEO strategy

A backlink is an external link that leads to your site from another website. It is a huge determinant of your website’s DA and DR and can bring new traffic to your site. Backlinks are sometimes acquired naturally but are most effective when gained through a robust link building campaign. The site that publishes a link to your domain is essentially vouching that you are a high-quality and trustworthy source of information. Therefore, the Google algorithm also starts to believe that you are a high-quality and trustworthy source of information. 

External links are ones that you publish yourself. When you place an external link on a piece of blog content, you create a backlink for that website. You are telling Google that something about that page is worthwhile to your audience and worth vouching for. Of course, if you link to a site with low authority and a low reputation, that may come to reflect on your site as well. 

Google’s Policies on External Linking

External links get a bad rap in the SEO world, and some website owners decide that they shouldn’t link to other websites at all. Let’s see how this misinformation has gotten passed along. 

Does Google Penalize for External Linking?

Google does not penalize external links that are high-quality, contextually relevant, and trustworthy. However, Google has to be pragmatic about external links, as many past gray- and black-hat SEOs have manipulated the link system for their gain. Stuffing your article with highly authoritative but low-relevance links will show that you’re trying to game the SEO system rather than provide worthwhile information to your audience, and the algorithm will rank you accordingly. This can cause a drop in rankings, traffic, and even authority. 

Best Practices to Avoid Penalties with External Links

We want to stress that as long as you’re linking to trustworthy websites naturally, Google will not penalize you. But you can utilize a no-follow tag if you’re worried about low-quality links on your blog or want to link to a competitor without giving them any link juice. When you mark a link as no-follow, it tells the algorithm that you don’t vouch for their content. This blocks link juice from flowing to that page but is invisible to the reader. 

Also, do continuous checks on the external links on your site to ensure that the pages are still live, helpful, and functional. 

Do External Links Leech Site Authority?

A common myth in the SEO community is that external links can drain a site’s authority, effectively siphoning off link juice from your hard work. However, this is due to a fundamental public misunderstanding of how link juice works. When your link juice flows through the link tunnel into the other website’s link juice cup (bear with the metaphor here), it doesn’t take anything away from your website. 

Link juice is a renewable resource. When you link to another site, you share what you already have, not give it away. If you don’t want to give a site the benefit of a backlink, just apply the no-follow tag and call it a day. 

    Best Practices for External Linking

    When used correctly, external links can help your website flourish. Here’s how. 

    Choosing Quality Sources for External Links

    Look at each site you consider linking to with a critical eye. You’re telling your audience that their content is worthwhile, but why? Are they an authority within their niche, like a .gov or .edu? Are they an established and trusted brand (e.g., Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Search Engine Journal)? Turn to the gold standard system for rating online content: EEAT. Analyze the expertise, experience, authority, and trustworthiness of the links you want to build, and then decide if the site you want to link is up to snuff. 

    Strategies for Effective External Linking

    Effective external linking involves more than just choosing the right sources; it’s about how these links are integrated into your content. Use external links to support and enhance the information you provide, ensuring they add value and context for the reader. Regarding anchor text, be descriptive and use relevant keywords that give users and search engines clear insights into the link’s content. 

    When uploading your content, make sure that external links open in new tabs. This keeps users on your site while allowing them to explore additional information in a different navigational tab. 

    Tools to Manage and Analyze External Links

    Specialized software can help you track all your external links at a glance and ensure they’re functional and high-quality. These are some of our favorite programs for tracking your external link usage and SEO efforts. 

    • Moz: Moz offers tools, including site audits, keyword research, and link analysis features, that help users improve their SEO strategies. Moz’s Link Explorer provides valuable insights into any website’s backlink profiles, helping you identify high-authority sites to target for links and assess the quality of potential link partners.
    • Ahrefs: Ahrefs is a comprehensive SEO tool specializing in backlink analysis and competitive research. It allows you to explore the backlink profiles of any website, uncovering opportunities for high-quality external links. You can also track the growth and decline of backlinks over time, which is great for refining your linking strategies.
    • SEMRush: SEMRush offers various digital marketing tools, including SEO, PPC, and content marketing suites. Its link building tools analyze where your competitors get their links and identify opportunities for high-quality, relevant backlinks. 
    • Majestic: Majestic provides extensive link analysis and domain metrics. It is known primarily for its extensive index of URLs and its specialized focus on backlinks. By using Majestic, you can explore the link profiles of your own and competitor sites. This tool is excellent for understanding the link context and the overall flow of link juice that influences web authority.

    Affordable, Accessible, SEo Services

    Algorithms change all the time. At Resolve, you can count on our 30+ years of combined experience with SEO to determine best practices for internal and external linking practices. 

    Implementing External Links

    Putting external links on your website is pretty straightforward, but you have to check off every step in the process. Here’s our quick guide to adding links. 

    How to Add External Links in WordPress

    To add external links in WordPress, scroll to the area of the post or page where you want to include the link. In the WordPress editor, highlight the text you want to link and click the link icon (which looks like a chain link). Enter the URL of the external site you wish to link to and click ‘Apply.’ For best practices, ensure your links open in a new tab (by selecting the ‘Open link in a new tab’ option). 

    How to Add External Links in HTML

    You can create an external link using the HTML anchor tag <a>. The basic syntax is <a href=”http://www.example.com”>Link Text</a>, where “http://www.example.com” is the URL of the external site, and “Link Text” is the visible part of the link. To make HTML links SEO-friendly, use descriptive anchor texts that give an idea about the linked page’s content, and consider using the rel=”nofollow” attribute when linking to less trustworthy sites. 

    External links not only enrich your site’s content and provide valuable resources for your visitors but also enhance your site’s credibility and authority in the eyes of search engines. By carefully selecting high-quality sources, using strategic anchor text, and regularly auditing your link profile, you can leverage external links to significantly benefit your SEO without the risk of penalties.

    FAQs About External Linking

    Can External Links Improve My Site’s Ranking?

    Yes, external links can positively affect your site’s rankings by signaling to search engines that your content is valuable and credible, especially when those links are to authoritative and relevant sites. These connections can increase your site’s authority and potentially improve its position in search engine results pages.

    Should External Links be DoFollow or NoFollow?

    Use NoFollow tags on external links when linking to any content you do not want to endorse, such as advertisements or sponsored posts, to prevent search engines from considering them in ranking algorithms. DoFollow links can be used for trustworthy sites when you want to pass on link equity.

    How Many External Links Is Too Many?

    The optimal number of external links on a page depends on the length and purpose of your content; however, all links should add value for users and enhance their experience. Overloading a page with too many external links can distract from your content and may be seen as spammy by search engines.

    How Do External Links Affect Page Authority?

    External links to high-authority sites can enhance your page’s perceived authority, suggesting your content is well-researched and reliable. However, excessive linking to poor-quality sites can harm your page’s authority.

    Are External Links More Important Than Internal Links?

    Both external and internal links play crucial roles in SEO; external links establish credibility and authority from other respected domains, while internal links help structure your site and distribute page authority. A balanced approach utilizing both types of links is typically the most effective.

    How to Check the Quality of External Links?

    To assess the quality of external links, use tools like Moz’s Link Explorer or Ahrefs, which provide insights into the domain authority and relevance of linked pages. Additionally, manually reviewing the content and reputation of the linked sites is essential for ensuring link quality.

    Do External Links to Social Media Matter?

    Linking to social media profiles can enhance SEO by increasing engagement and visibility, reinforcing your brand’s presence online, and potentially driving traffic from your website to your social media platforms, thus improving overall digital marketing efforts.

    How to Fix Broken External Links?

    Regularly audit your website using tools like Google Search Console or Broken Link Checker to identify and fix broken external links. Replacing or removing dead links is crucial to maintain a high-quality user experience and ensure the health of your site’s SEO.

    Should I Link to Competitors?

    Linking to competitors can be beneficial if it adds value to your content and improves user experience, but it must be done judiciously. Consider the potential benefits against the risk of losing traffic to them, and ensure such links are strategically advantageous.

    How Often Should External Links be Reviewed?

    External links should be reviewed bi-annually to ensure all links function correctly, remain relevant, and continue to link to high-quality and appropriate content. Regular reviews help maintain your site’s credibility and SEO performance.

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