I often hear clients say they don’t want any external links on their site because that will take visitors away. But sending them away can be a good thing.
I was working with a liquor store on improving their content and one of the pieces they were working on was a history of wine. The first draft was a long treatise on the role of wine in various cultures throughout the past. The problem was, it told visitors a lot about wine, but did nothing to tell them about the store and its owners.
Partly, it was because the piece was written very dryly (ok, mark that as a pun) and so it had no personality. In turn, that meant visitors wouldn’t know if it was cobbled together from various sources or if it was the wording of the owners, so it didn’t further their reputation in any obvious way.
The other point was: there’s plenty of even better material on the internet, from very reputable people. And that’s where external linking comes in.
What I suggested was to shorten the article by focusing on only the most interesting points and writing it from a personal perspective, then link to other sites as background or detail to the points being made. So you still have a page about the history of wine, but it’s YOUR history of wine, supplemented by links to major wine sites. Your site cannot possibly cover every detail of your business or topic, so by linking externally, you expand the value of your site by acting as a guide to your visitors.
But make sure you send visitors to quality sites.
Your reputation depends on sending people to places where they’re getting accurate, useful information (or having a lot of fun). Why would you send them anywhere else?
And an interesting potential by-product of quality linking for SEO purposes is what’s called long-clicking. Suppose someone gets to the liquor store site while searching for the history of wine. Search engines track the time it takes to return to the search results. If people are quickly coming back to the search results after seeing your site (a short-click), it’s an indication that your page may not be a fit for the search phrase. But if they click through from your site to a new site, it extends the time before returning to the search results. Even if your site was not exactly what the visitor was looking for, your external link may give them that, in which case your site ends up helping the searcher in their quest.
And remember, create your link on a phrase that’s descriptive of where you’re sending people, such as this link to a history of port wines.