External links are hyperlinks on a website that point to a page on a different domain.

There are 2 types of external links:

  • Inbound external links: Links from other sites to yours, more commonly known as backlinks.
  • Outbound external links: Links from your site to other sites.

Outbound external links are not a ranking factor, but they can be a small part of quality content. Specifically, if you cite statistics and various claims, linking to an authoritative source can contribute to that page’s quality. And quality is the #1 ranking factor.

Backlinks, on the other hand, can impact websites in a few key ways:

  • Referral traffic: External links from other reputable websites can drive valuable referral traffic to your site.
  • Link authority: High-quality external links pointing to your site can positively impact your rankings. It should be noted that in 2024, Google analyst Greg Illyes has indicated that backlinks are no longer in the top 3 of ranking factors.
  • Relevance signals: External links from topically relevant pages help search engines better understand and categorize your content, which can improve rankings for relevant queries.
  • Anchor text signals: The anchor text used in external links provides clues about the content of the linked page. Links with descriptive, relevant anchor text may help the linked page rank for those terms.

    Note that backlinks can also have a negative impact if they come from spammy or low-quality sites and are part of a link scheme a site owner has intentionally participated in. These types of backlinks typically are paid links, marketed as providing a shortcut to improved rankings.

    Paying for advertorial links is fine as long as the “nofollow” and/or “sponsored” tags are added to those links.