posted in search engine optimization  on 11 April 2010
by Andrew Lang 
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Why Linking To Other Websites Is A Good Thing

When we think of links, it's normally in a selfish way: we want to GET links to point to our website, and we will only GIVE links if there's some kind of quid pro quo involved. A reciprocal link exchange, or some kind of exchange going on. We want some quid for the quo we give.

But what if we just linked out regardless of getting anything back in return? That's exactly what search engines want you to do. Links are informative and say much about your site, and the sites you link to.

This is all very altruistic, but to be cynical for a moment....why be so kind to both those we link to and search engines? Because kindness has its own rewards. Linking to other websites can reward (or punish) your site to a certain degree depending on who you link to. Of course, you only care about the reward aspect here. Just link out to trusted sites, and do so without asking for anything in return from those trusted sites.

So how does who we link TO influence how search engines see our own website?

Is your site a dead-end for search engine spiders?

By dead-end, I mean if you're not linking out to anyone, or only one or two websites. If so, it can appear you're not part of any community online, as if you are, it's natural to link to forum posts, blog entries, genuine friend's websites etc if you're a "player" in a community. NO links, or very few links out, doesn't help search engines find out more about you. The less search engines know about your site, the less they're likely to trust your site.

Do you link out to "bad neighbourhoods"?

This is often done inadvertently (who would actively WANT to link to bad sites?). A bad neighbourhood, or even bad website, can be a site that has viruses/trojan scripts attached to it, disreputable porn or gambling sites, or sites that have been reported to send out email spam, or even link spamming, or selling links.

Are most (or all) of your outbound links reciprocated?

By reciprocated, I mean that the websites you link to also link back to you. If most of your sites you link to also link back to you, it's a bad sign for search engines. It doesn't look natural. There's nothing actually bad about reciprocal links - just so long as most (or all) of your outbounds aren't reciprocated as this looks unnatural. By linking out naturally in blog articles, or freely one-way linking out to trusted sites, you can make your outbound link profile look a lot more natural.

Do you link out to clean sites?

This is what you want to do. What's a clean site? Well, one with a good reputation all-round. These include (but not limited to):-
  • .edu and .gov websites
  • Wikipedia
  • Established forums / messageboards
  • Established blogs
  • Established news sites
Linking out to trusted sites tells search engines you are discerning with who you link to. If you use trust as a factor in deciding who you link to, then it's just one positive signal sent to search engines that perhaps YOUR website also could be trusted (it's one signal of many, but a signal nonetheless).

Just use common sense when linking out

Linking out "correctly" isn't a science - it's just about applying common sense. You can see if a site is established by how old it is, how often it's updated, how accurate, useful and informative its content is, and its general all-round reputation on the web.

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