Among other signals, Google uses links to help determine your site’s trust value and SERP ranking. Since Google has the ability to crawl the entire web as needed, the search giant knows exactly how many links a website has, where they are coming from, what other sites those sources link to, what “neighborhood” links are around, what anchor text is being used and much more. In short, Google knows everything about a website’s link portfolio, including who you are linking to. The search spiders use those outbound links to travel from one site to the next—where is your site sending them?
Google flat out bans link schemes which include link exchanges (“you link to me and I’ll link to you.”) This is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results.
Linking to unrelated websites is going to raise a red flag in the search engines. Why would a website about restaurant equipment link to a playground equipment seller except in the case of a link exchange? There is no legitimate reason for these sites to be connected other than an attempt to artificially inflate their link portfolios and manipulate the search engines. Before making the decision to link to another site, you should ask yourself if that website is going to be beneficial for your page’s visitors. Any website that isn’t a legitimate resource for visitors should be removed from the website immediately to prevent any future penalty. You don’t want to give the search engines any reason to question your outbound links. Ever since the Penguin update went live in April, the need for a clean and natural looking link portfolio has become more important than ever.
It’s also important to remember that every outbound link on your site is a potential exit route for your visitors. Once they are gone there is no reason to assume they will come back and actually convert. Are you willing to lose a customer for that other site? In some cases it might be worth it or even necessary, like if you quote another site or blogger and want to give credit to the original source. In some cases outbound links can actually help improve the user experience and enhance your own site’s authority. However, the potential for losing visitors and risk of a link exchange penalty is not worth a “Resource Section” that solely exists to get back links from other websites.
You also want to consider who you are linking to if you accept guest blog posts on your company blog. Some SEO professionals, myself included, have wondered if guest blogging has become the new link exchange. Is Google looking for a way to cull guest blogging abuse? While accepting guest blog posts is a great way to make sure your blog stays fresh and up-to-date, you want to make sure you aren’t letting just anyone post on your site. When you publish another author on your blog, you are essentially giving them your unspoken endorsement. If one of your readers (or the search spiders) were to click on a link in their author bio what would they find on the site they got sent to? Is being associated with that author via those outbound links going to hurt your reputation and consumer trust?
Links are what holds the webs together, but you want to make sure your site is connected to the right sites. While you can’t always control your inbound links, you do have 100% control over your outbound links. Make sure every link that sends visitors away from your site is worth it!