Outbound Linking Can Boost Rankings

Many of the poorly ranking websites that I am asked to fix share a common problem – they do not link out to any websites.  Apparently, some people still think this is a terrible idea and go to extremes to never link out to anyone. Taking any idea to an extreme is generally never a good plan.  By changing the outbound link policy, I have been able to help many sites boost their rankings.  Let’s be clear – I am not talking about blindly linking to random sites.  I am talking about linking out to quality websites that are relevant to the specific web page content.

Why would I be so generous with my link juice?  Here are some of my thoughts:

#1 – It encourages others to link back to you.
When you link out to websites, you encourage others to link back.  Think about all the quality reciprocal link exchanges you can build.  Having a large exchange of reciprocal links can boost the direct referrals to your website and the more websites linking to you is helpful (even if they are reciprocal).   If you are a NY law firm it makes sense to cross promote — aka link exchange — with a NJ law firm.  You also will increase the chance of gaining one-way links.  Think about a blogger who is creating an article about your industry.  Will they be more likely to include your site as a reference in their article if you are a dead-end site or a gateway to many other relevant resources?

#2 – It improves user experience.
By linking to relevant websites, you improve the user experience by adding more value to your website.  You are probably worried that by having some outbound links you will lose some traffic.  Based on my years of experience, overall you will actually gain traffic.  Huh?  That is because the user is more likely to return to your site and use it again and again since you helped them to discover other valuable sites.  A dead-end site is good for a one time visit but a website that is a gateway to great resources is worthy of repeat visits.  You might be wondering why I am bringing up the user experience when this article is about boosting Google rankings.  Well, Google has been incorporating usage quality signals into their ranking algorithm.  By improving your engagement quality signals, you will also helping rankings.

#3 – Why else do search engine patents talk about it?
Several search engine patents discuss how search engines might reward sites for having good outbound links.  Simply filing a patent does not guarantee the search engines are using the technology and rewarding linking websites, but it would make good sense for them.  These patent filings have pointed out that there is a high correlation between the quality of a website and the quality of its outbound links.  That is not surprising when you sit back and reflect on it.  To make your head hurt even more check out the latest search engine patents at SEO by the Sea.

#4 – Little risk for big reward.
By adding an outbound link to one of my pages, I lose very little.  I might lose some link juice that would have otherwise flowed to my internal pages, but we are talking a very small percentage.  Look at one of your pages and count all the links.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you have over 50 links on your page.  Using an over simplified link distribution calculation (since link distribution in the real world is never simple) that means adding a link will result in only a 2% loss of the link juice from that single page.  Two percent of link juice for the chance to add a new link partner, boost usage signals and possibly trigger other quality signals is a good gamble from my point of view.

By linking out to other websites, you have the potential for many rewards.  I’ve been told this is a controversial topic so please do not take my word for it.  Do some research on your own.  Here is a 2005 outbound linking case study.  Another easy test would be to look at the webpages that rank well and then see how many link out vs. how many are dead-end websites.  If you see there is a correlation, do a small test by adding relevant outbound links to a few of your pages and see what happens.  I am confident you will be happy with the results. At the very least, you will learn something interesting from this easy test.

ps How well is this article ranking for lead balloon?

photo credit: Shutterstock/coka

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