Backlinks and link building are often the focus of most SEO conversations, but what about the ying to building links’ yang? Does external linking help with SEO?
I’ve made this small tweak to outbound links in recent articles and it has been working like crazy to receive floods of traffic from Google.
I’m talking about adding references, citations and outbound links to your content, but perhaps not how you’ve been taught before.
And the best part? I’ll show you how you can quickly do this using AI and turn AI’s biggest “weakness” – fact checking – into its biggest strength.
Quick Intro – If you don’t know me, my name is Altug (pronounced AL-2) and I run Yukari SEO. I’ve been successfully growing my client’s websites and my own using SEO since 2007.
Look, as SEO’s, we’re stingy about linking out to other websites.
I get it. Why do you want to risk someone leaving your website to go elsewhere?
Or you might be scared about diluting the authority of your page and sending it somewhere else? (a myth)
And in the past, this has led to SEO-bro advice like “Just link to a random irrelevant Wikipedia page towards the end of your article, bro”.
But, you can do better than that.
Not only can you use external links to be helpful to your readers and add trust by providing evidence to back up your points, but in my recent experience, when done right, you can get large rank and traffic boners like this..
…well, I guess that’s more like a semi..but you get the picture (yes, I probably need to grow up).
In fact, since I’ve been using this method of outbound linking in my recent articles, they have already become the highest traffic generators on my site, even though they’re the latest articles.
Outbound Link Myths
But first, Let’s quickly look at some outbound link myths to set you at ease about linking out:
You should “nofollow” links
When Google started penalising large, mainstream websites like Forbes in 2011, not only for suspicion of purchasing links from other sites, but also SELLING links, SEO’s lost their collective s***.
They either stopped linking out completely or started adding the “no follow” tag to any outbound links.
But this is completely unnecessary for most outbound links that point to a solid citation or source.
You’d only do it for
- affiliate links
- or other types of links like login pages etc
I personally don’t use the “nofollow” tag when citing sources and have only seen positive results.
That’s probably because I completely trust where I’m linking out to as a source (more on this a little later)
Another reason some SEO’s add the no-follow tag or don’t link out at all, is because they felt like linking out would dilute their pagerank or leak their own page authority to the linked website.
This is outdated thinking and I’ll show you why, next.
Why are outbound links so important for SEO?
Let’s switch gears and take a look at why external links actually work really well for SEO.
Now, of course, it’s difficult to pin down just HOW much outbound links factor into Google’s ranking algorithm, but there are definite clues that show a strong, positive correlation that it’s an important signal.
The highest ranking websites link out…A LOT
A study by Northcutt found, on average, top ranking pages have between 56 and 171 outbound links!
Crazy right, although I’d take this with a pinch of salt as sites like Wikipedia are surely included in this chart.
They have many top rankings and their whole model is based off of outbound citations…but then again, so is the entire internet.
There’s a reason it’s called the world wide web..because it is created through pages linking to other pages, both internally and externally.
But if you had any apprehension about linking out to other websites (and multiple times), that stat should go some way to squashing it.
More tests confirming the importance of outbound links
An experiment by Shai Aharony’s team at Reboot (1), also found that 5 brand new domains ranked higher for the same keyword with outbound links vs their other 5 brand new domains where they didn’t externally link out.
You can read all about the test, here.
The Hilltop Algorithm (2) was bought by Google in 2003.
You can see the influence this algorithm still has today. Check out this explanation of Hilltop;
“it looks at the relationship between the “expert” and “authority” pages: an “expert” is a page that links to many other relevant documents; an “authority” is a page that has links pointing to it from the “expert” pages.
Where have I heard Expertise and Authority before…?
EEAT – Build Expertise and Trust
That’s right. Expertise and Authority are two parts of the more recent EEAT guidelines and outbound linking is directly given credit for building expertise i.e. “a page that links to many other relevant documents”.
The Google Webmaster blog also credits “clear sourcing” as one of the ways to build up the “Trust” portion of your EEAT.
You’ve no doubt heard of PageRank; the system that ranks the importance of a page based on the number and quality of links it receives.
But have you heard of CheiRank? It’s basically the ying to PageRank’s yang.
Now, you can deep dive into how the algorithm calculates this if you want…
or we can take Kevin Indig’s simple explanation that “the idea of CheiRank is to measure the strength of outgoing links from a page”
Google having a system in place to measure the strength of outgoing links should give you an indication of how important it is to not only use outbound links, but to make sure they are of high quality.
I’m going to show you exactly how I do this…right now
How to properly use external links for a big SEO boost
There are a few different ways I link out, each with solid results, but I’ve found one that I like best, which gives you all of the benefits, and resolves the concern of somebody clicking away from your content early.
3 outbound linking methods you can use (plus my favorite way)
These 3 external linking methods all work well to help send signals to Google that you’re an expert. They have their pros and cons but my favorite way (the 3rd method) has very few, depending on your niche:
Link out to authorities with descriptive anchor text to backup your point
This is the official “best practice” for outbound links according to the Google Webmaster blog.
Use descriptive anchor text so that the user knows what to expect when they click on your outbound link, similar to your internal links.
But, they also use the term “if it’s not too much trouble..”, so we’re not getting the sense this matters too much to Google.
They also go on to say, besides linking to spammy sites, just use common sense and not a complicated formula when outbound linking.
I think this is a little vague and unhelpful as Google’s official communication often is.
A quick tip if you are using this method (and any of these outbound linking methods), is to set your outbound link to “open in new tab”, so your content remains in the reader’s browser.
Non-descriptive anchor text to non-competing sites (Matt Diggity affiliate method)
One of my favouite SEO’s, Matt Diggity, recommends in his affiliate Lab course to use outbound links in a way that minimizes the chances of a user clicking on them, especially on your money pages (like affiliate review pages).
You would make the outbound anchor text something that the reader isn’t curious about clicking.
So, if you’re linking out to an authority to back up your point that “eating gummy bears cause diabetes within 1.35 years”, your anchor text in that sentence would be something like “diabetes”.
The theory here is that your reader already knows what “diabetes” is and wouldn’t be curious enough to click on the link.
This is smart..if a little bit gray hat (if you give a sh*t about SEO hats).
I’ve used this successfully and it still works.
In fact, this is the method I’ve used to link out from my first and third highest traffic-generating blog posts. Here are some examples of external links from those pages:
Overall, it makes sense for pages where you want to keep your clicks on your site like:
- product review pages
- BOFU content
- product pages
Vancouver Style Referencing (My favorite)
Vancouver style referencing is my favourite way that solves the issue of keeping clicks on your site, while still proving your expertise and providing a good user experience .
Vancouver style references are citations marked in your text with numbers. These numbers appear in parentheses.
Then, at the bottom of your content, you’d have a list of references and outbound links that correspond to each number in your article.
This is the method used most commonly in the medical sciences but I believe it can work in most niches online, since, there are journals and studies about almost anything.
..you name it, there’s usually a journal about it.
I’ve started using this method of outbound linking almost exclusively now, like in this article below that is the second highest traffic generating article on my website:
Just be sure to make the link to the reference clickable.
But, I hear you ask, why not use the “non-descriptive” linking method you used on the page that generates the highest amount of traffic..?
Why use this method of outbound linking?
Glad you asked. The reason I prefer Vancouver referencing is because the article that was the highest organic traffic generating article on my site was about whether gummy sweets fit into a certain category, where as THIS second highest traffic generating article with Vancouver referencing is about a parasitic disease in humans. (Yes, I promise there is topical relevance on my domain for the two articles to exist!)
Think about the amount of EEAT required to even rank on the topic of human disease?
This article drives nearly 400 clicks a month to my website which has a tiny domain authority of 10.
For articles that require this much expertise, authority and trust, I’d go with Vancouver Style Referencing.
But, ultimately it’s completely dependent on the niche and the content type.
It’s up to you to decide which linking method is most suitable for the content piece in question.
Which sources should you externally link out to?
There are a few, almost guaranteed high-authority and low-risk websites or sources that you can outbound link to.
Here’s what I recommend and why.
Studies in journals
As I mentioned earlier, besides the obvious journals about health, you’ll be shocked at just how many journals exist across even the most obscure niches.
These journals usually have insane authority, and an unlimited amount of interesting information that are rarely competing against your website in search engines.
Use these to back up your points and make interesting observations that another article in the top 10 might not be.
It’s a piece of cake to cite from a journal too.
Simply use their “cite” feature and copy the citation.
Just don’t forget to include a clickable link back to the study page.
Government and Education websites
Government and .edu websites almost always have high authority and provide factual information or stats on a variety of topics.
For example, interesting statistics about the local area or country.
Sites like Statista.com, have interesting statistics all the way from veganism to revenues in football and a huge domain authority of 93.
Almost every niche has some form of governing body or authority. You can link to a relevant page on these websites.
Just be careful because some governing body websites have terrible upkeep.
I’ve seen some who don’t even use the https protocol.
You can link out to a brand in the niche if it has some authority, has a good reputation and is relevant to your article.
For example, here I have an article about “bleach” and I’m referencing a page on Clorox:
On another, I link to the candy brand I’m writing about, using their brand name as anchor text:
Authority blogs or sites
As a last resort, if you can’t find a suitable reference from journals, government or statistic sites, then you can link to a high authority site or blog in the niche.
Though, if it’s a competitor in the niche, there’s something you need to be wary of which I’m going to explain in the next section..
Who shouldn’t you externally link out to?
There are some sources I would avoid externally/outbound linking to:
Competitors or competing articles
Think about it, if you’re trying to write THE best piece on “the benefits of gummy bears”, why would you send Google a signal that another piece of content with the exact same intent is THE authority by linking to it as one of your references?
Link to a source that is related to the broader topic but with different search intent.
For example, instead of linking to another article about “the benefits of gummy bears”, talk about their taste and link to an interesting study about how different ingredients affect the taste of gummy bears:
Low quality or spam sites
Check the website you’re linking out to. If it’s spammy or generally poor quality, you don’t want your site associated with it.
This is obvious, right? You’re the average of all the friends you keep company with, and all that jazz.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with outbound linking to Wikipedia, this was just lazy, typical SEO bro advice back in the day.
The odd link to Wikipedia is fine, but don’t rely on it as your only source of outbound links.
Wikipedia tip for outbound linking
Here’s a Wikipedia “hack” you can use for outbound links.
Wikipedia is an information hub built entirely from external citations.
Visit the wikipedia page you want and just go one step further by clicking on their Vancouver style references (the number inside the parenthesis), which will take you to the bottom of the page to see the exact reference they’re using.
Now you can copy and use THEIR references directly.
How to use AI to find quality outbound references quickly
The above advice all seems like so much work, just to find an outbound link. How can we speed this up?
Of course, by using AI! I like to use Perplexity.ai to find references quickly.
The best part about Perplexity is…
- It’s FREE
- It turns AI’s biggest weakness (hullucinating and pulling facts out of its backside) and turns it into its biggest strength
To start with, prompt the AI asking it to look for studies or statistics about your given topic.
In my example, I’m writing content about “creatine causing gastrointestinal problems” and I want stats showing how many people globally suffer with GI problems.
At the end of its response, perplexity will give you links to its sources. you want to look for direct references to journals like pubmed/NIH, rather than referencing websites like Healthline or blogs.
One little tip if you don’t see a journal or government or statistics site referenced, is to click through to these blogs or authority sites and see if THEY’VE referenced a journal in their content and grab it directly! (see below)
Ask Perplexity follow up questions if you don’t get what you need the first time.
And that’s it, your quick, easy and free way to fact check and find the highest quality outbound links to help send SEO signals that you’re professional and care about providing proof for what you say and your expertise.
Wrap-up and external linking caveats for SEO
Before we wrap up, as with most findings in SEO, it’s impossible to say that my method of outbound links was the CAUSE of these results.
But, in my experience, there is a strong correlation between my articles ranking well and using many, high quality sources as outbound links.
Mini external linking SEO case study
Here’s another interesting look at my previous client in a difficult YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) niche (you can see the skin clinic SEO case study for this client on my site), as well as a video on my YouTube channel..
I quit the agency where I worked with this client at the start of 2022…but as you can see from their stats today, even after the 2023 September helpful content update, all of their highest performing content pieces are STILL pieces that we were responsible for producing.
Why is that?
Well, whoever is working on the website now doesn’t seem to be using any internal or outbound links at all.
While this likely isn’t the ONLY reason, it’s all the more reason to add ALL the ranking signals to your content, including outbound links.
Test each method of outbound linking yourself. Go back and include them in your old content and let me know in the comments.
Or if you have a different method of outbound linking that is absolutely crushing it, I want to know about it.
(1) STUDY – OUTGOING LINKS USED AS RANKING SIGNAL – https://www.rebootonline.com/blog/long-term-outgoing-link-experiment/
(2) Hilltop: A Search Engine based on Expert Documents
Krishna Bharat. Compaq, Systems Research Center, Palo Alto, CA 94301
(Current Address: Google Inc., 2400 Bayshore Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043) https://ftp.cs.toronto.edu/pub/reports/csri/405/hilltop.html