I always say that it’s more important that you don’t link out to spammy sites than they link to your site. This is because Google’s algorithms don’t care about a couple of spammy backlinks unless they’re sure that you’re using them for manipulative purposes.
Now, I often see careless people linking out to bad sites either unknowingly, or because they’re selling links from their website. This is of much higher importance, because you have direct control over your site’s outbound links, i.e. who you link to.
Can my site get penalized?
It might not always be a manual action, but practically you’ll find your site performing poorer than it should. In addition, these might be a few indications that your site has been hit by an algorithmic penalty:
- Google Authorship (rich snippets) doesn’t work on your site for any author, despite of the Rich Snippets Testing Tool showing you that Authorship is correctly implemented.
- Even for an extremely unpopular search phrase, other irrelevant results appear first on SERPs ahead of the relevant page of your site.
- Even with many genuine, high-quality and high-authority links to a particular page in your site, it fails to outrank other ordinary pages.
Spammy Outbound Links = Bad
Outbound linking creates associations between your site and the ones you link out to. This is why often SEOs advise you to link out to trusted authority sites frequently. Obviously, if you link out to ‘make money through cheap viagra’ (lol) sites often, it’ll make search engines think, “this site is also associated with that horrible site” and they may impose penalties on your site.
Another rule of thumb is, don’t link out to an already penalized site.
As you can see in the diagram above, you should avoid linking out to sites known to be penalized.
What kind of links should I avoid?
Seriously, you shouldn’t link to awful sites with such anchor-texts. You commit the crime once, and your site’s reputation may be irreversibly hurt in the eyes of Google.
How to check for such links?
Use a tool like Ahrefs. Enter your domain, check for outbound linking domains, export the list in a .csv and have a detailed look in Excel. Sort by domain, mark the suspicious looking ones, manually check the links and anchor-texts. If they look bad, remove them.
I already have such links, now what?
Remove them. There’s no other way. Nowadays, with semantic relevance and deep page analysis, even a rel=nofollow won’t save you from Google’s wrath.
If there are tons, block googlebot from accessing them by disallowing them in your robots.txt.
How do I know when a penalty is lifted?
- Your site should perform significantly better on search engines.
- If Google Authorship wasn’t previously working for your site, it should work now.
In terms of impact in getting your site penalized: outbound links > inbound links.
You should make sure that your own site doesn’t link to a single spammy site before going out on a backlink profile audit. How your site behaves, is an indicator of how your site really is; and outbound linking is a major part of that behaviour.
So, what do you think about the importance of outbound links in SEO?