Outbound links: Good or Bad for SEO?

Myth or Reality: Outbound links bad for SEO

Myth or Fact? Outbound Links are Bad for SEO

Recently an email from a top media site was shared with me:

“…we would really rather not edit the links in our author bios to “follows” from “nofollow.” With the number of contributed articles (and articles, period) that we publish every day, we are leaking SEO authority with every “follow” link we allow.”

Given this is 2016, I had thought that the notion that outbound linking “leaks” link juice from a site had died a deserved death many years ago.  In fact, many SEOs believe that linking out to relevant and high authority helps your site by establishing trust.

Do outbound links hurt your site’s SEO?

Yes it is possible to have outbound links that will hurt your site. However as long as you are linking in a way that enhances your reader’s experience (for example you link to relevant sites and articles that support your viewpoint – as I am about to do), it won’t harm your site and may even help it.

Several of the Moz Search Ranking Factors Studies have found a positive correlation between the # of external links and higher rankings.

And this 2008 blog post from the Google Webmaster Central blog suggests that “thoughtful outbound links can help your credibility”.

Think of it this way, if you think the blog or site owner is someone you would enjoy having a cup coffee with, then their site is probably fine to link to.

And if you hang out with the right people that Google trusts, that helps Google trust you too.

A Brief History of the nofollow Tag

When can outbound links on your site harm your site’s SEO performance? When you are linking to spammy sites.

When you hand create external links, you are likely to pick your targets wisely. But what if the links are created by visitors to your site (also called user generated links) and the targets are not what you would have picked?

A classic case of this are blog comments. Unfortunately most blog comments are spam and placed there for the sole intention of getting a link to a dubious site.

This is why most blogs “nofollow” links in comments. What this means is that a tag (not visible to the reader unless certain plugins are installed into the browser) is added to the link code telling Google that you do not “vouch” for the target site.

Other reasons to use nofollow is if the link is a paid link. I should also mention that turning your pages into link farms where the number of links is so excessive that it gets in the way of the content is not a good practice either.

Guest posts and the nofollow tag

When guest posting became popular as a SEO tactic, we started seeing low quality sites adopt the practice. In fact some sites that accepted guest posts were really just article directories in disguise.

This led to the famous “stick a fork in it, guest blogging is done” Matt Cutts 2014 post.

This post, which seemed to trash one of the few legitimate link building tactics left to SEOs, sent shock waves through the industry. However instead of putting in place more stringent vetting for guest posts and diversifying inbound marketing efforts, many sites just decided to add the nofollow tag to contributor bio links.

Our friend, the media site, may say that that their concern is the leakage of link juice (which hopefully we have established is a fallacy) – but I believe what is really going on here is a fear of having too many guest posts (and the accompanying bio links) on their site.

Whether this fear is founded or not, I’ll leave for others to comment. It is true that any sort of detectable large scale pattern is not ideal for SEO (although there are sites that take many guest posts that do just fine). However if too many guest posts is really a concern, it would seem to me that just raising the bar would be the way to go.

Here’s what I suggest: accept only very high quality posts from site owners that you truly feel a relationship would be of benefit to you and that you could collaborate on other types of digital marketing.

Alternatively, some sites only feature columns (essentially a regularly occurring guest post from the same contributor) and that is another great way to go as those can build followings.

Sometimes the real concern is hidden and uses a myth as camouflage.

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a traffic and conversion expert specializing in SEO, Copywriting and Facebook Ad Campaigns. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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