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Outgoing Links and Optimization: How the Links on Your Site Can Hamper or Help Your SEO Efforts August 11, 2014

Any SEO worth his or her salt knows that the number and quality of incoming links are extremely important factors in a site’s ability to rank in search engines. However, the focus on building incoming links can be so all-consuming that many people forget about the impact of outgoing links, which can also affect a site (particularly since the Penguin update(s) started to come out). In this post, we want to dig a little deeper into the value and potential of outgoing links, how to avoid related search engine penalties, and perhaps most importantly, how best to use them for your benefit.

Why Link Out?

When the topic of outgoing links arises, it isn’t uncommon for webmasters to say, “Why would I want to send people away from my site? Isn’t the goal to keep them on there longer?” But, as we discussed in our post on co-citations, your goal should also be to associate yourself with reputable sites. By linking to sites in your niche that have higher PageRank, AuthorRank, Domain Authority, and/or Page Authority, you’re telling search engines that the things on your site are related to these authorities.

Another reason to include quality outbound links is the fact that it adds value for readers, and the activity of the readers can help your site in the end. If search engines see that users are clicking and staying on those external sites, they may surmise that you’re a good source for helpful, interesting information, and that perhaps more users might benefit from the resources on your page.

Optimizing Outgoing Links

The 2012 Penguin update targeted a variety of webspam, but it’s become best known for its effects on link building, including the role of outgoing links. In fact, Google themselves provides a good example of outgoing link webspam (scroll down to the second image). Now, not every instance of webspam is as obvious as the ones provided on their post, and in this article we want to establish some best practices to help you avoid more subtle, often inadvertent mistakes, and to maximize the positive effects of your outbound links:

• First of all, don’t panic and think that you need to examine every page on your site to make sure all outgoing links are perfect. If you haven’t been participating in link schemes or other unnatural linking methods, then you’re probably OK, even if some outgoing links are not ideal. In fact, Matt Cutts recently put out a video addressing this issue, and although his video focuses on incoming links, we believe the same holds true for outgoing ones.

• Make outgoing links open in a new window by setting them to target=”_blank”. Chances are that when the user is done reading the other site, they’ll close the window and find themselves back where they started: your site.

• Don’t get crazy. Don’t link for the sake of linking, and keep the number of links on a page to a reasonable level. Outgoing links can be helpful, but too many can be harmful.

• Stay topical. You want to give clear indicators of your page’s subject to search engines, and linking to external pages that cover a similar topic can help them cement their understanding. Also, you want to send people to pages that are legitimately helpful. If you send them to a site that isn’t what they were expecting or they don’t find interesting, they will probably bounce and hurt both your site and the site to which you linked.

• Make sure outgoing links in ads are nofollow. Google specifically prohibits passing PageRank via outgoing links to paid advertisers.

• Use keywords when linking out. Specifically, make sure the anchor text of an outbound link is a keyword that’s related to both your article’s topic and the topic of the site to which it leads.

Finding Links and Determining Value

Now that we’ve covered some guidelines for implementation, let’s look at actually finding outbound linking opportunities, and determining which ones are most valuable for a particular page. There are various methods of doing both, but fortunately, many are similar to techniques used when determining the value of an incoming link.

Finding Outbound Link Opportunities

• Look on the websites of industry organizations, magazines, etc. for articles relating to your page’s topic. Do a site search for your targeted keyword to help narrow possibilities by searching “site:[site’s URL]” in Google. For example, if you wanted to search our site, you’d search: site:thelinkbuilders.com.

• Search your desired keyword within: Google News, Videos, Blogs, and even Scholar. These targeted searches can provide you with pages that are relevant but probably not your competition for that keyword.

• Search the sites of reputable news providers like thewashingtonpost.com, nytimes.com, and others for articles discussing your topic/keyword. However, make sure that it is not outdated (see the note on freshness in the next section for more details).

• If you can find a newspaper article relating to your topic, check if that article cites any sources. Chances are that you may be able to find where they got their information, and those sources may be useful to you as well.

• If you’ve found one good outbound link, use the “related” search function in Google. This will bring you a list of sites that you can confidently assume Google finds relevant to the one you’ve already found and in turn to your page/site. In case you aren’t familiar with this refinement, type into the search box “related:” followed by the URL of your existing outgoing link.

Determining Link Value

Once you’ve found your potential links, you’ll need to determine which will be the best for your site. Here are a few methods to get you started:

• Look at Authorship/AuthorRank. A few weeks ago we discussed the growing value of Authorship/AuthorRank and how that can affect the value of an incoming link. The same holds true for outgoing links: all other things being equal, linking to a well-known, respected person or site in the industry is more helpful than linking to an unknown.

• Link to recent articles, but only when appropriate. Newspapers and magazines are good sources of timely (“fresh”) information and can provide great outgoing link opportunities for blog posts. However, if you’re writing a static page on your site, you may not want to link to these articles, since they will decay as they age.

• Go for .edu and .gov sites. As with incoming link building, .edu and .gov websites are often seen as particularly trustworthy and therefore valuable as outgoing links.

• Look at the link profile and quality of the site to which you’re linking. The site you link to should be related to your page, but you’ll also want to make sure they aren’t participating in any link schemes because you don’t want to get implicated in their practices.

These are just a few methods for finding and analyzing outgoing link opportunities, and you’ll doubtless find more relating to your specific niche. Outbound links may not hold the same weight as incoming links, but it’s oftentimes the little things that help a site climb those last few spots, and in the end, they may end up being the difference between #4 and #1, which is a very valuable difference indeed.

Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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