What are Outbound Links?

Outbound links are links on your pages that reference pages on a site other than your own. Outbound links can have a positive or negative effect on your rankings depending on the site (page) you are linking to and also to some extent on how they are implemented on your site.

The main thing to remember is that outbound links are there for the benefit of users. They should normally be placed either inline with the text on a page (embedded) or on a separate ‘resource’ page that has been specially made for them. (The common term for these pages is “links page” but as 99.9% of links pages are of absolutely no use to the user or for SEO, to avoid confusion we shall call them ‘resource pages’).

As far as search engines are concerned “you are who you link to” and linking to pages on other sites that are relevant and in context is an important element in SEO. Google says in their Webmaster Guidelines …avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links. No one knows Google’s definition of “bad neighborhoods” but if you restrict your outbound links to sites that you and your users would regard as high quality then you are very unlikely to encounter any “bad neighborhoods”.

When using embedded links it is essential that the link text accurately describes the link’s destination. In the following paragraph the link text is not descriptive:

There are a lot of discussions on the web concerning outbound links and their effect on PageRank. There is no question that PR leakage exists and if you are interested in an explanation you cannot do better than read Ian Rogers and Martin Hagstrøm. However the plain fact is that PR leakage is an insignificant factor when compared to the benefits of incorporating outbound links and all attempts to avoid PR leakage are a complete waste of time. PR leakage is of academic interest only and can safely be ignored as far as SEO is concerned.

Here is the same paragraph where the link text correctly describes the link’s destination:

There are a lot of discussions on the web concerning outbound links and their effect on PageRank. There is no question that PR leakage exists and if you are interested in an explanation you cannot do better than read The Google Pagerank Algorithm and How It Works by Ian Rogers and PageRank Explained with Bright Colors by Martin Hagstrøm . However the plain fact is that PR leakage is an insignificant factor when compared to the benefits of incorporating outbound links and all attempts to avoid PR leakage are a complete waste of time. PR leakage is of academic interest only and can safely be ignored as far as SEO is concerned.

Use embedded links to high quality sites whenever and wherever you think they would be useful to your users.

The same policy that applies to your use of embedded links should apply to a resources page if you decide to have one. Here is a section from two different resource pages:

This is part of a page from a site selling ethnic jewellery, ceramics, paintings etc. and is a typical ‘links’ page with links to everything from casinos to cheap airline fares and hotels to automatic link exchange programs. In fact nothing there will be of any interest to someone seeking information on the sites products. Some of these links are not only poor quality but positively dangerous for the site owner.

The site owner is waving a flag at the search engines saying “look at me I am a load of garbage”.

This next one is part of a resources page on the Apple website. Titled Cluster Computing Resources with sub headings of Software Resources for Cluster Computing and for the snippet shown here Distributed Resource Management (DRM) Software. A high quality resource page which is a gift to the user and the search engines alike.