If you’re new to the Blogging and SEO game you’ll need to get to grips with understanding what internal links and external links are. In this short guide I’ll answer the following questions:
- What are internal links and external links?
- How do internal and external links benefit your blog?
- Are there any downsides to internal and external links?
By the end of this guide you will also understand:
- How internal and external links differ.
- External link attributes.
So let’s get on with it!
The Difference Between Internal Links & External Links
Internal links are hypertext links that connect up all the posts and pages residing on the same domain. So in the case of your own blog for example, internal links would be:
- Your main navigation menu that directs visitors to any area of your blog.
- The hyperlinks you thread into your posts to link to other related posts on your blog.
External links are hypertext that direct visitors from one domain to another different one. If you own a blog and add a link in one of your posts to a related article written by someone else on their blog, that would be an external link.
Links can be inbound or outbound:
- A link from your blog to someone else’s is an internal outbound link.
- Links from someone else’s blog to yours are external inbound links.
Links from your posts to your other posts are effectively internal inbound links… they’re just internal links really!
The Benefits of Internal and External Links
Internal links offer the following benefits:
- In the case of navigation, internal links help to define a clear information architecture for your blog, making it more simple for visitors to understand at a glance.
- They enable visitors to navigate around your blog and can encourage them to engage more with your content or spend more time.on your blog.
- They make it easier for search engine spiders to browse your posts so they can add include them in their search results.
- Internal links pass link equity (or link juice) around your blog. This is helpful to ensure your posts and pages appear in as high a position as possible in search results.
External links provide the following benefits:
- Search engines like Google use external inbound links as a kind of vote for a domain. If a domain receives a high number of link votes, Google potentially classifies it as important. This is especially true if the external link comes from a domain that is considered important itself.
- The number and quality of external links pointing to your pages and posts are vital for SEO because external links pass link juice from their domains to yours. SEO experts believe that external linking is the most significant reason why one website appears in a higher position in search results than another.
- However, outbound links from your posts to high quality content on high-quality domains also shows search engines that you’re building a link history with established and authoritative domains. This too is potentially good for SEO.
- Providing external links to relevant content shows your visitors that you care about their experience and want to provide them with more relevant information that might interest them.
Link Anchor Text
The words used in the link (anchor text) play a role in adding value from the linking domain. For example, if an external link points to this post and the linking anchor text is “what are internal links and external links”, Google understands the vote is relevant to that specific phrase.
If enough links point to this post with similar phrases about links in the anchor text, Google will factor this into its search results. The result can be an increase in my position in the results for related terms about links.
External Link Attributes
I’ve mentioned that external links are a vote for your domain. Google tells us this explicitly:
Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.Google
I also mentioned that external link votes transfer link equity from the linking domain to yours. External links literally pass you some of the reputation of the domain they come from.
We can add special attributes to external links when we add them to our posts. These attributes tell search engines to pass link juice or inhibit it.
External follow links are effectively an open vote for the domain they link to. A follow link tells search engines to permit link equity out of our domain to the domain page we link to. When we’re talking of external links that pass value from a domain, these are the ones we reference.
To create a do-follow link it’s not necessary to do anything other than create a link to the URL you want to… you do not need to ass special attributes to your link.
Conversely, domain owners can inhibit the link equity they pass to other sites by adding a nofollow attribute tag to their external outbound links. These tell search engines explicitly not to pass link equity.
In terms of SEO and building up domain authority, nofollow links do not have the same value as open, do-follow links. There may be a very small SEO weighting, but in general their value is negligible.
In practicality, nofollow links are created by adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute into the link when you create it:
<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow">Example of a nofollow link</a>
Although external nofollow links pass little SEO value, as with any link on someone else’s domain, there’s always a chance you’ll receive referral traffic through a click on the link itself. Hence there is still value in gaining external nofollow links, especially on pages that receive a high-number of visitors.
UGC and Sponsored Links
In late 2019 Google implemented an evolution of tags for nofollow links by adding two related rel= attributes:
We know that the nofollow attribute links pages together but do not pass ranking credit. The two newer attributes also do not pass ranking credit but each one provides Google with more detail about the nature of the nofollow:
- ugc (user generated content) should be used where links are created by visitors, such as in comments or forum posts.
- sponsored identify where links are used as wherever there is potential for the linking site to receive compensation such as adverts or sponsorship.
Google has advised that you don’t need to change any existing nofollow links to update them for sponsored and user generated content links because nofollow covers them. However, Google recommends using the new link attributes going forward where appropriate.
The ugc and sponsored tags can be used alongside nofollow as the below examples show:
<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow ugc">Example of a nofollow link with ugc attribute</a> <a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow sponsored">Example of a nofollow link with sponsored attribute</a>
However, it’s sufficient to use ugc and sponsored on their own since neither passes link equity:
<a href="https://example.com" rel="ugc">Example of a ugc link</a> <a href="https://example.com" rel="sponsored">Example of a sponsored link</a>
Can Internal and External Links Cause SEO Harm?
Internal links can’t cause you harm but there are effective and less effective ways to use them.
As a rule your internal links should have contextual relevance. This helps Google define the relationship between your linked posts and is a way for you to gain the most internal link value. For this reason it’s not sensible to dilute your posts with dozens of internal links, unless your post is very long or the post warrant their use.
On the other hand, external links can be tricky critters!
Adding external links to your posts can be extremely beneficial for SEO… if you link to the right domains:
Both internal outbound links and external inbound links are a different kettle of fish. Search engines take a very dim view of any attempt to manipulate results and manipulative link building is one example.
There are numerous cases of search engines applying harsh penalties against sites that transgress their linking policies. I experienced this on I site I worked on many years ago, and I can tell you it was extremely painful.
You can read about it here: The Google Manual Penalty: An Anatomy.
My advice from experience is… never build manipulative links because it’s just not worth the nightmare of dropping out of search engine indexes and losing traffic as a result.
Take it from me!
- Internal links and external links are good for SEO… as long as you play by the rules. They both pass link juice (remember that external ones must be follow link to pass any value).
- NEVER build manipulative external inbound links or internal outbound links.
- Internal links help search engines and visitors understand your content hierarchy.
- External inbound links from high-quality and authoritative sites are votes for your content and pass some of their search reputation on to you.
- Search engine penalties for manipulative link building are harsh.
- Use nofollow, ugc or sponsored attributes where appropriate. This is especially important where you are advertising or receiving compensation for any site you link to.
That’s it for now!
Let’s talk! Leave a comment below to discuss internal links and external links.
Paul, thanks for elaborating on the nofollow vs sponsored tag!
A pleasure James!
Nice guide on internal & external links, Paul! I’ve also just read through your other post about the Google penalty you’ve experienced and how you went about fixing it… you’ve really seen it all, haven’t you!
Regarding the sponsored links tag: Do you use this in all your affiliate links for example? I know I’ve read about it before but from tests that I’ve seen and case studies that I’ve read, it didn’t make a difference whether we use the sponsored tag or not.
Anyways, when it comes to linking I would say that the main takeaway is to not do any manipulative linking whatsoever. At the same time though, it’s important to not pass on opportunities where we COULD link to a useful resource, whether that’s on our own site (inbound) or somewhere else (external).
So the way I go about it is that I try to connect my content to the very best resources, which must be highly related. I’m not forcing it but I do make an effort to always connect my content to at least some other resource that I can be 100% sure will help my readers. And of course, never do I want my readers to feel tricked into clicking something – or end up on a page that doesn’t help them.
My strategy isn’t as precise as yours, but maybe it still helps with some additional context!
Hey James… thanks for your considered comment.
Right now I’m not really monetizing SideGains: I’m focusing more upon creating content and building up authority. Hence I’m not really using the sponsored tag, but the advice from Google is that nofollow covers it. Going forward I’ll probably use sponsored alongside nofollow for a belt and braces approach.
You’re right about connecting to the best resources though… why wouldn’t anyone want to add more value for their readers?