We usually talk about inbound links — the links other websites give to your site. Getting links from other sites shows that your site is valuable, since the people who give you links believe that their readers will get something worthwhile from your website.
But there are times when you want to give links to other sites as well. Obviously, you’ll link to other sites that you believe are valuable to your readers. But you’ll also occasionally want to provide a reciprocal link to a high-value directory, or to do a favor for a colleague.
Here are some good rules of thumb for making sure that your outbound links are useful to your readers and therefore also to your website:
- Be choosy about the links you give. Don’t link to poor-quality sites that aren’t relevant to yours, even for a reciprocal link or for friendship. If you feel that you must link your golf course to your friend’s restaurant, then you must manufacture some kind of connection: places to eat after a game, perhaps, or local resources. Remember that, while this can make links of that type more palatable to your readers, it doesn’t fool search engines. It may confuse them, by making it less clear what your site actually offers.
- Be thoughtful about your link anchor text. Anchor text is the word or words that your readers click on. In the early days of the internet, it was common to use things like, “click here” to make sure that visitors understood where to click. Now that we all know about hypertext, it’s more useful to visitors to let them know where the link goes. It’s also good for you and for the site you’re linking to when you use relevant keywords. So your golf course could link to that friend’s restaurant with the words “Golfer’s Special Lunches” or “restaurant near the golf course.”
- Be aware of design. A link sitting all by itself in your footer or sidebar or, worse yet, in the middle of your content, looks odd. Your links should look as though they belong where they are. This happens naturally when you use a text link to send readers to a source of additional information. When you’ve got a high-value directory demanding a reciprocal link, though, you can end up with their link sitting somewhere pointless. Instead, include them on a resource page or in a list of links. Make all the links consistent, not a higgledy-piggledy group of assorted banners and links with different fonts or margins. If you need to follow someone’s rules, pick the most valuable link and follow their rules. Most worthwhile link partners will recognize that your site needs to look good for their benefit as well as yours, and will be flexible.