What Are External Links? (+ Best Practices)
The SEO world is high on backlinks, or inbound links, but what is often left out of the conversation is external links.
Well, external links aren’t necessarily viewed as a ranking factor (this is a misconception), meaning they’re often overlooked or disregarded. Some schools of thought even believe that external links somehow hurt their SEO efforts.
That’s certainly not the case.
External links are integral to on-page SEO best practices. By excluding or not focusing enough attention on external linking, publishers are missing an integral feature of on-page SEO.
So why not take your on-page practices from “yeah, not bad” to a “dang, we’re killin’ it.”
To be sure you are taking advantage of external linking, here we
- define what an external link is,
- detail external link best practices,
- and explain how to use external links.
What are External Links?
External links, also known as outbound links, are hyperlinks that lead from one website to another. They can be created by copying and pasting the URL of the other web page into the text of your document, or by using a HTML <a> tag. When an external link is clicked, the web browser will open a new window or tab and load the third-party’s web page.
External links can be found in a variety of places, including text links, image links, and anchor text. They can also be placed in different parts of a webpage, such as in the header, footer, or sidebar.
So why are they important?
External links serve two main purposes: They grant readers deeper insight into a topic and they help websites build trust and authority with search engines.
When readers see an external link in your content, there’s a possibility they’ll click on it to learn more. This may sound counterintuitive. Like, why would you send your audience to someone else’s content?
There are a couple of reasons.
For one, clicking on an external link and being directed to a third-party resource can grant your audience a greater understanding of your own content. It adds credibility to your writing, shows the reader you’ve done your research, and demonstrates you take creating accurate and factual content seriously.
After all, no matter how extensive our own research is or how well we cover a topic, we can’t do it all.
External links are also valuable for websites from a search engine optimization standpoint. When you include external links to reputable sources of information in your content, like academic papers, you’re telling Google that your website is an authoritative source of information on a given topic.
This can help your website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for relevant keywords.
Additionally, external links can help to generate more traffic and leads from your target audience. By creating high-quality content that is interesting and relevant to your target audience, you can encourage other websites to link back to your site. In turn, this will help you to improve your SEO ranking and reach a greater audience.
External Links Best Practices
When creating links to other websites, there are a few best practices to keep in mind:
1. Avoid Generic Anchor Text
- Always use descriptive anchor text for the external link, rather than just a generic term or phrase.
- Rather than simply typing “click here,” take the time to write out a few sentences or an entire paragraph for context.
- This will help both the reader and Google understand where the link leads to.
2. External Links Should Always Be Contextual
- Make sure that the website you’re linking to is reputable and relevant to your audience.
- A link to a random website with no relevance will appear spammy and unhelpful to a reader and can hurt your SEO efforts.
3. Only Link to Reputable Sources
- Be sure to check the destination website for quality before you link to it.
- If you’re linking to a web page that’s riddled with spelling mistakes or is poorly designed, your readers will probably judge your website based on that as well.
- So be selective and only link to high-quality content from reputable sources.
4. Don’t Overdo External Linking
- Try not to overload your content with too many external links.
- Too many links can be overwhelming for your readers and may distract them from the main point of your article.
- Balance out your internal and external links for the best results.
5. Open External Links in a New Tab
- Unless there’s a specific reason not to, when you create a link to another website, you should opt to open that link in a new tab or window.
- This helps keep users on your site, they won’t lose the spot they were up to, and allows them to easily navigate back to your web page.
- But perhaps more importantly, by opening external links in a new tab, it may (and a big emphasis on may) improve your site’s SEO ranking.
- Crawlers from search engines like Google use “time on page” as one of the factors in determining its rank.
- Opening links in a new tab helps keep users on your site longer, which can possibly give you a boost in the search engine results pages.
How to Use External Links
Now for the important stuff. How to use external links to boost your SEO efforts:
1. Pick Your Anchor Text Carefully
We touched on this above, but I wanted to elaborate more for greater context. When creating links, you’ll want to make sure that the anchor text is relevant to the destination page. If you’re linking to a page about SEO auditing, for example, rather than using a generic phrase like “audit” something like “SEO audit case study” would make a fine choice for a resource that’s conducted helpful research on the topic.
Context for both your reader and Google.
If a reader decides to follow your recommendation to an external resource, contextual anchor text provides them with a solid idea of what they are clicking on.
Google also uses anchor text as a ranking signal. When they crawl the web, they look at all the external links on a page and the anchor text of those links. The platform then uses this information to determine what your web page is all about, helping Google to better understand which keywords your web page should rank for in the SERPs.
2. Position External Links Correctly
For best results, it’s a good idea to position external links where they make the most sense. This goes beyond just using contextual anchor text. Sure, using contextually relevant anchor text is a great start, but also understand that Google’s web crawlers pay attention to more than just the anchor text.
They also look at the text around the external link.
Furthering our previous example, one way to provide context for your anchor text is to support it with contextually relevant surrounding text. Whether that be the sentence it’s nestled in or the entire paragraph. For example, “This SEO audit case study from Ahrefs found that conducting regular audits helps website owners identify and correct any potential issues that may be affecting your search engine rankings.”
This sentence provides context for the link “SEO audit case study”, demonstrates to both the reader and Google why the topic at hand is important, and shows that the case study was published by a reputable and credible resource.
3. Conduct Regular External Link Audits
Google’s algorithm is always changing, which can have a significant impact on your website’s search engine ranking. A regular external link SEO audit can help identify any potential issues that could be impacting your rankings, and fixing these problems can help improve your website’s visibility and organic search traffic.
An external link SEO audit should include a review of all of your website’s links, both internal and external. You should examine the anchor text used for each link, as well as the destination pages. You should also look for any broken links and correct them where possible.
Finally, consider conducting an SEO audit of your external links on a regular basis. This can help you stay ahead of any changes to Google’s algorithm and ensure that your website remains visible in search engine results pages.
The addition of external links to your website can be an effective way to improve your audience’s overall experience and boost your SEO.
The problem with external linking is it requires constant upkeep. Third-party resources are often changing their URL structures and, if redirects aren’t used, broken links on your website can begin to affect your search engine rankings.
To be sure, this isn’t happening to you, check out our SEO audit services. They are sure to grant you access to actionable insights that can be used to improve your search engine optimization efforts.