External links are when your website links out to another website. In contrast, internal links are when you link to another page in your own website. External linking is a fairly controversial SEO topic that divides digital marketers into two camps. One believes that you should seldom link to other sites because some viewers will leave your website through the link. The other camp believes that external links are actually good for web rankings because they imply credibility, relevancy and because they promote backlinks. In this article we untangle this argument, arriving at the conclusion preferred by the best informed sources. And also, we tell you idea on how to get the best of both worlds.

external-link-debate

Arguments Against External Linking

Losing Visitors

The oldest, most obvious argument against external linking is that your visitors will leak out through the link to other sites. In terms of web analytics, this results in a lower ‘time on site’ which is bad because it means that visitors spent less time on your website. Related stats to reference are: bounce rate and exit rate (which both will be higher).

This argument can’t really be refuted completely. You will lose a percentage of visitors through external links. This % may be less than in the past considering the possibility of opening a link in a new tab thanks to tabbed browsing.

Backlinking to Competitors

‘Backlinking’ means when another website externally links to you. This has significant SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) benefits to the site linked to. Basically, Google gives the site a rankings boost equal to a percentage of the externally linking site. Backlinks are a serious determiner of rankings. It is the enormous amount of links pointing to Wikipedia, Facebook and other top rankers that are one of the main factors Google’s ranking algorithm uses to tell that they are important websites.

The argument goes: don’t backlink to your competitors because it gives them a rankings boost over you. In the hypercompetitive world of SEO, where only nine pages out of 2,530,000,000 results (0.32 seconds) get on the first page of Google, this argument has a decent basis, and the logic of it cannot be refuted.

Arguments for External Linking

Credibility

External links in webpages can often act like the citations in a essay. They imply credibility because they show the visitor where your information has come from. A no-brainer example of the utility of doing this is when quoting an accolade held by your business to link to the source.

Relevancy

This is analogous to the previous argument but from the perspective of Google’s algorithms. The algorithm considers your page to be of content relevant to a topic if it links to pages and websites on the same topic that have high rankings. E.g. if in your page about digital marketing, you link to Wikipedia’s page on the topic. Unlike what you learned in high school, referencing Wikipedia can actually be a good thing on webpages. Wikipedia ranks very highly.

To clarify, linking to relevant pages is important though. So a page on ‘External linking’ linking to ‘Wikipedia: Digital Marketing’ is less relevant than it linking to another page on ‘External linking’.

If you link to others, they may link to you in return. This is the best (albeit somewhat oblique) counterargument to the Backlinking to CompetitorsĀ Ā§.

So as opposed to treating similar websites as competitors, by cultivating this attitude with them, you may succeed in creating a community with them of mutual benefaction. An effective way to do this is to outlink to websites and pages that add value in some way. I.e. they aren’t direct competitors and they specialise in a different thing to your website, so you can link to them purposefully and without elevating them on all of the same keywords as you’re targeting. Also, through effective marketing and economics, you can ‘differentiate’ your website so that it does have a specialty that no other website has.

Asking for links in return is becoming a web convention due to its large benefits, and there are ways to do it quite politely. we recommend notifying a significant website that you link to. Not asking, just notifying them. WordPress has an option that automates this function when outlinking to other websites.

dLook’s Conclusion

The arguments against external linking are more traditional. This is because they are more obvious, concrete and undoubtable. In contrast, the arguments for are more abstract and require info from an article like this to reveal them.

The argument comes to: the existence of the negatives can’t be doubted but the affirmatives can, so it depends on whether in practice, external linking has been proven to improve rankings. Statistics show that there is a scientifically significant correlation between the number of external links and higher rankings. The correlation (r) is only 0.04, which doesn’t sound like much, but our source points out that:

  • It disproves a negative correlation.
  • It is a sizeable factor considering the circa 200 other factors influencing SEO.

 

So it seems that the benefits of the affirmatives outweigh the tangible albeit minor downsides of the negatives. This is the opinion held by most informed sources including Moz, SEO development. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t caveats concerning external linking, where the pros don’t outweigh the cons:

  • Don’t backlink to direct competitors. If you have a direct competitor, it probably isn’t worth linking to them unless you have already formed a linking relationship with them.
  • Don’t backlink to irrelevant pages. Google won’t give you any SEO boost for doing this.
  • Don’t have too many external links. Viewer’s find it annoying and Google might regard your website as a ‘link farm’ (a website set up intentionally to create backlinks for SEO). Google penalise link farms in rankings.

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Finally (disregard this if you’re not into web coding), dLook’s idea to avert the downside of losing viewers to links whilst enjoying the benefits of external linking is to code some way for links to open in internal floating windows within your page. Because of the space constraints, the floating windows should display the web in mobile format. The disclaimer is that this is an idea from the perspective of a digital marketer, not a professional coder by any means. Also, it would need to avert Google’s penalisation of pop-ups and also to make sure Google recognises the links. If you’re a web developer reading this, we’d love to hear your opinion.

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