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Context in Outbound Links for High Ranking SEO

Optimize your outbound links for SEO and avoid getting a penalty.

Screenshot of image representing outbound links for Google SEO

Linking out to other sites is important. The sites you choose to link to can cause your site to lose rankings. This article discusses outbound links for SEO.

Is the Context Relevant?

One consideration is the context of the page you’re linking to. Context, in this example, means the setting that defines or clarifies what a word means.

During the heyday of link selling and buying during the mid-2000’s, I remember spotting an article about octopus ink linking out to a printer ink site. A less obvious example of a mismatch is linking to a Thai travel website from a Thai recipe site.

That’s something called semantic relevance. The assumption is that because the words ink and Thai are similar to the other sites that this is semantically relevant and should work.  But it doesn’t.

The word ink is contextualized by the noun octopus.  The word octopus changes the context of the word ink.

Similarly, the context of Thai recipes is the act of cooking. The context of Thai travel is tourism. This thing about semantic relations can be stretched to become an excuse for a poor link.

Exact Match from Paragraph Level

What you link to should ideally be an exact match from the paragraph that contains your link to content that exists on the page you’re linking to.

This is referred to as the immediate context of a link. In images and in links, the words around the images and outbound links help to define them. It’s not just the anchor text.

So, an exact match between the context of the paragraph from which the link is on to the linked site, means that it’s likely a good match for both.

Understanding Normal Linking Patterns

What needs to be done is to make sure that outbound links are to normal websites. The site you link to should ideally have normal inbound links that don’t look like they were paid for. Disregard spammy scraper type links.

Consider On-Page Spam Factors

Poor quality content can be seen as on-page spam.

Consider Off-Page Spam Factors

Off-page inbound link patterns can give you an insight into whether you should get involved with this other site. It can get kind of tricky judging other sites because successful sites tend to accumulate low quality random links.

Outbound Links May be a Ranking Signal

Who you link to can be used to understand what your web page is about. There is ample evidence that Google can use outbound links to have an idea of what your page is about.

In 2009, Matt Cutts, formerly the Head of the Web Spam Team published this advice on how to link out:

“In the same way that Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods, parts of our system encourage links to good sites.”

Outbound Links Do Not Validate Your Page

Outbound links to quality sites help define your site as a quality site. But, because spam sites link to quality sites, too, it’s important to obtain high quality inbound links.

Here is a summary of how linking patterns work:

  • Normal sites linking to normal sites is normal
  • Spam sites linking to normal sites is normal
  • Normal sites linking to spam sites is not normal

Link Out But Link Well

An important consideration is if the context of  the outbound link matches the context of the content being linked to.  A second consideration is the inbound link patterns of the site you’re linking to, if they appear to be paid. Then the third consideration is if the outbound link patterns of the site you are linking to are not to spam sites.

More Resources

Category SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Context in Outbound Links for High Ranking SEO

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