You’re probably writing a new blog post right now and wondering if it’s even worth linking to other sites.
Ever wondered what role outbound links play in the success of your blog?
Here’s the truth:
Links in any shape or form are building blocks of a great search experience.
They help Google spiders crawl the web and index the best content for users.
So if your post doesn’t have outbound links, it would keep search engines from properly indexing your blog.
I know, the statement above doesn’t make a lot of sense right now.
That’s why I’ll be discussing in this post the benefits of having outbound links in your blog and how to do it the right way.
The Ultimate Guide To Outbound Links SEO
- 1. What are Outbound Links?
- 2. What Makes Outbound Links Special?
- 3. How to Add Outbound Links in WordPress
- 4. Inbound Links vs Outbound Links: What’s More Important?
- 5. How to Use Outbound Links the Right Way
- 6. Audit Your Current Outbound Links and Fix the Broken Ones
- 7. Best Outbound Links Checker Tools
- 8. Conclusion
What are Outbound Links?
Outbound links (also known as external links) send a reader from your site to a different website.
Normally, bloggers use outbound links to back up claims and stats, verify facts, or point readers to content not available in their blog.
Now, there are two kinds of outbound links:
Dofollow links pass link juice from your site to the targeted pages while nofollow passes no link juice.
So why am I talking about juice all of a sudden?
Okay, so picture this:
Imagine websites as water containers.
The most popular and authoritative sites like CNN are huge containers with water filled to the brim.
Websites that aren’t as authoritative don’t hold as much water.
Now, think of links as the faucets.
Whenever you link away from your blog, you turn on the faucet and drain a bit of water from the container.
The water coming out of the faucet goes to another container or website you’re linking to.
So, when you have a link from a site like Backlinko, for example, you get more water compared to a link from a lesser-known site.
And it works both ways. You also transfer link juice to your outbound links if they are dofollow links.
This is precisely what happens when you use the dofollow attribute for your outbound links!
You give away some of your power to another site!
However, when you use nofollow links when pointing to another site, you don’t let the juice escape your site.
Here’s a visual representation of what I’m talking about:
Woorank goes into greater depth about link juice, especially when using the nofollow and dofollow tags.
We’ll get into how both affect your blog’s SEO performance later.
For now, let’s focus on the value outbound links, in general, brings to your blog.
What Makes Outbound Links Special?
At this point, you’re asking yourself:
“So I’m sending people away from my site? That doesn’t sound right!”
While the statement above isn’t wrong, it’s the incorrect mindset for approaching outbound links.
The purpose of linking out to another site is to give value to your readers.
If you’re keeping them on your site by deliberately not linking to better resources, then you’re depriving them of that value!
However, that’s not the only reason why you should use outbound links.
Below are other reasons:
1. Establish Authority
This is the top benefit of outbound links!
By including links to relevant, high-authority sources in your industry, you can boost your own authority and reputation in the process.
You can think of it as a form of an alliance:
You are telling readers that you operate in the same circle as the biggest brands in your industry.
Therefore, linking to those websites turns you into an authority and an expert.
The purpose is to help readers understand the value of keyword in the title.
The link, therefore, serves as a backup to my claims and adds credibility to the article as a whole!
Aside from case studies, you can also link to statistics from reputable sites to help your content.
2. Improve Your Content’s Relevance with the Topic
Search engines learn about your site from your links.
Think of them as providing hints to crawlers about:
- The industry you’re in
- The problems you’re trying to solve
- The competitors you face
- The relevance of your page to users
For instance, you have a blog about weight loss and you link out to pages about diet plans to help you lose weight.
The pages have a strong correlation since both talk about weight loss.
As a result, you help search spiders associate your blog and content with that topic.
This is especially true if the pages you’re linking to are from authoritative domains that are also related to your topic.
Conversely, linking out to irrelevant pages don’t add any value to your content.
In essence, you trick readers by pointing them to pages that have nothing to do with your topic!
In this case, think of links as signboards on a highway.
Irrelevant links are similar to flashing the wrong traffic sign on the road.
This will trick the driver into taking the wrong direction or entirely missing their destination!
So, what does this tell you about linking out?
By using outbound links on relevant pages that wield authority in your niche, you get to do the following:
- Inform search engines that the outbound links are related to your topic
- Associate your blog with the topic discussed by the pages you linked to
- Provide readers with links to useful information outside your blog
All three points help search engines better understand what your blog is about, all thanks to context.
If you keep pointing to weight loss regimens, then Google will assume that your blog is about fitness and developing a healthy lifestyle.
And if you link to sites unrelated to fitness and losing weight, search engines might take a closer look at your blog.
And if you keep linking to non-related sites, there’s a good chance Google may penalize you.
Makes sense, right?
3. Create Great User Experience
Now, here’s what you might not know:
Quality content is what will separate you from your competitors.
Well, you probably already know that.
But here’s another thing:
Linking to other high-quality content provides an instant value-boost for your audience.
If I want to learn more about a subject, Wikipedia is the first thing that springs to mind.
Aside from its well-written entries, there are external links to help you do further reading.
This is one of the many reasons that make Wikipedia great.
It serves you with useful outbound links to further build your knowledge about the topic.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites on the planet.
So what’s the moral of the story here?
By focusing on giving readers what they want and need through outbound links, you can build a loyal fanbase.
When you link to a useful content from another site, readers will remember yours for referring them to said site.
If you think about it, by pointing them to a great site, you’re giving them a reason to come back to your site!
And if you keep giving your fanbase value, then you can keep growing your trust and authority in your field.
4. Leverage for Backlinks
Believe it or not, outbound links connect you with journalists, bloggers, and companies.
By building relationships with these people, you can earn backlinks.
It may not make sense at first, but hear me out:
To leverage outbound links for backlinks, you need to start by identifying the influencers in your industry.
They could be educators, thought-leaders, industry experts, and even your indirect competitors who are highly established and well-connected in your niche.
After that, the next step will be to write insanely useful content.
You want to refer to what Corbett Barr called “Writing Epic Shit” that he wrote years ago:
This is a very essential part of the whole process.
It’s a way to demonstrate how your brand can offer them more value once you start partnering up with them.
When writing content, you want to link back to relevant pages on your influencer’s sites.
Once you’ve published the content, the next step will now be to notify the influencers you mentioned and used as reference in the blog post.
One way to go about this is to get in touch with them via their contact page or use a tool like Hunter to send them an email directly.
Here’s a sample email you can send them:
NOTE: Don’t ask them to link to your content or share it on social media. They will usually do it when they truly like the content.
You can also contact them through social media like Twitter.
The main reason for this is to familiarize your target influencers with your brand. It will be easier for them to decide if you’re really worth the exposure.
Click here to read more about this approach.
How to Add Outbound Links in WordPress
Adding outbound links in WordPress is pretty easy and straightforward.
Here’s a step by step guide on how to do that.
Login to your WordPress admin dashboard and go to Posts >> Add New to see the visual editor.
You can also achieve this by editing an existing page or post.
To add an outbound link, you need to select and highlight the word or sentence that will serve as your anchor text.
Then click the Insert Link button in the toolbar.
Clicking on the Insert Link button will display a popup window.
You will enter the hyperlink in the URL field and the anchor text in the link text field.
You can also make the link open in a new browser tab by checking the “Open link in a new tab” box.
Always use this option for your outbound links.
And that’s it – plain and simple!
We Need to Talk About Nofollow Links
Earlier, we mentioned about the two types of outbound links.
But this is the only time we’ll touch upon nofollow links.
Google first introduced the nofollow attribute in 2005 with the purpose of reducing spam links like blog comments.
If you own a WordPress blog, you’ve probably received nonsensical blog comments filled with irrelevant links from your posts.
Below is a perfect example of this:
This is known as comment spam and it’s one of the primary reasons why Google introduced the nofollow attribute.
Typically, when Google sees the (rel=”nofollow”) attribute on hyperlinks, they won’t give those links any credit.
This is not a negative vote for the website where the comment was posted.
Rather, it’s a way to ensure that spammers get no benefit from misusing public areas such as blog comments, referrer lists, and trackbacks.
Now, let’s look at how to identify nofollow links:
How to Identify Nofollow Links
First of all, every nofollow link must have the rel=”nofollow” HTML attribute.
Below is a typical example HTML code for a nofollow link:
<a href=”https://yourwebsite.com” rel=”nofollow”>Google</a>
Now, there are two ways you can check if the nofollow attribute is applied to any link.
The first way is to point your mouse to the link, right-click on it, and select Inspect Element.
This will now split your browser window into two parts.
And in the bottom window, you will see the HTML source code of the hyperlink as well as the (rel=”nofollow”) attribute as shown in the screenshot above.
Now, here’s the second way:
Download and install the Nofollow Chrome Extension which will highlight all the nofollow links in a page for you.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to identify nofollow links on a web page.
Why You Should Use Nofollow Outbound Links
If you’re wondering why you should add the nofollow attribute to your outbound links, here are a few reasons:
1. Links on comments
We’ve already mentioned above that some people comment for the sake of building links to their websites.
As a result, most of the comments are utterly useless as seen from the screenshot above.
Making the links nofollow won’t reward commenters with link juice from your site.
And it will stop spammers in their tracks and discourage them from commenting in the first place.
Here’s an example of this in action:
As you can see, the commenter’s names on this page are all nofollowed as indicated by the nofollow Chrome extension.
And it’s only right that the comment links are nofollow.
Look at their replies:
“Thanks for the information.”
“Thanks for sharing this amazing post.”
If that’s the best that your commenters can do for your blog, then might as well nofollow all of their links!
2. Paid links and sponsored posts
All paid links must have a nofollow attribute.
The reason? They go against the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Any link you put on your site in exchange for money is a paid link and Google frowns upon it.
This could be in the form of affiliate links or sponsored posts.
Now, I know you can’t possibly stop people from publishing paid links on their sites.
Still, they should give the nofollow attribute on paid links as shown in the screenshot below from the Jeff Bullas blog:
Unfortunately, not tagging paid links as nofollow may result in Google penalizing your site.
3. User-generated content (UGC)
Just like enabling comments on your site, giving people free access to publish content on your blog also gives them the green light to link to almost anything.
Wikipedia and Forbes are good examples of websites that do this.
You’ll notice that they tagged all outbound links on their site as nofollow in fear of getting penalized or not being able to adequately police UGC.
This is also what you should do if you have a platform where people can freely publish UGC.
New Link Attributions Related to Nofollow Links
Related to the last two points mentioned above, Google just released two new nofollow attributes to help search spiders identify the types of links you have.
You can now do link attribution in three ways:
- rel=”nofollow” => A general tag for nofollow links
- rel=”sponsored” => For sponsored or paid links
- rel=”ugc” => For links within all user-generated content
Here’s a handy guide from MOZ that explains these new attributes:
Starting March 1, 2020, Google will begin to treat these new link attributes as “hints” across the board, which means that:
- Google may use them for ranking
- Google may use them for crawling and indexing
Typically, Google disregards nofollow links.
So what’s the point of using these tags then?
Well, unless all of your outbound links are set to nofollow, you really don’t have to worry.
The problem with most site owners is that they want to keep the link juice to themselves.
And to keep link juice from flowing away from their sites, they set all links pointing to other sites as nofollow.
That’s the time when Google will disregard the nofollow tags and index them anyway.
Therefore, there’s still good reason for you to qualify your outbound links to stay within Google’s good side.
How to Add NoFollow Links on WordPress
Here’s the step-by-step process to adding nofollow links on WordPress pages or posts using the Gutenberg Editor.
At the moment, the only way to add nofollow links in the Gutenberg Editor is to do it manually.
Also, you have to add the link first before adding the nofollow attribute to it.
Here’s how to go about it.
The first step is to go to “Posts” from the left sidebar of your admin panel, and then click on “Add New.”
Here, you need to select and highlight the text that you wish to add a link to, and then click on the link icon.
This will bring up a text field below the highlighted text. You can then copy and paste the outbound link directly in the box.
And if you desire for the link to open in a new tab once clicked, simply click on the “down arrow icon.”
This will also bring up a menu, then tap the “Open in New Tab” toggle box to enable this.
Once everything is done, simply click on the “apply” icon to add the link.
Now, to add the nofollow tag to your link, select the block containing the link and click on the “Options” menu at the top right bar.
This will reveal several options, then click on the “Edit as HTML” option to proceed.
This is where you’ll see the HTML code of the link. Just add the rel= “nofollow” tag to the link element, and that’s it.
If you notice the rel=”noreferrer noopener” tag in the HTML code, add a space before “noreferrer” and paste the “nofollow” attribute before that.
When you’re done, click on the Options menu icon once again and click on the “Edit visually” option to return to the visual format.
This will instantly change your normal link to a nofollow link.
Follow the exact process to add nofollow tag to any other link on the page that needs it.
Now, let’s say you want to add the nofollow attribute to all outbound links on your blog.
I don’t recommend that you do this.
But if you really want to go through it, then the External Links plugin will do the magic for you.
It’ll add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to all the outbound links on your posts and pages.
Once you’ve installed and activated this plugin, locate the “External Links” tab on the left side of your admin panel.
On the “set follow or nofollow” option, you need to select “nofollow.” You can also choose if you want the external links to open in a new tab, and add other “rel attributes” like rel “noopener,” rel “noreferrer,” as well as rel “external.”
Once you’re done, scroll down the page and click on the “save changes” button.
Inbound Links vs Outbound Links: What’s More Important?
Inbound links (also known as backlinks) are links from other websites pointing to your blog.
Inbound links are considered to be one of the highest Google ranking factors according to various studies.
In other words:
The more inbound links your blog has, the more chances it will rank higher on the search engine result pages (SERPs).
In the graph below from SEMRush, you’ll also see that backlinks are part of the various Google ranking factors:
Of course, you must be vigilant with the type of inbound links your site gets.
Spammy and irrelevant backlinks can cause your blog more harm than good.
I’ve covered outbound links above so there’s no point in repeating what I’ve already said.
Therefore, the question remains:
Which between the two bears more weight from an SEO perspective?
As you can see from the SEMrush study above, backlinks are one of the primary ranking factors that influence your search rankings.
So that means you shouldn’t really worry about outbound links then?
Well, not quite.
A case study conducted by Reboot Online showed whether or not outbound links affect SEO.
What they did was the following:
- Come up with a completely made-up word to rank for Google
- Create 10 sites, each of which has similar 300-word articles optimized for the made-up word
- Five of the 10 sites have outbound links to Cambridge University, Genome Research Institute, and Oxford University – three sites as authoritative as they come
- Two of the three authoritative sites use the URL of the page as anchor text. The other site uses the made-up word as anchor text
- Create another made-up word as a controlled variable to compare the results for the made-up word used as anchor text
After conducting the test, below are the results on SERPs:
All sites with outbound links to authoritative sites ranked higher than those that didn’t.
While the test data is relatively small, it’s clear that outbound links are nothing to scoff at.
And this study proves it.
How to Use Outbound Links the Right Way
Now you know that outbound links work.
Here’s how to use outbound links the right way:
1. Link to External Sources if You Don’t Have a Resource for It
It’s a rule of thumb to always link internally to your own pages.
This way, you can drive more traffic to your site and strengthen the connection between your pages and your blog’s topic.
However, if you don’t have a page to link to, don’t force it.
Since the goal is to provide value to your readers, link out to a relevant page from a different blog instead.
At this point, I’m simply reinforcing the mindset that it’s okay to use outbound links.
After all, you’re doing this for the benefit of your readers.
And if you can’t help your readers the best way possible, then what’s the point of blogging?
So, now that your mind is clear regarding outbound links, how do you find external sources the right way?
2. Link to Authoritative Sites
For example, you are writing about affiliate marketing and want to show readers how profitable affiliate marketing truly is.
You can simply show some statistics that show the profitability of affiliate marketing in recent times.
Just search for “affiliate marketing statistics” on Google to see relevant results.
However, before deciding what webpage to link to, you also want to confirm the domain’s quality.
Now, you can’t simply determine quality just by visiting the site.
And just because the site doesn’t use the colors you like or has an ugly font, doesn’t make it a low-quality site!
In this case, you have to think like search engines.
And the way that they view sites is they look at different on-page SEO factors.
Obviously, you won’t have time to tick all the boxes for each of the sites you visit.
To get things going faster, you can refer to a tool that analyzes the different ranking factors and provides you with an aggregate score.
You need MozBar for Chrome.
It shows you the Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) of the results on SERPs.
Both scores predict how well a domain or page ranks on SERPs.
The higher the score, the greater the likelihood of it to rank for its target keyword.
Therefore, the higher the DA or PA, the more reason for you to link out to these domains and pages.
To use MozBar, however, you need to sign up for a free Moz account first.
Once you install the extension, Here’s what SERPs looks like for the “affiliate marketing statistics” term:
These are the first three results for that keyword. Judging by their DA, they seem to be of higher quality.
This helps you narrow down your choices and figure out which ones to link to.
3. Make Outbound Links Open in New Tabs
Because outbound links often send people away from your website, you want to ensure that your site isn’t abandoned in the process.
This can be annoying for your readers.
(I can’t emphasize the “can” part here enough. More on this later.)
If you’re using WordPress, you can set outbound links to open in a new tab. I’ve shown the process above on how you can do it.
Doing so lets readers open the page in another tab and keep your site in the original tab.
If you think about it, it’s a win-win for you and the readers!
Opening all outbound links in new tabs is done for a selfish reason.
And that is to keep them from leaving your page.
Let’s be honest here – bloggers don’t want readers bouncing away from their sites.
If we are to offer value to readers, it shouldn’t be a problem to us if they leave our site after clicking the link.
Chris Coyier of CSS Tricks lists down other counter-points as to why you shouldn’t open links in a new tab.
Some of them are valid enough to convince you to keep the way things are.
But if you ask me, run tests for yourself.
If users respond better opening outbound links in a new tab, then go with that!
4. Keep Count of Your Outbound Links
While it’s good to link out to as many sources as possible when writing, you also don’t want to go overboard with it.
You want to make sure everything is natural.
You have to make the connection between having a certain number of outbound links being better for your post SEO-wise.
Personally, linking out whenever necessary if a must.
For example, if there’s a word or sentence that I didn’t explain well in my blog post, I’ll simply link out to external sources so my readers will better understand it.
The point is not to overdo it as too much of it can be bad.
But don’t take my word for it.
NorthCutt conducted a case study regarding the volume of outbound links.
The results show that there is a correlation between the number of links on a page and their search ranking.
In the graph above, the y-axis represents the number of pages on search results with a certain amount of outbound links.
The x-axis represents the number of outbound links a page has.
Each bar represents pages with an interval of 30 links.
For example, on the first bar, there are 20 pages with 0-30 outlinks on SERPs.
The next bar, there are over 30 pages with 31-60 outbound links. And so on.
Notice that the number of pages decreases when outbound links increase.
You could make the connection that you should limit your outbound links so your site appears on SERPs.
There are other graphs in the case study that break down the results further.
But one thing is clear:
It’s okay to use outbound links as long as you use them wisely.
5. Audit Your Current Outbound Links and Fix the Broken Ones
Admittedly, you may have linked to other sites on your content before.
At this point, you need to review them and see if they are really relevant and useful to your readers.
You also want to check for broken links so you can replace them.
Here are the different ways you can audit your outbound links to ensure you’re on track.
Login to your Ahrefs account and enter your website’s URL on the search bar.
Let’s use the authorityhacker.com blog as an example:
Now, scroll down the page and under the “Outgoing Links” tab, click on “Broken links.”
Here you’ll see all the links that lead to a 404 page.
You want to identify those pages and replace them with relevant and working ones.
2. Broken Link Checker
Broken Link Checker is a free WordPress plugin that automatically detects broken links on your website.
It’s a wonderful tool that will tell you whenever any of your outbound links go broken.
Just install and activate the plugin, then go to “Tools > Broken Links” in your WordPress admin panel to view the report with all of your broken links:
To fix any broken link found by the plugin, hover over the link and choose “Edit URL” as highlighted in the screenshot above.
This will enable you to edit the link without having to open each individual page:
3. Screaming Frog
Screaming Frog is another free SEO tool.
The free version is good enough if you have less than 500 pages to audit.
It’s a software that works on macOS, Windows, and Ubuntu.
Simply download and install the software, and use it to find broken links on your site.
First, enter your website’s URL to the box provided at the top and click on the “Start” button:
With the “Response Codes” option, you can filter out all 404 pages and the “Inlinks” feature at the bottom will help you find links to those 404 pages:
Frequently Asked Questions
Inbound links or backlinks are links pointing to your site from other websites. Outbound links are links pointing from your site to other people’s websites.
Yes. Several studies have proven that outbound links have a slight correlation with search engine ranking.
There’s no exact figure here. But when linking out to other sites, it’s always advisable to let things flow naturally. In other words, link out whenever necessary. But don’t overdo it.
Generally, always make your outbound links dofollow. However, if you’re linking to a commercial website (paid or sponsored link), then you should make it nofollow.
And just because outbound links drive visitors away from your site, it automatically doesn’t make them bad!
Again, blogging is all about giving value to readers.
And one way to give them value is by linking out to useful resources from another blog.
If you can’t do that, then you should seriously reconsider blogging as a profession!
Because using them well will undoubtedly help you make a real difference to your site’s bottom line.
Just make sure the links are always relevant and provide the right information to your readers.
So best of luck, and of course:
If you like this post, please feel free to link to it on your blog! :’)