External Links

An external link is a link that leads from one website to another.

External links can be inbound or outbound.

Outbound links are ones that point from your website to an external resource.

Inbound links (also commonly referred to as backlinks), on the other hand, point to your website from another one.

The number of inbound external links from high-quality resources is one of the most powerful ranking factors to this day.

In order to understand why that is, we need to take a closer look at PageRank, which is also commonly called “link juice” by SEOs.

What is PageRank and How Do Links Pass It On?

Pagerank is a link analysis algorithm that assigns a numerical weighting to each element of a hyperlinked set of documents, such as the World Wide Web, with the purpose of “measuring” its relative importance within the set.

The algorithm may be applied to any collection of entities with reciprocal quotations and references.

The numerical weight that it assigns to any given element E is referred to as the PageRank of E and denoted by PR(E).

The basic idea behind PageRank is that every time someone links to a page, they are effectively voting that the content of that page is of high quality.

The more votes (links) a page has, the higher it will rank in search engine results.

how links pass pagerank
Image source: SEMRush

The algorithm tries to mimic what happens in the real world. It looks at all the links that point to a given page and then assigns a weight to each one based on how important the linking page is.

This is why backlinks from high-quality websites are so valuable.

The original PageRank algorithm was developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University. It was later commercialized by Google and is now used by the company to help determine the order in which results are displayed on its search engine.

The PageRank algorithm has been the subject of much academic research and has been found to be very effective in practice.

In 2022, PageRank is still being used in Google’s algorithm, however, its version is extremely heavily modified.

In the pre-Penguin times of Google, marketers and SEOs have found ways to abuse the algorithm by building thousands of spammy and low-quality links – they still contributed to your PageRank.

This has led many pages that don’t really deserve to rank in the top spots on search results pages to appear much higher than they should, hurting the user experience of the average searcher.

The Penguin update was aimed at reducing link spam, leading many SEOs to abandon link building as a whole.

Links from private blog networks and other low-quality resources no longer help you rank.

However, backlinks from highly authoritative, relevant resources remain an essential part of any successful website’s SEO strategy, even though acquiring them has become a lot more difficult.

External Links vs Internal Links

The difference between the two is very simple: external links lead to other domains, while internal links guide users from page to page within the realm of your own website.

When it comes to SEO, external and internal links serve two distinct functions.

A high volume of high-quality backlinks is directly associated with increased rankings, since they direct PageRank to your website.

Internal links also pass on PageRank within your site, but they are also important for several other reasons.

First, they help improve the navigation of your website.

By linking to other pages on your site, visitors can easily move around and find the information they are looking for.

Second, internal links help improve the crawlability of your website. Search engines use links to crawl the web and index pages.

A solid internal linking structure makes it easier for search engine crawlers to find and index your pages properly.

An ideal internal link structure is one that allows you to get to any page on your site, from any other page by following no more than a couple of links.

Link Attributes

Link attributes can significantly alter the way an external link functions.

different link attributes
Image source: Google

There are many different rel attributes a link can have, but these are the most common.

  • Nofollow is used to indicate that the link should not be followed by the search engine crawlers.

This means that the link will not pass on any PageRank or other ranking signals to the linked page.

  • Dofollow is the opposite, and indicates that the link should be followed by the crawlers. This means that the link will pass on PageRank and other ranking signals to the linked document.

If a link does not have neither the dofollow nor the nofollow attribute, it is considered dofollow by default.

  • UGC is short for “user-generated content”.

This is content that has been created by users, rather than by the website itself.

This can include things like forum posts, blog comments, and ratings and reviews. Because this content is created by users, it is often less reliable than other types of content, so links to UGC pages are often given a lower weight by search engines.

These links are usually clearly marked as sponsored, and they typically pass on less PageRank than other types of links.

This is because search engines want to discourage website owners from paying for links that pass on PageRank, as this can be used to manipulate the search results.

Any UGC or sponsored links are required to be marked as such by Google.

This is an example of an external link to our partner website, Visme:


Note that in addition to the “follow” tag (same as dofollow), it also has two additional tags: “noopener” and “noreferrer”.

The noopener and noreferrer tags affect external links by telling the browser not to open the linked page in a new window or tab, and also to not include the referring page in the HTTP Referer header.

This can be useful when you want to keep the user on the current page, or when you want to prevent the external site from knowing where the user came from.

Linking to other highly authoritative websites is generally a good SEO practice.

However, it can also hamper your own traffic growth if done excessively.

There is no “golden rule” to how much you should link to other websites, but if you take a look at higher-DR websites, you will notice a trend: they keep external links to a minimum.

1-2 external links to relevant, informative content is healthy.

However, having dozens of external links per page can slow down your traffic growth since you’re redirecting all of that PageRank away.

Generally, it is advised to keep your external links set to nofollow in order to avoid giving out your “link juice”.

External Linking Best Practices

When it comes to linking out to other websites, there is a number of best practices you should follow.

  • Use descriptive anchor text

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. It is the most important factor in determining what a link will convey to both search engines and humans.

Descriptive anchor text can significantly improve the usability of a website. It allows users to quickly and easily understand the purpose of a link. It also helps search engines understand the content of a linked page, which can influence the ranking of both the linked page and the linking page.

When linking out to external resources, always use descriptive anchor text. Avoid using generic phrases like “click here” or “learn more.”

Such anchor text provides no context about the link to search engines.

In addition, your link’s anchor texts are a ranking factor in and of itself.

They tell Google how other websites are referring to yours.

If you have a lot of links that contain a certain keyword in the anchor text, the page that they’re linking to may start ranking in SERPs for that keyword, even if it’s not the actual focus keyword of your page.

  • Link to relevant pages

There are a number of reasons why you should only link to relevant resources from your website.

First, it helps to ensure that your visitors are able to find the information they are looking for. If you link to irrelevant resources, your visitors may become frustrated and leave your site without finding the information they need.

Additionally, linking to relevant resources helps to build your credibility and reputation as a reliable source of information. If you link to irrelevant or unreliable resources, your visitors may question your credibility and reputation.

Finally, linking to relevant resources helps to improve your search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines use the links on your website to help determine the relevancy and quality of your site.

Irrelevant links do not yield such a benefit, and linking too much to shady or irrelevant websites may cause your website to get manually reviewed by Google.

  • Link to high-quality websites

When you link to high-quality resources from your website, it benefits you in two ways:

1. It helps improve your website’s search engine ranking.

2. It helps build trust and credibility with your website visitors.

Linking to high-quality resources shows that you are knowledgeable and trustworthy, two qualities that are highly valued by both search engines and website visitors.

Additionally, when you link to high-quality resources, you are more likely to get links back to your website, which also helps improve your website’s search engine ranking.

  • Keep your number of outgoing external links low

We already mentioned that having too many external links can impede your own website’s growth.

A great analogy to visualize it is to imagine your website as a bucket. Every inbound link you get is a drop of “link juice” that falls into the bucket.

Every outgoing external link you give from your site is a little hole in that bucket, through which your link juice trickles out.

  • Mark all UGC and sponsored links as such

All user-generated and sponsored links must be marked as such with the appropriate rel tag.

Google needs to know which links were placed as part of a paid promotion and which ones are not.

Unmarked paid links are considered to be a “link scheme” by Google and will not improve your rankings in any way.

Before, you could even receive a penalty for engaging in link schemes, however this is now a thing of the past because competitors used to be able to get their rivals penalized by getting them a bunch of spammy links.

This is no longer the case, but if Google catches on that you have been paying for links, they will be completely de-valued, meaning they will not contribute to your SEO at all, wasting your money.

  • Avoid reciprocal links

Reciprocal links are a two-way exchange between sites.

It used to be a very common link building practice: people would reach out to sites with a very simple “You link to us, we link to you” value proposition.

Just like unmarked paid links and links from private blog networks, reciprocal links are considered to be a link scheme.

So, any reciprocal links that you build will yield zero pozitive SEO value for you, making the process of obtaining them a waste of time.

During your link building outreach, a better value proposition would be, for example, an indirect link back to your prospect, or a social share.

How to Get External Links To Your Own Site?

A solid backlink profile with thousands of inbound external links coming from high-quality, relevant resources can make all the difference in the world for your rankings.

Obtaining them is one of the most tedious and time-intensive SEO processes.

Typically, this is done through link building outreach.

A link building campaign consists of four steps:

  1. Prospecting (finding opportunities);
  2. Preparing your email sequence;
  3. Finding contact information;
  4. Personalization.

Respona was specifically designed to save you time on each step of the process.

Let’s walk through the prospecting stage of a simple link building campaign using the anchor text strategy.

The premise of this strategy is to find articles that mention your focus keyword somewhere in the content, but are on a different, related topic.

1. Respona has a built-in search engine that features a manual and an automatic mode. The automatic mode scrapes results for you, adding them into your campaign and saving you tons of time by not having to manually sort through opportunities.

To access it, click over to Automation Setup in Step 1 – Find content.

respona automation setup

2. Select “Keyword Search”

respona keyword search automation

3. You can choose one of three search sources: Google, Bing, or Bing News.

selecting search source

4. Note: Google and Bing use different advanced search operators. You can find them under “Advanced Search”.

respona advanced search

5. In the automatic search mode, you can run several queries at the same time.

Simply enter your queries and the tool will do its magic.

To get very specific with the kinds of results you wish to get, you can take advantage of advanced search operators.

With the help of the following search operators, you can easily find non-competing articles that mention your focus keyword somewhere in the body.

  • inurl:blog (tells the search engine to only show pages that are part of a blog)
  • intext: (specifies which keyword should be included in the articles’ bodies)
  • intitle: (specifies which keyword should be included in the articles’ titles)
  • -intitle: (specifies which keyword should not be included in the articles’ titles)

Here are some example search strings for finding articles that mention saas marketing but aren’t directly on the topic.

1. inurl:blog intext:”saas marketing” -intitle:”saas marketing”

2. inurl:blog intext:”saas marketing” intitle:”content”

3. inurl:blog intext:”promoting your saas” intitle:”software”

multiple queries at the same time

6. You may also choose to set additional filters, such as search location and language.

advanced search settings

7. Click “Continue”.

8. If you have an Ahrefs account, you can connect it to Respona to gain access to even more additional SEO filters.

additional ahrefs filters

9. Click “Run Automation”.

starting the search automation

10. Once the automation is done running, click “View Results”.

The next step is to create your email sequence.

creating your email sequence

Respona includes a variety of cold email templates for different purposes, but you’re more than welcome to come up with your own.

In your emails, you may use variables such as {first_name}, {day_of_week}, etc. They will automatically populate for each opportunity in your campaign, massively decreasing the time it takes to personalize your pitches.

But before you get to personalization, you need to find email addresses to send these to.

Respona’s contact search is very straightforward.

respona contact search automation

For a link building outreach campaign, the first option is best:

  • Find the writer of the article only if they work for the company, otherwise, find X Person(s) at the company

We recommend setting it to search for two people instead of just one to maximize your chances of getting a reply.

You can also specify exactly which team members to look for if an author is not found.

Just paste in their job titles and seniority into the Position and Seniority fields.

In the advanced settings, we also recommend keeping the option to assign generic emails on – it works as a failsafe, just in case no personal emails were found for that domain.

Once all contacts are found, it’s time for personalization.

personalizing your pitches

In addition to self-populating variables, Respona also helps speed up personalization by pulling 5 little snippets from each article in the Article summary section.

In your pitch, you can mention one of these snippets, giving off the impression that you spent the time to actually read through your prospect’s content, even if you didn’t really.

Once the personalizations are complete, all you have to do is launch your campaign and wait for replies.

Bottom Line

So, to sum it up:

  • Linking out to relevant, authoritative websites is a good SEO practice;
  • However, you should keep your external links to a minimum in order to not lose out on any link juice;
  • At the same time, you should do your best and try to secure as many inbound external links as possible.

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