If I told you that I like the music of Rick Astley or the movie “Howard the Duck”, would you think any less of me? The truth is, we judge people based on their likes and preferences all the time, why would the Internet be any different? Google takes this reputation inference to a whole knew level by judging websites based on how you link to the rest of the Internet. This is why you should be concerned about carefully crafting your linking structure so that you’re giving Googlebot the message that you want it to receive about who you are, what your website truly stands for, and the quality of your work. I’m going to share some important tips on maintaining the health of your outgoing links using a WordPress plugin called WP External Links. This is a plugin that can help you manage the quality of all of the links you’ve created to outside sites, even if you currently have a site with thousands of existing links (and not all of them credible)!
Linking to Credible Sources
Ultimately, the quality of a website boils down to the quality of the writing or other content found there. Quality of writing often boils down to the quality of research the writer has conducted on a specific topic – or the quality of their own expertise. If an author just links to any old article on the Internet that agrees with their claim – that author ends up linking to sources that themselves don’t cite proper research to support its claims. This “lack of citation” problem ripples down through all of the amateur blogs and sites across the net. A quality website will only make claims based on verified research and based on the best websites with credible sources that do good research. Google acknowledges that it gives higher authority to sites that carefully craft external links on its Webmaster Tools page covering how to go about handling “nofollow” links. Google writes:
“If you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the content of pages you link to from your site — for example, untrusted user comments or guestbook entries — you should nofollow those links. This can discourage spammers from targeting your site, and will help keep your site from inadvertently passing PageRank to bad neighborhoods on the web.”
While Google doesn’t come right out and say it – you can just imagine how it will decide to rank a site that does go ahead and pass PageRank to known “bad neighborhoods” on the web, or sites that are labeled by most web safety watchdog groups as unsafe links. The saying, “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” comes to mind. If you’re already linking to solid references like research articles published by educational institutions, or links to blogs written by people who are well-established (and have credentials) in the subject matter, then that reflects well upon the validity of your information and upon your overall credibility. If most of your references are fairly new, independent blogs created by people who don’t have any established authority on the topic at hand, then you can’t blame the search engines for considering your own website as non-credible. Reputation is everything on the Internet. If you’re starting a new blog today, you can try to only link to sites and sources that you know are credible. However, if you have an older site and didn’t follow this rule up until inow, you can still fix things by installing the WP External Links plugin.
Fix Your External Linking Pattern
Once you install and enable WP External Links on your WordPress blog, you can configure the settings to handle all external links on your website a certain way. It’s flexible enough so that you can have it open up all external links in a new tab, rather than replacing the current tab and reducing the chances that the reader will keep exploring your site. Most importantly, you’ll find a field labeled “Ignore links (URL) containing…”, which lets you list all of the websites that you consider to be credible within the niche that you blog about. You separate each link with a carriage return (enter key). Don’t hold back here – make sure to list every single website that you can remember linking to and using as a reference most often in your articles. This should actually be a growing list. Every time you write a new article and you use a new source that you consider to be credible, make sure to return here and add the site to your list. The idea is to build a very large database of websites that you link to, so that Google can see you not only link to only credible sources, but you link to a lot of them. You can also structure your external links to include “nofollow”, “external” or both.
Fine Tuning Your External Linking Structure
Once you enable the plugin, make sure to explore the page source of different web pages on your site to make sure it’s acting in the manner you expect. Here’s one of my pages where you can see that an internal link to my own website doesn’t have a “nofollow”, while an external link to FBI.gov does. That’s actually a bad thing (and a good example of why you should check your top pages and verify things look right). You don’t want to leave out credible sources that you use on your site, because then you have the problem where your authority goes down because you don’t link to enough credible sources! After I finished restructuring my website, I gave the process a few days to settle and for Google to crawl the site. Gradually, I saw a clear rise in overall search traffic – a rise that continue to grow even today, after many weeks of flat traffic. Your linking structure – both internal and external – should not be something that you take for granted. How you link represents your writing quality, your reputation and your credibility as a source of information on the Internet. So, take the time to craft that “link image” so that you are making the impression that you want to be making. Most importantly, this plugin helps with things like links to advertising partners or other paid links. Google urges webmasters to “use nofollow on such links”, especially since not disclosing paid links can lead to penalties by Google, and that’s the last thing you want. If you are concerned about the quality of links on your site at this point, then give this plugin a try and make sure to take the time to really set it up well. Include lots of credible sources you’ve used on your site, and always return to this plugin’s settings often to update with new credible sources that you link to on your site. More important than this plugin though, is changing how you link and how you research when you write content for your site, so that you only use credible sources. This will not only increase the quality of your site, but it’ll contribute to elevating the quality of search results, and of the Internet itself.