Here at Blue Corona, you’ll often hear us say, “Your website isn’t an online brochure—it’s a virtual sales rep.” And it’s true. Which is why we spend our days, nights, weekends, and even our time on the toilet (if you say you’ve never taken your smartphone or tablet into the bathroom, you’re lying) optimizing our websites and our client’s websites into a more efficient sales reps—whether that means increasing visibility in search results, improving visit-to-lead conversion, or simply removing tacky Microsoft Word-style clip art and Comic Sans headings from your site design.
So why—after spending all that time trying to increase the site number of site visitors, their average time on site, and the number of visitors that convert into leads and sales—would we ever recommend you link to someone else’s site—essentially driving people away from your virtual sales rep? It’s almost like spending hours warming up a lead, only to give them someone else’s business card! Or like picking a girl up for a date, wining and dining her, then sending her home with your friend.
As you can probably tell by now, I’m speaking ironically and there’s actually a lot of value in outbound linking (also called external linking). Shall we?
The Value in Outbound Linking
We’re used to hearing about the value of inbound links—how a quality inbound link to your website was basically like getting a high five from Oprah. Inbound linking became so valued by businesses and SEO companies alike that shady, link-building schemes were soon born (and then quickly punished by the Google gods.).
But what about outbound linking? By constantly living in fear that we were going to drive people away from our website, and by always strategizing how to get legitimate, high quality inbound links to our website, have we overlooked a valuable way to improve our SEO?
Google ultimately wants its users to find what they are searching, so when you link to other authoritative and relevant websites, you are providing a great service to Google’s users. This makes your website a more valuable resource, in Google’s beautiful, primary-colored eyes.
Given what we know about Google, it would make sense that you may be able to improve your site’s authority and perceived relevance—two extremely important factors for getting ranked on search engines—by linking to high authority websites and relevant websites.
But outbound linking works both ways. If you link to low quality, spammy websites, it stands to reason that you may become low quality and spammy by association—which is why both Bing and Google have link disavow tools that allow you to request search engines discount links from shady sources. (It’s kind of like the restraining order of the SEO world.)
There’s also another really great potential benefit to outbound linking—the increased likelihood of linking reciprocity. Smart webmasters can track and see who is linking to them and how much referral traffic they get from each of those links. Basically, when you’re good to mama, mama’s good to you. If you link to other people’s sites, you increase the likelihood of them linking back to yours (as long as you’ve got something worth sharing on there, that is.).
External Linking Strategies
Before you go and vomit a bunch of external links onto a resources page or something similar, know that this isn’t the most natural or the most helpful strategy for demonstrating your Web value to search engines through external linking. Instead, pay attention to external linking opportunities in the body copy of all your Web content (landing pages, blog posts, FAQs, etc.).
If I’m writing a blog post about whipped cream flavored vodka, wouldn’t it be helpful to provide my readers with a link to the Pinnacle website, or to a website with delicious drink recipes involving whipped cream flavored vodka? Realistically, this wasn’t the best example. But it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m thirsty.
Let me try again:
If I’m writing a blog post about Google’s link disavow tool, wouldn’t it be helpful to my readers if I actually provided them with a link to the tool? Or maybe a link to Google’s blog post about the link disavow tool?
In addition, if you frequently write about complex topics (remember that time I tried to write about rich snippets?), there are plenty of internal linking and external linking opportunities simply in defining complex terms your visitors might not understand. I’m not going to re-explain what a rich snippet is in every post I write from now on, but I can always link back to that old blog post, or to Google’s blog post about how to mark up your website with structured data.
External Linking Is Useless without Good Site Content
Ultimately, you can’t execute an effective external linking strategy without first having a smart content marketing strategy in place. That would be like buying a nice tie when you don’t even own a suit. If you’d like to improve your visibility in search engine results, contact Blue Corona today. We’ll create a content marketing strategy unique to your business and your goals.
About The Author: Lexie serves as Blue Corona's Content Marketing Manager. She's also the author of our soon-to-be famous, and someday to be written white paper, "Horse Hat SEO: Giddy-Up Your Google Rankings."
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