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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. Great post. Everyone deserves credit for thier work and linking to a source is the right thing to do.

  2. Daniel Bates says:

    I teach my students about pagerank and how to be smart about it, but I also tell them all that it’s not meant to be horded. Link out to valuable resources whether it’s your competition or not because you’re readers will reward your good will.

  3. shraddha says:

    I link a lot but add ‘ no follow’ attribute to most of my links..

    not all…but atleast 80% links

    This goes for my feedburner / twitter etc links too!

    i am from medical field..hence the blog is my ameturish attempt…

    i hope i am not doing too much ‘no follow’?After reading about your out bound links comment…i am confused!

  4. S Emerson says:

    Agree with all Darryl’s reasons to link out.

    Regarding the quoting part:
    If you valued the information enough to add it to your post/web page then you should give a link back.

    a) They deserve credit where credit is due.
    b) You cover your bases as far as copyright infringement goes (assuming you didn’t copy the whole thing).
    c) If it is a site with authority then they might link back to you and it shows the search engines (and your readers) you provide quality information.

    There are so many people concerned about loosing readers/customers by linking out that they use target=”_blank” in their links or JavaScript to open the link in a new window/tab. This adds an accessibility issue and a usability issue to their site. Create great content and they will remember you and find you again if they have not bookmarked your site already.

  5. Mitch says:

    It’s no question that outbound links help out your own SEO. If you link to something that compliments your content, Google sees it as a plus. How many times have you found something on Google at the top of search results that leads you to another page? I have many times!

  6. Tapeleg says:

    This should be required reading for new bloggers. Plain and simple, if you want eyeballs on your blog, link to your sources, link to things you liked reading, link to anything you think is worth your time.

  7. Asim says:

    I have been a ardent reader of your blog. I always felt that you added useful outbound links which increased my knowledge. And hence to increase my knowledge i repeatedly visit your blog to read more. These days in my blogs also i try to add outbound links. I see no harm in that. A reader will appreciate quality of your blog if its worth it and revisit again.
    So happy blogging!
    http://blog.melsscrm.com/

  8. SeoNext says:

    This is really an informative post.May be outbound link is not as effective as inbound links but, those can improve your situation.Thanks for sharing such an important post with us.Really a nice post.

  9. Klodian says:

    I think we absolutely should link to other sites that we mentioned on our posts without any price, because this is respect to others works, and in this way others will respect our work.

  10. Daniele says:

    Great post: I agree.

    And I share the point 8 of the Internet Manifesto: “Links reward, citations adorn”:

    http://www.internet-manifesto.org/

  11. Love your reasons for linking. Would have made the same number one as you have. Relatively new in the blogosphere, it’s comforting to see intrinsic values defended. Those not linking for the sensation you have while linking, why do they bother? They’d be better off, and so would we, if they invested their resources into activity they actually enjoy.

  12. Beth Turnage says:

    I recently found a Facebook entry I had put up to select friends copied, pasted and put up on a site by a colleague without my permission.

    I am not sure what she was thinking when she did this. However, I think it is only common courtesy to link to someone you are talking about in your public posts. In my case, I had several websites she could have chosen to link to that weren’t Facebook. If you don’t, it is as if you were talking about someone behind their back.

    I’m happy to put out links to other blogs. There are usually worthwhile rewards, like link backs and readers checking out your blog too.

  13. Dias says:

    Hi Darren, this is a good article on linking.

    I think the most important aspect of linking to others is the fact that you’re concerned about providing the best to your readers. When you link others in your post, not only are you adding value to others blogs but also providing a stronger depth of information in your post to your readers.

    And linking is the first step towards building relationships with other bloggers.

    Dias
    http://www.diaslu.com/

  14. Darren,

    I always link. Share, share, share. Successful people aren’t afraid of the competition. That is why they are successful :)

    Competitive thinkers miss the idea that everything is built on trust. You gain a reputation based on the helpful things that you do. When you assist someone they’ll remember you. They’ll mention you to their friends, who mentions to other friends, etc. No act of kindness EVER goes unnoticed.

    The more people you help, the larger your network grows.

    These are common sense ideas but the internet has a way of clouding common sense.

    As always, thanks for sharing your insight.

    RB

  15. RhondaL says:

    I like outbound links. I’m trained as a journalist, so I like to cite my source. So much better than using footnotes.

    And I like to give my blogging contacts a shout-out.

    I also have the link open a new window. That way, the new page doesn’t replace my site with the quoted source.

  16. Hi Darren,

    I agree 100%. Every link to another blogger is the start to a new relationship.

    The more I link and share others content, the more I naturally attract.

    I personally think that it’s very web 1.0 to focus on page sculpting only. If content is relevant and if credit is due, then the importance of linking far outways SEO benefits.

  17. I like outbound links. I’m trained as a journalist, so I like to cite my source. So much better than using footnotes.

    And I like to give my blogging contacts a shout-out.

    I also have the link open a new window. That way, the new page doesn’t replace my site with the quoted source.

  18. moonwalker says:

    Thanks darren,i’m agree with that its a great technic to PR our blog.

  19. Linking to other’s blog is good, but you link it with full of respect than it’s the best.

  20. I do give links through comments to my readers but most of the comments I receive on day to day basis are mostly spam.

    It really feel awkward to link to a bad website. It is not good for our visitors.

    BTW, the quotes are great :)

  21. I totally agree with your reasons for linking out, Darren. For all its similarities to traditional publishing, the web offers its own unique benefits that all publishers should take full advantage of, and one of those benefits is linking.

    As stated by yourself and others in the comments, it is a mark of professionalism to link to sources as it offers readers a greater amount of access to resources where they can gather and process more information in order to educate themselves and form their own opinions.

    Linking allows you the opportunity to create relationships with your fellow bloggers and other publishers, which can have positive longterm effects for your own blog and your own career.

    Thank you so much for bringing up this important topic.

  22. Cynthia says:

    Linking to other blogs has helped my blog out so much. It is like building your own little network, we comment on each others blogs almost daily.

  23. Norene says:

    I actually just learned about linking out yesterday, so prior to that I fell into the ignorant category. I think it is a great thing to do — and I have already done it now that I know about it.

  24. ITrush says:

    Another great info here Darren.. Pass that link luv and lets make the web better..

  25. Dan says:

    Thanks for writing this Darren. I think the main problem today is the competition is just so crazy. It sems to be every man or woman for themselves. Very unfortunate! Great Post!

  26. I do attempt to link to quality relevant sites that will provide useful information to my readers, but I must admit, sometimes things are so hectic, it’s usually the last thing I do. The reason I approach it with caution, however, is because I want to keep my readers to myself (greedy-me) – so if they’re going to leave my site, then it better be for something good.

    http://www.twitter.com/krenee76

  27. Renee says:

    I do a link round up once a week to blog posts that I found to be interesting and I also recommend that people leave their links behind in the comment section. I think that as long as you do something like this at least once a week, it helps to build relationships as well shows consideration for the work of other bloggers.

  28. I usually link to the person where I found the content I’m quoting to unless I don’t remember where the information came from.

    I do this because I think it is courteous and also it is a way of blessing the person by possibly sending some traffic and inbound links their way.

  29. I always add the link because it allows the reader to read more about what I talking about.

  30. Great post.

    I include links for the reasons you’ve mentioned and believe it’s like writing a paper in school …. you site your sources! Last week I wrote a blog about Short-Sale Commissions being cut for Real Estate Agents & here’s how I give others credit/links out …. http://www.yourrealtyportal.com/blog/?p=254.

  31. We have had great success using the content of my competition and including and promoting their links and sites. And not only do they thank me but I have received some great gifts.

  32. I have found this perplexing. When is one allowed to quote another’s post without gaining permission. What are the copyright laws? How much can one quote? Please inform me of what the laws are and what is enough to satisfy the laws.

  33. Pat Mullaly says:

    I always link whenever I can and find it not only builds community but helps my blog’s ranking.

  34. I am sure someone has already said this, but I’ll say it anyway…It’s all about Google becoming the big evil twin of M$. They are the monopoly of search engines, and “Page Rank” is the definitive term. So with everyone “struggling” for page rank, and worried about link juice leakage, they don’t link outbound and if they do they do a no follow. Everyone is so worried about page rank and Google’s got everyone’s panties in a wad, it’s a wonder anyone even links out anymore.
    Down with Google!!
    Viva la……uhmm…huhm…something. :)
    hahahahaha

  35. Carolyn says:

    Great post and topic. My rule of thumb: If the person I am quoting is among the living, I love link. If they have left this world, I don’t do too much linking! Just love ‘em!

  36. I totally agree with the quote you put up by Matt Cutts. So many people are totally focused on links in or out and do follow and nofollow that they aren’t trying to put up great content. It is a shame that the main way google has of judging a websit is by the number of incoming links.

  37. After all, in a world without search engines, naturally one has to link to other sites for providing more and better information for the readers. Now, the interesting point is that search engines approve this as well.

    It’s not only inbound links that help your SEO score. You have to provide outbound links as well. Algorithms have also recommended this. Again, I think one should be doing it in a moderate way.

  38. I learned one thing new here which is “PageRank Sculpting”
    Now i am going to read more about this.
    Thanks for another great post.

  39. Cynthia says:

    I link out when it makes sense to and will continue to do it because I agree with you that it makes the web better!

  40. Plagiarism and SEO issues aside, I believe it also gives more credibility if you link to credible sources of your information. With so many people that have so much to say, I like blogs that can validate their information.

  41. Madcap says:

    1. Competition
    This is the number one factor that I see. It’s actually been an issue with me lately. I have been seeing videos that took me years to gather, often videos that were in the back dumpster on Youtube, showing up on blogs that are on a blog ring that I joined. Not one link back! I started leaving comments about it and it stopped.

  42. I link to other websites, just my own ;). I think it is good to link to places like Wiki, and other sites because it provides some sort of documentation of what you are talking about. I like to prove facts and I know Wiki isn’t the best place, but it is a start.

  43. Cyndi says:

    I link out as a common courtesy. If I’m quoting someone I believe it’s simply polite to include a link the the source.

    It also adds credibility in that it proves that I’m not misquoting or making it up.

  44. Brian says:

    I’m a firm believer in using outbound links. That’s why I was so surprised to see the Vegemite.com.au privacy policy stating “You are also prohibited from linking the Site to another website in any way whatsoever” after wanting to post about them. Go figure!!!

  45. Paul Hassing says:

    Man, are we on the same tram or what?!
    I agree with everything you’ve said and would add just two things I’ve learned online this year:
    1. The pie is infinite.
    2. You can’t give good away.
    Ace post, Darren. Many thanks! Best regards, P. :)

  46. Robin says:

    Thank you for this post. Have bloggers forgotten about a little thing called Plagiarism? Does that only apply to Newspapers?

    My site is a mixed bag review hub. I wasn’t even supposed to develop it as I need to be working on one of my niche blogs, however, I just love researching and writing about different subjects. There are so many awesome creative blogs out there that sometimes I feel swamped and forget where they are. So I’m left with “oh, where was that great article, I’d like to include it”.

    I really would love to have some guest posters and would welcome including their link. Or send me an article you wrote that you like and I will include a link. I am just very swamped right now and not able to get to all the different subjects I started (why didn’t I stick with a niche!). But I feel responsible to my readers and can’t let them down even if it means promoting others blogs. The good thing is, I want to be able to find those great blogs again myself! So send me your interesting stuff!

    I really get a little put-off when I have taken the time to comment on another’s blog to help them build comments, only to find that they turned off the commentluv on “my” comment (I was not promoting anything) but yet kept it on for one of their “buddies”.
    Especially if they “asked” permission to include an article I did, I graciously said of course, then they do not give any reference?

    Giving permission DOES NOT MEAN MAKE IT YOUR OWN!
    Please, writing is work, be respectful!

  47. mike says:

    A big site linking to yours can help you get more traffic forever. It helps in long run to have a lot of little sites linking also to yours.

  48. The Nester says:

    I didn’t read all the comments but there are times when I haven’t linked to people I mention. Usually when it’s someone that I consider so incredibly famous that I {probably mistakenly?} assume everyone knows who I’m talking about like Pioneer Woman or Martha or Problogger….

    This was a good reminder for me. Oh and you’ll be happy to know that I just checked on an old post where I mentioned you and I had already linked. Phew. I have to admit, I was surprised–since in my world you are so famous and all that I assume everyone has you in their reader.

  49. Rolex says:

    Good entry, finally some useful and practical advice from the guys themselves.

  50. John says:

    I believe in giving credit where credit is due and always cite my sources. It doesn’t hurt to drop the occasional link to friends in a post either.

    I’ve come across quite a few bloggers who won’t link out because they believe their links have a value they can exploit somehow.