Here’s Our Guide on External Links: Introduction, Best Practices & Tools

Table of Contents

Helpful summary

Overview: We explore how important external links are for making your website more visible. These links show search engines that your site is trustworthy, relevant, and a leader in its field, which helps with ranking.

Why you can trust us: We increased a technical SaaS client's website traffic by 60 times in a year using external links. This shows we have experience in using external links effectively to make websites more popular.

Why this is important: External links are like recommendations from other websites. They make your website look more knowledgeable and important, which is good for getting higher search engine rankings.

Action points: We suggest avoiding backlinks from spam sites and engaging in practices like guest blogging, link-swapping, and barnacle SEO for optimal external linking. These practices not only avoid penalties but also build authority and a strong network​​.

Further research: To complement this strategy, we recommend exploring best practices for link-building and understanding how search engine algorithms evaluate link quality.

Need help with external linking?

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?

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 Embarque article, you’re going to learn:

Let’s dive in!

Why listen to us?

We're Embarque, an SEO agency that specializes in revenue growth through content writing, keyword research, and external links for online startups, including SaaS, marketplaces, and job boards. Our work with diverse clients demonstrates this expertise. For instance, we revived a software program's website traffic from 5,000 to over 20,000 monthly organic visitors in less than 6 months​​. Our approach also significantly helped a job platform, 4 Day Week, achieve 21,000 monthly search clicks!

These SEO wins show that we're good at using external links and that well-executed SEO strategies can drive traffic and revenue growth.

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:

For instance, by using a thorough approach to building links—focusing on white hat link building, selecting high-priority pages to build links around, and partnering with high-performing domains—we increased the organic traffic for a technical SaaS client by an impressive 60x.

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 8 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.

4. Diversify anchor text types

To maintain a natural link profile, it's important to use a variety of anchor text types. This includes not only exact match and partial match keywords but also long-tail variations that can capture more nuanced search queries. Such diversity helps prevent any red flags for search engines that may view non-varied anchor text as manipulative.

5. Avoid over-optimization

While keywords in anchor text are beneficial, over-optimization can lead to penalties. It's crucial to keep anchor text distribution balanced and natural. An overabundance of keyword-rich anchor text might be seen as an attempt to game the system, so include more branded, natural, and even some generic anchor texts.

6. Incorporate semantic variations

Search engines are increasingly relying on semantic search principles. Therefore, including synonyms and contextually related terms within your anchor text can help search engines better understand the topic of your content and enhance its relevance for a wider array of search queries.

7. Reflect content hierarchy

Anchor text should ideally reflect the hierarchy and importance of the content it leads to. Prioritize primary keywords and topics for anchor texts linking to cornerstone content or main service pages. For blog posts or subsidiary articles, use more specific anchor texts that accurately describe the narrower focus of these pages.

8. Monitor anchor text performance

Regularly analyze the performance of different anchor texts to understand which ones drive more traffic and contribute to better search rankings. Use analytics to track click-through rates and conversions from various anchor texts and adjust your strategy accordingly to optimize results.

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.

Exercise caution and due diligence when obtaining external links by vetting potential linking partners. It's essential to ensure that the sites linking to you maintain a reputable web presence and publish content aligned with your values. By doing so, you preserve the integrity of your own site and avoid the negative impacts associated with being linked to spammy or harmful websites.

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.

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

At Embarque, we successfully utilized niche-relevant backlinking, including guest posts, link swapping, and niche edits, to expand a downloadable app’s backlink profile. We also crafted commercial-centric SEO content and republished old content. These efforts helped our client recover 50% of their peak traffic and improve their referring domain by 6x in just half a year.

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.

This practice keeps your website accessible to users, allowing them to engage with the linked content without navigating away from your page, which can lead to increased time spent on your site and reduced bounce rates.

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.

Maintain a strategic and measured approach to including external links in your content. Aim for a balanced, user-centric approach where every external link serves a clear purpose and enhances the reader's understanding or provides further exploration of a topic.

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.

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.

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.

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.

9. Incorporate multimedia external links

Don't limit your external linking to text-based content. If relevant, link to multimedia resources like videos, podcasts, or infographics that can provide additional value to your audience and diversify your link profile.

10. Avoid link schemes and unethical practices

Steer clear of any link-building tactics that violate search engine guidelines, such as buying links, participating in link exchanges, or using automated programs to create links to your site.

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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