Random SEO Theory: Linking Out

Filed in Featured, SEO by Matt McGee on July 12, 2010 18 Comments

I believe social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is replacing blogging as the primary way web users share links. Most social media links are no-followed and have little or no explanation surrounding the link to add context. These kinds of links are not as strong of a signal as a 1-2 paragraph blog post that links to a great article or piece of content.

My random SEO theory: Search engines (especially Google) will assign more value to sites/pages that continue to link out and provide them with this dying signal of quality. In other words, linking out to other sites — already a Good Thing — will become a Better Thing over time.

Do you agree or disagree? Comments are open!

Comments (18)

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  1. Ryan Jones says:

    Interesting theory. I’m not too sure here. While I can see it helping, a quick “how would I implement this if I were Google” type thought process shows me that it’s ripe with possibilities to spam / go haywire.

    It brings up an interesting problem of how to draw the line between “good” linking out and “bad” linking out. Obviously quantity matters, but it seems like it could be a tricky algorithm with lots of inputs.

  2. Aaron says:

    I agree Matt. A lot of SEO experts will try to tell you to only gather inbound links. Linking out is just as important as you point out, as it not only helps out others, but the person on the receiving end may see it as well and end up writing something nice about you in return. It’s all a big circle of love on the web!

  3. I’ve been noticing some higher rankings here – I just started linking out with Zemanta in WPress and am getting more traffic and higher rankings.

    Tags are proving to be working very nicely right now.

    I have a Town Crier business (besides seo and design) and am getting booked up to 250 miles away.

    I really believe you’re right.

    I’ve always linked out to Wikipedia and such mmmmmm!


  4. I’m with you on this one and believe that linking out to a quality and related source should matter and be seen as quality content that you have produced. In a small way at least.

    There was even an YOUmoz post last year that slightly delved into this.

    How Effective Are Outbound Links?

    My Comment on “Inclusion Linking”:

  5. Chris says:

    It’s a very interesting theory. But just how much does the context around a link matter? I was at a conference where they discussed this and showed that what mattered most was the anchor text. I think RDF will provide a more structured context for search engines, and RDF could also be implemented on social media sites like twitter.

  6. Dave says:

    This should be in place already, but with the nofollow and link sculpting habits of some, it may be overshadowed. I agree that the semantic web / RDF should be a lovefest but we all know that won’t happen soon. Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote about this over 10 years ago.

    In the interest of providing Google’s trust and authority weight signals to a website I’d agree completely with this theory.

  7. AJ Kohn says:

    Interesting. I’ve always thought of it from the perspective of the site receiving that link. I’m a big believer that the recipients of these dwindling quality in-links will be richly rewarded.

    But, you’re right, it could (and should) also be a signal for the site doing the out-linking. Those sites and blogs that continue to provide high quality contextual out-links could be afforded more trust and authority – rewarded for their continuing efforts.

    If Google and other engines begin to accelerate their use of NLP and other computational linguistics, those sites that are truly adding value and out-linking should be rewarded. Whether that really comes to fruition … we’ll see.

  8. Erica says:

    I’d say keep links away from your money pages if you want them to rank high, put links elsewhere in the site.
    Astonishingly, I have seen Google rewarding many dodgy looking “link exchange” pages with page rank :O It appears totally random though.

  9. Thanks for posting this up. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a while.

    If I’m Google, and I want to promote sites that help people get the info they need, why don’t I reward those site who link out. If a site is willing to lose traffic to another it must be a good source of information.

    Of course, this is easily open to abuse. But I’m thinking Search Engines know that and are able to work around that a bit.

    Just my thoughts.


  10. Ken says:

    Matt, I’ve always theorized that linking out is not as bad as SEOs say they are. First off, I think it helps mitigate bounce rate and provides value to users. Remember that engines are looking for the most relevant page and one way to maximize the search referral is to provide users with great information once they land on your site / page to keep going.

    Algorithmically, I haven’t seem much proof if link-out actually help rankings (how can you truly isolate one variable in SEO these days anyways). it would be interesting if Google introduces a “broadcast score” or some kind where PageRank flow is based on mutual factors.

  11. Totally agree with this.

    Question is how do you convince clients that this is the thing to do as well without sounding like a hippie?

  12. Matt, relevant links to relevant on topic sources can and should count. But I can just see the spam sites now all linking out no real content (same as now) hopefully, Google will use their quality signals to ignore this.

  13. Matt McGee says:

    I’ve been essentially offline for about two days (DSL service died), so please accept my apologies for not joining the great discussion here. Thx for all the comments, gang.

    @Ryan – I think pretty much any signal is ripe for misuse, right? Spammers have proven that to be the case. I’m not suggesting that this will become the be-all, end-all of better rankings, but that it could be used as a further signal of trust/authority, i.e. — quality outbound links as “spider food.” Something along those lines.

    @Roger – tell your clients that Google wants to reward web pages that provide value to users. If the client can do that by linking out to other sites, it could be good for them.

    @Fionn – yes, agreed. And there are already plenty of scraper sites that auto-generate posts with outbound links. I don’t those stand a chance because this kind of thing would only be one small piece of the trust equation. But I do think Google/Bing will be rewarding higher-quality sites that also provide value via outbound links, if they’re not already doing so.

  14. Jesse Heap says:

    Facebook activity has really picked up in the last year. In our industry more and more businesses are using Facebook as a marketing tool and some are using it as a replacement for traditional blogging.

    As far as the value of traditional links vs social media links I think search engines need to start thinking about how they can further incorporate social media signals into their search engine results.

    Your question is interesting given that Facebook has announced Open Graph support and appears to be making a play at competing with search engines. So longer term, links through social media sites like Facebook may rise further in value if Facebook begins to replace google as the traditional search option for users.

    So basically one could also make the case that over time links on Facebook may grow even more in importance if Facebook is successfully able to position itself as a viable search engine replacement too Google. (This is assuming that Facebook will use links shared by its users as a ranking signal)

    Even more reason to think about your linking strategy on Facebook and ways to help increase links (i.e. applications, fan pages, etc)

  15. Ryan Hearn says:

    Sadly, I think this goes more toward site trust than site quality. In the end, a site with more outbound links is more likely to be trusted than one with 5,000 inbound and no outbound. It seems this is why large directories which exchange links still exist and have PR of 5+ with Google.

  16. Google has been keeping many “experts” guessing this past year by changing the rules as they feel fit. The old ways of getting high page ranking just fall short and with many people getting slapped or having their accounts suspended, there is a scramble to find just how Google really is ranking. And Google isn’t going to tell!
    From what I am seeing, you are correct regarding using links. They must be strong links however and be used in conjunction with good updated content and interaction with site users. The more activity a site is getting, the better.

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