Do you want links? Then link OUT!

Photograph by SappyMooseTreeLinks. Links. Links.  Any Search Engine Optimisation/Optimization company will tell you that links are one of the most important elements of good website SEO.

Whenever I talk to clients about SEO, I explain that a link from another website is seen by Google as a vote for your website.  The more votes you have, the more popular you are seen to be and the higher you appear in the search results. OK, so it’s not quite as simple as that but fundamentally it’s right and it’s a nice easy analogy to understand.

What is also important, however, is who you link to. 

Outoing links establish what neighbourhood you belong to
Look at the BBC News website.  They provide news, but so that you can get a balanced view, they also link to other news websites so that you have an alternative source of information.  Does that stop you going back to the BBC news site?  No.  If anything you trust it more because they have such confidence in their reporting that they can afford to link to their competitors.

It also puts their website squarely in the neighbourhood of a bunch of other trusted websites – if you were to draw a picture of the BBC site (and I have put together a small example) then you would see that the BBC website is surrounded by other authority websites.  When Google comes to visit the BBC News site and sees that it is linking out to these other sites than it has no trouble deciding what domain the website belongs it.  It’s clearly a news website and it’s in a good neighbourhood.

Does your website link out to other sources of relevant information?  Probably not – because you don’t want to send people to your competitors and you may also have been given some advice by an SEO that if you link to other sites then you’re diluting the kudos given to you by Google (link juice) and passing it onto other websites.

Let’s address each point in turn.

“I don’t want to send people to my competitors”
Neither do I.  But I do want to send them to trusted sources of information.  That’s why down the left hand side of my blog, I have links to some of the most trusted and respected people in the SEO and Internet Marketing world (plus a few interlopers that managed to get in there!).  None of them are my direct competitors but I wouldn’t hesitate to send people to them for some good advice.

“I don’t want to dilute my link juice”
Neither do I. But I do want to associate my website with trusted sources of information.  There is a balancing act here.  If it feels natural to link to a source of information that is useful to your readers then do it.  Don’t worry about diluting your link juice because there is more to your website than the amount of link juice on one page.  Your visitors come first, and if linking to another source of information is good for them then just do it.

Also, people like it if they’re are linked to.  It’s an ego boost for them and they’ll come and check out your site.  If they like it then they’ll link to you. So you have the situation where you’re actually increasing your link juice by linking out.  So the moral here is, don’t worry about your link juice.  If you see a good reason to link out then do it.  It’ll help your readers, it’ll help Google understand the neighbourhood you operate in and it might even get you a link or two and some visitors.

Who should I link to?
Like most things, it’s good to look at what other people are doing, so take a look at your competitors and see what websites they’re linking to.  You might find some inspiration and you might even find a website or two that you may be able to get a link from as well.

To help you out, I’ve developed a small tool that will crawl or spider (hence the cute image the top) any website of your choice and list all of the outgoing links from the website.  Looking at the results will tell you a few things:

  • By skimming over the results, you should be able to identify what neighbourhood you would put that website in.  If they have lots of links to unrelated websites then there’s an advantage for you to exploit.  You can start to build you own list of relevant websites to link to.
  • If they have lots of relevant websites than take a look and see if you would benefit by linking to them as well.
  • By combining the results with Yahoo Site Explorer you can probably find any reciprocal links on their site.  Look for web directories to get you started.

The website analysis tool is here.  It’s in beta, so please let me know if there are any issues with it.

A few of words of warning:
– Be careful who you link to.  If you link to websites that are full of spam then that raises a question mark against your site – why are you linking to a spammy website? 

– Remember the golden rule of website design – if it’s not useful to your visitors then don’t do it. You should only link out if it’s a source of information that would be useful to your readers – if it’s not useful to them then don’t bother adding the link.

– Finally, don’t just have a page full of ‘Interesting Links’.   In a future blog I’ll cover how best to link out to other websites but ideally they should appear in the text of your page in context with the text content.