Outbound Links and SEO
Outbound Links Affect Your Reputation
If your site links to garbage, won't people think your site is garbage too? That's why link farms and reciprocal link schemes are such a bad idea. Sites that link to crappy 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 "spammy" sites.
By linking to quality resources that help your visitors, you can improve your reputation with human visitors. That ultimately leads to more inbound links, and higher response rates. With good information and a nice selection of outbound 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, and like web sites that help them learn more about a topic of interest.
Zero Outbound Links is a Bad Idea
Links are what makes the Web special, but if your site has no outbound links, it's a dead end. People generally don't like dead ends and won't send them much traffic. When you have no outbound links, the search engines may consider your site to be an inferior resource. They're trying to recommend good sites, so if they do their job correctly, they'll see things the same way human visitors do.
"But don't I need to conserve my PageRank?" asks the link miser. No, you don't. There are many factors that affect search rankings, including relevancy, and your site's reputation. Sometimes you have to give away PageRank to improve your reputation and make your site more valuable so it accumulates more links. In time you may end up with a higher PageRank than if you tried to hoard all those links.
What are Good Outbound Linking Opportunities?
Resource pages aren't my favorite because they're so unnatural. Why not place those links in context, rather than on a disembodied page of external links? Let's look at a few situations where outbound links are natural and helpful.
Whenever you use a term that your audience might not understand, consider linking to an authoritative definition. Search for the best available definition. Wikipedia is one of my preferred link destinations, but there are many other possibilities. If you mention a business partner or complementary service to your own, link to their site, even if there's no quid pro quo. If the link will help your visitors, that's reason enough. When the receiving site sees your name in their referrer log, they may take a look at your site, and may even link back to you. If you gather information from outside sources, you should provide a citation and a link. In addition to giving credit where due, your readers will appreciate that you've provided a way to verify your information.
For corporate sites, consider having a News Room and an In The News page where you can link to news articles about your company. The benefit is twofold: you help visitors find other, objective sources of information, and you potentially help those news articles rank higher in the search results by contributing your link.
When your site has brilliant prose and useful outbound links, and a focus on specific topics, there's an excellent chance that you'll become the authoritative source of information on the 'Net for your topic. In addition to mere rankings, you'll enhance your reputation and get more of your audience's mind share.
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.