External Links: Are External Links Good for SEO?

An external link or outbound link are important components of a website’s SEO efforts and its overall SEO ranking. Whereas, as a digital marketing expert you should look to build external links back to your web page (in other words an inbound link or backlink.)The semantics of the language can get confusing for new webmasters.

Link building to increase your backlink profile as well as your domain authority is an essential practice of off-page SEO. Moreover, by working on your external links SEO you will be able to develop a backlink list that will pass link juice on to your website and to a blog post to help increase your page rank on Google search.

To start the blog post, we will focus on what is an external link in SEO, the different forms of external links, and why external linking is important.

What are external links?

External Links are hyperlinks that target any other domain then the link source. In other words, when another website finds your content useful, and they create a link back to you, it is an external link back to your website. Additionally, if your website creates a link to another site, it is considered an external link.

To make things a little more clear, lets look at a few of the different terminology around external links:

  • Outbound links / Outgoing links: A link that points from your website to a third-party website. Used in content to build context and cited sources
  • Inbound links: A link pointing to your website from another website. These are the reverse of an outbound link. Additionally, they are known as backlinks.
  • Internal link: An internal link is a link on your web page that points to another page on the same domain
  • Nofollow link: A nofollow link contains the HTML tag: rel=”nofollow”. The tag tells the search engine to ignore that link and not crawl the other website, or pass authority (also known as ‘link juice’) to the website the link points at
  • Dofollow link: Dofollow links are backlinks that point to a particular website. They tell search engines to follow the link and associate the page to the website. They also pass link value on to the website, helping the backlink profile and domain authority of the web page receiving the backlink.
  • Backlink: Is a link that points to your website from another page. They are also called external links or inbound links, depending on if you are placing the link in your content, or if your website is receiving the link.

What are external equity links?

External equity links are defined as external links that pass SEO signals such as Google PageRank and anchor text to the other site. These signals are then used by search engines to help them develop authority and trustworthiness to rank pages by. Most often, these are links that are ‘dofollow’. Whereas, if the external link contains the ‘nofollow’ attribute in them they wont pass on link juice, associate the particular page to the other page, or have the spiders crawl the other web page. Therefore, any external link has the potential to pass some sort of equity on.

How are external equity links measured?

As discussed, equity links pass Google’s PageRank or ‘link juice’ on to the web page it is pointing to. Both internal and external links can pass ranking power to another page. By passing link equity on to another page you are helping to boost the ranking performance of that page.

Let’s look at how external equity links are measured.

  1. Is the link relevant? If you’re linking to an article about how to bake your grandma’s secret muffin recipe from your page about traveling in Nepal, the link is probably irrelevant — and Google will know. Irrelevant links offer little authority or value.
  2. Is the linking site authoritative? Links from established websites yield more link equity than links from new websites that are just starting out.
  3. Is the link followed? No-follow links tell search engine crawlers to disregard them and not pass link juice on to them. As a result, link equity will not be passed. However, a link with a nofollow tag doesn’t indicate that it has no value to the receiving site, however.
  4. Is the link crawlable? The crawler is informed to disregard a page if it is blocked by the robots.txt file. This means no link equity will be passed on to the target page.
  5. How many links are located on the page? While there is no precise rule about the ideal number of external or internal links on a page, if the backlink to your site is one of hundreds or thousands of links, it probably will not be as valuable. Additionally, if your link is lost among the numerous other links on a page, it’s unlikely a user will notice and click on it, reducing the referral traffic and value even more.

What does an external link look like?

Below is an example of what an external link looks like. The link is wrapped in a <a href> tag. Additionally, you will notice the anchor text portion of the tag as well.

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

As an SEO expert, anchor text is a good place to optimize for keywords. Anchor text is the user facing text that the hyperlink or external link links from. For your external link SEO strategy, you will want to try to at least use partial match anchor texts in your links (you usually do not have control over this, unless you are partaking in aggressive backlink building). That being said, it is an SEO best practice to use anchor text that fully matches your target blog posts title or keyword.

To optimize external links, you can use descriptive keywords in the anchor text portion of the link that reflects the same topic the target page is targeting for their webpage. You should note that it is not always necessary to use the same keywords.

Actually, if you do try to use the same keywords every time, it can trigger spam detectors, and get your site penalized. Thus, you should use a variety of anchor text, which enhances the context and usability – this is especially important for readers and search engines.

Why are external links important?

Overall the importance of external links can be looked at from two different perspectives. One, from a website using an external link, and two, from a site receiving an external link (or backlink from the receivers point of view.) This is an important distinction because they benefit the site differently.

A site using an external link:

External links are important because they help the site’s audience find information they’re looking for. When a person clicks on an external link, it takes them to the website of a different company or organization which provides high-quality content on the subject. Moreover, when a blog uses an external link, it helps the search engine understand the content better while crawling the page.

This is a big advantage for companies because it allows them to spread their message to a wider audience. It also helps them build relationships with other businesses and organizations, and makes it possible for them to share resources and ideas that they may have in common with their audience.

A site receiving an external link (ie backlink):

When a website ‘A’ uses an external link to target website ‘B’, then website ‘B’ receives a backlink. This is important because it is showing search engines crawling pages that website ‘A’ believes the content is of high-quality, authoritative and trustworthy. And as we know, backlinks are essential to a website’s domain authority score and rankings.

SEO external links best practices

Search engine ranking factor survey showed that obtaining external links is the single most essential component of attaining high rankings. This thought comes from the fact that building backlinks is one of the most difficult metrics to manipulate. Therefore, it is one of the best ways to evaluate the popularity of a website. This idea was first coined by Alta Vista, and subsequently improved on by Google.

Google began implementing search engine rankings, and how to determine them by introducing an algorithm that was first develop by Google’s Larry Page, which can be seen in: The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. If you don’t have time to read through the research, it basically counts hyperlinks as votes for popularity. Whereas, if a page has more external links pointing to it (or votes of confidence), they would be ranked higher and considered more popular. The next step includes the evaluation of content and query being asked, Google would search through relevant sites and display the most popular on the first pages of Google’s results. 

Even though the algorithm is without a doubt more complex today, it is thought to  still include the notion of external links as votes. To dive deeper into what some metrics search engines use to evaluate links, we came up with the following important components:

  • The website’s trustworthiness
  • Popularity of the linking page
  • Considers the relevancy of the content between the source page and the external page.
  • The anchor text used in the link being built
  • The overall number of links to the same page on the source page
  • The overall number of root domains that link to the target page
  • The various variations that are used as anchor text to links to the external page
  • The ownership relationship between the source and target domains

To add further context to the discussion of external links, and the metrics; they are essential for the following two reasons:

1. Popularity

Website traffic can be messy and difficult to measure accurately due to fluctuations, traffic numbers being buried in server logs, bounce rates, seasonality of certain terms and so forth; you can consider external links to be more stable and consistent as well easier to track for a ‘popularity’ metric. Another reason why they are easy to evaluate is because they are visible to anyone – even on this post we have used external links that you can easily find. For these reasons, and many more, external links are an important metric to follow to audit your own site, as well as determine the popularity of a third party website.

2. Relevancy

Links showcase relevancy and how content is related, which is invaluable to search engines while they crawl through various pages and rank them. Humans usually write anchor text as they can understand and interrupt websites much better than computers and is written in a manner that is highly reflective of the content of the external page being linked to. 

These anchor links are typically a short phrase (i.e. best local contractor article) or it can be the URL of the external target page. In general, links point to content that relates to the host page’s content. Once again, these links assist search engines to establish a ‘knowledge hub’ which it can reference in order to validate the importance of a given article online.

FAQs – External links

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding SEO external links.

Yes, external links are good for your website’s SEO performance. External links are important contributors to higher rankings. External links pass on link juice, authority and trust, which are metrics Google uses to rank web pages.

As an SEO expert or webmaster, you should work to build your backlinks and engage in SEO external linking initiatives. This can include, guest posts, releasing PR, looking to ‘steal’ external links from your competitors, as well as other link building tactics.

What is the difference between internal linking and external linking?

Internal linking is when you link to another page on your own domain. On the other hand, external links are ones that point to an external website. External links are usually used when you want to cite information from an outside source. Simply, internal links are when you link to your own pages, while external links link to pages on a third party domain.

Both internal and external linking are important and should be incorporated into every SEO strategy.

In order to get an idea about external links back to your site, you will need to utilize a SEO tool. Google Search Console is a great tool to use as it will give you a list of links pointing to your website. However, the Google Search Console, typically does not show all of the inbound links pointing to your website.

Therefore, it will be better to try and use a free search engine optimization tool instead. You can use an SEO tool like Semrush or Ahrefs backlink checker. By utilizing these tools, you can check the links already pointing to your website. Additionally, you can use the tool to research other websites and locate broken backlinks or employ the skyscraper technique to try and ‘steal’ backlinks from your competitors.

A backlink is produced when an external website connects to your current website, whereas an external link is produced by a third party. Inbound links are another name for this. External links, on the other hand, tend to link relevant information since they are hyperlinks that take you to a page on a different website.

All in all, the two terms describe the same action just from different points of view. Both are important from an SEO standpoint as well.

Whereas, if the external link is a dofollow link, then it will be considered an external equity link as it passes on PageRank to the third party website. This is important because it helps increase domain authority and rankings.

From the other side of things, a website using an external link will look more credible as they are citing their information and adding proof that their claims are factual. This is typically the case when a website is using an external source’s statistics and data.

Generally, it’s considered good practice to use external links in your posts and blogs as it adds credibility to your claims, and can improve the trustworthiness of your site. Additionally, the external links will be crawled and help search engines understand your content better. Both of these external link factors will improve a site’s SEO.

Therefore, it is a good idea to spend time working on external link building for SEO purposes, both in your content, and in the form of an external inbound link from another website. Whereas, the more external links your website has, the higher your website will rank in search engines. This is because Google takes into account the number and quality of links a website has when ranking them. 

However, it is important to note that there’s no guarantee that all links will be helpful or beneficial to your SEO effort. This is because some webmasters and SEO agencies will conduct link schemes to increase the number of external links pointing back to their site. Therefore, Google values links in different ways, and if they think you are engaging in link building techniques that violate their guidelines, they will penalize your website

To sum it up, external linking is good for SEO, but only if you do it in the correct way. Make sure to use external links that follow Google’s guidelines.

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