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Outbound Links – An Endangered Species? [And Why I Still Link Up]

Yesterday on Twitter I made this remark:

“A change I’ve noticed from the ‘old days’ of blogging – people don’t link when they quote you as much as they used to.”

The replies to my tweet were quite varied – some agreed while some disagreed – some argued that a link was not necessary while others argued that it was essential. The replies highlighted just how much diversity of opinion there was on the topic so I thought I’d put together a few thoughts on the topic.

But before I share why I DO link to others from my blogs when quoting or borrowing ideas directly from others I thought it might be worthwhile sharing some of the reasons people gave yesterday for why they thought links were becoming LESS used in this way.

1. Competition

The most common remark to my tweet was that people thought it was mainly to do with a change in the way that bloggers viewed other blogs in their niche.

The theory is that in ‘the old days’ of blogging the blogosphere was more about sharing ideas, networking, communal learning etc – but that these days it’s more about ‘getting ahead’ or ‘empire building’ in some way. As a result other blogs are less seen as an opportunity to network or have mutually beneficial opportunities – but that they’re more seen as ‘the competition’.

Of course there are plenty of examples where this is not the case – but I suspect it’s one of the reasons that some bloggers don’t link out to others.

2. PageRank Sculpting

The other main theory that people shared (and a few admitted it was why they didn’t link out) was that they saw links on their blogs as valuable and wanted to use them in ways that benefited themselves by ‘sculpting’ the link juice on their sites.

This is an SEO (search engine optimisation) approach to linking – the theory is that the more links you have on a page the less weight each one of them carries in passing on page rank to the sites you’re linking to.

The idea is that you link to fewer sites so that the few that you do link to (your own internal links, links to your other sites, links to partners sites or those paying for links) have maximum benefit. The practice is to limit links and/or use nofollow tags on any link that you don’t want to pass page rank so that those that do pass it pass the maximum.

I know that most bloggers probably don’t page sculpting in mind when they’re linking to other blogs – but it was the 2nd most mentioned explanation that people mentioned to me on Twitter yesterday.

3. Laziness and/or Forgetfulness

The third theory shared on why people don’t link is that they either forget to or that they’re just too lazy to do it.

I suspect that most bloggers at one time or another have inadvertently forgotten to link to another page when quoting them or bouncing off something they’ve written. I know I’ve done this a number of times over the years (I fix them when they’re brought to my attention).

4. Ignorance

The last theory that some of my followers shared is that they thought that some people simply where not aware of the etiquette when it comes to quoting others (or that they simply didn’t believe in it).

This was highlighted to me in a couple of the DMs that I received after my tweet from people who admitted that they didn’t link to other sites that they quoted because they’d never heard of the practice. They did not do it maliciously, they had no ulterior motives – they’d just never thought to do it or been taught that that was what should happen.

5. Or Have Things Just Changed?

As I pondered the topic yesterday it struck me that perhaps things had simply changed and that I was ‘old fashioned’ in my approach.

Perhaps this ‘ignorance’ could also be explained by a change that is happening in the unspoken etiquette of the web? Perhaps there’s a transition in belief and behaviour happening here and I just need to get with the times?

After all times are changing – people of my parents generation are always telling me how things that they used to think were unacceptable are now common place…. social interactions change don’t they?

I really hope that this last theory is not the case – you see in my experience linking to other sites from your blog is actually something that is very powerful. In my experience it improves your blog to do it but also makes the web a better place.

Which leads me to an exploration of why I link out to other blogs and websites from my blog.

Why I DO Link to Other Sites

Let me start by saying that when I say I link to other blogs and websites that I’m talking about doing so as a way of giving credit to those sites. For example when I’m quoting someone or when I’m directly taking an idea that someone’s written about on their site and am extending it, reacting to it or bouncing off it some way on my own blog.

As I said above – I’m sure there are times when I’ve inadvertently not done this (you’re welcome to point them out to help me rectify this). Enough disclaimers – here’s some reasons that I do link:

1. Etiquette/Manners/Courtesy

At a base level I think it’s important to acknowledge the work of someone else when you use it.

When someone has written something that you’re quoting – that person has taken time to craft those words, they’ve gone to some effort to make the impression that they have on you. You in turn are using their words (and the effort that they went to to craft them) to improve your own blog in some way – as a result I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

You could of course do this without a link – but I think a link shows a little extra spirit of generosity and appreciation that is simply good courtesy in my mind.

2. Usefulness

Linking to your sources makes your content more useful to your readers.

Good content is useful content. I’m constantly talking about how to build a successful blog you need to be producing something that is useful in some way to those reading it. By linking to the page where you take a quote or idea you’re providing your readers with the opportunity to read more on the topic or see the quote in it’s original context.

Your reader may or may not click the link – but it does give them the opportunity to explore further or learn more.

I know that as a blog reader when I’m reading a quote that I find particularly interesting that I want to learn more about who said it. If there’s no easy way to do this I think have to go to the effort of researching myself. I actually find this annoying and it creates the impression to me that the author of the content is too lazy or stingy to go to the effort themselves.

Giving readers other things to read around the web adds depth to your blog. Yes it sends people away from your site to read someone else’s – but if it’s a link to something good they’re more likely to come back because you become a trusted source of information.

3. It Makes the Web Better

Links are what makes the internet what it is.

I still remember the first day I got online. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I connected on my brand new dialup modem but I do remember looking at my watch later that day and realising that 7 hours had passed and that I’d barely moved much more than the index finger on my mouse as I surfed from one page to another.

I was caught in the ‘web’. One site led to another which lead to another which led to another – the web inspired me.

I had a similar feeling the first day I visited the first blog that I had ever read – it linked out generously to other blogs in its niche which in turn linked to others. I was immediately hooked into this community of websites – but particularly to that first one which got me going.

Perhaps this is a little naive – but for me the internet has always been built on the ‘link’. It’s what makes it so great and as someone wanting to be a good citizen of the web I think it’s important to continue the tradition of what has made it great.

4. The Power of Links to Build Relationships

A simple link to another site can get you on their radar and be the beginning of a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship.

Here’s a quick illustration as to the power of a link:

Every month or two on my photography blog I run a post that is simply a list of interesting links from other photography sites around the web from the last month. I sometimes throw a few internal links into these posts but they’re largely just a list of links with short descriptions to other photography sites.

There are many benefits of these posts, for example:

  • they’ve been on the front page of Digg and can be spread virally around the web
  • they’re useful to readers and I get a lot of thank you comments and emails from readers as a result

But the biggest benefit to me from these types of posts is the impact that they have on the sites I’m linking to. Last time I did one of these posts I linked to 15 or so other photography sites.

  • The next day I had 5 emails from owners of these sites. All thanked me for the link.
  • 2 of those who wrote offered to write guest posts for my blog.
  • Over the coming week 6 of the sites I linked to linked back to my blog
  • Others tweeted about the post
  • 2 of the other bloggers and I have been exploring ways we can work more together

All of this started simply with some linking to other quality content in my niche.

While my blog has a fairly big readership and the traffic I sent out was substantial – the same principle is true for sites of all sizes – links have the potential to get you on the radar of other bloggers and web masters – where this can lead you is anyone’s guess.

5. Outbound Links and SEO

Outbound links can help your blog’s search engine optimisation (directly perhaps but indirectly definitely).

I’ve heard it argued that relevant outbound links can actually help your own site’s ranking in search engines (ie search engines look at the sites you’re linking to as part of their algorithm).

I have heard this debated and in my own limited testing have not seen it as a major factor (it may be a minor one but other factors like your title tags have a much bigger impact) – HOWEVER I do think that linking out can definitely indirectly help your SEO – based upon reasons we’ve already covered:

  • Linking can stimulate reciprocal links – as a result of building relationships with other websites you increase the chance of being linked to yourself. It doesn’t happen every time but sometimes when you link to another blog you’ll find that blogger starts to subscribe to yours and in time will link back. This helps your search ranking.
  • Useful content ranks high – Google’s main purpose with it’s algorithm is to find the best content it can and rank it highly. If links increase your site’s usefulness (point #2 above) in time you’ll see this reflected in your Google ranking as your site gets passed around by readers and Google does its thing in finding it.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll rank high in Google by linking to other sites – but indirectly I think it can certainly be helpful. I guess this really comes down to my main philosophy about SEO – set your blog up well and be aware of the principles of SEO but then concentrate on producing the kind of content that the search engines are looking for and build relationships/network. Search rankings tend to have a way of looking after themselves.

Quick Tips on Linking Out

Let me conclude with a few last thoughts:

Don’t link out for the sake of it – I’ve seen some bloggers link out to other blogs in large quantities with the belief that it’ll help them build relationships with loads of other bloggers. Link out when it’s relevant to do so, when you’re giving credit and when you think it makes your content more useful.

Don’t get caught up in linking schemes – one thing I do know is that Google is always on the look out for ‘link farms’ or schemes designed to manipulate their rankings. I won’t pretend to know where Google draws the line but simple reciprocal links seem to carry less weight than normal organic links and when search engines spot you involved in a bad neighbourhood of the web engaging in lots of interlinking you’re probably going to do yourself more harm than good.

I don’t get into it at all these days but IF you’re going to get into reciprocal links keep them relevant to your content, do it in moderation and make sure that the sites you’re linking to are of a high standard and quality.

PS: a quote from Google’s Matt Cutts:

Let me finish with a quote (and a link of course) from Google’s Matt Cutts:

“I would recommend the first-order things to pay attention to are 1) making great content that will attract links in the first place, and 2) choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike.”

I’m interested to hear your thoughts (and practices) when it comes to linking out from your blog. Do you do it? Why/Why Not?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Yeah that’s true…even many high authority SEO blogs are advising their readers to minimize the number of outgoing links…and the result is… people have stopped giving attribution/credits too

  2. I’m intrigued about your comments about not linking out for the sake of it. I would like to know more about this. I’ve been doing a weekly round up of links (travel one week and food the next). eg. http://www.roamingtales.com/2009/09/08/best-of-the-web-gooseberry-fool-foodie-links-for-8-september/
    http://www.roamingtales.com/2009/08/31/best-of-the-web-roaming-tales-travel-links-for-31-august/

    Is this too much? It takes a lot of time but the posts seem to be popular with readers and I thought it was a good way to help build community.

    I’d really like to know what Darren – and other bloggers – think.

  3. Ronblogger says:

    i think there’s no problem on linking to other site specially when they really deserved it

  4. This article confirms a practice that I embraced with my first blog, that of giving credit where credit is due and linking to a source. I look at it like this; if I were at a party and someone started a conversation about blogging by prefacing it with a nod in my direction and the words “Sam over there told me about this” I would feel darn good about it and grateful to boot, especially when that total stranger approaches me later and exclaims, “Iv’e been looking all over for someone with just your kinds of ideas!

    If you don’t buy that, how about it’s just good blog etiquette?
    Linking to your sources makes your site more useful to the reader and more credible, as you are seen to be humble enough to admit that never in a million years could an idea like that come from this brain.

  5. Sadly, I think ignorance about how the Internet and search engines work is quite rampant out there.

    Everyone should read this post, easily one of the most important posts you’ve written.

  6. Rajput says:

    If we are using anyone’s quote, idea or reference then we must give a link to him. It is almost mandatory from copywriter point of view. Moreover it is our attitude towards blogging that makes the brand name of ourselves and our blog.

  7. B. Durant says:

    In my niche no one, ok almost no one, links to other people aside from the obligatory “Links” or “Resources” page. There are rare occasions that you’ll see more natural links but for the most part people don’t. I try to link to others when their content enhances my articles or otherwise adds value to my own content. I tend to shy away from just linking to link. At least with this particular blog.

  8. Michael says:

    SEO be damned! I love linking out to quality sites. My blog is less than a year old and I’m building a respectable brand.

  9. Hi Darren and everyone that has posted! I am starting my first blog and appreciate so much all the helpful tips everyone has contributed to this discussion. I was just about to start this post and remembered I found this page on http://www.pronetadvertising.com/articles/my-50-favorite-blogging-resources.html. I’ll have to learn how to make it all fancy on my site ecofriendlyconsult.com, but for now it’s just copy and paste and thank you pronetadvertising for linking to ProBlogger!

  10. Lee Ka Hoong says:

    I used to link out to outsider resource if I need to refer their statements. Also, sometimes I’ll collect a tons of relevant resources and write a link love post, such as my latest post “60 Thesis Theme Customization Tutorials”, I collected all those tutorials on the net and share it in a blog post. It’s something cool to share with my readers, also, I can refer it next time when I need to customize my thesis theme again. :)

  11. sharath says:

    well… if you link to a spam site then ur PR is sure to go down… so when i link i always make sure the site is good :)

  12. I think its a mixture of laziness plus not want to give out a link and the potential pr juice it implies.. Unfortunately the whole way google relies on links rather the content to get you up the search engines makes this a way of life

  13. Linking out brings credibility to you and your blog. By linking out to quoted sources and other quality content in your niche, you’re assisting your readers/users in getting the best quality information available. We always make it a practice to link out to relevant articles from ours, to give our readers the ability to further explore various topics.

    That said, we’ve definitely seen a serious decline in linking from others in the niche.

    My theory is that people are using social media like Twitter and Facebook to share links, and think that they no longer need to do the same from their own blogs. That’s where they are 100% wrong. Focus on YOUR site before building your profile on other sites is a key to finding success!

  14. If the problem is fear of linking to a BAD site, use this tool:
    WOT for firefox.
    It gives you an idea about users’s feedback on any website.

  15. I agree with you Darren for two reasons:

    1) Laziness: Why reinvent the wheel? Usually the quoted blogger lays out the argument. I don’t need to waste time going into as much detail. Linking allows me to move on and make my points.

    2) Credibility: By linking to quoted material, readers can fact check my assertions. This helps them trust me because I’m writing something they know to be true.

    Actually there are more reasons than this. But Darren makes his points nicely. This should be a no brainer.

  16. People will (and should) link out if they have found anything that is genuinely useful to their readers. AT the end of the day, the great G has decided that it will reward those that try and enhance the user experience and this is certainly one way to do it.

    For everyone else though, it is usually a means to an end. Give people a fair exchange and you will receive a link back. Normal commercial practice if you ask me.

  17. Jen says:

    Nowadays bloggers are really looking at creating the best ways for their blogs to increase in search engine optimization. And sculpting nowadays is the norm for all bloggers.

  18. hokya says:

    wow, i didn’t know before if outgoing links does good things for SEO…

    i will make a plugin for keep this etique on wordpress soon

    :-)

  19. I do provide links occasionally when it is necessary. I think there should be more benefit for providing outgoing links than what has already been mentioned in this post in order to encourage a culture of providing backlinks.

  20. Jeff Sargent says:

    Hey Darren,

    I just found this blog and have spent a couple hours on it because I’m fascinated by it. You obviously know what you are talking about and there’s just so much great information about blogging that I know I’ll be a regular reader.

    As far as outbound links go, when I first started blogging I didn’t know what I was doing so I didn’t have any links at all. I have recently started to leave outbound links because I finally understand how important it is to give my readers the best content they can get. And if that means getting it from another blog so be it.

    I’m sure I’ll be writing a post in the near future about stuff I’ve learned here from you and you can rest assured there will be a link or two letting people know where I got my inspiration from.

    Thanks,
    Jeff Sargent

  21. Steve Hayes says:

    Yes, I agree with you on every point, and I thought your article was so good that I’m going to link to it.

    My main reason for linking is that I’m still somewhat involved in the academic world and I’m always telling students “Cite your sources!”

  22. jennine says:

    my motto is give credit where credit is due. i link out whenever i am talking about something inspired from someone else, quoting them, or mention them. not really out of altruism but also because if you don’t, someone will call you on it.

  23. hokya says:

    i got it. However, my outbound links still are not worthy yet :-)

  24. Stella says:

    Hear, hear Darren! I always link back when another blogger inspires a post. I’ve been experiencing the same phenomenon as you where a blogger has obviously bounced off one of my posts and neglected to give me credit. On the one hand, it’s flattering that something I wrote could cause another blogger to think, “Hey, that’s a great idea for a post!” On the other hand, would it be so terrible to acknowledge the source of your inspiration?

  25. umar says:

    Competition is the most important one

  26. This was interesting, I am doing a blog for a class and a lot of emphasis is put on outbound links. I wasn’t really sure why we were doing them or why they were important but this really clears things up.

  27. wow number
    5. Outbound Links and SEO

    is very interesting for me, some people see that factor as duty factors

  28. Google should value outbound relevant links more. This way more people would site other resources freely. The problem is you don’t want to have hundreds of outbound links to relvant sources and only a few inbounds. This will not help your seo campaign. I am always more than happy to link back when a blog/article may be of use to myself, our team or our clients, but the problem is people in the industry are so obsessed with seo that they can lose sight of the relevance of providing quality sources and content.

  29. Well outboud links actually make your article better because website visitors can read more detailed information about your topic. These links have to be directly relevant to your topic otherwise they are useless.

    I have seen reasonable traffic increase after placing few relevant links on my articles.

  30. kris john says:

    Competition. In my opinion this is the most important thing how to win the competition. Because there are so many blogger now, it makes the competition is very difficult.
    thanks