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A lot of us grew up believing things that were later debunked.

We now know that you don’t get a cold by going outside in cold weather. If we swallow chewing gum, it won’t take seven years to digest. And you don’t need to wait an hour after eating to go swimming.

The world of digital marketing has its own superstitions, including this one:

You shouldn’t link to other websites.

And on one hand, we can understand this concern. You’ve put a lot of effort getting people to your site, so why give them an opportunity to leave?

Yet there are some good reasons for linking to other websites:

It helps your page’s search engine rankings

A study published last year by the British marketing firm Reboot found that there is a positive relation between the outbound links on a web page and its search engine ranking.

The company created 10 new sites that targeted the same keywords. Each site contained similar – although not identical – content, but only half of them included links to “very high authority” sources: the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the Genome Research Institute.

After a five-month period, the study concluded that search engine algorithms do take outbound links into account. The five pages that included these links all ended up ranking higher than the pages that had no external links.

When you link out, others will link back to you

When you link to other people’s websites, it sends them a message that you’re not operating in a bubble, but instead part of a larger community, and someone who values their insights. When you link out in a consistent, thoughtful way, it increases the chances that other sites will link back to you.

And if they don’t link back to you right away, don’t fret. You’ve at least gotten their attention, which means you have a greater chance to networking with them down the road.

It improves your chances of being shared on social media

When another online source sees that you’ve linked to them, they will share the content you’ve made on their social media feeds.

Think about how often you’ve seen this sort of thing on your networks: “Got a nice mention in [Company X’s] blog this week.” This can help you rank higher on search engines, or at the very least increase your profile on various social media platforms.

Before you decide to link to outside sources, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is it relevant to your website or your industry? If not, it won’t look natural to Google, and you may find yourself penalized.
  • How much authority do they have? If you’re linking to something you found on page 11 of the search results, it may not be your best resource.
  • Where will the link open? Make sure the new link will open in a new web page, so that your reader will still have a foothold on your website.