Few topics in search engine optimization (SEO) cause as many heated disputes as the concept of linking out to other sites. Whenever the subject of linking to other sites arises in conversation or on and Internet message forum, the sides in the debate are certain to become very polarized.
How quickly people take sides and the lack of compromise on the issue is always amazing to many impartial observers. Why people feel so strongly either one way or another usually boils down to the outgoing link value.
The SEO community usually examines the issue of linking out based on the search engine algorithms. Their questions surround whether or not the search engines give the activity any weight. Many SEO experts even believe that the practice of linking out to other sites is harmful. The answers to these issues and questions are important to the entire discussion.
The search engine marketing community, along with the Internet informational community, take the opposite point of view. They believe there are hidden short and long term benefits to linking out that don’t show up immediately, if at all, in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
The believers in linking out usually consider the search engine rankings to be given far too much importance. Linking out, they contend, has far more benefits than the search results can begin to measure.
As with most discussions concerning the more contentious issues involving search engine optimization, there are valid points made on both sides. Pluses and minuses to any search engine related activity can be debated. In the end, the best answer is what is right for the website owner’s individual goals. Not all sites share the same objectives.
A closer examination of the pros and cons of linking to other sites is required for a fuller understanding of the topic. Finding the costs and the benefits of linking out in an open and objective way is helpful to all webmasters. Knowing the value or cost of any search engine optimization or search engine marketing activity is a step toward maximizing the value of your own website.
Armed with the facts, from both sides of the outbound links debate, you can decide which course of action is right for your own website.
Many search engine optimization experts oppose needlessly linking out to other sites. They cite some powerful reasons for reaching that conclusion. The opponents of outbound links will point out that the SERPs tell the story, and the search engine algorithms are not friends to those who link outwards.
Most SEO professionals tend to agree that linking out provides no real boost in link popularity. They rightly point to the fact that the search engines, and especially link-obsessed Google, reward incoming links. The search engines provide no weight to the links going to other websites. With that in mind, many website owners are reluctant to link out to other sites.
In addition to this there is also a widespread fear of loss of Google PageRank. Google PageRank, of course, is Google’s numerical measure of the importance of a web page on the Internet. The PageRank calculation is based on the number of incoming links and the quality of them in the form of the transferring page’s own PageRank.
Since PageRank flows from one web page to the next, there is concern among many webmasters and SEO experts, that PageRank will be lost through leakage. That alleged loss of PageRank requires constant replenishment, they say, and outgoing links are merely a drain on its level. In other words, the worry is that too many outgoing links will drain away a web page’s PageRank to other pages on other websites.
Many webmasters are strongly opposed to linking out to competitors, even if the competing site is considered an authority site by Google. An authority site is one that Google rates as among the most important websites in any particular theme area. These webmasters don’t like the possibility of sending potential customers and perhaps their business to other sites.
Some SEO professionals prefer not to provide competitors with any more inbound link popularity than they already possess. If a competing site is an authority site, they argue, they want to help them even less with link power. With links being important to the search engines, and especially Google, the last thing these SEOs want to do is to help their competition to defeat their own or their clients’ sites in the rankings.
Outbound links are not all bad, according to many Internet marketing specialists. By linking out to other related sites, a visitor is provided with even more helpful information on the topic. Sending to traffic to other useful websites is especially important for purely informational sites.
Since the goal of knowledge-based sites is to give visitors as much information on a topic as possible, outbound links are simply a service from the site. Not all webmasters believe they can afford to be so generous, however. The question for those website owners is whether or not linking out will give them benefits in return.
Linking out can help develop a reputation for a webmaster of being helpful to the site’s visitors. By creating a reason for returning to the site, the visitor traffic will not be permanently lost. In fact, many visitors will often bookmark a site that they trust to help them. That built-up trust factor can translate into many online and offline sales for a business. People purchase goods and services from people they trust. Those who provide access to many sources of useful information gain the trust of their visitors.
While the occasional link to other related sites might not provide much search engine value, to a website owner many outbound links are an entirely different matter. If a site links to the most relevant sites on the theme, including the most important authority sites, the linking out site can gain major importance in Google.
That importance arrives in the form of being regarded as a hub site by Google. Along with the hub site status conferred upon sites that are like train stations for themed links, comes high search rankings. SEO professionals agree that becoming a hub site for a site’s most important keywords is a worthwhile goal. Part of becoming a hub site involves linking out to related sites. Some of those sites might even be competitors.
Linking out to other sites, especially competitor’s sites, can be problematic. No website owner wants to risk losing paying business to other sites. Loss of visitors is especially painful if the traffic was sent to the competitor through a link out from your own site. The question is how large is that risk.
If a webmaster believes that visitor traffic will maintain loyalty to their site, then sending visitors elsewhere will do little or no harm to sales. The concern is not with the outgoing links, but with onsite conversion factors. If a site provides no good reasons to buy their products and services they offer, then sales will be weak, whether there are links to competitors or not.
A strong website offers a balance of useful information as a reason to visit and powerful reasons to buy once there. Offering that assistance to visitors develops a trust factor that will lead to more sales. If a potential customer is lost due to an outgoing link, they might not be strong long term buyers in any case. They may just as easily return to your site as quickly as they left for the competitor’s offer.
In fact, loss of customers to competitors can serve as a powerful wake up call to improve your onsite conversions of visitors to customers. Without the feedback found through escaped traffic, that systemic site problem might never have been discovered. Any perceived outflow of traffic through links to other sites can serve a very useful purpose. Use that market intelligence to improve your conversion rates.
Not all search engine optimization experts believe that Google PageRank is leaked away through outgoing links. In fact, many SEO people believe that the PageRank that flows out in one area is returned through inbound links from other websites. They argue that the level of Google PageRank, paradoxically, can only really be increased by linking out to other sites.
In that regard, creating a PageRank island with no outgoing links is harmful to a site. Linking out becomes a good thing, resulting in more inflowing than outflowing PageRank. Provided that a solid ratio of somewhat more inbound links than outgoing links is maintained, PageRank will constantly rise. The positive ratio of links will serve a site in good stead in the SERPs as well.
Linking out to other blogs remains a controversial topic. Sending visitor traffic to other sites is considered offering service and information by some webmasters, and is decried as throwing potential customers and search engine power away by others.
The transfer of Google PageRank is considered a net loss to a web page by some search engine experts and part of a cycle that returns even more PageRank inflow by other SEO professionals.
There will always be people who leave a site for other places, as they are only a click away. It’s really impossible to keep a web visitor captive on a site. The best solution is probably to provide a great site, to which visitors will return over and over, while linking to sites that provide additional theme-related information.
If a website owner wants to gain customers and clients, the onus rests on them to develop the best site possible. That situation will require outgoing links to other sites as well.
There is some definite long term advantage to linking out as well as offering immediate assistance to your site’s visitors. Your site might be accorded the coveted hub site by Google, and the high search rankings that come with that status. You will be glad you linked to some other sites in that case.
As with everything else, it’s up to the individual website owner what is right for the site and for the visitor traffic. The correct answer is probably different for everyone.