Outbound Links: A Brief (Re)Consideration

Michelle Stone - August 5, 2008

Anyone familiar with search engine optimization (SEO) has likely cautioned others about outbound links.   For those new to the term, the links that come from your website and go to other locations online are called outbound links.   The reason for cautious words is that as they originate from your site, in basic terms of online reputation management they are the most valuable links you have and must be utilized very carefully.

The cautionary tales told in SEO regarding outbound links usually involve mention of linking to a penalized domain (which can be harmful to your rankings), unstable links (which are links that continually change — these are viewed as an indicator for link farms or link networks), being in a “bad link neighborhood” (the result of linking to sites that have been penalized or banned), as well as paid / free reciprocal or free-for-all linking.

It’s perhaps easier to think of it in this way.   When contemplating adding an outbound link to any page on your site, ask yourself, “Is this a site I want my company to be associated with?”   As mentioned earlier, this question can be regarded as part of the important online reputation management dimension of the Internet.

If trusted, recognized, or authoritative websites are believed to be safe, what about useful and relevant websites?   One of the primary points of concern usually voiced with outbound links is that of losing traffic or visitors as they click away from your site.   If the outbound links from your website are useful and relevant, there is a very good chance that your site won’t “leak” traffic.   Let’s take a brief look at social media, in particular a site such as Digg.com.   With their model, the outbound links that are offered as the result of their user base submitting articles results in users returning to the Digg site in order to see what other sites of interest they might find.   The same can be true of your website.   If you offer useful and relevant links, your site visitors are more likely to come back in order to discover more.

Of course, the ancillary benefit to having stable, useful, trusted outbound links is the increased likelihood of those sites linking back to you.   That shouldn’t be the driving force behind adding outbound links, but it can yield positive results.

There is one final note to keep in mind whenever there is an appropriate outbound linking opportunity, and it ties in with usefulness and relevance: there’s more to linking out to another site than simply adding the link.   In order to provide value to the site user (and then pass the value on to you), the outbound link should be placed in an area where it is most useful and relevant.   For example, don’t just have outbound links on your homepage — include outbound links in relevant areas of the site, such as on a top level page at the end of body text on a related subject.   Ultimately, you should always be sure that any outbound link is of value to your business and reflects well on you.

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