Learning SEO : Internal & External Links
The Importance Of Linking
In the past, links were the primary means by which pages were ranked. Although search engines don’t give them as much weight today as they used to, they’re still relevant and important. There are two reasons for this:
- In the case of internal links, they’re vital for establishing site architecture, controlling the flow of ‘link juice’ and helping people find their way around your site.
- External links influence your website’s ranking power and could connect you with partners and affiliates.
A hyperlink that targets a page in your own domain, an internal link is generally used for navigational purposes. In other words, they form the crux of your website’s architecture – meaning they’re what search engines will use to ‘crawl’ your website. If you don’t use these links effectively, you’re going to end up having pages on your site that aren’t indexed.
There are a few different types of internal links you’ll likely be dealing with when building your website:
- Page Jumps are links that allow users to ‘jump’ to a different segment on the same page. From a technical standpoint, they’re relatively unimportant, though they can make a site more navigable.
- Anchored, Body or Editorial Links are internal links that make use of anchor text, and link to another article or page on your site. These are widely held to be the most valuable form of internal links for ranking and page equity.
- Navigational Links are generally positioned at either the top or bottom of the page and called Menu or Footer links respectively.
- Sidebar Links are contextual links that appear next to the body of a page or article. Generally, they lead to other pages that share keywords or content with the current page.
In the past, Linking involved something known as ‘equity flow,’ a process by which a link passes ‘value’ from one page to another. In plain English, pages that are more frequently linked to will be ranked higher, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, this tactic is nowhere near as valuable as it used to be – unless you’re absolutely desperate to up your PageRank in whatever way possible, don’t spend too much time on it.
In order to ensure that your site’s architecture is as SEO-friendly as possible, implement the following best practices:
- Ignore the myth that claims all pages should be accessible in three clicks from your homepage. While you still shouldn’t make your sitemap too complex, you’re probably fine if you make things more extensive.
- Always make sure that the most important pages on your website – the pages your visitors are most likely going to want to visit – have the most links pointing to them. This will make them easier for users to find.
- Establish an architecture based on traffic value. The most important, most linked-to pages should be ‘closest’ to your homepage in terms of clicks.
- For body links, use descriptive keywords for your anchor text. Make sure there’s a bit of variety here.
- Use site:yoururl on Google to determine how your site’s architecture is laid out. You can also use this command to perform keyword research and see which of your pages are prime candidates for internal linking.
- Don’t overload your body text with links – you should have no more than five or six.
- Use breadcrumbs – links that allow users to return to a previous page with a click. This makes navigation far easier for the user
- Don’t link for the sake of linking. Only insert links where you think it’ll be useful to your audience.
- Make use of Related Pages/Related Links in your sidebar/footer to lead readers through your site.
- Remember that body links are the most valuable – navigational links less so.
- Keep in mind that links which appear higher up in your site’s HTML code tend to be valued higher than those appearing later.
- Regularly check your site for broken links.
- Tap into your old posts and pages – update them with new links when relevant content pops up.
Now, let’s say you’ve noticed that one or more of your pages isn’t showing up in search or isn’t ranking as high as you need it to. There’s a good chance you’ve made one of several fairly common errors in internal linking.
Here are a few mistakes which might prevent your pages from being indexed:
- You’re overloading your pages with links. Search engines can generally only crawl around one hundred to one hundred fifty links per page. Anything more, and they’ll start disregarding content. Note that this number includes navigational and sidebar links.
- You’ve embedded links inside an applet such as Flash or Java – which Google isn’t capable of crawling.
- Your links are part of a form or require a submission to be made before they become visible.
- You’ve blockaded your pages behind a search bar. Web spiders aren’t going to perform a search to crawl your page, so anything that’s linked to your site solely via an internal search isn’t going to get indexed.
An external link targets a domain other than the one it’s hosted in, and falls into one of two categories:
- Inbound Links are links that bring people to your domain from other sites.
- An Outbound Link is any link on a page that connects to a domain other than your own.
Understandably, inbound links hold the most value for your site, since the people linking to you are transferring value – or ‘link juice,’ as it’s called – to your domain. Consequently, linking to another site means you’re sacrificing some of your own ‘juice’ to that source. You might be tempted to assume that this means you shouldn’t ever link to another domain…but you’d be incorrect in that.
While you shouldn’t overuse outbound links, you also shouldn’t avoid using them altogether. If your site is a dead end – that is, if you never offer any data or context to back up your opinions – people are likely going to consider it to be less valuable as a resource. Instead, you should link to another domain in the following circumstances:
- When doing so is necessary to support a claim or factual statement.
- When you’re providing more context about a current event or news story.
- When you want to solidify your opinion with evidence.
- When you feel it will enrich your content.
See, while it’s true that linking to someone else’s domain does reduce the value of your own, it doesn’t do so to any significant degree. Google’s algorithms have evolved quite a bit since their initial development, and they no longer measure a page’s rank based solely on inbound link. There’s a whole host of other factors taken into account now, which means that – so long as you’re careful who you link to – you can more than make up for the lost juice in other ways.
That is, of course, assuming you’re linking to quality sites.
Factors That Determine The Value Of A Link
No two links are created equal – which means you need to be careful who you link to (and who you receive links from, but that’s generally out of your control). Google takes into account the following factors when determining an external link’s worth:
- Popularity: How popular is the linking domain? What about the linking page? How much traffic do both receive?
- Relevance: Is the content on the target page linked for a reason? Do the two pages being linked bear any relation to one another, or is it a random shot in the dark?
- Link Quantity: How many different domains link to the target page? What about the source page?
- Duplicate Links: Does the source page or domain repeatedly link to the target domain? Is there any variation in these links, or is it just the same thing over and over?
- The Relationship Between The Two Domains
How trusted is the page being linked to? What about the page doing the linking? Are they considered an authority on a topic, like Wired or The Washington Post?