A nasty rumor has been going around the web and it has caused a lot of problems for bloggers, webmasters, SEOs, link builders, and even site visitors and readers. In an effort to hold on to Google’s ever important PageRank, some people are unwilling to link out to other websites and only link internally within their own site. The thought being that linking out to websites will make their PageRank flow right out the door and they’ll lose everything they’ve been striving for. But this is a backwards way to approach the web and it creates a poor web experience for your site’s visitors.
The Good Ol’ Days
Before Google became the controlling search engine and people worried about PageRank and search engine rankings, the natural way for people to share content with their readers was to – you guessed it – link to other sites! The internet is built around links and without sharing the love your site becomes a selfish black hole that only hoards links for itself. The new metrics that Google has given us to judge how much authority our sites have are great, but the information about how they work quickly becomes misinterpreted and these kinds of rumors lead to bad linking policies.
An Ongoing Battle
The sad fact is that this debate has been raging for quite some while now, but there are still a lot of people who think that if they link outside of their domain they’ll lose PageRank. This article was written in 2009 which makes it about 300 years old in internet years, but it explains how PageRank on a site works and disproves the “bucket view” of losing PageRank through outbound links.
The Tom Selleck Effect
While I like the Daily Blog Tips example of how PageRank works, I’ve come up with my own way to describe it. Imagine you’re walking down the street, minding your own business when all of a sudden you notice Tom Selleck walking towards you (or someone equally cool, if that’s possible). Now you’re just a normal Joe but Tom Selleck sees potential in you and raises up his hand to offer a high five. That high five is just like a link on the internet. While giving you a high five did nothing to lower Mr. Selleck’s street cred, it managed to raise yours considerably; you won’t stop talking about it for years and will come up in stories like, “I had a friend who got a high five from Magnum P.I.” Links work in the same way.
When you link out to another site you are merely giving them a nod of approval which Google takes into account. PageRank does flow to that site, but it flows like a high five transfers “coolness” with nothing actually leaving your site.
Where the Confusion Comes From
So why do so many people have this common misconception when it comes to outbound links? Well I think it has a lot to do with terminology in the fact that we, in the SEO world, often say PageRank flows or link juice passes on from one site to another. This creates the mental image that something is leaving its source and being transferred to another site. This doesn’t make any sense, because if that were the case there would have to be a finite amount of PageRank or link juice on the internet and it would get so diluted and rare (unless Google fed mass amounts of it into the “market”) that it would create a plethora of problems – one of which would be people refraining from linking out to other websites.
There are a handful of bloggers and webmasters who don’t worry about losing PageRank, but they do worry about losing their sites visitors and readers if they link to other sites. This is a fair thing to worry about and it is a more legitimate reason to not link out than doing so for fear of losing PageRank. But at the same time, it’s another issue that shouldn’t be a major worry to webmasters. A simple way to get past this is to simply make all of the links on your site open in new tabs in the visitor’s web browser. That way you don’t have to worry about your visitors getting lost in throughout the web, and you can supply them with relevant information and give them a better experience.
Naturally Build Links
What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are real world benefits to linking out to other websites. If you cite your sources and link to the blog post where you got some of your information, like I’ll do here to this Blog Munchies post, the webmaster will usually get a ping-back telling them that someone is linking to their post. In this case, Lisa will be much more likely to share the post on her social media profiles and may even link back to the article in an update of her own. Sharing the love is always a good thing, especially online where too often we forget that we are engaging with real people, not just websites and computers.
At the end of the day you are judged by the company you keep. If you link out to low quality websites that are spammy you will see a negative reaction from your visitors as well as search engine rankings. You still won’t lose any PageRank, but you could very well lose rankings in the search engines. If you are linking to quality sites that are relevant and provide a good experience to your visitors then where’s the harm in that? Stop stressing about your PageRank and whether or not you are gaining or losing it and start focusing on giving your visitors the best experience you can provide. This will lead to much more success in the long run than trying to beat the system.