Google recently started a YouTube series where its search experts provided quick answers to simple questions about search engine optimization (SEO). The first episode dealt with a question we’ve tackled before on this blog: Do outbound (or external) links help or hurt your site’s ranking?
The YouTube series got off to a rocky start, though. Many SEO professionals claim that Google failed to answer the simple question that it posed itself.
However, we think some of that criticism is misguided.
Google’s New YouTube Series for SEO
Because Google’s business model is to give internet users good results for every one of their search queries, the company has a vested interest in building a better internet. This includes getting webmasters and other website owners on board.
Google’s new YouTube series, #AskGoogleWebmasters, aims to give simple, straightforward answers for some common and basic SEO questions.
First Episode Tackles Outbound Links
The first episode in #AskGoogleWebmasters posed the question, “Does linking to other websites help or hurt SEO?”
Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, began by saying that outbound links “are a great way to provide value to your users.” He went on to encourage sites to link to other places on the internet that provided “additional value and more context.”
However, he also admitted that there were some kinds of outbound links to “watch out for,” including:
- Quid pro quo link schemes,
- Advertisements, or links that you’re getting paid to post, and
- Links in user-generated comments on your page.
These links, he suggested, should be accompanied with a “no-follow” tag so search engines skip over them.
Insinuated in this suggestion, of course, is the possibility that a site that doesn’t put a “no-follow” tag on these links could face an SEO penalty.
SEO Professionals Criticize Episode for Not Answering the Question
The response from SEO professionals has been swift and scathing: Google asked itself a question of its own choice and still failed to answer it.
The focus of Mueller’s response was that outbound links help users. But the question Google asked itself was whether outbound links “help or hurt SEO.” The question focused on the website while the answer focused on the users.
A lot of SEO pros are already tagging the new YouTube series as useless for getting off to such a poor start.
We Think the Criticism is Unfair Because That’s What SEO Has Become
If you ask us, the attack on the YouTube series is unfair because we don’t think Mueller confused a site’s SEO with the experience of the site’s userbase. SEO and user experience is becoming increasingly intertwined, these days, so catering to users is becoming SEO.
We think the holding of this short video is that outbound links that add value and context to a webpage benefit users, thereby helping the site’s SEO. However, there are three per se rules where outbound links will hurt, instead:
- The link is being made in exchange for a link from the destination
- The link is an advertisement and you’re not disclosing the fact you’re being compensated to include it
- Links from user-generated comments count, too