fbpx

Outbound Links In SEO: Everything You Need To Know

You’re probably aware of what inbound links bring to the table. But what about outbound links? Will they benefit your SEO strategy in any way? What are the benefits of adding them to your posts?

In this post, you’ll learn everything there is to know about outbound links and why they deserve your attention. Even better, we’ll show you some of the best practices when adding external links so they don’t impact you in a negative way.

This article dives into one of the fundamentals of search engine optimization. So if you’re just getting started in SEO, you’ll want to pay attention.

What Are Outbound Links?

There are two types of links: internal and external links. To better understand outbound links, we need to discuss each type.

  • Internal Links — These are links that point to other pages within your domain. Say you have a page that links to your homepage. That link is an internal link.
  • External Links — These links, on the other hand, point to other domains. But what if you own two domains and link them to each other? Are these considered external links? Yes, they are. If the page points anywhere outside its domain, you get external links.

You can further break down external links into two subcategories: inbound and outbound links.

  • Inbound Links — These are pages that link back to your domain. Whenever domains, link back to you, you receive inbound links. These are also referred to as backlinks.
  • Outbound Links — When you link back to other domains, you create outbound links. Any link that takes users away from your domain is an outbound link.

SEO Benefits of Outbound Links

What makes outbound links all that interesting as far as SEO goes? There are several reasons why you want outbound links to be part of your SEO strategy.

  • They tell search engines what your niche is — If your site’s niche is in the woodworking space, linking to related pages (wood supplies, tools of the trade, etc.) will help search engines like Google determine what your domain is all about by association.
  • They show how relevant your page is to the topic — Using descriptive anchor texts that are specific to your niche will tell Google that your page is relevant to your topic.
  • They help establish authority — By linking to authoritative sites, you make your site look even more credible for both users and search engines. When presenting facts to users, quoting your source is a good practice.

External Linking SEO Case Study

Reboot Online published a case study in 2016 (and updated in 2019) about what effects outbound links have on websites.

Since domain owners have control over outbound links, it also made sense that Google penalized those who try to manipulate rankings through link building schemes. What the Reboot Online team wanted to know is if linking to credible sources have positive effects on rankings.

The Methodology

The team made up a fictional beauty compound they dubbed “phylandocic”, a term that has no meaning and produced zero results in search engines at the time of the experiment.

They created 10 sites and populated it with 300-word articles about the made-up compound. All the articles are similar in structure and length. Even the keyword positioning was identical.

However:

Five of the domains had outgoing links to reputable domains like Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the Genome Research Institute. Reboot Online also took measures to make the test as fair as possible.

outbound link in seo - reboot online methodology

The Results

The experiment lasted five months. And after careful evaluation, the team concluded that outbound links do have a positive effect on SEO.

Sites that had outgoing links performed better in the SERPs compared to those that didn’t.

outbound link in seo - reboot online results

Remember: All ten domains used did not earn backlinks. And all of them had the same structure. So outbound linking was likely the only factor considered here.

outbound link in seo - reboot online ranking

And while the case study stopped short of claiming how powerful outbound links could be, it does state that they clearly play a role in ranking pages. But there is a caveat: you must learn how to use outbound links correctly. Otherwise, you could actually do your site more harm than good.

External Linking: Best Practices

When adding outbound links, you should try your best to be as careful as possible. You don’t want to run the risk of being spammy. Search engines will penalize you for doing so. Not only do outbound links have to be subtle, but they should also have a purpose.

Here are a few things you have to keep in mind when building outbound links.

Link to Relevant Pages from Authoritative Sites

Your articles should only link to relevant and authoritative sites. For example, an article about content marketing should like to resource pages about the very same topic.

Not all pages would link to authoritative sites like news outlets and school organizations. And just because a site does not have high domain authority does not mean they’re not credible. So there’s no way you can link to high-authority sites all the time.

However:

You should do your best to link to these sources as much as possible.

How would you know if a site is authoritative? There are metrics you could look at such as:

  • Moz Free Domain SEO Analysis Tool — Moz created a tool that lets users determine the top domains on a scale of 1 to 100 (the higher, the better).
  • Ahrefs Website Authority Checker — Ahrefs has a similar tool called Website Authority Checker. It also scores sites from 1 to 100. According to Ahrefs, a “good” score is relative to the user. But a good rule of thumb is to compare the domain to similar sites and see how high or low its score is comparatively.
  • SEMrush — SEMrush is an all-in-one SEO analysis tool. You can use it to check domains and their backlinks. If the site gets backlinks from reputable and well-known organizations, it’s a safe bet that linking to them will have a positive impact on your own campaign.

outbound link in seo - semrush

Note: The tools mentioned here are free but they return limited results. You’d have to sign up for these services if you want full access.

As far as relevance goes, that’s non-negotiable. You can’t write about the weather then link to an obscure site that’s in an unrelated niche like gambling. This will raise red flags and could drag you down the SERPs.

Don’t Link to Competitor Pages

Let’s go back to our previous example. if you’re writing about content marketing, you don’t want to link to your competitors even if their content is relevant to your subject matter.

Why?

Because you want your audience to have your full attention. Also, you want to be an authority figure in your niche. Introducing your readers to another source might drive traffic away from your site.

There are times, however, when you can’t avoid this though like when you’re citing research made by a colleague. So use your best judgment.

How do you know which sites are competitors?

One way is by doing a quick Google search for your target keyword. The top entries in the results are most likely your competition.

outbound link in seo - google content marketing

You can also use the other tools we mentioned earlier (Moz, Ahrefs, and SEMrush) which have built-in keyword research tools. When you enter your target keyword, these tools would show you which domains want to rank for the same terms.

Ahrefs published a guide on how to do an SEO competitor analysis (using Ahrefs, of course) if you want more information.

Make Sure That the External Links Serve a Purpose

Just because outbound links are good for your site does not mean you should do so liberally. Why? Because this would cause your site to lose link juice, the equity that’s passed from one page to another.

So really have to think about when’s the best time to link out. If the link does not serve a purpose or if you can avoid it entirely, then you should consider foregoing the outbound link.

For example, you might want to link to a source so your readers could read up on a concept you don’t want to explain in detail. But if you take the time to explain yourself, this would eliminate the need to link elsewhere.

Bonus: Inform Site Owners That You Linked to Them

Why would you want to notify site owners about your outbound links? Because this would encourage them to return the favor. They could also use this opportunity to promote your article to their followers, whether on their site or through their social media channels.

WordPress users can use plugins like LinkBuildr to streamline the outreach process.

outbound link in seo - linkbuildr

Conclusion

Your outbound links are just as important as backlinks. So it pays to optimize your site to include outbound links to relevant, high-authority sites.

And when adding outbound links, make it a habit to have them open on a new tab so you don’t lose readers when they click on a link.

seo profile image

Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

  • social media icon
  • social media icon
  • social media icon

Online Courses