external links guide

External Links – does linking out to other websites help or hurt your SEO ?

A few months ago a client asked me if external links on their web pages would help or hurt.

“Should we remove links pointing to low rated websites ?”

Really good question, so let’s explore this topic.

Background

I remember years ago a client freaked out when I added some links to other websites in 2 of their blog posts.

“We don’t want people leaving our website; remove those fucking links” was his response.

I then had to subtly point out 99% of people were leaving his website after hitting the back button.

So external links wasn’t their biggest problem.

OK, so what is an external link ?

What is an external link ?

Say you write an article on your blog and you decide to quote what someone else wrote or use some statistics they discovered.

Well, you’d write something like this; Search Journal Magazine stated “outgoing links have a positive SEO effect

external links example

Notice how I’ve highlighted the quote in the line above and then linked the quote to their page they wrote this on.

That’s an external link.

And I’ve set to link to open up in a new window when someone clicks the link.

4 reasons why you should link to another website

That’s a really good question.

There are 4 reasons you should link to another website.

  1. Acknowledge your source
  2. Power of association
  3. Ranking signal
  4. Relevancy signals

Acknowledge the source

Journalists, copywriters and website owners tend to quote their source.

So respect the source and author and link to them if you mention them.

Power of association

Some people also like to show off when they mention someone.

Oh look, here’s a quote from Brian about me 🙂

See how I link to his website !

Ranking signal

Whilst not a major ranking factor, Reboot’s experiment showed outgoing links have a positive effect on SEO.

It would make complete sense for a tax accountant website that linked out to the tax accountancy industry body website they were accredited on.

The link to the industry association would help Google understand the accountant is an accredited one.

Outbound links as relevancy signals

According to The Hilltop Algorithm, Google may use the content of the pages you link to as a relevancy signal.

For example, if you have a page about cars that links to movie-related pages, this may tell Google that your page is about the movie Cars, not the automobile.

Go and Google “Shannon”

You’ll see Google don’t know if you want the town, racehouse, airport or the singer ?

How to find outbound links on your web pages ?

Simples.

The easiest way to find outbound links on a per page basis is using SEO Minion.

  • Install the SEO Minion Chrome plugin
  • Visit your page URL
  • Click SEO Minion on your toolbar
  • Select Highlight All Links
  • External
  • Scroll down the page to view all links

How to find if outbound links are low domain authority or crap links?

You could use the paid keyword research tool called Ahrefs.

Follow these steps.

  1. Log into Ahrefs
  2. Click Site Explorer
  3. Click Linked Domains
  4. Sort by DR

This will give you all your outbound links in descending order; where 100 is the strongest link and 0 are the weakest links.

If you click on the Links by Target column you can see which pages you link to these websites.

Looking at the weakest websites I link to you can see I link to a DR 9 website.

I have a DR 35.

However the content I linked to was very relevant.

So what is the DR score is low ?

Maybe it’s a new website that hasn’t earned many links yet?

Just because these website don’t have a high DR score doesn’t mean they are wrong to link to.

As long as the outbound website is relevant, so with any manual or automated report don’t worry about DR score, just is it relevant ?

7. How many outbound links per page ?

I have tended to work on the basis of no more than 3 external links per page.

I have no idea why I arrived at this number so I did a little bit of research on external links.

Their study showed that the average number 1 result had about 50 external links per page and the number 10 result had around 25 external links per page.

A page one result has around 50 external links and a page 10 result has around 25 external links
Northcutt External Link Study
Tweet

WTF ?

Yes, I rather shocked too.

But the articles does state that the study is a small sample of 200 search results.

But the researchers can’t be sure if you start adding external links to your page your rankings will increase.

So I decided to check the number of external links on my top ranked pages.

How to check the number of external links per page ?

The easiest way to check outbound links on a per page basis is using SEO Minion.

Here’s how to find the external links on a page with SEO Minion.

  • Install the SEO Minion Chrome plugin
  • Visit your page URL
  • Click SEO Minion on your toolbar
  • Select Highlight All Links
  • External
  • Scroll down the page to view all links
  • Select Export
  • Open in Sheets or Excel

My top page external links

PageExternal Links
Business Ideas49
Local Advertising26
Backlinks41
Website Structure19

Oh, wait maybe the external links study is onto something.

I wonder how many external links I have on pages that earn no organic traffic ?

I jumped into Google Analytics and found pages with lowest impressions and no clicks

PageExternal Links
Keyword Ideas19
Bounce Rates20
Blog Layout Design23
Websites We’ve Built25

My top pages have more external links than my poorest pages but the differences aren’t really that vast.

Find External Links with Ahrefs

  • Run a site audit
  • Make sure you choose check http status of external links in the crawl settings
  • After Audit complete select Data Explorer
  • Select Manage Columns
  • Include External OutLinks
  • Now you can bulk export and view links per page

301 Redirect External Links and 404 errors are a problem

The client originally asked if linking to low authority websites would hurt their SEO ?

As long as websites are relevant you are fine regardless of a domain rating.

But another issue you need to consider is linking to pages that redirect to other pages.

301 redirects.

It could just be the website changed from http to https.

Or it could be they’ve replaced the page entirely.

Hence you linking to a very valuable quote or resource that isn’t there anymore isn’t a good experience for the user.

Or worse.

Broken 404 error page.

A 404 page error appears on a website when a page doesn’t exist anymore.

301 and 404 errors may not penalise your website, but they sure don’t make you look good.

Summary

You probably need to link to more external resources than your currently do.

There’s no solid proof more external links boost your rankings or traffic.

It’s hasn’t hindered my website.

But if you are worried about people clicking the links to the websites you link to try these 3 strategies.

  • Open external links in a new window.
  • Add a no-follow link to a low quality website
  • Use Google Analytics to capture and measure outbound clicks.