Yes, Outbound Links Will Improve Your Rankings - If They Are Helpful

Discover the truth about outbound links and their impact on rankings. Learn how to improve your SEO with helpful, user-focused linking.

Written by
Adam Villaume
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April 24, 2024

For years, It has been a tried and true SEO tactic to include outbound links in articles and other written content, with the understanding that it would help the users as well as improve rankings.

Now, it seems this principle is in question or, indeed, has been completely disproven.

According to Search Engine Land, "Outbound links won’t help your content rank better on Google" - They even go on to say: Linking out won't help your SEO.

Screenshot from Search Engine Land of their blog post about outbound links, referencing Google's John Mueller

However, this is a good time to remind yourself that things are not always what they seem.

We love Search Engine Land, they usually provide concise, fact-checked advice, but in this case, we believe their headline is misleading.

To be clear: Yes, outbound links matter and they can improve your rankings – if you link to helpful content that adds value to the users' experience.

In this blog post, we go through what started this whole thing, what Google has actually said on the matter, and what it means - most importantly, we'll go through the dos and don'ts of outbound links.

Do you prefer to listen? Check out our podcast on the same issue: The Outbound Links Confusion: Does Google Still Reward Your External Links in 2023?

"What will happen if I external link to a popular website like Wikipedia?"

This was the question that started the debacle: "What will happen if I external link to a popular website like Wikipedia?" - asked by the user Raminfarjoudi on Reddit, August 2023.

The full question read (unedited):

"Hello guys i just want to ask what will happen i create external link to a popular website like (wikipedia) or something else? Is it godd for ranking or no?"
The post on Reddit that started it all.

So, what he is asking about is whether linking to a popular website will improve rankings - any popular website. As if the popularity, or authority if you will, will rub off on his website by linking to it.

It won't, as Google Search Advocate John Mueller explains:

"Nothing happens. Why should it? This has been one of those things that SEOs have claimed / hoped since literally decades."

He then gives an example of a handbag site linking to CNN, highlighting the absurdity of that connection having any effect on SERPs.

The response from John Mueller in its entirety

If the story ended there, it would perhaps be understandable if people thought outbound links didn't help rankings, but John Mueller goes on:

"Treat links like content. Does this link provide additional, unique value to users? Then link naturally. Is this link irrelevant to my users? Then don't link to it."

According to Google Search Advocate, relevance is key. This is something Google has talked about again and again on a number of different occasions and in relation to pretty much every part of search.

Content is King, but relevance is the king-maker.

Another example of John Mueller, @JohnMu, emphasizing relevance

From the interaction on Reddit, considering the entire answer, it is clear that outbound links aren't "dead" as long as they are relevant. And this is not a change by Google; it is a clarification of how search has worked, or intended to work, for years.

With that out of the way, let's look at how you should treat outbound links.

Adding relevant outbound links is not a "trick"; they make the content better

When you include outbound links, make sure they provide additional, unique value to your readers. These links should be natural and relevant to the topic at hand.

Consider the needs and interests of your audience and find external sources that can further enrich their understanding of the topic.

For instance, let's build on John Muellers' example with the handbag website: If you're writing an article about sustainable handbags, you could include links to reputable sources that discuss complex sustainability issues or provide statistics on the importance of sustainable production.

These types of links enhance the user experience and show that you've done your research.

However, outbound links are not an SEO trick or magic bullet that will make your content jump to the top of SERPs.

They make your content better and earlier studies have shown they do help with rankings.

It's a good idea to remember that Google's priority is to serve high-quality content to users. They want you to focus on creating a positive user experience and providing valuable information.

Types of websites and links you should add to your content:

  • Reputable sources that provide additional value and unique information relevant to your topic
  • Websites that discuss complex issues related to your subject matter
  • Sources that provide statistics or data that support your claims or arguments
  • Websites that offer in-depth insights and further exploration of the topic for your readers
  • Relevant industry publications or authoritative websites that add credibility to your content

By linking to relevant and valuable external sources, you can enhance your content and demonstrate your expertise.

Avoid adding arbitrary outbound links to your content

Google will not rank your page higher based on these irrelevant links. So, generic definitions or unrelated websites added just for the sake of a link will not help your rankings.

No matter the authority or popularity of the website.

Types of websites and links you should avoid adding to your content:

  • Generic definitions or dictionary pages that do not provide value or unique insights
  • Unrelated websites or sources that are not relevant to your topic or audience
  • Low-quality or spammy websites that could harm your own website's reputation
  • Websites or sources with outdated or inaccurate information
  • Links that are solely added for the purpose of SEO manipulation rather than providing value to your readers

Search Engine Land is actually on the same page

To be fair, Search Engine Land arrives at the same conclusion; that links help if they are valuable to the user. That sentiment is just buried beneath a headline and introduction that make the issue seem more dramatic.

Anyway, the author recommends considering the following when adding outbound links:

  • Add the link to your content naturally.
  • Actually, read the content that you link to and ask yourself, “Is this useful?”
This is how you should add outbound links according to Search Engine Land

If you have outbound links on your pages that aren't adding value, they can be removed safely without hurting your rankings.

Better yet, switch unrelated links out with links to relevant websites. This will actually improve your content and better content should mean better rankings.

Yes, Outbound Links Will Improve Your Rankings - If They Are Helpful

This is an article written by:

Adam is an experienced content writer with a background in journalism and a passion for technology.