Do you dream of getting your website’s blog posts referenced by the likes of Forbes and Entrepreneur? It’s the ultimate stamp of authority. This isn’t just a vanity metric – having a wide range of external links is one of the best ways to signal to search engines that you’re providing value.
Using a guest post service or similar can have a shady reputation, and not everyone has connections they can ask to place their links on their high-authority websites.
Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about external links and how to make the first strides toward link building.
What are external links?
Since you’ve clicked on this article, you should at least have a vague idea of what external links are – the clue is in the name. External links that direct users to websites other than the domain hosting the content.
If we place a link to a BBC article here, that’s an external link. If the BBC posts a link to this article on their website, that’s also an external link.
Including external links to high-authority websites – especially academic sources – is a useful signal to prove your articles have excellent research behind them. However, the more complicated and important aspect of external links is building links on other sites. That’s what we’ll focus on today.
Why external links matter
The world of SEO is clouded in mystery. Despite what some digital marketing gurus might tell you, nobody is 100% sure how Google and other search engines determine which sites rank highest.
However, according to search engine ranking factor data, external links may be one of the most influential elements.
Effectively, every time another website places a link to your website, it’s a vote that you’re providing high-quality content. If hundreds or even thousands of sites link to your site, that’s a lot of votes, and search engines will likely take notice.
External links are also less open to manipulation than other metrics. Although you can go to a link building service or similar to pay for external links, it’s nowhere near as easy as building internal links or including keywords in your articles. Besides, websites with the highest domain authorities are notoriously hard to get links from.
The importance of external links goes way back to the first-ever search engine, AltaVista. Google then adopted the idea through its PageRank algorithm, which explicitly used external links as a mechanism to figure out which websites had the best content.
It’s easy to see why people think the search engines of today value external links highly, too.
How search engines evaluate external links
Not all external links are made equal. Having a backlink from the blog your brother started last month is not as strong a vote for your website as a site that pulls in millions of unique visitors each month.
This seems obvious given such an extreme example, but you might wonder how search engines decide the value of an external link.
There are many factors – things as simple as using anchor text with a relevant keyword and a lower density of other links on the same page are important. Even finer points like the ownership of both domains matter (does the same person or company own both sites?). You can’t get anything past Google!
However, the value of a website can ultimately be put down to two principal factors: popularity and relevancy.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘domain authority’ bounced around. This is another way of saying a website is popular and trusted.
Moz developed a ranking method that gives each website a score from 0 to 100 – the larger the number, the better. But don’t get bogged down with the numbers, and a site doesn’t need a near-perfect score to offer you a valuable link.
If you have a website about Korean skincare products and you get a backlink from a website full of technology and software reviews, that will flag up as being strange.
Even if the website has great domain authority and is extremely popular, search engines will realise through crawling both site indexes that relevancy is low. That’s bad news.
Having the right mix of popularity and relevancy is essential for effective external links.
How to use external links effectively
If you’re relying on another blog or website to upload your content or give you a backlink, you won’t have full control of exactly how they present their external links.
But here are some guidelines to remember if you have some control over the process.
We’ve already mentioned that search engines use anchor text to figure out the value of a link. So, make sure you choose anchor text that reflects relevant keywords within your topic. Also, the anchor text should only contain a few words, not an entire sentence.
Where possible, limit the number of external links within the article. Search engines will think your link is more valuable if it’s one of five links rather than one of 50.
You should also consider what the other external links in a post are. There shouldn’t be any links to your competitors, although sometimes the line is blurred between competitors and useful resources.
Now you know how important external links are, you can’t afford to wait any longer to implement an effective strategy. SEO is a slow process. Lots of medium-authority websites offer the chance to place guest posts on their sites, so take advantage of the opportunity.
However, writing content and reaching out to potential websites is a time-consuming and laborious process. If you’d prefer to invest in a service that will do it for you and get the results you want, consider trying a blogger outreach agency that already has the connections.
Although you won’t reap the fruits of your work immediately, you’ll be thanking yourself further down the line when your website is bringing in organic traffic.