External links are links on your website that lead to other websites.
Adding links to credible and trustworthy domains improves the credibility of your site and provides users with additional relevant information. On the surface, it may seem like you don’t get anything out of giving links to other websites, but there’s a lot more to external links than meets the eye.
Importance Of External Links
Let’s look at why external links play a vital role in your site’s SEO success:
Provide Ranking Power
A study by Reboot Online has shown that there’s a correlation between a web page’s external links and its ranking in SERPs. The study hypothesizes that Google — along with other major search engines — determines the authority of a webpage based on the credibility of the sources it links to.
Simply put, when you mention facts and figures, ideas and information on your page, link to relevant sources and that will add more credibility to what you are saying, not only in the eyes of the reader but also for search engines.
External Links Provide Relevancy Cues To Search Engines
Search engines study every aspect of your page, including whom you link to and how.
The linking domain as well the anchor text of the link helps crawlers understand your niche, the pain points you’re addressing and clues as to how relevant your content is to what people are searching for. Ultimately, by including external links, you’re helping search engines establish better knowledge hubs on the internet.
Moreover, by linking to high authority pages, you establish yourself as a legitimate player in your niche, further building the search engine’s trust in your site.
Associating with high domain authority sites, even just via external links, increases your reputation and credibility in the eyes of your readers. It shows that you have done your research and that you are aware and connected in your niche.
Gives You An Opportunity To Give Due Credit
You’ve come across statistics that’ll add value to your content (great!), but you can’t just add them to your blog; you need to link the source of study/research — and that’s where external links come in!
Adding external links is a way of citing sources, and essentially, giving credit where credit is due. For instance, if you come across a quote from an industry leader, or data that’s relevant to your content, add the information in quotation marks with an external link to the source.
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.” – Link Schemes, Google Support.
Note: Make sure to go through the content usage guidelines when quoting from someone else’s site.
Similarly, when you’re adding statistics or mentioning an idea that originally isn’t yours, add an external link to the originator of the idea. Doing so not only complies with internet etiquettes but it also adds credibility to your content and proves that it’s accurate and up to date.
Improve Value For Readers
Readers don’t have time to scour the internet to get all the information they need, so providing shortcuts to high authority references establishes you as an industry expert.
Your readers end up trusting the content you offer, and keep coming back for a guided tour of the most credible material available on the internet for that topic.
Plus, the more readers come back, the higher you’ll rank; search engines love sites that prioritize the three pillars of SEO: trust, authority and relevance.
Encourage Backlinks And Expand Outreach
When you link out to credible sources on the internet, the SEO professionals working on those sites will find out about it and there is a chance for collaboration.
Therefore, adding links to relevant content is a great incentive for website owners, journalists and bloggers to get more people to discover and interact with your business (AKA attract traffic), giving you an opportunity to build relationships in your niche and expand your reach.
However, it’s important to mention here that in order to get backlinks, you need to ensure your site is worth linking to, which means it needs to be highly engaging, authoritative and interactive.
Optimal Format of External Links
When creating external links, use descriptive keywords as anchor text, which reflect the linking target topic. However, don’t overdo the usage of keywords; doing so can trigger Google’s spam detectors.
The best practice is to use anchor text that enhances usability and context for users as well as search engines.
The external links you put on your page are backlinks to the website you are linking to. That’s why it is recommended not to put too many links and only use links that are relevant. If you start giving away too many links, Google may mistake you for a PBN. So what is too many links? There is no correct answer to this question. It can vary from 2 links per paragraph to two links per page depending on the nature of your content. If you are creating content on medicine, you will need to back every claim, every piece of advice, every piece of statistics with a link, so you will end up with a ton of external links. But if you are creating content on your morning routine and how it improved your day, you will probably not need any external links. So follow your instincts and keep context and relevancy in mind when linking to a website.
Here are some metrics that classify valuable external links:
- Popularity of the linking web page
- Trustworthiness of the target domain
- Content relevance between the source and target page
- Anchor text used in the external link
- Number of linking root domains to the target page
Where Should You Include External Links?
Writing posts with too many external links isn’t a good idea because it looks and feels unnatural for the reader.
Instead, look for opportunities to include relevant natural links, such as providing additional views from tech experts and market studies that support the need and purpose of your marketing tool. Simply put, link to references that help further clarify the information you’re providing.
Linking to .edu and .gov Sites
For others, .edu and .gov are just top level domain, but for SEO professionals, these domains hold extra power since they’re established, trusted sites with high domain authority.
Therefore, linking out to .edu and .gov web pages is a good practice — as long as it’s relevant. Of course, if your content is related to vacationing in Hawaii, you’re better off linking to a travel site.
Regulating Different Types of Link Attributes
Since links help search engines crawl the web, for certain links you need to tell Google about your relationship with the linked web page — and that’s where link attributes come in.
Let’s look at what these link attributes are and what they mean to search engines:
<a href=”http://www.domain.com/” rel=”nofollow”> Link Text </a>
Nofollow links use a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag, which tells search engines to ignore the linked page.
In the absence of the “nofollow” tag, the link becomes a dofollow.
Google first introduced this link attribute back in 2005 in order to prevent comment spam. Since nofollow links didn’t pass PageRank (and weren’t used as a ranking signals), people who tried to manipulate their site’s ranking by posting links in blog comments would no longer be able to do so because their links were marked nofollow.
The nofollow attribute is used when you wish to link to another page, but don’t want to pass ranking credit or imply an endorsement. In fact, if you’re caught accepting a compensation for linking without a nofollow attribute, Google might penalize your site.
Major news sites, forums, social media and paid links like AdWords and banners are examples of sites where most or all of links are nofollow.
The Evolution of Two New Link Attributes
In a recent announcement, Google introduced two new attributes to help webmasters fine tune their backlinks and help search engines identify the nature of hyperlinks across the internet: “ugc” and “sponsored.”
UGC stands for user-generated content. This attribute should be added to anything that visitors write on your site, including forum posts, blog comments, content added in community-edited forums like Wikepedia and social media comments.
Google’s Danny Sullivan stressed on the fact the use of the new attribute is voluntary. Plus, if you wish to reward and recognize trustworthy comments, you can even make them dofollow.
The sponsored link attribute marks promotional links. It’s used to identify links created as a result of sponsorships, advertisements or compensation agreements.
Moreover, it also categorizes links that promote a site or product even if you don’t receive payment for it; this can apply to certain guest posts and press releases.
While Google initially didn’t count nofollow attributes for ranking purposes, it has recently announced that as of March 2020, it’ll start using nofollow, ugc and sponsored attributes as hints for search rankings, instead of completely ignoring it.
This means that:
- It might use nofollow links for indexing and crawling
- However, in some cases, it may not use these link attributes as ranking signals
Google Search is extremely complex, and is kept secret for a reason — which is also why Google prefers not to make a definitive statement.
Avoid Link Farms
Link farms are a set of web pages that are created with the aim of linking to a target web page, in order to improve search rankings. Essentially, it’s a network of sites solely designed to build link popularity.
It’s also a surefire technique of getting in trouble with search engines. Google can identify patterns where two sites have way too many links to and fro from a particular site.
In fact, Google’s Panda Algorithm update attempts to end these mutual linking malpractices by penalizing the sites constructed for nefarious link building.
The takeaway: don’t request for link-backs in exchange of external links—over and over again—because link exchange works in smaller dozes.
Avoid Too Many External Links
While external links are unarguably valuable, too many external links can create a bad user experience, distracting the readers and repeatedly nudging them away from your site.
How Many External Links per Page?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive figure of the recommended external links for a web page. SEO experts agree that you should just be smart about the usage of external links i.e. make sure they’re relevant and not spammy.
By now it must be clear that external links are critical component of your online success. While they may not directly impact SEO in some cases, they improve user experience, which leads to a boost in search visibility, and ranking power. Just make sure to link to quality content that’s relevant, credible and of high authority!
Additionally, a comprehensive link building strategy not only focuses on external linking practices but also leverages opportunities for internal linking in order to increase link authority of each page.