What Are Outbound Links? Why Are They Important? And How Do They Work?
What are outbound links? Why are outbound links important? And how do outbound links work?
Links have long been a ranking factor in organic search. One goal of SEO is to ensure that every link is quality and relevant, which helps a website maintain its authority and competitiveness in the search results.
Much is said about inbound links. But outbound links carry weight too, even though they are talked about far less. In this article, I’ll answer common questions about outbound links and provide examples and tips.
What Are Outbound Links?
An outbound link is a link from a page on one website to a webpage on another website.
To illustrate, Site A links to Site B. Site A’s link to Site B is an outbound link from Site A. Site’s A’s link to Site B is also considered an inbound link to Site B.
Why Are Outbound Links Important?
Outbound links are important because they can impact user experience and SEO. The big picture is that if no websites linked out to other websites, search engines like Google would have a harder time doing their job.
Links are a vote of confidence from one website to another. Ever since PageRank launched in the late ’90s, links have been a significant way Google determines rankings. Inbound links help search engines determine a website’s popularity, authority and relative importance on the web.
Let’s look closer at how outbound links impact both user experience and SEO.
Linking Out for User Experience
First, the user experience. As you write quality content, you will want to back up your text with supporting resources. Your outbound links give context to your topic. Readers can learn more if they choose to click through.
Google’s John Mueller echoed this, saying that “linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users” in a short video:
Linking Out for SEO
On the SEO side of things, which websites your website links to matters. If you link to quality sites in your field, then search engines may deem your site higher quality by association. But the opposite is true as well. How many high-quality sites do you see linking to spam sites?
Therefore, search engines like Google may determine that a site is spammy if it regularly links to spammy sites. Similarly, outbound links to sites that have nothing to do with your subject matter can look unnatural, so do so sparingly.
Mueller pointed out in the video embedded above certain types of outbound links to avoid from an SEO perspective:
I would watch out for a few types of links, though. In particular, if you’re linking out to a site because of an arrangement, like you link to me and I’ll link to you, or because it’s an advertisement, or if it’s being done in your site’s comments, and you’re not really sure how good those links are. In all of these situations, your pages aren’t linking out because you think the other page is a great match for users. For these kinds of links, we recommend using the “rel=nofollow” link attribute.
For more caution, it’s useful to understand Google’s Webmaster Guidelines on link schemes.
How Do Outbound Links Work?
Outbound links are facilitated most commonly by text or images on a webpage. The most common is text, and it works by hyperlinking. A hypertext link is an HTML link embedded within the body text of a webpage.
The reader sees text that is highlighted and activated with a link, called “anchor text,” like so:
Check out this SEO company. (In this case, “SEO company” is the anchor text and the link goes to our homepage.)
On the HTML code side of the webpage that same link would look like this:
<a href=”https://www.bruceclay.com/”>SEO company</a> (The link is shown after “a href” and the anchor text follows.)
When creating an outbound link, a best practice is to ensure the webpage you are linking to opens in a new window. That way, the reader is not taken off your website. Rather, a new window opens up with the target webpage.
This is typically done via a setting in your CMS as you upload the content and get it ready for publication.
For the HTML code, to ensure a link opens in a new window, it would look like this:
<a href=”https://www.bruceclay.com/” target=”_blank”>SEO company</a> (The attribute target=”_blank” indicates to open a new window.)
Tips for Outbound Linking
A few tips as you are learning how to do outbound links correctly …
- The destination page you are linking to must be relevant to the page and paragraph you are linking from. The theme of the entire website should be relevant, too.
- If the two pages (the webpage on your site and the webpage you are linking to) are not on a related topic, the link may appear unnatural to search engines and this could impact your ability to rank.As an example, say you have a website on cats and you are writing an article on training your cat. If that page links to an ecommerce store that is totally unrelated, it will not only confuse readers but can look like spam. These are the types of outbound links that can harm your SEO.
- Choose wisely which text to hyperlink and make the anchor text of your outbound link. Identify the most relevant parts of the sentence related to the outbound link and use those words as the anchor text.
- If you are an influencer and have been compensated for the link, be sure that your page follows FTC guidelines, and that your links are nofollowed or marked as sponsored.
- Also, it’s good to briefly vet the webpage and website you are linking to. Does it have any spammy characteristics? If so, look for another, higher quality webpage. You can bet that any webpage on the topic that shows up on Page 1 of the search results will be a good alternative.
While outbound links may not get as much attention as inbound links, they matter to your website. Take care to follow best practices with your outbound links.
For more in-depth coverage of linking practices that work, download our e-book “The New Link Building Manifesto: How to Earn Links that Count.”