Outbound links are the connective tissue of the internet.
They’re important to search engines because they often indicate that a website or piece of content is relevant to search queries related to a chosen keyword or topic.
However, the emphasis in SEO is often on getting incoming backlinks – not linking from your domain to another.
This is understandable, but external linking on your own website can often be a hidden treasure trove of SEO-value if you know how to evaluate outbound links in order to benefit the user and their experience.
What is an outbound link?
An outbound link is any link on your website or domain that points to another website or domain.
Outbound links are the entire foundation of the internet. Without them, websites wouldn’t be able to connect to each other, search engines would be functionally useless and the internet would mostly be a series of solitary communities that rarely intersected.
External links also have tremendous importance to SEO – for both the sender and receiver. Incoming external links (backlinks) pass link equity or “link juice”, whereas outbound links signal to both the user and Google how trustworthy and reliable the information on your website actually is.
HTML for External Links
External (and other) links are some of the most widely used – and simple – HTML-coding on the web.
You can create a link in most Content Management Systems (CMS) by adding the following code to your text paragraph:
<a hrefs=”Full URL”>anchor text</a>
Most CMS also have a simple function for adding links or add this code automatically, whenever you write a text beginning with “https://www.”
Why are external links important for SEO?
In SEO-circles, the emphasis is often on incoming external links (backlinks) to your own domain. That’s because most SEOs believe it’s one of the most important sources of ranking power.
Having a lot of high-quality backlinks from relevant websites is the Holy Grail of SEO. It’s a clear indication that your site is useful, valuable, and relevant. High-quality backlinks indicate to search engines, such as Google, that your website is valuable – and ought to have a more prominent position in the search results.
Outbound links are often neglect – but important
Meanwhile, external links on your own website are often neglected as a part of most SEO-strategies.
Google has never officially stated that outbound links are a ranking factor for SEO.
However, in a YouTube-explainer from 2019, Google’s John Mueller stated that outbound links are: “[…]a great way to provide value to your users. Often times, 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.”
The most important thing to Google is giving their users the best possible content and experience. Their search results are determined by evaluating what pages or websites can best answer the search query.
Three Steps to Determine the Quality of Outbound Links
Determining the quality of an outbound link resembles greatly the method you’d normally use to determine which sites or pages you’d like to be linked from.
That process can be broken down into three overall steps:
- Evaluating relevance
- Determining trustworthiness
- Assessing the page or website’s authority or domain rating
The most important factor when you’re determining the quality of an outbound link is relevance. How relevant is the linked page to your topic.
Ask yourself: how does this information or page serve my reader or help to answer their search query?
It’s important to note that we’re specifically talking about the page. If you’re citing a survey in your field from a university, it’s better to link to the actual study than the university website. That’s because you’re looking to give your reader additional information that they shouldn’t have to search for themselves.
How trustworthy is the page or website you’re linking to?
Often spammy links lead to spammy domains. So always take a closer look at the overall site, before you link to a seemingly benign page.
.Edu or .Gov-websites are often trustworthy – but if they don’t live up to the relevance requirement, you should look elsewhere. Reliable news sites or niche media are also often good options, especially if official guidelines or academic studies aren’t relevant to your field.
Ask yourself: Is the page or website trustworthy enough that I’d be willing to host it on my own site – under my name?
Finally, we reach authority.
Authority – in the eyes of search engines and SEOs – is a bit of a nebulous term. Google doesn’t like to share the intricacies of their ranking algorithm, and thus most evaluations of authority are based on third party SEO tools such as Moz or Ahrefs.
Usually, authority is determined by the number of and authority of the backlinks of a website, also known as the website’s Link Profile. This is based on the assumption that high authority websites link to other high authority websites.
Authority is the least important of the three criteria. But since Google’s algorithm weigh the quality of links on the basis of the website’s Link Profile, it can still be beneficial to have an outbound link to a High Authority Website – provided that the link lives up to the two previous criteria.