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External Linking

External Linking

Contents:

External Linking / Outbound Links

External links or Outbound Links are links from within your site pointing to external domains (other websites) and are not to be confused with back links, which we address in another article.

Although not an intrinsic component of all websites, there are nonetheless best practices to be adhered to or considered.

There are several types of ‘link’ in general:

Code

Below is an example of the code used to link to another website:

<a href=”http://www.example.com”>Example Anchor Text</a>

Types of External Links

There are two main several types and formats for external links, we have detailed and described these below:

Text

A text link is the most common type of link and this is simply where some text has been turned into a link to another site. The code for this is show above. Unless specified otherwise, Google and other crawlers will follow these.

Image

This is an image that has been turned into a clickable link; the example code for this is below:

<a href=”http://www.example.com”><img src=”http://www.yourdomain.com/image.jpeg”>

There are other parameters we have omitted from this such as width, height and alt tags. Also consider that in responsive sites with responsive images the code will be different.

HTML

All of the code used above uses HTML, this is the most common way to implement a link. This also makes it readable and / or crawlable by search engines.

JavaScript & Flash

Neither JavaScript nor Flash can be crawled by search engines and as such Google will not follow these links. This can be used deliberately if you want to prevent links from being crawled, although there are more efficient ways of doing so, which we describe below.

Link Components

There are a few components to a link that should be considered; we have detailed these below:

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the text used (in a text link) to link to a target page. For example:

\<a href=”http://www.example.com”>Home Page</a>

In the above code you see >Home Page< this is the anchor text for that link and this is what will be visible. The styling of links varies between sites, but typically they are underlined either permanently or on mouse-over.

The anchor text used when linking out to another site is not as much of a concern to you compared to internal link and back link anchor text as this does not effect your website.

Absolute Vs. Relative

All links to external sites should be absolute links, using the full domain name and including the HTTP:// component. Omitting the domain could lead to confusion for crawlers that may think the link refers to an internal page.

SEO Impact

Follow links leak PageRank (which we explain in more detail below), therefor the impact of having follow links from your site can be that it reduces your PageRank. Nofollow links to not pass PageRank on and hence there is no impact from this perspective.

We cover in more detail things like linking to untrustworthy sites and irrelevant content, but for the most part linking (when done properly) is something every site should do.

Follow / No Follow

So much has been written about whether to ‘follow’ or ‘nofollow’ outbound links all guided by differing and opposing philosophies. We have set out here what we think and why we believe these are the best practices when it comes to follow or not to follow.

Follow

These allow PageRank to flow through to the target page. This is the default for links and doesn’t require any modification; when adding a link, unless specified otherwise, it will be a ‘follow’ link. Below is an example of a standard HTML link to the home page of example.com would look:

<a href=”http://www.example.com”>Home Page</a> - This is the code.

Home Page = This is how it would appear on the page.

Nofollow

The do not allow PageRank to flow through to the target page. To make a link ‘nofollow’, you will need to add some code:

<a href=”http://www.example.com” rel="nofollow">Home Page</a> - This is the code.

Which One Should You Use?

As is explained in more detail in the guide on back links; a back link to what the site being linked to calls the link, the site linking out, call it an outbound or external link. Broadly speaking, the more back links a site has the better… This contributes to PageRank and overall website authority and this is a very powerful direct ranking factor.

Consequently people will try to game this (to the max!), which lead to a world of pain for everyone. Spammers would try and get links from any location possible and with no limits…

The result was the introduction of nofollow links; a spammer has no interest in these, as they provide little to no value for the target site. Hence if all blog comment links are automatically converted to nofollow, this reduces the amount of spam comments and links.

This is true for all nofollow links.

The main areas where nofollow links should be used are:

  • Paid links
  • Comment / blog links (broadly speaking)
  • Forums
  • Linking to untrustworthy sites
  • Footer links

As with most things, there is nuance to this and these are broad generalisations, but a good rule of thumb.

Although they do not pass on PageRank, nofollow links are still a source of referral traffic and hence do provide value when used properly. They can also improve brand recognition and reputation if the links are on a good site and in a good location.

Follow links leak PageRank to the target site and as such if you do not set the nofollow parameter on a link, it will leak PageRank. Authority from back links is hard to get and so you want to be sparing when passing it on. Consequently, linking to an external site from a template region such as the footer or main menu will leak PageRank from every page of your site.

If the site is relevant, trustworthy, and a credible source of useful info to your users, and you are not linking out much, there is no reason not to make it a follow link.

General Advice

There are a couple of things to consider when linking out to other content; we describe the most important factors below:

Losing a User

If someone clicks an external link on your website, this will take them away from your site, as such you may lose the user. Consider this when adding links.

To help mitigate this risk, the links should open in a new window, the code for this below:
target="_blank"

When adding this to a standard text link we get the following code:

<a href=”http://www.example.com” target="_blank">Home Page</a>

This at least means that a tab with your site remains in the user’s web browser.

Relevance

You should only link to relevant sites to the content being linked to is relevant to the user reading your content. Linking to irrelevant content is both pointless and provides no benefit to you.

Linking to relevant content can be advantageous though; it builds overall relevance between the page on which the link is located and the nature of the content. It is not a direct ranking factor though.

Credibility

This is very important, linking to poor quality sites or, worse still, spammy websites can damage your credibility as it associates you with an undesirable site. It could also annoy users who may end up on a website that they would not want to visit, thus damaging your reputation.

Number of External Links

Having no links to other sites is not a great idea, although it may seem the ideal way to protect PageRank. Linking out to relevant credible sources of content makes your site a more credible source of information. A site with no external links is essentially the end of the road for the user, if they cannot find what they want, there is nowhere else to go.

Adding outbound links can make your site seem like a superior resource for web users.
That said there is a limit to this, having hundred or thousands of external links can appear spammy and is largely a waste of time as it doesn’t provide a useable resource to users.

Be rational and reasonable when linking out, do so where it improves the user experience or provides valuable information.

Broken Links

Broken links are links that target a page that either does not exist or is inaccessible for some reason. These have a number of implications, none of which are good for users, robots, and website performance. We discuss this in more depth in this article on broken links.

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