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Using Relevant External Links to Boost SEO

SEO is comprised of many different interlaying factors. Quality content presides above all else, but is invaluably supplemented by keywords, meta tags, alt tags, H1 headers, inbound links, and one factor that is often forgotten: external links.

Some small business owners are skeptical when it comes to external links boosting their own SEO. If a link takes my reader elsewhere, doesn't it serve a negative purpose?

The answer may surprise you.

The benefit of external linking

It's understandable that external links are a commonly overlooked SEO strategy. Sure, its simple to see the benefit of other websites linking to your site, but what direct benefit do you gain from linking to their websites?

Lets look at it from the perspective of user interest. Users respond to content that is enriching, relevant, and above all else, helpful. Search engines also with to supply users with content that is helpful.

Helpful content is constructed with what we like to call "dynamic substance" - a variety of substances that provide great value to your user. External links to credible, reliable sources that boost the quality content you've already made adds a great deal of value to your users, and thereby Google recognizes your website as valuable as well.

Types of external links

The external links you create can come in a variety of forms. One of the most effective tactics is to develop content that allows for seamless links directly within the content itself. There are, however, a wide variety of other ways to include external links within your content:

  • Guest Posts: Invite a guest to add some content on your website in exchange for external links to their own website
  • Brand Mentions: Are you mentioning an external brand in your content? Link to their main site.
  • Infographics: Share an infographic from another website (with permission, of course) and link back to its original source.
  • Resource Lists: Include a list of related resources at the bottom of your article, with hyperlinked titles and potentially a brief description
  • External documents: Referencing a scholarship or press release? Link them.

How to present your external links

The success of your external links, of course, depends on the way you present them. External links can easily be perceived as spam, especially if the content is not obviously connected to yours.  In those cases, you'll likely see inevitable damage to your SEO.  

The Vertical Measures blog describes "natural vs. spammy" links as such:

[I]f your website is geared towards sports, it would make sense to link out to other authoritative and relevant sport sites and pages that can enhance your visitor’s experience; whereas including a link to a dentist’s office would seem out of place (unless somehow the connection is legitimate).

Additionally, when sending your users to another location, make sure you do so in a way that isn't in any way confusing. Making a list of URLs at the bottom of your article, for example, doesn't give your reader much indication of what each URL will provide them.

Instead, link your URLs either in context of your content or with a hyperlinked descriptive title or phrase.

The bottom line?

Sharing other content supports your own image as a helpful resource. If you share the love, then not only to users appreciate it, your linked websites appreciate it too. Maybe they'll return the favor again someday.

Unsure how to utilize external links on your website? Don't hesitate to send us an email or give us a call. We'll be happy to help.

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Jason Finn

Founder & Chief Geek

Jason has nearly 20 years of consulting experience, predominantly in the technology space. Most recently he was the COO and Director of Technology for Rich Casto & Company, a national training and consulting organization in the real estate industry.
As a consultant for IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Envision Consulting Group (now IMS Health), Jason has served clients of all sizes, including Big Pharma, Fortune 500, and Global 1000 companies:

  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • AOL (America Online)
  • Astellas Pharmaceuticals
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Ford Motor Credit
  • Wockhardt USA (formerly Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals)
  • Norwich Union
  • PNC Bank
  • Reynolds and Reynolds

Sarunas Budrikas

Creative Director

Sarunas is a web design and development expert with hundreds of successful projects in his portfolio. He is passionate about delivering extraordinary user experiences for every client and consistently goes above and beyond everyone’s expectations. As an SEO expert and strategist, he can optimize your website, or app, to get the most out of it, day in and day out. Sarunas holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kaunas Technology University, in Lithuania. Sarunas now lives in Chicago, and calls it home.

Alexandra Olsavsky

Client Experience Specialist

Alex specializes in content generation and social media promotion for Geek | Chicago clients, helping to solidify their presence in the online community. This includes blog writing, graphic design, co-ordination and design of weekly newsletters, and active engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Outside of Geek, Alex is a classically-trained soprano who professionally performs around the city of Chicago (most recently with the Chicago Baroque Band, and with the Rolling Stones for their "50 and Counting" tour).