You’ve worked hard to get visitors to your web site. Should you provide external links? What if visitors leave via those links and never come back? Visitors leave when they’ve seen enough. Trying to box them in won’t stop them from leaving your site. Besides, if certain visitors are not relevant to your site, you may as well provide them with helpful directions to other, more appropriate sites. Being nice to users and other web sites is a way to build your reputation.
Outbound Links Affect Your Reputation
If your site links to garbage, people will think your site is garbage too. That’s why link farms and reciprocal link schemes are such a bad idea. Sites that link to poor resources show the world that they don’t care what they say or recommend. They’ll do anything to get attention, including keyword spam and link spam. No wonder Google and the other search engines remove or down rank such sites.
By linking to quality resources that help your visitors, you can improve your reputation with users and search engines. That ultimately leads to more inbound links, and higher response rates. With good information and a nice selection of external links, visitors may even bookmark your site and use it as a jumping off point. Human readers like information that is corroborated by other sources, so go ahead and link to references. A well referenced page or article makes your site more authoritative.
Periodically you should test all your internal and outbound links with a tool like Xenu Link Sleuth, and fix any that do not return a proper HTTP code 200. Broken outbound links, or outbound links that redirect are a sign that your website may be out of date. This signal could lower your search engine rankings.
Zero Outbound Links is a Bad Idea
Links are a form of content and provide value. Links are what makes the Web unique among media, but if your site has no outbound links, it’s a dead end. People generally do not like dead ends and will not send them much traffic. When you have few to no outbound links, the search engines may consider your site to be an inferior resource. Search engines want to recommend the best sites. Sites that are unhelpful would not be considered the best.
“Wouldn’t it be better to conserve PageRank?” No, it is not. There are many factors that affect search rankings, including relevancy, and a site’s reputation. Sometimes external links that give away PageRank help develop a site’s reputation and make a site more valuable so it accumulates more links. In time, the site will probably generate higher PageRank by sharing links than by linking only to its own pages.
What are Good Outbound Linking Opportunities?
Creating a “resources” pages is not the best idea because such pages are unnatural. Why not place those links in context, rather than on an artificial page of external links? Situations where outbound links are natural and helpful include explanation of technical terms, partnerships, references, and providing other points of view.
Whenever using a term that the audience might not understand, a site should link to an authoritative definition. Wikipedia is one of my preferred link destinations, but there are many other possibilities. When mentioning a business partner or complementary service, a page should link, even if there’s no quid pro quo. If the link will help visitors, that’s reason enough. When the receiving site sees the name of the linking site in their referrer log, they may take a look, and link back.
When gathering information from outside sources, always provide a citation and a link. In addition to giving credit where due, readers will appreciate having a way to verify the information.
Corporate sites should consider having a News Room and an In The News page with links to news articles about the company. The benefit is twofold: (1) helping visitors find other, objective sources of information, and (2) helping those news articles rank higher in the search results, as a form of reputation management.
When a site has brilliant prose and useful outbound links, and a focus on specific topics, there’s an excellent chance it will become an authoritative source. As PageRank is determined by the quality and quantity of inbound links, authority is generated by the quality and quantity of outbound links.
About the Author
After graduating from Yale with two degrees in Computer Science, Jonathan Hochman set up his own consulting company in 1990. He has been an Internet marketer since 1994.