The significance of settling Outbound Links

What are Outbound Links:

Outbound links are links that point to some other domain from your site. When you link out to related domains, it not only helps the search engine to understand your niche, but also helps to increase the trust and quality of your site which plays a vital role in your blog’s SEO.

Advantages:

  • Get targeted visitors.
  • Give search engines a clear idea about your blog because of relevant links.
  • Offer the best way to be in touch with bloggers having same niche.

As Bing and Google rule out more beloved link building strategies, marketers increasingly turn to supposedly “safe” strategies like broken link replacement (a form of “link reclamation”).  I’m not convinced this is as safe a link building strategy as its proponents want to believe, but so far the search engines are not hinting at future changes in their guidelines.

You will always have the right to ask for a link.  No search engine can take that away from you.  But when you do ask for a link because you believe it will help you build up your search referral traffic then you should assume there is some potential risk involved with that request.  The fully realized potential risk is that you will be penalized (delisted) by a search engine for acquiring the link.  But you should think of potential risk as a partially-filled balloon that may or may not inflate until it explodes.

Risk potential changes over time, but not all the risks you face concern search engine guidelines, penalties, and algorithms.  Let’s just talk about the simple act of placing a link in an article that you publish today.

Wikipedia:

One of my favorite examples of a high-risk outbound link is a link to any Wiki site that can be changed by its visitors or an active user community.  Wiki articles may seem very good to you today but in 2-3 years (or 10 years) they will be very, very different from the content you linked to. The way Wikipedia handles these disagreements is to penalize the 2nd person (the one who responds to the reversion) instead of the trouble-maker.  Many tens of thousands of people have gone into Wikipedia, made good changes, and then watched in horror as some more experienced user comes along, changes everything back, and watches the article to ensure that the original contributor is blocked by Wikipedia’s reversion rule from keeping the good changes in the article.

If you want to link to a Wiki site that is your choice but you are linking to every idiot, troll, and well-meaning but clueless admin who uses the rules to make good content look bad.  There is a lot of risk entailed in linking to any Wiki site, especially if you are expressing an opinion and you feel you are linking to an article that supports your opinion.  Someone who disagrees with you can change the Wiki article to contradict what you are saying.  Good luck fixing that.

Links to many Blogs:

As bloggers we should be linking to other people’s blogs.  After all, supporting the community that supports you keeps the community strong.  But most bloggers don’t stay with their blogs.  If you just link to the home page of the blog in 3 years you may be linking to a dead blog that hasn’t been updated in 2 years.

If you deep-link to an article on a blog your link may survive for a few years but eventually something will change.  Blogs are often deleted.  They are often moved.  The URL structures are changed.  And the worst part of this is that you may be the worst offender in your rogues gallery of bloggers who have changed things without notifying you.

I started the SEO Theory blog as a subdomain on Blogspot in December 2006.  In early 2007 we moved it to the SEO Theory domain everyone knows today.  So that was a double-whammy on changes in URL structures: we went from subdomain.domain.tld to domain.tld.

The article URLs were converted to use the correct root, but at the time we decided to go with just seo-theory.com instead of www.seo-theory.com because we thought the shorter domain URL would be the visitors’ preferred choice (that turned out not to be the case).

When we finally added the www-prefix to the domain and redirected the non-www version I decided that would be good enough.  But another decision I made at the time was to host the blog in a subdirectory.  I did that because I thought that my employer (who at the time owned all legal rights to the blog) might want to develop some marketing content on the root page.  But they already had an “official” Website and, frankly, their offline sales channel was bringing in enough business that they didn’t feel like marketing directly to the Web.

Eventually we dropped the “/wordpress/” folder from all the URLs and moved the content up to the root folder.  But I never went back and changed all the links (it would have required far too much time for review because I was writing 5 posts a week at the time AND doing my day job).

And yet as the years rolled by I often found myself linking back to older articles, and the more of those links I generated with the domain.tld/wordpress/ format in the early days the more I unintentionally set up TWO automated redirects.  This is one reason why pages on the site sometimes flash when you load them (another being the speed optimizations we have implemented).

Stupidity Kills Links: 

Sometimes I will link to an article written by someone I don’t know.  They may be saying something I agree with today but eventually it becomes apparent to me that they got lucky with that first article.  It’s a bit like being a Skeptic who links to an article about the silliness of Paranormal Research, only to find a year later that the writer is someone who advocates an alternative form of paranormal research (for the record, I try to stay out of Skeptics-vs-Paranormal debates as much as possible). So there you are, linking to a Website that you now believe is full of nonsense.  What should you do?  Keep sending your visitors to a lunatic asylum and they will eventually assume you must belong there, too.

Maybe you feel I’m using too strong language here: “idiocy”, “lunatic asylum” are insulting, after all.  But think about the way a site you linked to in the past now makes you feel.  Would you link to it today?  If not, why not?  And if you did link to it in the past then you need to realize that you ARE linking to it today as long as your old link is still published and indexable. Your feelings should play a huge role in how you decide where to direct your links.  Trust your feelings, Luke, the Force of your emotions will guide you.

When I see that I once linked to a site that I now feel is substandard I kill the links.  If possible I’ll find something else to link to but about half the time I just throw the carcass out into the cold and don’t even italicize the old anchor text.

How to Optimized Killed LInks:

If you have written 10-15 articles on the same topic over the past 3-5 years you’ll eventually come to the realization that you need to clean up that mess.  It doesn’t always turn out to be a mess.  News sites, for example, need to keep their content differentiated chronologically (and shame on the sites that continually add updates to old content).

But we as digital marketers realize that eventually we start repeating ourselves, and so we either reduce the amount of content we publish on a site or we start consolidating content.  I recently did that on SEO Theory and I have done it for other sites.  Content consolidation is a great way to reset the clock and give you some breathing space so that you can write about the topic again.

But every now and then when I am reviewing old links I find they now lead to redirected destinations which are terrible attempts to consolidate old content.  For example, just before I decided to write this article I reviewed some outbound links on an old SEO Theory article.  One of them led to a specific article that has been included in some sort of a category page.  I could not find any trace of the article itself on the first page of results in the category listings, so I replaced the link with a link on Archive.Org.

When you redirect your old URLs to a consolidation page you need to show visitors who follow old links that the content they want is still there, easily reached, and important to you.  Just following my (and may other SEO bloggers’) advice to implement redirects when you consolidate old content is not good enough (at least not for me).

I want to know what happened to the old content.  I want my visitors to know that I am still providing a meaningful linking experience.

I rarely receive any requests from marketers for link reclamation.  I would almost never agree to such a request anyway unless I knew the person and thought they were legitimately making a good recommendation for my site.  Sorry, digital marketing world, but most of you appear to be hawking really bad content with your guest posting and link reclamation strategies.  I have probably agreed to two link reclamation requests in the last five years.

Optimization outreach may lead me to replace old links, but the new links may not be as good as the old links were.  At best I am improving a degraded user experience; at worst I am compromising with reality and killing bad links.  What I would prefer is for the old article publishers to be consistent in supporting the sites that linked to them in the past.

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