Every so often, I’ll hear a comment or be asked a question about external links in website content.
Once, the comment was
“I was going link out from this article but then I decided not to.”
Another time, the discussion was about some copy that I’d crafted for a client:
“But there’s an external link in that article.”
My response is usually a quizzical
“Why do you say that?”
The answer is always less of a statement and more along the lines of another query…
“Oh, I heard that it’s not good to link out?“
So, let’s clear this up for once and for all…
I have never been one for skimping on external links unless there is a very good reason not to. It may be that you wish to reference a competitor but not give them traffic and help boost their rankings. But we’ll look at that later.
However, here’s a good reason why you should be linking out…
About ten years ago I used to run a news desk for a business information website. The news was initially supplied by a third party vendor and I’d typically receive a document consisting of a heading and about 300 words of copy. I chose to improve and support the simple news story by adding an image to accompany the copy and do some SEO too.
However, reading the articles before publication, as an editor, I’d always be frustrated by the failure of the article to provide relevant and useful external links. A story might be about the latest research on SMEs by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the author would quote a few figures from that report. But that was it.
In 300 words there was little to say of any real depth and I’d be wanting to read the source report for myself. But there was no link to the source of the information. Basically, the writer was saying there was this fantastic new piece of research but if you wanted to read it you’d just have to go and find it for yourself.
So, in order to fulfil the purpose of conveying newsworthy information to the reader, I had to search for the report and provide the link myself. And if there was a convoluted path to get to the report, I’d simplify it.
The aim of the news was to make the items newsworthy and to ensure the webpages were as useful to a visitor as possible. Providing links to external websites was a big part of that.
The very nature of the world wide web is to provide information, to share, engage and enlighten.
The language of webpages is HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and the clue is in the name. Hypertext is text that does more than just get read. Text with links to sources of more information are really useful. It’s valuable, it adds richness and depth to the experience of being on a web page.
This was the major concept behind HyperText as dreamt up by the father of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Pages of scientific information at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, did more than just sit as static text. Once-boring pages came to life with references to further information, giving greater depth to the user experience.
So, back to the issue of external links: Yes, a visitor will click away from your website, but if you gave them valuable information, then that’s brownie points for you. It enriches your brand as being a provider of useful things.
When a page links to another page, it’s supposed to pass on some of its benefits to that other page. So, an extremely popular and high quality website will have earned some “domain authority”. That means with the number and quality of inbound links, that web page is deemed as important and is assigned a certain score or level of credibility by the search engine.
Whichever pages are then linked out to also receive some of the benefits of that domain authority. Google used to do this with their Page Rank metric.
The spam score of the BBC domain and pages is very low so it just goes to show that the BBC usually provides links to high quality sources and references.
The holy grail of many webmasters is to gain links from such high quality sites because they pass on this “link juice”. Site owners used to “sculpt” the link profile of their websites so that they only gained incoming link juice but did not pass it on, usually by the use of “rel=nofollow” attributes on the links.
That’s one way to think about it. If someone clicks out they click away, right? Well, you could always open that link in a new tab. That way your website will stay in the users browser and you’ve provided them a useful link.
If the external link was what was useful to the visitor then so be it. Que sera sera, as the song goes, whatever will be will be.
But think about it this way – if your website was SO GOOD then why would you be afraid of sending visitors to third party sites? You need to make your site and your pages great quality and providing information, on your site or someone else’s, is providing that very service.
Again, kudos to you, my friend.
We mentioned earlier that there may be some reasons why you don’t want to link out, and here they are:
Don’t want to link to competitor? That makes sense. If someone comes to your website looking for information or a sale of your products and services then why make it easy for the competition?
Are you using anchor text to link out for things that you want to rank for? Again, if you are a provider of say digital marketing services then maybe you don’t want to be giving out free links to anyone else who offers the same service.
With these two points, one thing to bear in mind is that if your business offering is strong enough you may have no fear of linking out to competitors. It shows your readers that you’re not afraid to link out even if it is at the perceived risk of giving props to someone else. That in itself is a subtle but powerful message.
What we’re saying here at Clever Marketing is don’t be afraid to link out. Links are an integral part of the spirit of the world wide web. Linking out adds depth, richness and credibility to your web pages. Including external links shows you care, it shows you’ve done the research and are willing to pass that on.
So feel free to link out, it doesn’t harm you.