External Linking

External linking is the use of hyperlinks that point from one page to another webpage on a different website. These are different from internal links that link to pages within the same website. A good link strategy is important for both Search Engine Optimization [SEO] and user experience.

Table of Contents

What is an External Link?

An external link is used to link different web pages to each other across different domains and external links are thought to be a key ranking factor by SEO experts. The external links from your site are considered as backlinks for the receiving site. Strategic external linking on your site can be great for SEO if you understand how to use them to your advantage.
external link example

Internal Linking vs External Linking

Internal links are links across web pages from the same domain. You essentially use internal links to help users and search engines better navigate your site. Whereas, external links are outbound links from your website to another, which add to your content with supporting information and provide positive trust signals.

External linking, along with internal linking and backlinks form part of your SEO link strategy. Here, external links pointing out from your site and internal links between your web pages can be categorised as on page SEO, while backlink building is considered more as off-page SEO.

Types of External Links

The main types of external links include:

  • Follow Links
  • Nofollow Links


Follow and Nofollow links play a key part in external linking. While follow links give Google the go ahead to pass on link equity to the linked site, a nofollow external link will prevent Google from passing ranking signals to the linked page.

In simpler terms, a nofollow link means you do not want Google to relate that link to your site, and do not fully trust it. It also means that your external link is more for the user’s benefit than the search engine’s or the linked site’s. 

You can use this by adding a nofollow attribute [rel=”nofollow”]. Dofollow links, on the other hand, are default links.

nofollow link example

Why is External Linking important?

External linking is good for both SEO and user experience, since it provides context to both users and search engines, while also potentially helping you to rank better by linking to quality pages. There are 3 key benefits of external links: 

  • Provide Related Information
  • Develop Credibility
  • Build Connections with other Websites

Provide Related Information

External and internal linking have one similarity, where they both can be used to provide additional information for your existing content. External links are used in many ways to help users and search engines with more information. For example, if a piece of content focuses on ‘paint ideas for a bedroom’, the web page can link externally to content targeting ‘different types of paint’, to better help a user make a decision, and help Google to understand your content better. External links are also often used to supplement statistics, and survey results with the ‘source’ that published them. An external link to the source helps users trust your site, and may convince them to stay longer.

Develop Credibility

If you’re linking your web page to high quality external links, it adds to your site’s credibility as well.

We already covered how external website links help provide related information and content sources to users.

With that in mind, putting up quality content and then linking externally to good content, improves your site’s trustworthiness in the eyes of both the user and search engine.

SEO wise, this concept is similar to link value which is passed across internal links, except here the external link’s quality may help your site.

Linked sites pass on link equity, or ‘link juice’ across each other. Different websites are assigned importance by Google’s PageRank algorithm, through the presence of backlinks. Link equity is the spreading of that authority across different websites through external link building.

Build Connections with other Websites

Since external link efforts from your end help generate backlinks for the receiving websites, external links are great for developing a relationship with other websites and improving your reputation. This way, you may be able to generate quality backlinks for yourself, which are considered a prime source of ranking power and can help improve your domain authority. Even though domain authority is not considered a ranking factor by Google, it is a useful metric to understand your site’s ability to rank in SERPs in comparison to your competitors. Usually, websites prefer externally linking to sites with high domain authority, and receiving backlinks from the same to boost search engine rankings and organic traffic.

How to Use External Links for SEO

We’ve covered the benefits of external linking. Now consider using these best practices for your external link building strategy.

1. Link Relevant & Reputable Websites

Since external links are used by sites to provide related information or sources for their users, you want to make sure the website links you add are relevant to your content, and not just for the sake of adding an external link.  The same applies for search engines. Since Google uses your external links to understand the context of your content, you should make sure you are linking to sites with high authority.

2. Use Descriptive Anchor Text

Since external links are mostly contextual or ‘in-text links’, you should also make sure they come with an optimised anchor text, and seamlessly fit into your content. This means using text to describe what the link is about, instead of using generic text like ‘click here’. Of course, having optimized anchor text does not mean it is lengthy. Keep it concise and to the point to avoid appearing spammy with long hyperlinked sentences.
anchor text external link

3. Avoid Linking to Competitors

When you’re looking to link websites from within the industry, it can be tempting to add links from competitors, especially when they have content that supports yours. Unless the link is to a renowned research or study, you should consider this off limits. Linking to your competitors means passing on potential customers to competing sites as they click on your external links. You may end up losing traffic and leads in the process since you are giving your customers alternatives to your own site. Best practice is to stick to websites from the industry, but those who do not offer the same product or service as you. For example, if you are a paper store, instead of linking to a direct competitor, you can consider linking to relevant content from a printing company’s website.

4. Skip the Money Pages

Your money pages are the web pages you expect your conversions to come from. For an ecommerce store, this could be the category and product pages. 

Since these pages are often the final leg of a customer’s journey, your goal should be to keep users on it until a purchase has been made. Including external links here may divert their attention to other websites and end up costing you your conversion rates

Instead, consider limiting your external links to blog posts and other content heavy pages where these links can help without taking away from your sales revenue.

5. Open External Links in New Tab

If you want visitors to stay on your site longer, but also have them refer to external links on your site, the best way is to have those external links open up in a new tab, instead of the same one. This way, even if the user is directed to a different website, they still have your site opened as the first tab, and can head back to it easily. Directing your users away from your site might lead to fewer conversions and a new tab is a good method to avoid that.
new tab example

6. Limit Number of Links

Just like with everything else in SEO, you need to strike a balance with your external link count. Instead of supplementing every other part of your content with an outbound link, consider limiting it to concepts that actually require one, or sources that need to be quoted. If you start crowding your content with external links, you’ll be contributing to some poor user experience while also reducing the link equity spread across each link, which impacts SEO.  Instead, avoid link spam and stick to the best practice of limiting each webpage to a select number of high-quality links only.

7. Steer Clear of Link Building Schemes

Link building is a tricky art, and can fall prey to link schemes. When working on your SEO strategy, make sure to stay away from those. They are planned attempts at improving your search engine rankings with links.

Many link schemes are against Google’s spam policies and can get you a penalty, which pulls your rankings down and is really bad for SEO. These could include:

  • Buying and selling links
  • Exchanging too many links with a select few pages
  • Using automated tools to generate links for your site
  • Adding links from questionable and low quality directory sites

8. Audit External Links

If you already have external links added to your site, consider running a site audit to evaluate your existing links. An audit could help you:

  • identify external links that are tagged as nofollow links when they should be marked as dofollow links, and vice versa.
  • find non-descriptive anchor texts or missing anchor text and fix those issues to improve your SEO.
  • look for any broken links, and make sure to replace them with new links, or remove them entirely.


You can explore site audit tools from both Ahrefs and SEMrush to do a thorough external link analysis for your website.

The Bottom Line

Building external links is essential for a successful SEO strategy. It not only helps with on page SEO, but is also needed for a positive user experience. To have a transparent and quality external link strategy, consider reaching out to a professional SEO agency and get the rankings and organic traffic numbers you need.

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