It’s an easy thing to forget, but the web is exactly that; a massive, ever expanding web of pages tied together by links moving in and out of them. Inbound links from authoritative external sites are the Holy Grail, but the web is meant to be an altruistic entity, you are meant to give in order to receive. Here, my quest is to speak up for the cause of the not so sexy but oh so noble outbound link, before registering outbound.org…
Why Should I Link To Other Sites?
It can seem trite to say this (certainly on the frequency that most SEOs do) but first and foremost any web content or design needs to be done with the end user in mind. If your site is not adding value to the customer experience then the site will have a short life expectancy.
You can’t think you’re special either. Retail websites are, on average, one of 8 sites visited by a consumer on their way to making a purchase online. The product is the main reason for prompting the search, but retailer reputation is critical too; so demonstrating authenticity and credibility is essential, while extolling the virtues of other information sources shows your intentions aren’t entirely evil is just as important.
So if the BBC is reporting on a subject core to the theme of your website, there should be no reason that content you’ve produced shouldn’t be reinforced by a link to that page. The obvious journalistic structure of a BBC post can allow you to expand the theme, whereby your post can reference the BBC post as providing useful context to your more detailed post.
For instance Raspberry Pi might link to the BBC’s article on IBM’s summer research. The post gives context; product, audience and use are all covered, doing some introductory work for Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi have a great angle to discuss in greater detail the benefits their audience gain from the product, to discuss how tech giants are using their product for research and development.
As momentum gathers, networking (pardon the pun) starts; these relationships build your sphere of relevance extends because of the circle of subject authority you’re in. The consequence of not doing so, is that you isolate your site from the wider web as it becomes harder to get people talking about you and eventually linking back to you.
Bounce rates can be addressed. Where are your visitors going? Can you work out what is prompting them to bounce or can you reverse engineer it so that you give them less reason to bounce?
Tracking outbound links can also give you an insight into the types of page elements that are able to prompt a user into action. Using your findings you can optimise your site better for conversions, be that sales or sign ups.
The Case Against Outbound Linking?
There are reasonable cases against extensive outbound linking. My assumption at this point is that you, dear reader, won’t have a complete site wide ban on outbound links, but you may be unsure of the extent to which outbound links should feature.
Firstly, external link integrity should match your aspirations for the links coming into your site. A little forward reconnaissance is due here. Analyse the site as you would sites that are providing inbound links. Avoid sites with IPs in bad neighbourhoods
Consider how easy a misguided assumption can be made by a searcher in thinking that the two domains are professionally linked in some way.
If you understand your site you will know which pages are your big earners. These pages will require your visitor to take an action, such as signing up for more information or even better, actually buying something. At this no pint no distractions are needed, we don’t want to give them any reason to leave your site.
How To Make The Most Of Outbound Linking
The principle of doffing your cap and referencing external sources predates the internet. Authors have been using foot notes and bibliographies for hundreds of years. Going back to the pursuit of adding value where you can, it will do customer perception of you or your site no harm in being understood to reference the right type of organisations as academics did and do with footnotes and bibliographies. With this in mind exercise some self-control and use sparingly, don’t water down your opinion by linking here there and everywhere in between.
Consider site themes, your own included and use “related:” operator in Google to find sites suitable to a keyword theme. Research your competitors and see If there are relevant avenues to pursue based on links they have going from their site. Look for well-constructed pages and forget about Page Rank indicators – look for Meta structure that focusses on something relating to a theme that’s important to your site. The potential upside of this type of outreach is receiving a suitable inbound link.
Three Tips For Outbound Linking
1. Tracking: If you choose to invest some site equity in outbound linking, it is worth spending some time setting up event tracking in Google Analytics (here’s their guide) in order to understand their impact.
2. Formats: I think a good place to start testing the use of outbound linking is using lists. If your page has a list theme (example: Top 10 sites for xyz) then consider the two extremes; consolidation or expansion.
Consolidation: This approach relies on context being understood pretty quickly; i.e. your visitor is going to know exactly what you’re getting at with a minimal amount of supporting copy, like this (had to get Gangnam in the post somehow!) . If you’re building your site’s presence I would recommend a strong leading paragraph that sticks to what the user will get out of checking the page and then a simple list of clickable links.
Expansion: Include media to really sell the click through. I imagine there is an affiliate arrangement here, so Tripwire combines a strong paragraph selling the click as well as an image to encourage the click through
Link Life Support
As noble and fearless as an outbound link is, they are prone to dying. So keeping it manageable means that making sure the links don’t suddenly take your users to a dead page is not too onerous a task. Again you’re doing this for the benefit of your users.Test your anchor text by monitoring the performances of keyword based anchor text vs. “click here” types of anchor text. From here you can refine and improve your approach to outbound linking and continue playing your part in the web expanding (for the better).
I would love to hear any opinions on how many outbound links is too many and anecdotes about how outbound linking has led to something great happening to one of your sites.