In the SEO world, domain authority and page authority are the biggest indicators for how well a page of your site ranks for a relevant query. Accordingly, search experts prioritize them above all else. For the most part, there’s overlap here—a strong domain authority will lend itself to each of your individual pages, and any actions you take to increase the page authority of a specific page of your site will likely also contribute to your domain authority (in a smaller way).
The factors responsible for increasing your domain and page authority are diverse, and sometimes hard to improve. For example, the age and history of your domain is a major influencer in how authoritative it seems—but you can’t just tack on years to your experience to give it a worthwhile boost. Instead, most ongoing SEO programs rely on inbound link building as third-party indicators that a domain is valuable. The idea is, the more trustworthy the links that point to your site, the more trustworthy your site will be.
Google evaluates the vastly complicated interrelationships between websites, and uses this data to decide which ones are most deserving of higher ranks. We all tend to focus on inbound link building, since our domain is the one we’re concerned with, but what about outbound links? What about a domain’s external linkage to other sites? Are they a significant factor to page and domain authority as well?
User Experience Factors
First, let’s take a look at the practical reasons why you’d want to include outbound links in the first place. Isn’t it better to keep your users on your site for as long as possible?
Actually, outbound links are indicators that you’ve done your homework, or that you’re meaningfully connected to a given industry. For example, you might cite a major study that was conducted by a leading authority in your industry, or make reference to a professional blogger’s article on a semi-related topic. This shows users that your content is well-researched, shows that you’re well connected, and gives them additional, valuable information they can use to make informed decisions. In short, when used as citations, references, and “further reading,” outbound links improve your reputation.
How Outbound Links Can Help SEO
Now let’s look at outbound links from an optimization perspective. When Google indexes your pages, it does consider the types of links on each page. There are a few ways it takes these into considerations:
Authority. Linking out to high-authority, trustworthy sites tells Google that you do your research, and that your content has a trustworthy basis. Accordingly, pages with lots of trustworthy links are seen as more trustworthy by extension.
Relevance. The relevance of your links also comes into play. Google uses your link relevance to gain further understanding of your site’s purpose, industry, and niche. Include links to sites within your industry, or ones that have a particular relevance to your company, to strengthen the accuracy of your associations.
Function. Google wants to see links that add value to users’ experience. If you just feature a list of full-URL links, it won’t look good for you. Instead, embed links in hypertext for meaningful citations in the body of your work.
Diversity. Finally, don’t just link to one or two sources all the time. The more diverse your outbound link profile is, the more authoritative you’ll seem.
Do these considerations look familiar? It’s because they’re almost identical to how Google considers inbound links. All these factors can influence the power an outbound link has, just like an inbound link. However, be aware that since you have more control over outbound links (i.e., they don’t serve as third-party indicators), they tend to carry less power.
How Outbound Links Can Hurt SEO
Unfortunately, there are also a couple of ways your links can damage your page and domain authority:
Poor associations. If your outbound links point to irrelevant sources, or if they direct users to spam sites or other low-authority sites, it will bring down your site’s authority just as high-authority links would increase it.
Overabundance. Google used to have a rule that it wouldn’t index a page if it had more than 100 outbound links. This isn’t the case any longer, but Google still cautions users to use links reasonably. If you feature too many outbound links, it may think you’re a link scheme or spam site. If you want to include more links but want to play it safe, you can always use a “nofollow” tag to prevent Google from considering it.
Best Practices and Takeaways for Outbound Links
Now that we’ve looked at both sides, we can compile a list of handy “best practices” for outbound links on any given page on your site:
Include multiple outbound links to back up your sources and provide additional information for users.
Keep your links authoritative and relevant, and diversify your pool of external sources.
Try to limit the number of links you use to avoid triggering any red flags, and use nofollow links if necessary to mitigate your risk.
With these best practices in place, you’ll see better results for each page on your site (as well as your overall domain). However, this strategy is not as powerful as others in the realm of SEO, such as link building and ongoing content marketing. Keep it as a useful tool in your arsenal—but don’t prioritize it higher than it needs to be.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International.
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.
In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.