Can Outbound Links Hurt Your Rankings - an SEO Case Study.

Outbound or off-site linking is actually part of your on-site SEO ranking strategy.  Here I am going to do a case study on whether the guru's who know it all are right or wrong by showing you whether outbound links to authority web sites can hurt your current standing in the SERP or can benefit the rankings.

Nothing at all beats doing a case study - NOTHING - it does not matter what the so-called experts say, the fact remains that the closest answer you will ever get as to whether outbound links work or not is via a study.  That being said, when reviewing the results of this test for yourself and your own SEO needs, bear in mind that there are other factors at play which can never be accounted for and these may skew the results.  However, overall there should be a measurable adjustment in rank as a result of applying the methodology, be it large or small, and this is what we are looking for.

I am going to choose not one, not two but three domains to perform this case study with.  Hopefully this will get shut of many the whiners who will always think up ways to discredit a trial rather than help.  They do this for their own reasons - not ours, usually financial, for example they don't want the truth revealed because it is their last sloppy little secret in their dwindling SEO arsenal of tools.  So whilst there will be a few complainers out there once this is complete, the results will speak for themselves and my readers will be able to make up their own mind based on evidence whether or not giving outbound links to authority domains is worth the risk or effort.

So in summary, bear in mind that whilst even I admit that whilst its not 100% robust (very little - if anything - is regarding SEO), this study is an excellent stab at providing data which should help towards the decision making process.

Outbound Links to Authority Domains

Where do the outbound links go?


Interesting question and very important.  The outbound link target websites (as in the yellow star above) are defined as an "authority" in current theory.  In other words, the last thing we want to do is give a precious link to some noddy website which has nothing but bad history behind it, ripped off content and a poor link profile.

To define an authority, the target sites will be :-
Sub pages on domains which rank highly for a specific phrase.
Showing sitelinks in the serp for their domain name.
Are registered for more than 10 years.
Have a DA > 40 - as this is HIGHLY subjective in terms of what people think the DA should be to class a domain as an authority.



Where do the outbound links come from?


Additionally - the links will be from sub-pages of the experimental sites, and they will point at ranking pages of the target domain.  I could well create sub->root links by default - however relevancy can be diluted on the root page of the target for the specific phrase targeted by the linking page.  So the idea is to link to the ranking relevant page - which may or may not be the root.  I will note if this is the case below.

The linking (source) sub-pages will already be indexed - so the addition of the links will be changes to the pages - and therefore be the cause of any ranking change.  Adding new pages to an existing experimental domain which contain outbound links would cause them to enter the serp at a position which would likely factor the outbounds and therefore no postition change would be available for observation over time.



How will doing this effect the rankings for other pages on the sites doing the outbound linking?


A very important consideration when giving an outbound link is how will this effect the performance of the source website overall.  For the purpose of this test, the links will be NOFOLLOW.  The logic being that the PR from the linking page will not be diminished - and therefore will distribute in an unchanged manner within the site.  It could be stated that the test is only valid for DOFOLLOW - but then again who would state this?  Who has this knowledge?

We could potentially do more case studies with modified attributes - should the need arise.

Outbound Links Case Study on Domain 1.

 

Source site details.

This domain is loaded with a Wordpress Blog.  It is a product review website.  The domain itself is 8 months since registration - it is in good standing but with weak metrics as defined by AHREFS.  There are currently zero outbound links on this domain.

These are the site explorer data on the root.
 

Linking site stats

 

13/Nov/2 015

(Overall effects on domain)

The root page sits at page 1 position 7 (slot 7) for a target phrase.

SERP return is 1,270,000 (very low - no competition.)
-----------
(Page specific test)

For "<PRODUCT NAME> Review."  search term (entered without quotes) - the source sub-page is at page 4 position 3 (slot 33)

SERP return is 98,000 (very very low)

Today added 1 nofollow link to the test page pointing to an authority domain which currently holds the number 1 spot for the target.

The anchor text used for the link is not exact match for the phrase - but partial.

 

Out Linking page cached 21st November

26/Nov/2 015

Root page fallen from page 1 pos 7 to page 1 pos 8
Page specific no change at page 4 pos 3 (slot 33)
 

08/Dec/2 015

No Chages since above.

Outbound Links Case Study on Domain 2.

 

Source site details.

An actual website - reviews again - but this time it is a hand written website (IE not a blog).  It is registered only 4 months ago, in good favour with google (ie no penalties) - just weak.  The domain links to no other sites at all.
 

Outbounds linking test.

 

13/Nov/2 015

(Overall effects on domain)

For generic "<PRODUCT NAME / CONCEPT> Reviews."  search term (entered without quotes) - the domain root page is at page 1 position 10 (slot 10)

SERP return is 177,000 (very low - but quite competetive with some big long time players.)

-------------
(Page specific test)

Current position of testing sub-page for a test phrase is page 2 pos 4 (slot 14)

SERP return for test phrase is 30,800 (extremely low)

Today inserted 1 nofollow link to the test sub-page pointing to an authority domain which currently holds the number 4 spot for the target phrase of the test page.
 

19/Nov/2 015

Outbound Linking page now cached (16/Nov) - No Change - still page 2 pos 4 (slot 14)

26/Nov/2 015

Any position changes in the serps?
No change on root
No change on outbound linking page

08/Dec/2 015

No Change on root or outbound linking page.

Outbound Links Case Study on Domain 3.

 

Source site details.

Site loaded up with another WP blog.  A totally generic site which talks about anything and everything.  The site is 11 months old.  Good standing all round and there ARE already offsite links on the site.  This includes the test subpage which links to two sites already - neither of which are authorities in any capacity.
 

Case study 3 for outbounds.

 

13/Nov/2 015

(Overall effects on domain)

For a generic type of phrase, the root of this domain is at page 5 position 9 (slot 49).

SERP return is 1,190,000,000 (very high volume of sites - but phrase not chased at all I would say)

-------------
(Page specific test)

Current position of testing sub-page for a test phrase is page 1 pos 9 (slot 9)

SERP return for test phrase is 24,500,000 (relatively high but low skilled competition)

Today inserted 1 nofollow link to the test sub-page pointing to an authority domain which currently holds the number 7 spot for the target phrase of the test page.
 

 

Waiting crawl.

26/Nov/2 015

Still Waiting crawl.
However root is now at page 5 pos 3
Subpage doing the linking is still page 1 pos 9 (waiting on crawl of this page).

08/Dec/2 015

Still Waiting crawl.
Subpage now at page 1 pos 4 on its own - so this effectively is the new point to see if there is a rise from following the crawl when it finally happens!

Other considerations.

Things which occur to me as I do this include the effect on the page specific (IE the pages doing the linking) of the anchor text used for the link to the authority.  For example.  Lets assume my source page is about Captain Cook - and I link out with that as the anchor text.  Would this help my sub-page rank higher for Captain Cook - moreso than if I simply mentioned him in the paragraph and then anchored with "Click Here"?  We can dig deeper into this sort of question later.  The primary objective is to see whether or not there is ANY MOVEMENT on the pages we are working with here, which includes 3 roots and 3 subs - with the subs doing the linking as described and monitored above.

Any changes can definitely be attributed to the inclusion of the link, further testing can be introduced should we seek clarification on the effects of the anchor text itself, and how this may or may not be detrimental.  Advanced thinking may include the defining or at the very least addressing the concept of an outbound link profile in a similar manner to that which we know something about where inbound links are concerned - but this is realistically beyond the scope of this case study.

CASE CLOSED - OUTBOUND LINKING TO AUTHORITY SITES HAS NOT HELPED ANY OF THE PAGES IN QUESTION - AT ALL AFTER OVER 3 WEEKS.  THE LAST STUDY HASN'T BEEN CRAWLED - BUT THIS TEST IS REALLY NOT WORTH ANY MORE EFFORT.
I WOULD HAVE TO IGNORE ANYONE TELLING YOU TO LINK UNLESS THEY CAN PROVE OTHERWISE.
 

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If you're looking to find out how tough internet marketing REALLY is - follow me on my IMJourney with actual case studies.

My name is Martin Swift, I have around 18 years of IM and SEO experience full time, am a computer programmer with around 25 years  programming experience in languages such as C, PHP, VB, HTML etc.

I've used or developed HUNDREDS of websites from ecommerce carts, to doorways in the old days, to squeeze pages and run of the mill day to day information sites and blogs.

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