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Don’t be afraid to link out from your website

Companies seem very reluctant to link away from their websites, if my experience is anything to go by, and I think this is a mistake. There’s an argument that links out from a website can actually help its Google ranking, especially on “authority” pages where you’re trying to write the definitive web page on a topic. Think about it from Google’s point of view: is the best page on the web about a topic likely to have references for further reading? Of course it is. And in general, it’s obvious that a responsible search engine would promote sites which help people research topics in this way.

It’s important, however, that any links out are useful ones, giving further background on something you don’t have room to expand on within the page itself. A “links page” is a waste of time in every respect, and probably has been since about 1998. However, for example, if you’re saying that your company has a particular certification, why not link to the explanation of that certification on the awarding body’s website? Not everyone knows what it means, and I bet you don’t provide the explanation yourself.

The reasons I hear why people don’t link out to other sites from within their articles are always groundless, and seem to revolve around a fear that they’ll “lose” visitors. Seriously? If somebody’s come to your website with a view to buying something, do you really think they’ll get distracted by a link to (say) a trade association, or Wikipedia, and forget what they came to enquire about? If you (or your boss) really thinks that’s the case, well, you can always make the link open up in a new window or tab, and at least they won’t be leaving your website behind.

When we wrote the entire website copy for an instrumentation manufacturer a few years back, one of our specifications was that every product page should have at least one external link on it. Apart from any “SEO” benefit, it also gave us the discipline to ensure that each page was genuinely informative for visitors.

And don’t forget, what you should prize above all else is the number of incoming links to your site. While I’m not suggesting that this is simply a question of “the love you take is equal to the love you make”, there’s no doubt that people who you link to notice that you’ve done so, and there’s a chance they’ll do something for you in return. After all, this is the principle on which business networking is built.

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