Gavin Hirst - Wednesday 29th May 2013

To follow or no follow – that is the question!

As you will no doubt be well aware, links are one of the biggest indicators to Google and other search engines about the quality of content on your site. The more quality links you have pointing to your site the better this is seen by Google in terms of your ranking on the search engine results pages (SERPs). In previous posts, we have looked at ways to successfully build backlinks to your site and in this post, we are going to take a look at the importance of links that point from your site to external sites.

Why would I have external links on my site?

An external link is any link on your site that points to another site on the web. When people visit your site, you are looking to give them the best possible experience and access to all the information they are looking for in one place. For many companies, linking to external sites is a crucial element of providing the customer with a good experience.

External links are varied and are very dependent on the content on your site. For some sites, they may not be relevant at all, however for most, they play some part in helping a user to navigate to the information they are looking for. They can take the shape of direct links to relevant information contained on other website, links to interesting blog articles, links to news items – pretty much anything that is relevant to the content you are adding.

What are the benefits of external links?

Google likes to see sites that contain relevant links. You will notice that we once again come back to the word ‘relevant’. When we add external links to our site, Google likes to see that they are pointing to something that is going to improve the user experience so if our site is talking about red widgets, it likes to see that we are pointing to other sites that are talking about red widgets.

To follow or not to follow?

Whenever you add an external link to your website, you give away a little bit of the Page Authority and Domain Authority that you have built up by creating engaging and relevant content. There was a time when this was seen a bad thing to do – giving away your link juice is a bit like giving away some of your ice cold beer on a warm day – you really don’t want to but sometimes it’s good to see the bigger picture.

By adding the ‘rel=nofollow’ tag to external links, you ensure that you don’t give away any of your precious link juice, but at the same time, you’re also telling Google that you don’t trust the site you’re linking to and telling the spiders not to follow that link. This is definitely a good tactic if the site you are linking to does not have a good page rank or is not trusted, however if you are linking to a trusted and high ranking site, giving away that little bit of link juice will see you repaid in kind. This is also a good thing to do with paid links or sponsorships, as obvious links that appear in the footer or side panel of every page can see you and your sponsors both negatively effected.

Trusted sites

There are a couple of big questions to ask yourself when you add an external link to your site – what is the benefit to the user? And do I trust the site I am linking to. Trusted sites are usually those that carry a high Domain Authority, are well established and those that don’t engage with black hat SEO activity such as link farming. The question is, how do you know whether a site can be trusted? Maybe you are linking to a well established site that has recently engaged a dodgy SEO company who are carrying out black hat actions on their behalf. Deciding on what a trusted site is and what isn’t is a tricky business and that is where we can help at Digital Hothouse.

Depth linking

One other thing to consider when linking to external sites, but also when requesting reciprocal links, is where that link is coming from within the site structure. Links that go out from a low level page (i.e. 3 clicks from the home page) carry less weight when linking to a higher level page on another site than those that are found at the same level. Therefore, a link from a lower level page carries little benefit to you if you are on the receiving end and gives little benefit to the recipient if you are linking out from your own site.

Link with caution

Whenever you add an external link, make sure you do your research into the site you are linking to. But not only that, you need to make sure you monitor these external links on an ongoing basis as what is trusted and above board today, may change in the next 6-12 months and beyond.

We can help you to monitor and maintain your external links at Digital Hothouse and make sure you are getting the most not only out of inbound links, but also your outbound links. Our advice would be, if you are not sure, no follow the link as a link to a dodgy site can cost you far more than withholding some of your link juice in the long run.

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