When sending your visitors off your site can actually be a good thing

by Michael P. Hill

When sending your visitors off your site can actually be a good thing

While building your site using a Shopify theme and creating content, you might be overlooking the opportunity to include quality external links from within your store.

External links, as their name implies, are links that are connected to a site or a page on a completely different domain name or subdomain than your Shopify store.

You can create off-site links in any main menu navigation item, product and collection descriptions or page or blog post content.

Most often you’ll likely want to focus on links within product and collection descriptions or within page or blog post content since including an external link in your main navigation could be confusing to users not expecting it.

While it might seem counterintuitive to send users off your site, there are some legitimate reasons to do this:

  • Linking to articles or reviews on news, blogs or other sites that feature your products or services can be a great way for shoppers to learn more about your products or company.
  • Off-site articles like this can also help build customer trust and authority — shoppers are often savvy enough to know that you control product descriptions and other content on your own site, but having a write-up in a familiar blog can boost how they view your site and products.
  • Linking to relevant content on sites closely related to your industry can also boost your store’s authority and trustworthiness in the eyes of your shoppers. For example, industry associations or publications that hold value to your shoppers are a great choice.
  • Consider linking to social media mentions of your store or products.
  • On a related note, you can also link to dynamic social media streams that feature a hashtag you use frequently. With Twitter, URLs follow this format: https://twitter.com/hashtag/HashTag, Instagram uses https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/HashTag and Facebook uses https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/HashTag. These will show users a dynamic real-time list feed of content with the hashtag. This can be a great way to showcase social media proof with reviews, users photos and more. The one thing to keep in mind with this is that anyone with an account can create a public post with a hashtag and, potentially, make it appear to your users who click the link.
  • Alternatively, you can also link directly to a specific social post to spotlight it. This can be a good tactic with reviews or testimonials posted on social media — grab an excerpt of what’s in the post and use it as anchor text to link to the post’s “permalink” to let shoppers see the full, real post for themselves. On most social network platforms, clicking the post’s date and time (or the “minutes” or “hours” ago label) will take you to the permalink.
  • For sites that have “sister” stores, sites in different languages or wholesale sites on separate domains or subdomains, it can be useful to include links to these sites in your main navigation or other locations.
  • If you don’t carry a certain product that your shoppers might be after — and don’t have plans to expand your product line — you might consider linking to another store that does carry it. If the site has one, consider joining their affiliate or referral program so you can earn a commission on the sales you send their way.
  • If the other site doesn’t have an affiliate program or isn’t willing to pay you for referrals, consider adding ?utm_source=YourDomainName.com to the end of external URLs. This will cause your site’s address to appear in those site owners’ Google Analytics accounts in most cases, assuming they use this popular tool and shows the traffic you send their way which could even open up a discussion about a more formal partnership in the future.
  • While some in the SEO community believe that having a few relevant and high-quality external links is a “good thing” in the eyes of a search engine, most evidence seems to invalidate this. However, if you have a legitimate reason to link to an external page to better serve your visitors, it seems logical that you wouldn’t be penalized for doing so — plus the fact that you might be improving user experience for shoppers.

When you do link off-site, consider these tactics:

  • Link directly to the most relevant page you can find rather than just the homepage of the site — unless that’s most relevant.
  • Use Shopify’s built-in link tool to open the link in a new tab or window. In most modern browsers this will open in a new tab — which means users will be able to view the content you link to and then easily close the tab to return to your store. 
  • Consider the anchor text you use. The text should give users a reasonable expectation of what they will see when they click the link.
  • If you need to include an external link in your main navigation, opening it in a new tab will likely require some development time. You can also consider adding an icon next to these links to make it more clear that they lead to an external site. 

While some recommend adding a “nofollow” tag to your external links, I’m not a fan of this for a few reasons:

  • First, if you found the site relevant enough to link to then it’s always nice to “help out” that site by giving them a well-earned backlink. After all, you’re linking to their site as a way to give your shoppers more information, which is essentially the definition of a valuable earned backlink.
  • "Nofollow” links can be seen as an “unnatural” approach to building content. Again, if you find the content good enough to link to, then it likely should remain a “follow” link. 
  • Finally, there is limited evidence that suggests sites or pages that have a high number of “nofollow” tags are viewed as lower quality and this could harm your SEO. While the true effects of this tag are debatable, I tend to avoid using “nofollow” tags because there’s rarely a good reason to — and why risk it?

Including external links to other sites can have many advantages, if done right and strategically — and is something that can be done while you’re building out a new site or reviewing content for updates.

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn. While comments and feedback are always appreciated, Michael regrets that, due to the volume of inquires received, personal responses are not possible. For specific assistance or support with Out of the Sandbox themes, visit the help center.