Should I Include External Links in My Blog Articles?
Google’s prime directive is to deliver relevant, reputable search results. In order to avoid giving high search rankings to low quality or low relevance sites, they’ve been forced to use a combination of manual penalties and algorithm updates to crack down on manipulative link building schemes. This process is ongoing, but the most significant update was the infamous Penguin update of 2012, known among the SEO crowd as “Judgment Day”. Penguin was designed to crack down on sites benefiting from artificial link building strategies, and was accompanied by a wave of penalties to punish the sites hosting the links.
Ever since then, sites across the internet have been terrified of linking away from their site–and not without reason. A Google penalty could be devastating to organic search rankings. It’s obvious that bloggers need to be hyper-vigilant about the quality, relevance, and volume of outbound links we include. Many bloggers are refusing to link externally at all. But it’s possible that we’ve let the pendulum swing too far in that direction. A lot has changed in the last 8 years, and guess what:
Outbound Links are Good for SEO
You heard me right. A 2016 study conducted by Reboot found that “Outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.” This is consistent with older research that came to the same conclusion, and as far as experts have been able to tell, it still holds true for SEO in 2020. It appears that Google rewards relevant outbound links, because they help the crawler determine your site’s niche. As it relates to blog content, high-authority outbound links are like source citations in academic writing–they provide the article with legitimacy. And search engines like legitimacy.
And this is consistent with your experience. How many searches return Wikipedia in the first three results? All of them? Wikipedia has a healthy mix of internal and external links, but the external links are largely pointing to industry professionals, academic journals, and news reports. Obviously, Wikipedia’s external links aren’t the major driving force behind their high search ranking, but this example is strong anecdotal evidence that undermines the antiquated idea that external links “dilute” page position.
Plus, when you link to other sites, guess what — other sites are more likely to link to you. Most people think about getting outbound links, but here’s a fact of life: you have to give to receive. Including outbound links to high quality, relevant sources creates an opportunity to network with other sites in your niche, which encourages them to engage with your content and share it with others. And when that happens, your position on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) will improve naturally.
Outbound Links Provide Value to Readers
The genius of the World Wide Web was its ability to link to relevant content on the internet–content that either substantiates a claim or provides more information. A blog article with no outbound links is like an academic paper with no bibliography. Readers don’t want to take your word for it; they want to know that you aren’t pulling the information out of thin air. And if they want additional information about a subject, a link to that information demonstrates that you care about the user experience – an increasingly important factor in the content marketing world.
This makes you look like an expert not only in the eyes of Google, but also in the eyes of your readers. Sites that don’t have any outbound links are dead ends, and visitors don’t like dead ends. They don’t have the time to sift through the internet to find high-quality sites with the information that they need. When you serve those sites up to them on a silver platter, they become more likely to trust you as an authority and return to your site again and again.
From the perspective of content legitimacy, external linking is more than just a good idea. It’s critical. In school you were taught that forgetting to cite your sources is plagiarism. It’s stealing. According to Plagarism.org, “Plagiarism is the act of taking words, ideas or information from others and presenting them as your own. While many plagiarists do this very deliberately, it’s also possible to do it simply through the lack of proper citation.” This principle has not changed just because you’re publishing a blog instead of a five-paragraph essay. Not only is plagiarizing content morally repugnant, but it could even land you in legal trouble. No es bueno.
A Word of Caution
None of this means that we shouldn’t be appropriately suspicious of low-quality, spammy links. In April 2016, Google started to penalize websites with unnatural or irrelevant outbound links. So you need to be careful about which links you decide to include, and the way in which you include them. You can include keywords in the link anchor text, but when all of the links on your page are keywords, it starts to raise flags. These links should also not seem forced into the content. They should come off as a natural addition to the text.
Even links to strong sites can be detrimental if they are too abundant. You should look for a healthy mix of internal and external links in every blog post. When we write free blog articles for our members, we try to achieve this mix. The exact ratio of internal to external links depends on how many relevant calls-to-action we can reasonably place in the article, but we try to aim for 50%-75% internal when circumstances allow. We will also link externally to research sources and relevant resources for the reader, for the reasons outlined above.
Of course, you don’t want your blog readers leaving your site to pursue these other references. It’s best to set all external links to open in a new window. If you’re suspicious of the quality of an external source, you can always set its attribute to NoFollow, which would protect your site from any possibility of your site being penalized. However, beware of using too many NoFollow links, as this can potentially make your site look spammy rather than authoritative in the algorithms. There are more ways to qualify your links than just using NoFollow, however. You can also mark certain types of links as Sponsored or User-Generated Content (UGC), depending on what describes it best and how you want Google to treat it. Finally, make sure that these links are current. Broken links can frustrate readers, and more importantly, potentially hurt your site’s rankings!
While appropriate caution is warranted, the experts agree that outbound linking is a beneficial strategy to increase search rankings, improve the user experience, and legitimize the authority of your blog content.