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The Impact of Outbound Links on SEO: The Debate Rages On

by Steven Finkelstein
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The question of whether outbound links matter in SEO is one that has been debated virtually since the creation of the first websites and corresponding SEO companies. For ones like Insignia that try to drive site rankings for their clients, it’s usually considered to be standard practice.

But what does Google say about them? The opinion of the search engine giant matters, since most website traffic is funneled through them due to their monopoly in the market.

What Does John Mueller Have to Say About It?

On the Google Webmasters YouTube channel, John Mueller, the official Webmaster Trends Analyst for the company, recently spoke about this topic. Generally, his opinion seemed to indicate that outbound links were useful when they were in place to allow a site user to find out more about a topic or to check the sources that were used to create a given article.

Where outbound links were harmful, according to Mueller, is when they’re placed within advertisements or when they’re a part of so-called “link schemes.” For those who are not familiar, link schemes are any strategy where the intent is to manipulate PageRank. In other words, if a technique is found to violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it’s thought of as being a link scheme, and Google can penalize a site accordingly that uses it.

What Are the Best Links to Use?

Both inbound and outbound links should follow the same rules, according to Mueller. They should link to relevant, quality content. Any time that they don’t, the content creator runs the risk of not just bringing down Google’s wrath, but also frustrating website users.

Outbound links should be useful to readers. They should only go to high-quality sites that aren’t spammy and that have good UX. They shouldn’t be loaded down with ads that will slow down a user’s phone, laptop, or whatever other device they are using.

Where a link points to a reputable source, that site is going to get rewarded with higher search engine rankings over time. Where it sends the user to a potentially harmful or irrelevant website is when negative consequences are going to occur.

How Can You Tell Whether to Use a Link or Not?

When looking at outbound links, SEO agencies need to think about the following question: what is the goal for the person who is using this site or reading this content? Are they there to get informed about something? Are they there to procure a product, or to get some issue resolved?

If the outbound links that are in place help them to resolve their issue or to find out about whatever it is that they’re there to learn, then it can be considered high-quality. If the links aren’t helpful, then Google rankings are going to suffer.

Optimization efforts are always going to require a careful, measured approach. Precision and expertise from an SEO agency are usually needed to get a company’s site to the ranking position that they covet. Outgoing links still seem to be a part of that, but it’s clear that you must only use them with the greatest of care.

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