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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.