From an SEO point of view, when is it advisable to link out to a resource, and will linking out actually help my natural search rankings? If so, can you explain why?
Linking out to trusted, relevant sites is a great way to provide additional value to users, but it's not going to have a dramatic impact on a site's organic search visibility. However, search engines have said that "hub" sites must have links going in and out to demonstrate their authority. That being said, marketers should avoid linking to poor-quality and/or irrelevant sites for two reasons: they are not as useful to users, and search engines may associate the linking site with a "bad neighborhood."
Todd D. Malicoat
Optimal websites link out. Great sites link to other great sites where it is worthwhile to do so. Logic follows that linking out is something excellent sites do and should be a part of your website creation equation. I'm pretty willing to bet that in most instances, linking to other sites with the internal anchor text that you want a page to rank for is not a terrible idea for a higher rankings variable in search engines.
See also: "Don't be Afraid to Link Out," and "Outbound Link Case Study."
In my opinion it is never advisable to link out for any SEO-driven purpose. I ask my clients this question: If there were no search engines at all, and I mean none, would you still consider linking to this site? If the answer is "no," that's a flag to me and a frank discussion of user intent and experience needs to take place.
From a business standpoint, it's advisable to link out when a source will help reinforce a position or statement you're making, add credibility to your products or be of value to your users as a reference.
From a ranking standpoint, linking out to sources that use the same/similar verbiage and keyword phrases helps to establish relevancy for your terms. Keep in mind, even outbound links using keywords in the anchors are on-page content for you. Keep your anchors relevant to your on-page topic and pointing to pages similar to your own.
Linking out is something I recommend all sites do, not just for SEO purposes, but to help their perception as good internet citizens and to help earn links back in. A recent study of news sites confirmed that "in general there is a strong relationship between news websites linking out and getting links in return."
As far as SEO goes, I'm generally of a mind that search engines certainly don't want to punish external linking -- or their entire link graph would break -- and probably want to reward it in many cases. Link to good sites, become a good resource, and visitors will come back to you again and again. When search engines see this type of behavior, they'll find ways to encourage linking in their algorithms.
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