External links: introduction, best practices & tools

Table of Contents

You’re probably aware of the golden rule of SEO gurus on investing in external links for faster rankings. But what are external links, and why are they important?

Imagine being a politician. The more word of mouth you have from people, the merrier your votes and possible election. Similarly, external links are the votes of trust that other websites signal to Google about you. By linking to your website, they show trust and preference, which helps Google categorize you as an authority and boost you in the rankings.

In the same way, if you link to other websites, you become part of an interconnected network that provides relevant solutions to users and search engines. So, users get the information they’ve been searching for, and you get the traffic and the sales. It’s a win-win situation! 

In this article, you’re going to learn:

Let’s dive in!

Internal vs external linking in SEO

Put simply, internal linking occurs when you link to URLs inside your website, while external linking occurs when you link to URLs outside of your website. In other words, the links between your pages are internal, and the links between pages of different domains are external.

External links have two subcategories based on where they are placed; backlinks and outbound SEO links. Backlinks are external links from other websites to yours, while outbound SEO links are links from your website to someone else’s. Their importance is measured based on volume, quality, and relevance. All the SEO efforts related to building quality backlinks are part of an off-page SEO strategy.

What are the types of external links

Based on the way they were acquired, external links fall into 3 categories:

Another distinction between external links is the dofollow and nofollow ones.

What are the benefits of external linking for businesses

All links have their role to play. When examining internal links, they help create relevant connections between pages, distribute page rank, increase local authority, and improve overall rankings. For example, you can create mentions between relevant blog posts or directly link your services to your blog with internal links. That creates a user experience of smooth navigation.

Equally, external links help bring attention to your website and credit you the trustworthiness, relevance, and authority that are ultimate ranking factors. In fact, with external linking, you speed up your rankings up to 46%! More precisely, external links:

What makes a good external link

Several factors go into consideration when a search engine decides how valuable your backlinks are. Not all external links are equal. Google evaluates your links based on a list of criteria:

What makes a good anchor text

Optimizing your anchor texts could make a massive difference in your rankings and referral traffic. With Google’s latest algorithm update, not only does the anchor text itself make or break your backlinks, but also its surroundings. So here are the 5 top things you can do today to optimize your anchor texts:

1. Optimize the surrounding text

Users decide whether to click on a link or not based on the text and its surroundings. Let’s assume that you use single phrases as anchor texts. Google’s algorithm will scan the words and their entire sentence anyway to determine the relevance of your backlink. 

So consider optimizing the surroundings and using different anchors to avoid irrelevance or spammy content.

2. Use relevant anchor texts 

As the algorithms are getting smarter by the day, they’re also stricter on prioritizing optimal user experience. Don’t use exact match keywords extensively for the sake of it, nor generic, non-relevant anchor texts for variety. Instead, choose descriptive, accurate anchors and create a positive experience for users. 

3.  Pay attention to image alt texts

Image alt texts should not be neglected since they play a vital role for vision-impaired users and tell Google bots what an image is all about. To write the perfect image alt text, simply incorporate a keyword into a natural sentence without keyword stuffing, as Google can easily detect it.

External linking best practices

So you understood the importance of external links, and now it’s time to start implementing some of the best external linking practices for your business. We gathered a list of the top 8 to help you succeed optimal results and avoid penalties.

1. Attention on the spam sites

One of Google’s biggest enemies is spam sites. Spam sites are usually the ones supporting hate, violence, false information, or spammy practices. If your website supports any kind of spam activities, you will be penalized. 

So try to avoid having backlinks from toxic sites that only hurt your rankings, and even if you have to because someone else is linking back to you, turn those links into nofollow. This way, you’ll indicate at Google that you don’t support those sites or want any association with their practices.

2. Guest-Blogging, link-swapping and barnacle SEO

Guest blogging is a standard external linking best practice where you offer to write for a relevant to your business blog in exchange for a backlink to your site. It’s one of the fastest ways to gain proper backlinks and build your authority and network. Just make sure to provide valuable resources packed with information and actionable tips. Only then you’ll be considered an authority too.

Guestblogging is only one type of link building tactic. Other tactics include having 3-way link swaps, niche editing, building website sideprojects to get PR links, and barnacle SEO.

3. Look for natural links

There is nothing better than having relevant sites linking back to your website organically because they genuinely believe in your product or services.

However, natural linking refers to finding a balance between not forcing links into your text and getting in the link-building philosophy, where you’re not afraid to link to other resources. Once you understand that providing complete, in-depth content rather than self-promo is more critical, you’ll realize that users love returning to websites that share value generously.

4. Open links in new tabs

Add value and ensure that your end goal, which is to keep users interested in what you have to offer, is fulfilled. Don’t just add external hyperlinks and let users fly out of your hands. 

When using an external linking strategy, always ensure that your links open in new tabs so that users can quickly return to your website without hitting the back option countless times.

5. Don’t stuff your text with outbound SEO links

Be careful not to have too much of a good thing because it can have the opposite effects. Don’t overdo it with external links in your efforts to add value and be relevant, as you might risk confusing users and distracting them away. 

Take them by hand and guide them on the essential links and the supplementary links. Users are more likely to skip an argument support link but click on a helpful resource that’s pointed out.

6. Identify broken link opportunities

Another excellent external linking best practice is identifying dead links on other people’s websites and asking the page owners to replace them with one of your links. 

Especially if you provide a valuable resource like a blog post related to the topic to go along with the backlink, you’ll double your chances. 

To identify broken links in any website, you can use Ahrefs broken link checker.

Ahrefs broken link checker

7. Use social media as your ally

Last but not least, don’t forget to include social media in your external linking strategy. Although social media links are nofollow, they are excellent for driving traffic to your website. In fact, 91% of users following a brand on social media also visit its website.

8. Use tools to monitor your backlinks

If you’re struggling to stay on track with your backlinking efforts, you should be using external linking monitoring tools such as Ahrefs, Buzzstream, SEMrush, and Moz.

Moz Backlinks monitoring tool

Those tools take off your plate the manual work of keeping up with your external linking efforts while keeping things organized in one place for you.

BuzzStream backlinks monitoring tool

Before starting with your backlink strategy, conduct a backlink gap analysis that will help you compare your results to your competitors, identify optimization points and uncover link-building opportunities.

SEMrush Backlink Gap tool

Optimize your ranking and increase your authority with external links

You made it till the end! By now, you should be able to understand the importance of external linking to your SEO strategy as the fastest way to increase authority and build trust. 

Link building is a never-ending process that requires constant monitoring and the right tactics to secure high-relevancy backlinks. As a general rule, the harder it is to secure a backlink, the more valuable it is.

With the right strategy down, you’ll be achieving rankings and authority in no time!

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