Outbound, or external, links take a user to a site on a different domain from the one on which the link exists. Using outbound links can be a great way to give your customers extra information or added value.

But it can also get you into trouble if you don’t link wisely. Here’s how to stay in your customers’ -and search engines’- good graces:

Credibility and Authority

While some website owners are afraid that using outbound links will send visitors off their site, never to return, the truth is that quality links can help your site.

First, you’ll be able to give your visitors more information than you can provide on a short web page or blog post, building trust and value for them.

Second, you’ll boost your own credibility by citing sources for information you use on your site. Using external links shows you’ve done your research and didn’t pull your information from biased or unreliable sources.

And third, linking out to other websites helps you connect and build relationships with those site owners. Your links will show up in their list of referrers (if they’re using a decent analytics tool), and this connection could land you a valuable colleague or partner.

Proper Link Strategy

The key to using outbound links without running into trouble is to make sure you’re linking to quality websites. This means no spammy sites, and no links you’re being paid to promote without telling your readers about it upfront.

One potential pitfall that affects blog owners, especially, is unmonitored links posted by visitors to the site. The most common form of this is comment spam, in which a person or bot leaves comments on your blog with one or more links to spam websites.

Whether posted by you or your commenters, links to spam sites can seriously hurt your search ranking. And if you get hit by a lot of spam comments, your site can start to look like a link farm to Google, which will impose penalties on you.

You can protect yourself from these links by carefully monitoring your comments, allowing only one link per commenter, and adding a nofollow attribute to all user-generated links.

Paid links are links to advertising pages for products or services you’re being paid to promote on your website. These links are very annoying to most visitors, especially if you don’t let them know that the link will take them to a sponsored advertisement.

These links can also make visitors lose trust in you and in the information you provide them. If you plan to use promotional links on your site, make sure they’re clearly marked as such to keep your reputation intact.

Outbound linking can be a great strategy for building value into your website.

As long as you’re linking to reputable sites and avoiding bad online neighborhoods, you can build a stronger relationship with your visitors — a relationship that could translate into a boost to your bottom line.

About the Author: Freelance blogger Angie Mansfield covers a variety of subjects for consumers and small business owners. Her work has addressed topics such as business growth, marketing, and convertible car seats for children.