Linking out: Often it's just applying common sense

Wednesday, October 08, 2008 at 12:20 AM

Creating outbound links on your site, or "linking out", is our topic for Day 3 of Links Week. Linking out happens naturally, and for most webmasters, it's not something you have to worry about. Nonetheless, in case you're interested about an otherwise simple topic that's fundamental to the web, here's the good, the bad, and answers to more advanced questions asked by our fellow webmasters. First, let's start with the good...

Relevant outbound links can help your visitors.
  • Provide your readers in-depth information about similar topics
  • Offer readers your unique commentary on existing resources
Thoughtful outbound links can help your credibility.
  • Show that you've done your research and have expertise in the subject manner
  • Make visitors want to come back for more analysis on future topics
  • Build relationships with other domain experts (e.g. sending visitors can get you on the radar of other successful bloggers and begin a business relationship)
When it comes to the less-than-ideal practices of linking out, there shouldn't be too many surprises, but we'll go on record to avoid any confusion...

The bad: Unmonitored (especially user-generated) links and undisclosed paid advertising outbound links can reduce your site's credibility.
  • Including too many links on one page confuses visitors (we usually encourage webmasters to not have much more than 100 links per page)
  • Hurts your credibility—turns off savvy visitors and reduces your authority with search engines. If you accept payment for outbound links, it's best to rel="nofollow" them or otherwise ensure that they don't pass PageRank for search engines. (As a user, I prefer to see disclosure to maintain my loyalty as well.)
  • Allows comment spam, which provides little benefit for users. Also, from a search engine perspective, comment spam can connect your site with bad neighborhoods instead of legitimate resources. Webmasters often add the nofollow attribute (<rel="nofollow">) to links that are user generated, such as spammable blog comments, unless the comments are responsibly reviewed and thus vouched for.

    See Jason Morrison's recent blog post about keeping comment spam off your site to prevent spam in the first place.
Answers to advanced questions about outbound links

When linking out, am I sending visitors away forever?!
Hmmm... visitors may initially leave your site to check out relevant information. But can you recall your behavior on sites that link to good articles outside their domain? Personally, I always come back to sites I feel provide commentary and additional resources. Sometimes I stay on the original site and just open up the interesting link in a different tab. It's likely that with relevant outbound links you'll gain repeat visitors, and you won't lose them forever.
Yesterday's post mentioned that descriptive anchor text is helpful in internal links. Is it still important for outbound links?
Descriptive anchor text (the visible text in a hyperlink) helps accurately inter-connect the web. It allows both users and Googlebot to better understand what they're likely to find when following a link to another page. So if it's not too much trouble, try making anchor text descriptive.
Should I worry about the sites I choose to link to? What if their PageRank may be lower than mine?
If you're linking to content you believe your users will enjoy, then please don't worry about the site's perceived PageRank. As a webmaster, the things to be wary of regarding outbound links are listed above, such as losing credibility by linking to spammy sites. Otherwise, consider outbound links as a common sense way to provide more value to your users, not a complicated formula.

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