Reading a recent article on the things you shouldn't do as you build web sites, the author stated, "Don't link 'out' unless you *want* your visitors to leave!"
That might apply if you're building a one-trick pony, that is, a mini web site only designed to sell one product. For everyone else, this is among the worst web site design advice I've ever seen. How do I fault thee? Let me count the ways:
1) First and foremost is the link popularity factor. Search engines use link popularity as the primary factor in ranking your site. If you don't have a lot of links to your site, you're not going to rank well.
Trading links with sites, and especially sites with content that complements your content, is the main way you obtain the all important incoming links. What are you going to do, write to other webmasters and ask them to link to your site so it can be popular with search engines, but then say that you can't give them a reciprocal link? Yeah, that works.
2) The advice assumes a visitor will stay longer if there are no links out. Your visitors are going to leave whether you provide the links for them or not. They will use their book marks, back button, or type an address into the browser themselves. Not providing links doesn't keep them on your site longer. What keeps them there is quality content. If you have quality content they will stay until satisfied and possibly bookmark your site and come back again.
If you don't have quality content nothing in the world will keep them on your site one minute longer. Any perception that you're trying to trap them there will be met with resentment. Lack of quality content and lack of quality links makes for a *very* forgettable web site.
3) I have over a dozen sites bookmarked just because they have great links on them. I asked several friends if they did the same thing, and each one said they did. I don't think that's unusual. Great links are just one more section of quality content that you can add to your site, and quality content is what makes or breaks a site.
I've had several people write to thank me for the links I offer. Rather than causing people to leave your site, it brings them back. If you look at it logically, search engines and directories are nothing but links, but they are among the most popular sites on the Internet. If people are coming back, even if it's just for links, you'll have that many more chances to attract them to your offerings.
If you're afraid of losing your visitors because you provide links out, then perhaps you don't have enough confidence in your site or your content. Perhaps you should spend more time working on that and less time about worrying how long you can keep someone trapped.
4) One of the things that people like about the Internet is the sense of community. Isolating yourself infers to some that you have no desire to be a part of this global community. It says you're only in it for your own selfish interests rather than being a part of a larger community of Netizens. Isolationism is unattractive to some users, so even if you've done well in other areas, you may be met with skepticism.
5) The writer's advice of not linking out unless you want people to leave your site completely ignores the fact that exchanging links also brings traffic TO your site.
My site is in the top 1% of the most linked-to-sites on the Internet according to websmostlinked.com. It serves about 750,000 page views per month. Less than 35% of my traffic comes from search engines. That means over 65% of my traffic comes from links or a bookmark, and I do have good search engine rankings for several keywords so it's not balanced that way because of my search engine rankings.
I didn't develop that kind of traffic by isolating my site. The writer didn't say what kind of traffic his web site has. Could it be he just didn't want to brag? It's possible, but he didn't give any advice on how he's getting big time traffic, so maybe isolationism isn't such a good idea.
Granted, there may be certain specific situations where you might want a site with no outgoing links. But that would be the exception, not the rule. Links should be a vital part of most web sites, and not just an afterthought. The quality of your links reflects on the quality of your web site. Link well and wisely.
Dennis Gaskill is the creator and owner of Boogie Jack's Web Depot at http://www.boogiejack.com - a popular webmasters resource site ranking in the top 1% of the most linked to sites on the Internet. He is also author of the new book Web Site Design Made Easy and publishes Almost a Newsletter, named the Best Ezine of 2000.