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|Outbound links harmful or not?|
Is the "boost" in Google worth losing visitors?
during all these months here at Webmasterworld, it seemed an undisputed truth that having outbound links in Google to authoritive sites will increase your ranking.
Also, in terms of link-building, you obviously can't get much backlinks if you are not linking out.
Recently I read a book on advertising/pr in general, and the author also covered websites. He made a very strong point of NEVER EVER linking to other sites because that's the surest way of driving visitors away.
I emailed the auhtor, assuming he only has marginal knowledge of SEO, and expained what I learned over the years to be the reason for having outbound links.
He replied to me and it seems he has a fairly good understanding of SEO. And again he claimed to have NO outbound link is the best idea!
So... I'm puzzled. All YOU guys telling me to have outbound links is important. But now I get a very sound description why it is harmful.
What are your thoughts?
[edited by: martinibuster at 3:17 pm (utc) on Aug. 3, 2004]
[edit reason] No urls, thanks. See TOS [webmasterworld.com] [/edit]
It's a little strange that an "authority" on SEO would so vehemently put down outbound links. I've never heard of such a thing - there are theories that outbound links reduce your pagerank due to pagerank filtering down, but nothing so drastic as you mention.
Outbound links to related websites show that your site provides good content and resources not only on your own site but to other websites as well.
Though your post puts me in a bit of a quandry and I've got a faint question mark hovering my head, it's not enough for me to pull my outbound links off.
I've noticed a couple of pages on my site in particular (with 0 inbound links,weak content but lots of "related" outbound links) which do very well for the targetted keywords (and these are keywords in a moderately competitive area). So just from experience, I wouldn't take that piece of advice.
>during all these months here at Webmasterworld, it seemed an undisputed truth that having outbound links in Google to authoritive sites will increase your ranking.
I dispute this. I don't believe this will help rankings. Shouldn't hurt though.
Then why are directories dominating Google's SERPs? Directories have huge numbers of outbound links and seem to be benefitting. I think Google wants people to have outbound links; otherwise nobody would be passing on PR and PR would be useless.
This author's conclusion may be true for E-Commerce websites (arguably), but is riduculous to suggest for all websites. For informational websites, having no outbound links is kind of like having a scholarly book with no sources.
>> Directories have huge numbers of outbound links
Look at their site structure, internal anchor text etc.
>Then why are directories dominating Google's SERPs? Directories have huge numbers of outbound links and seem to be benefitting.
Possibly because the pages have high PR, and the search terms tend to appear on the page? I have a window open on a single word SERP where the PR6 ODP cat page about that isn't even in the top 10. Yet a Wikipedia page has managed to get to #11, ahead of the ODP cat at #18. I see too many exceptions to directories ranking well in Google to support the theory outbound links are what is important.
You know, not too long ago, my bosses told me I was NOT to engage in a link campaign cause we would lose visitors who would just click on those links and leave our site and never return. I asked for advice here to see what I could tell them that would persuade them that outbound links won't cause us to lose visitors in droves.
Someone told me that the Internet is a WEB consisting of sites being linked to and linking to other sites. Good point! A site can't be a solitary island and expect to get anywhere!
Someone else said that the only thing that can keep a person on a website is...take a guess....GOOD CONTENT. TERRIFIC point! You can have 10000 links on a site with killer content and not lose people. If there isn't a reason for them to go elsewhere, they won't.
I would not even put much faith in that advertizing/PR guy when it comes to "the real world", much less to the internet.
Let's suppose you go into your local hardware store looking for a certain plumbing fixture that they do not have. Which reply is likely to have you leaving that store feeling better about them.
"Check the plumbing supply house on Main Street. They are the only one's that would carry that part."
"Nope. Sorry, it is against store policy to refer you to other stores."
His advice *might* be reasonable when it comes to worrying about making a sale to the customer while they are in your store, but it does noting to help your reputation and your long term business outlook.
And I quite honestly don't think that it will help your single visitor sales very much either. Finding another store online is easier than finding one in the real world, and anyone that is shopping around is already going to see plenty of other sites. Those that are going to buy in whatever store they are in, will not bother to follow those links.
The real issue is traffic flow. If you choose your link partners wisely you'll ALWAYS receive more traffic from them than they get from you. ALWAYS.
My views :-
1) Outbound links can help you in your on page SEO.
2) Outbound links can be harmful in losing your traffic.
For example, it would be insane to have outbound links in your shopping cart. You might drive your visitors away.
One of the most compelling arguments for outbound links (at least the old guns over here preach) is to increase the site stickiness.
There are so many different aspects to consider, that I would not have a firm yes or no to outbound links. In each case I would analyse the end objective and then take a decision.
For what its worth, I have found statement 1 & 2 both to be true.
A UK test site, masses and masses of outbound links.
Gets hits every day as No.1 in G where the searcher is searching for US real estate by name and town, and in one case by the name of the building and the town.
Take your choice gentlemen.
It has been beneficial to us, as far as rankings go.
If an outbound link is appropriate for the page then just do it we reckon (with a new window perhaps). People know I think if they are trapped in a site so just try and make the site as useful as possible and some will come back. A bit naive OK, but think long term.
Outbound links help SEs determine what your pages are about - in other words, linking to pages about "widgets" from your "history of widgets" page is telling the search engines (and your visitors) - "these other sites are related to this page".
It comes down to numbers. Outbound links can improve your rankings if you do it the right way. For insight on how to do it right, read this paper from Google labs: "Learning to probabilistically identify authoritative documents [citeseer.nj.nec.com]." However, outbound links carry more weight with Yahoo and MSN.
So if your site gets 1000 more visitors a day because your outbound links helped improve your page's ranking in the SERPs, then you should evaluate if your revenue increases or decreases then make your decision.
As an extreme example, if you become number one in the SERPs because of outbound links, and you weren't on the map prior to implementing them, then your revenue will probably have increased because of them.
In short, there is no general rule. A PR/advertising person who has not seen your numbers cannot possibly know what is best for your site.
If you sale things such as PS2 games and link to an another site that sales PS2 games that's just not smart, but let's say you sale PS2 games and you link to an another site that sales PS2 accessories that's smart and will help your visitors.
Will it help you in your ranking, in some cases it does help and sometimes it doesn't.
To use robots example of PS2 games - I would link to a "cheats" site - a Playstation forum, video game reviews site and the official Sony site.
On-target, qualified links doesn't necessarily mean direct competitors.
In a perfect world, I would probably try to own the forum, the cheats site and the video games reviews site that i was linking to - which of course would have different whois info, different hosting, etc, but that's just me :)
At the best of times, only a certain percentage of your traffic will actually buy something from you, so you have little to lose by trading links with intelligently selected sites.
In some of my own recent shopping experience, the fact that a certain widgets site pointed me to some great widget accessories sites helped to confirm my decision to buy a widget. I left the first widget site, even abandoned a shopping cart, but when I came back later I had my credit card ready.
I have never understood the reluctance to link to direct competitors. I do it all the time with several sites and it serves me very well.
First of all, if you choose your link partners carefully, you will ALWAYS receive more traffic from them than you send to them.
The inbound link using laser-targeted anchor text will help boost your search engine rankings which brings in even more traffic. And theming? You simply can't get a more "on-theme" link than one from a direct competitor.
The best part of all? The traffic you receive from a directly competing website is the most laser-targeted you will ever get. After all, they just left a site that offers exactly the same thing you offer so there is a darn good chance they're looking for precisely what you're offering. Talk about high conversion rates!
I've been exchanging links with my competitors for 3 years now, and virtually every month my page views, sales, and profits increase (taking into account seasonal traffic variations).
Ironically, the hard part of course is finding direct competitors that are willing to do an exchange with me because I'm running out of potential desirable linking partners in my market sectors.
And of course most webmasters refuse to link to me as a direct competitor anyway. But when I do find a high-quality candidate that accepts my offer it ALWAYS pays off handsomely.
This obviously applies to reciprocal linking only.
If the outbound link will help your visitors accomplish whatever it is that they hope to accomplish, put in a link.
If it won't, don't bother. Even better, don't bother, and figure out what *would* help them.
>> the reluctance to link to direct competitors
I do .. its called adsense.
Wow! I'm stunned on the sheer amount if replies I got since yesterday. Unfortunately, my initial post was very much altered by the moderator. I pointed to a reference on the web, which examined in a very scientific way the Page-Rank algorithm of Google, and how it is affected by outbound links. This study came to the conclusion that from a pure mathematical approach, outbound links WILL decrease the PR of pages.
Thanks for all the replies. Trying to summarize them I come up with these items:
The "grassroots" statement: the web is all about links, and not putting links up is perverting the very idea of the web.
Even though I sympathize with this statement, I think in todays "business web" it's a bit romantic. The statement might be valid for many types of websites in the private, scientific, educational and charity sector. As the ultimate argument for business websites it makes not much sense to me. My understanding of the goal of a business website is: to be found easily (ideally without even asking a search engine at all because the web-address is so self evident) and to be convincing to potential customers in order to generate sales. If I can reach BOTH(!) without a single outbound link - so be it. If I need outbound links to reach this goal - just as well.
The "placing into context" statement: by using outbound links, you place your own page into a context of other pages, in order to make it easier for SE's to produce on-topic SERPS.
Makes sense to me, but makes me question my own practice of outbound links. For example I use outbound links in customer testimonials, to add credibility to these success stories. In the light of the statement above, this measn I have a lot of non-contextual outbound links, ranging from cable-tv providers to pharmaceutical companies, and from ship-builders to aerial survey companies.
This statement comes with a sub-statement:
The "be careful what you link to" statement: in a highly competitive industry, you obviously don't want to link to your direct competitor, since this will drive vsitors away. It is better to link to related or complimentary sites, especially if it is yourself who has control over these sites.
In a not-as-competitive area, or if you have some very unique selling points, it might be a smart idea however to link to your direct competition. But you need to be damn sure what you are doing.
Sounds like a good scenario for the typical runner-up: linking to the #1 shows guts, but also brings accross that obviosuly you think your service/products/offerings/prices are superior.
Unfortunately, this doesn't wor for me: I can't link to complimentary products since we cover all there is to sell in our industry. And even though our products are superior they are also the most expensive ones so I haven't had the guts to link to our competition because we live in a very cost-dominated period, and unfortunately people show a recent tendency to go to the second-best product if it costs less.
The "outbound links will hurt in any case" statement: not surprising to me it was not voiced very much in this thread.
I chuckled a bit when I read that in another case it was also the CEO who forbid to place outbound links. My experience also showed that when outbound links are concerned CEO's/presidents/owners seem to act rather emotional. I - too - faced a straightforward "No, I don't want outbound links" from my CEO and it took me quite some convincing work to do before he gave in.
Still, might they have a point? I tried to analyze my own surfing behaviour, but when it comes to actual buying, I still maintain a lot of trust to suppliers I know already. And I am a typical person who spends a lot of time evaluating demo-versions (in software), then decides for a product, and then shops for the cheapest reseller around (which includes ebay).
So.... my initial question "Do outbound links hurt?" doesn't seem to have an easy answer. The overall majority so far says it doesn't hurt - and most said it helps.
Anybody wants to tell a story where outbound links actually provided catatstrophic results?
[edited by: pmkpmk at 10:09 am (utc) on Aug. 4, 2004]
|The inbound link using laser-targeted anchor text will help boost your search engine rankings which brings in even more traffic. |
I have extreme difficulties in convincing my link-partners to use exactly the anchor text I provided.
When I send them something like:
Please note that <a href="http://www.company.com">the best widgets around are available from Company.com</a>
They usually set it up like:
Other sites of interest:
Try getting them to use "Widgets by [your comapny name]"
"[your company name] widgets" etc.
We've had some good success with that ;-)
That's one reason why domains with their keyword(s) in them are so successful in the search engines.
pmkpmk Can you please PM me the website or name of this author - I would like to see how they have SEOed their own pages.
|I pointed to a reference on the web, which examined in a very scientific way the Page-Rank algorithm of Google, and how it is affected by outbound links. |
When in doubt I look at what WebmasterWorld has done, like this link [to google in this case] [google.com]. No outgoing links at all, all sent to a WebmasterWorld page that forwards the viewer to the site without actually linking to the site. All page rank flows into WebmasterWorld from thousands of links, none flows out. That's leaving aside the whole pagerank discussion.
This is very easy to do, and you can select which sites to link to directly and which indirectly. To me it really depends on what kind of site you have in terms of whether to link out or not, although for an ecommerce site linking to the manufactor website, for example, seems pretty useful, whereas linking to a competitor is obviously not a very good idea.
Well, I think WW is not an ordinary webpage. It is not a household address as microsoft.com or adobe.com, but nevertheless its a very prominent site on the web.
Actually I guess WW gets MORE visitors from word-of-mouth than from SERPS.
So I think pagerank and SERP-positioning is more or less irrevelant for WW.
My site however is not like WW, so I need good SERPS and in consequence good PR.
|Actually I guess WW gets MORE visitors from word-of-mouth than from SERPS. |
So I think pagerank and SERP-positioning is more or less irrevelant for WW.
I'd question this statement, I would guess the overwhelming number of new WebmasterWorld users come from search engines, something I've seen alluded to many times here. The entire structure of this site is designed to pull in high SERPs, the admins know what they are doing.
|its a very prominent site on the web |
I never heard of WebmasterWorld before I found it in repeated searches, SERPS and finally noticing that the site I was coming into for my search was WebmasterWorld. When I've mentioned the site to slightly tech oriented friends they haven't heard of it unless they already use it.
I would suggest it's just as important here as it is to you, or to most of us, you bring new users into non destination sites [destinations like google, msn, yahoo being spread by advertizing and word of mouth] through search engines.
|The "grassroots" statement: the web is all about links, and not putting links up is perverting the very idea of the web. |
Even though I sympathize with this statement, I think in todays "business web" it's a bit romantic. The statement might be valid for many types of websites in the private, scientific, educational and charity sector.
It's also valid for Web publishers with editorial or "content" sites. And yes, there are a few of us here at Webmaster World. :-)
BTW, I've noticed that some big-name business sites do use outbound links. I regularly get traffic from a major luggage manufacturer and an airline that have linked to my site without being asked to do so.
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