What are outbound links?

Outbound links are links from within content that take you to another website or resource. Outbound links are typically added to content as a way to either reference a source that was used in research or as a way to link out to a complimentary piece of content published on the web.

You can also listen to a podcast we did on the topic of outbound linking here:

Why are outbound links important?

Outbounds like bring balance and authenticity to the overall SEO health of a page.  If you think about, the highest quality articles submitted for professional reviews always reference their sources.  Outbound links achieve the same level of authority when you reference the sources used in the creation of your content.  And this is achieved with outbound links.

On a macro level, using outbound links consistently throughout all of the content on your site will increase the overall quality of your site, and this ultimately contributes to unlocking more domain authority (SEO authority) for rankings, traffic, and exposure to your content.

What’s the biggest outbound linking mistakes?

The biggest mistake companies make is to “no-follow” the outbound links.  No-following a link means that you are preventing any page equity or “link juice” from passing to the source you are linking to.  In my view, this is an error in understanding the attributes and characteristics of high quality content and ultimately a high quality website.

When you “no-follow” outbound links, you are creating a very heavy, one-sided spectrum of authority that leans 100% in the direction of your website and content.  In essence, it’s the equivalent of not adding any outbound links to your content.  Which again, if you have no referenced sources, then your content and website is probably seen as less authoritative.

On the other hand, by providing “do-follow” outbound links, you bring balance and symmetry to the authority of your website which ultimately increases the value of your content and your website.  And again, the more quality you build into your pages, the more SEO authority your pages will carry.

How many outbound links should a page contain?

At a maximum, I would include at least 1 outbound link for every 1 – 2 paragraphs of content.  So if your piece of content has 5 paragraphs total, I wouldn’t shoot for more than 10 outbound links.

However, this can vary greatly depending on the topic and purpose of the content.  If you look at Wikipedia, they have hundreds of outbound links to external sources, especially on the more in-depth articles.  But as a generally rule of thumb to start with, I would say make it a goal not to exceed 1 outbound link for every 1 – 2 paragraphs of content.  Again, this is a general rule of thumb, not a hard fast rule.

Another type of outbound link to consider is typically what’s called an “internal link”.  This is an outbound link from coming from the content on a page, but linking to another page within the same website.  The internal linking structure within a website can be powerful force in building SEO authority for your website.

When internal links are used strategically to reinforce a top tier page (i.e. a main product or service page within a website), this is typically referred to as a SILO structure.

This structure leverages secondary content pages to link up to a single point of authority (your top tier page) by reinforcing the authority of the topic (keyword phrase, product, service, etc…) of that page.

This is also a very powerful SEO strategy regarding outbound / internal linking structures.

Outbound links add trust and authority

If trust and authority of your host domain is a key factor in ranking in Google search, then you need to focus on high quality outbound linking.

I’ll use, as an example, the page that went from unpublished to PR4 in less than 6 days – see the PR4 page here and an initial explanation here.

Wouldn’t you love to have your website ranked in the #1 position in Google search for your most targeted keyword phrases?

Of course you would.

If business owners weren’t interested in Google search traffic, then Google wouldn’t be making billions of dollars a month with Adwords, the platform businesses use to pay for clicks and traffic to their websites.

I saw an interesting chart recently that outlined the most relevant factors that Google calculates in determining how to rank websites in their search results.  This chart gives us some insight into what matters most when it comes to ranking.

Check it out:

Outbound Links for SEO

One thing that catches my attention immediately in this chart is the fact that Trust / Authority of the Host Domain accounts for the majority of the “Google juice” (if you will…) in determining search result rankings.

Trust and authority of the host domain is something that initially seems a bit confusing.  It’s almost like you want to say, “uh… what in the world does that mean anyway?”

But the bottom line here is that trust and authority of your host domain has to do with how much relevance Google gives your the core domain of your site.  In other words, does Google look at your root domain and see garbage?  Or are you working toward building a high quality site, from the top down?

How to build trust and authority into a domain

If trust and authority of the host domain is the most relevant factor in determining your overall placement in Google search results, then we should talk about things you can do to build trust and authority.

My biggest recommendation, especially for brand new websites, on how to build trust and authority is to focus on outbound linking.  But not just any outbound linking!  Outbound linking to sources and sites that already carry substantial trust and authority in Google.

I’d like to use, as my example of the power of outbound linking, an article I wrote that went from unpublished to a PR4 (PageRank of 4) in only 6 days.  It could have been even less than that, but I only noticed the PR4 on day six.

Here’s the article that went from unpublished to PR4 in six days.

This article highlights the biggest spenders on Google Adwords in 2011 and the associated keyword phrases they were targeting.  It also highlights the keyword phrases that attracted the highest CPC bids in Adwords.

I counted 68 outbound links total throughout the article.  And the majority of the outbound links, well over 55 of them, all went out to highly authoritative commercial websites (i.e. HP.com, Cars.com, and GoDaddy which carry a PR9, PR7, & PR7 respectively).

So as this article proved, in very clear fashion, outbound linking matters!

In fact, depending on the extent and authority of your outbound linking strategies, you can easily take a website (or just a webpage) from non-existent to a “trust and authority” in very short order.

It’s sort of like if you had a mentor, or someone who was evaluating you on leadership. And they started to attribute the probability of your success based on the company that you kept.  Or to say it another way, determining that who you hang out with will ultimately influence your future success.

Wanna have a better chance of succeeding?  Then associate yourself with higher quality (more authoritative) individuals.

Want to ensure failure?  Then associate yourself with low quality individuals.

Does this make sense?

If the chart above is accurate, then you aren’t ever going to achieve top rankings in Google unless you start to associate your website with high quality and authoritative web properties.

This means, you have to start linking out to authoritative websites.

And as the article that went from unpublished to a PR4 proves, you don’t even have to link out to authoritative sites in your niche market.  After all, the outbound links in this article covered a wide range of diverse markets.

But the other thing to consider when talking about outbound linking to authoritative sites, is the fact that in order to link out you must have content within which to create those links.

I’m now talking about the factor of content, and having a website that is capable of producing new, fresh content.  Having a website that also has a blog integrated would be a great way to achieve this.

But in order for you to create authoritative outbound links, you are going to need content.  And in order to produce content, you’ll need something like a blog.

However, all of the above is worth it especially when “trust and authority” is the biggest factor in determining your rankings in Google’s search results.

Additional resources:

Michael Graywold’s SEO blog: SEO case study on outbound linking
SEOMoz: the role of outbound linking
ProBlogger: Do outbound links matter in SEO
eFactor.de: The effect of outbound links
Wikipedia: Hyperlinks in web browsers
Wikipedia: PageRank, a detailed explanation
Wikipedia: Search engine optimization