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SEO Basics: What is External Linking?

Links are a major part of search engine optimization (SEO). We’ve talked about internal links and follow/no follow links before. But what about external links?

External links (also called outbound links) are used in a different way than internal links, but they’re just as important to your SEO efforts. Review the basics of what they are and why they’re essential to your search strategy below.

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What are external links?

External links are links within your content that point to external domains. External domains are domains that exist outside of the one the link has been published on. For example, if I link to Google right now, that’s an external link.

Unlike internal links, external links point to other websites instead of to your own. They’re often used to point to brands, studies, reference articles, partners, and more.

If you own more than one domain, you can create external links between them.

What are the benefits of external links?

While it may not seem like external links provide a lot of value to you, they can be extremely beneficial to your SEO strategy. For example, outbound links are great for:

  • Link building strategies between different websites
  • Subtle, free marketing
  • Reinforcing your trustworthiness as a quality resource
  • Boosting your search engine reputation

Link building

When you link out to others, they’re more likely to link back to you. External links can be used in link building partnerships and collaborative content initiatives by giving you something to offer others. Links are essential to a successful SEO strategy, so if you publish high-quality, well-researched content on your site and you link out to others, they may return the favor.


When you link to a website and send traffic their way, chances are someone is going to take notice. When they do, they may discover your website and choose to send their own followers or readers there. They may even decide to give you a backlink, playing into your link building strategy.


Quality content publishers link to external sources to provide expert resources to their readers. While you may be an authority on a certain topic, you may not be on another. Linking to other websites and publishers that are shows that you prioritize quality information over keeping users on your own site and that you value well-researched and well-written content.


Subpar websites tend to link to other subpar websites, and the same goes for high-quality content publishers. Websites that link well have a better chance at building a good reputation with search engines like Google. If you link to a number of low-quality websites, you look spammy and may even get flagged for bad link building practices or black hat SEO.

But if you link to relevant websites that have good reputations and that are related to the content you publish, you’ll give a better impression of your site and its content to crawlers and indexers.

How to make quality external links

Just throwing a link into your content isn’t enough to make a good external link. Here are some tips you can use to make sure that when you link out, you’re doing it well.

1. Link to high-quality, authoritative websites

When linking to definitions, articles, studies, blog posts, etc., make sure that the sources you use are popular, authoritative publishers on the topic you’re referencing. For example, if you’re talking about SEO, link out to a trusted and well-known SEO website.

2. Use relevant anchor text

Make your anchor text (the text that you attach your link to) relevant, obvious, and easy to follow. If readers can’t tell the difference between your anchor text and the rest of your content, that’s a problem. The same goes for anchor text that is too vague or that doesn’t clearly describe what the link goes to.

3. Use follow links

No-follow links aren’t very useful for link building strategies. Only use them if the content you’re linking out to is an affiliate, it’s a paid exchange, or you have another reason to designate a no follow like the landing page is PPC-specific.

4. Quality over quantity

Link when it’s relevant and helpful to the reader. Don’t go overboard by including a link in every paragraph or section unless it makes sense. And try not to use the same links more than once per post, unless it serves a purpose.

5. Fix broken links

Over time, external links can become broken, either because the site you linked out to no longer exists or because the URL changed. Review your external links at least once a year to make sure they’re still functional. Broken links can reduce the quality of your content and be frustrating for users. Keep yours up-to-date and relevant.

6. Update old links

Links to studies from 10+ years ago or to sites that haven’t been updated in a very long time don’t bring a lot of value to readers. If you have evergreen content that you optimize, make updating old links a part of your strategy. Look for newer, more recent studies and websites that are current.

READ MORE: How often should I update SEO content?