External linking is the practice of including links to other websites within your content. These links help search engines understand the context of the page, as well as provide a good user experience. External linking to high-quality sources may help boost ‘E-A-T’ (expertise, authority, & trustworthiness) in the ‘eyes’ of search engines and build topical authority for your website.
Below, we’ve compiled key takeaways relating to external linking best practices from Google’s ongoing SEO Office Hours sessions.
For more on optimizing your website’s links for search engines check out our additional resources:
5 Internal Linking Strategies to Boost SEO and Drive Organic Traffic.
Is it possible to have too many external links in your website content?
Any limit on outgoing external links is theoretical and unlikely to get reached naturally.
One user asked whether there’s a limit to the number of external links they can use on an editorial piece of content. Google’s John Mueller said that, theoretically, there is a limit, but even sites with mega menus on their pages are unlikely to ever reach this limit. Just be reasonable and include links that are going to add genuine value for users. As long as you’re not using external links in a very over-the-top way, you’ll most likely be fine.
Linking to an HTTP site (as opposed to HTTPS) won’t damage your own domain’s organic search performance
According to John Mueller, there is no negative SEO impact to be had from linking to an external HTTP site (as opposed to HTTPS). If the webpage you’re linking to is on HTTP, there won’t be any negative repercussions for your own domain.
The ‘target’ attribute within links does not influence ranking
It was mentioned by John in this session that the target attribute within links is ignored by Google for ranking purposes, as it simply refers to how a link should be opened and Google only focuses on the href attribute. But if there is a blank href and a target attribute of ‘self’, then it’s likely that Google would drop the link because there is no destination if a link is pointing to itself.
Updating backlinks to a migrated domain helps with canonicalization
An attendee was talking about a website migration from domain A to domain B. They were setting up redirects, but asked whether the page authority and rankings would be negatively affected if there were many existing backlinks that point to domain A.
John replied that setting up redirects and using the Change of Address tool in Search Console will help Google understand the changes that have occurred during a site migration. However, he said that on a per-page basis they also try to look at canonicalization. When dealing with canonicalization on migrated domains, John said that redirects, internal links, and canonical tags play a role —- but external links also play a role. What could happen, if Google sees a lot of external links going to the old URL, is that they might index the old URL instead of the new one. This could be because they think the change might be temporary due to these linking signals. During site migrations, they recommend finding the larger websites linking to your previous domain and requesting that those backlinks are updated to make sure that they can align everything with the new domain.
Many sites don’t require a disavow file
One user asked about managing the size of their site’s disavow file. Only links that could make a user or Google think they’ve been paid for belong in a disavow file. That means that not every instance of a spammy or low-quality link to your site needs to be included in a disavow file. John suggested that a disavow file isn’t necessary for most websites (and having one could be causing more problems than it solves).
Google algorithms can still lose trust in sites displaying a strong pattern of manipulative links
Google tries to isolate and ignore spammy or toxic backlinks. However, there still are some cases where a site with a very strong pattern of unnatural links can lose trust and be penalized with a drop in visibility.
No Need to Disavow Links From Sites that Have Decreased in Traffic or Popularity Over Time
It can be natural for some sites to receive less traffic over time, so there’s no need to disavow links from sites that have decreased in popularity, unless the link itself is spam.
Rel=”sponsored” & Rel=”ugc” Attributes Aren’t Essential
It isn’t essential to include rel=sponsored and rel=ugc link attributes, as some sites may find that rel=nofollow is working well for them. These newer link attributes can give Google more context around links, but it isn’t necessary to update all the links on your site if everything is working correctly.
Links Don’t Depreciate in Value Over Time, But Pages They’re Found on Can
The signals that a link has won’t depreciate in value over time. However, the pages that the links are found on and link to externally may become less important over time as they are hidden deeper within a site’s architecture, especially if it is a site that is changed and updated often.
External Links Shown in GSC Can Contain Disavowed or Nofollowed Links
The external links shown in Google Search Console are a sample of all the links found by Google, so not all of them will be displayed in the tool. The sample data may include links that have been disavowed or nofollowed.