Outbound links, i.e. links from one website to another, are the basis for today’s networked online world.
These links have always been essential, not just for search engines to find new websites and analyze these for search results but are also very helpful for website visitors. They provide additional information sources as a supplement to the respective website. It is therefore important to ensure that these links point to thematically-relevant and trustworthy third-party websites.
In the past, it was widely believed that links pointing to other websites could have a negative impact on your website or that they only serve to help the landing page in search engine rankings.
Here, it was assumed that the performance of the source page will be at a disadvantage in search engine results since the page passes on its link power. You will often find pages that have no outbound links due to this assumption. In addition, many webmasters believe that outbound links present the risk of losing users to other websites.
While it is true that outbound links could cause you to lose users to the landing page, the focus should always be on the needs of users. This explains why outbound links are key to the high quality of a page.
You should always check and optimize the outbound links on your website in order to avoid redirecting users to faulty or inaccessible websites. These links should offer users an added value on the respective topic. Interlinking of websites also keeps the Internet livelier and makes it more dynamic for the user.
The issue about better rankings in search results based on positive outbound links has been discussed by search engine optimizers for a long time. In late May, Google once again clarified that there are no ranking benefits just because a website has outbound links that refer to trustworthy websites such as Wikipedia.org or cnn.com. According to Google, outbound links raise the quality of a website if their landing pages are high-quality and trustworthy, but no ranking benefits should be expected purely on the basis of the outbound links. It is therefore a misconception that the integration of such links is enough for your website to be placed in the top search results.
Outbound links can provide a crucial added value for the user. The Internet is very rampant, and web content can change very quickly or domains change hands. It is therefore very important to make sure you regularly check your outbound links. In order to facilitate this, OnPage.org offers the "Outbound links" report (1) that provides you with a clear overview of the status codes (2) returned by the different landing pages, the file format (4), and a detailed list of all outbound links (5).
Figure 1: Outbound links report
This report enables you to easily identify outbound links that, for instance, point to faulty pages that would hence result in a poor user experience. In this case, it is not just faulty pages that can be responsible for a negative user experience on your website. Links to content that has changed with time, some of which might be unwanted, could also have a negative impact on your website.
OnPage.org enables you to check the content of linked pages and, for example, identify dubious content. Simply activate the "Plain text" filter in the "Outbound links" report and enter the undesired terms.
Figure 2: Search content of outbound links for dubious keywords
Expert Tip: The "regex" command enables you to flexibly search through the content of the linked page for multiple keywords or even complete sentences.
Figure 3: Use of the "regex" command
n early July, Google announced that it would not penalize websites that do not have outbound links. John Müller clearly clarified this in the Google Webmaster Office Hours: "There is certainly no penalty for websites that do not have any outbound links."
This means that a website does not need a link to other websites, even if these websites provide additional relevant information on the respective topic. However, it could be helpful for your users if you provided them added value in form of outbound links.
Although not having any outbound links on a website does not violate any of Google’s guidelines, having unnatural links on the website poses a certain risk of penalties from Google. Your website can suffer greatly if its outbound links are viewed as spam by the search engine.
For search engines, paid links are not exactly that hard to identify. Many website operators try to use additional trust links to disguise a paid link, making it harder for search engines to identify the paid link. Nevertheless, you should mark these links with rel=“nofollow” in order to avoid the risk of a manual measures.
In addition to paid links, outbound spam links that point to already penalized or unnatural landing pages are also often easy to identify.
Figure 5: Example of outbound spam links
This example shows outbound links that point to dubious websites. Such links are easily identified by search engine bots and marked as unnatural links in the evaluation process. This can lead to a corresponding notification in the Google Search Console and a manual countermeasure. Such spam links have a negative impact on the evaluation in search engines since they could harm the user.
The following is a summary of the reasons for unnatural outbound links:
In these cases, Google can result to manual countermeasures. If so, you often receive a notification in the Google Search Console telling you that your links are in violation of the Google Webmaster guidelines and hence make your website untrustworthy.
Figure 6: Manual countermeasures in the Google Search Console
The manual countermeasures against a website that is managed in the Search Console can be viewed here.
In particular, news websites often use outbound links to refer to sources or other information on the topic of the corresponding articles. One example for an unnatural use of outbound links that provide an added value for users can be found at techcrunch.com
Figure 7: Example of unnatural outbound links
The good thing about such manual countermeasures is the fact that the causes can be resolved quickly by simply removing the unnatural links on your website. According to Google’s guidelines, only unnatural outbound links that have a rel="outbound" attribute, i.e. those that pass on critical SEO values to the landing page, are affected by these countermeasures. You can therefore get rid of these penalties by simply adding rel="nofollow" to the links or using the robots.txt file to exclude the URL from search engine crawls.
The main goal of outbound links should be to provide added value for users. (Tweet this stat) This makes them essential for a positive user experience and explains why they are a key component of the evaluation process of websites by search engines. Pages that do not have any outbound links are dead ends for search engines since the search engines follow every link on the website as long as it is allowed in the robots meta data. Outbound links to external websites are therefore not just a guide for crawlers but also a signal for a positive user experience since they provide users with additional information.
If your website does not provide your users with all the information that is available and interesting regarding the respective topic, it is advisable to link to websites that provide the missing information or additional opinions in order to ensure that the needs of your users are fully met. Outbound links are therefore not negative for your website or search engine optimization. Instead, they produce the exact opposite effect.
Published on 09/02/2016 by Daniel Herndler.
Daniel works as senior SEO manager at Get On Top GmbH in Salzburg. His favorite topics are conversational and semantic search. Daniel also admits to being a true TV series junkie – as a huge “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” fan, he is already plotting his move to the Seven Kingdoms.