Enhancing SEO with Proper Use of the External Link Icon


Written by Peter Keszegh

I'm thrilled to share some insights on a seemingly small yet mighty tool: the external link icon. As a business owner or marketer, you know SEO is king, and external links are a crucial part of that kingdom.

But did you know the humble external link icon can play a significant role in your website optimization efforts? It's not just about aesthetics; it's about guiding users and search engines alike.

In this guide, we'll delve into the power of the external link icon and how its strategic use can elevate your SEO game. We'll explore how it enhances user experience, boosts credibility, and signals search engines that your content is a valuable resource. Get ready to unlock the full potential of the external link icon and watch your website soar in search rankings.

Technical considerations

Now that we're on the same page about the importance of the external link icon, let's dive into the technicalities. Implementing this little gem on your website is surprisingly simple.

Let me break it down for you:

  • The target="_blank" attribute: This magical bit of code tells the link to open in a new tab. This is crucial for improved user experience because it lets your visitors explore external content without leaving your website.
  • The rel="noopener" attribute: This is a security measure, especially for links opening in new tabs. It prevents the new tab from manipulating your original page.

Consistent placement and styling

Think of the external link icon as a friendly guide for your visitors. To make sure they don't get lost, place the icon consistently next to all your external links. Whether it's in your blog posts, footers, or resource pages, a consistent placement creates clarity for external websites.

Styling is equally important. Pick a simple, recognizable icon that aligns with your brand's aesthetic. A consistent style across all pages reinforces your branding and adds a professional touch.

Mobile optimization


Remember, we live in a mobile-first world. So, make sure your external link icon is visible and functional on all screen sizes. Test it on different devices to ensure it doesn't get cut off or become too small to click. A responsive design is key for a seamless user experience.

The bigger picture: SEO and user signals

While we're on the topic of technicalities, let's not forget the bigger picture. Implementing the external link icon isn't just about aesthetics; it has potential SEO benefits too.

  • Search Engine Signals: Search engines like Google pay attention to user behavior signals. When users click on your external links, it signals that your content is a valuable resource. This can positively impact your search rankings.
  • Link Quality: While the external link icon itself doesn't directly influence link quality, it promotes transparency. This can encourage you to choose high-quality external links, which are crucial for SEO.

Remember, the external link icon is a small detail with significant implications. It's a subtle way to enhance transparency, improve user experience, and potentially boost your SEO efforts.

Optimizing for users 

Now that we've tackled the technical side, let's shift our focus to optimizing the user experience. The words you choose for your link text matter – a lot. Think of them as the "open sesame" to the treasure trove of information on another website.

Clear and concise link text

When crafting your link text, clarity is key. Use descriptive phrases that accurately reflect the content of the linked page. Instead of generic "click here," opt for something specific like "Learn more about SEO strategies." This gives users a clear expectation of what they'll find when they click.

Consistent link language

Consistency is your best friend when it comes to external links. Maintain a consistent style for all your external link icons and text. This creates a seamless user experience and reinforces your brand's professionalism.

Avoiding link overload


Remember, moderation is key. Bombarding your readers with excessive links can be overwhelming and detract from the overall user experience. It can also potentially harm your SEO efforts. Search engines might perceive an overload of links as spammy, which can negatively impact your rankings.

Strategic linking

So, how many links are too many? There's no magic number, but a good rule of thumb is to link only when it adds value to the user. If a link doesn't enhance the reader's understanding or provide additional relevant information, consider leaving it out.

Open in new tab: a user-friendly option

We've already touched on the importance of the "target="_blank"" attribute for opening external links in a new tab. This is a fantastic way to improve user experience. It allows users to explore external content without leaving your website, which can help reduce bounce rates and keep them engaged with your content.

Consider offering an alternative linking method, such as opening in a new tab, for a seamless experience. It's a small gesture that can make a big difference in user satisfaction.

The SEO impact 

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: SEO. As a savvy business owner or marketer, you know it's not just about keywords and backlinks anymore. User behavior signals are playing an increasingly important role in search engine rankings.

The role of user behavior signals


Search engines like Google are getting smarter every day. They're not just looking at what's on your website; they're also paying attention to how users interact with it. One crucial metric is the time spent on external sites that you link to.

If users click on your external links and spend a significant amount of time on those sites, it signals to search engines that you're providing valuable resources. This can positively impact your website's authority and potentially improve your rankings.

Building trust and authority

The external link icon isn't just about SEO; it's also about building trust with your audience. By clearly indicating external links, you're showing your visitors that you're not trying to trick them into clicking on something. This transparency can enhance your website's credibility and foster a positive user experience.

Transparency is a cornerstone of trust. When your users feel that you're being upfront with them, they're more likely to engage with your content and come back for more. This can lead to increased traffic, longer dwell times, and ultimately, better search rankings.

Avoiding negative SEO tactics

While we're on the topic of trust, let's talk about what not to do. Some shady SEO practitioners might try to manipulate external links through a technique called cloaking. This involves disguising external links as internal ones, which can mislead both users and search engines.

Cloaking is a big no-no in the SEO world. It's considered a black hat tactic that can seriously harm your website's reputation. If search engines catch you cloaking links, you could face penalties, including lower rankings or even removal from search results.

Play fair and reap the rewards

Remember, SEO is a long-term game. Building a sustainable SEO strategy involves focusing on user experience, transparency, and providing valuable content. By using the external link icon strategically, you're contributing to all three.

Showcasing best practices

Enough theory – let's see some real-world examples of websites that have mastered the art of the external link icon. These examples will give you a clearer picture of how to implement best practices and inspire you to optimize your website.

Example 1: The New York Times


The New York Times is a masterclass in using external link icons effectively. They use a simple, universally recognized icon (a box with an arrow pointing outward) and place it consistently next to every external link. This instantly signals to readers that they're about to leave the website.

Their link text is also descriptive and informative, giving users a clear idea of what to expect on the linked page. For example, a link to an article on another website might say, "Read the full report on The Wall Street Journal."

Example 2: Wikipedia

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, is another excellent example. They use a similar icon style to The New York Times but opt for a slightly different placement. Their external link icon appears at the end of the sentence, after the link text. This still provides clarity without disrupting the flow of the text.

Wikipedia's link text is known for its accuracy and relevance, making it easy for users to navigate to external resources. They also use a consistent format for all their external links, which creates a seamless user experience.

Example 3: Moz

Moz, a leading SEO software company, also understands the value of the external link icon. They use a subtle yet recognizable icon (an arrow pointing upward) placed discreetly next to their external links.

Their link text is informative and often includes the name of the website they're linking to, giving users an extra layer of confidence before clicking.

Taking it a step further 

Want to take your external link icon game to the next level? Consider adding a little extra something: a tooltip. You know, those helpful little pop-up boxes that appear when you hover over an element on a website.

Tooltips: your mini-guides


When it comes to external links, a tooltip can provide additional context and enhance the user experience. Imagine a user hovering over your external link icon, and a small box appears with a brief description of the linked webpage. This gives them a sneak peek before they click, helping them decide if it's relevant to their interests.

A tooltip could say something like, "This link will take you to an external website with detailed information on SEO best practices." It's a subtle yet effective way to improve transparency and guide your users.

Keeping it concise

While tooltips are helpful, remember not to overload them with information. Keep it brief and to the point. A few words or a short sentence are usually enough to provide context. The goal is to enhance the user experience, not overwhelm them with excessive details.

The takeaway

In a nutshell, the external link icon is a small but mighty tool that can significantly impact your website's SEO and user experience. By using this simple icon, you're not just enhancing transparency; you're also signaling to search engines that you're providing valuable, trustworthy content.

The takeaway? Don't underestimate the power of the external link icon. By implementing the strategies we've discussed, you can create a more user-friendly website, build credibility, and potentially boost your search rankings.

So, what are you waiting for? Start incorporating the external link icon and its best practices into your website today. Your users (and search engines) will thank you for it!

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