Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2017. While much of the information about internal and external links remain relevant, it was time to update for current best practices, as well as to reflect a few changes in the Verblio platform.
Even if you’re brand new to SEO-optimizing your blog posts, you’ve probably heard at least something about internal and external linking best practices. It’s true that high-quality links can make your post more authoritative and useful to your readers. They also give your search engine results a rankings boost.
But there is more to it than just linking to whatever posts seem relevant.
One of the main details to keep in mind is that there is a big difference between internal and external links, and they serve different purposes for your content strategy. Both are important and useful, both to your readers and to helping you get those search engine results you need. But they are useful for very different reasons.
Using both internal and external links in a thoughtful way can be a real boon to your SEO strategy and should be a part of every SEO checklist–as long as you follow a few essential best practices.
Now let’s break it down in detail.
The Basics of Internal and External Links
Including links in your blog posts is important for the same reason that you used to cite your sources in a bibliography when you’ve written school papers. They show that your content is credible, built on knowledge and research beyond your own life experience or common sense.
Links also provide a more in-depth experience for your readers. They lead to complementary or related information that doesn’t duplicate the information in your blog post, adding additional layers of meaning and context.
Incorporating links in a smart, deliberate way underlines the credibility of your blog and can improve your reputation for thought leadership.
What is External Linking?
An external link describes any instance where you link to a site outside of your own web domain. That might include linking to other blogs in your blog or any other instance where the link goes away from your own site.
Other examples of external links include:
- Linking to an article or study you reference in your blog post.
- Linking to a service that you are reviewing. Anytime you reference a specific product or service, it’s a good idea to link to them.
- Anything that helps your reader get more information. If you write a post about upcoming events in your area, don’t make them Google how to buy tickets when you could have easily linked to the ticket page within the post. This improves the user experience, which bottom line, is who you ultimately want to ensure has a good interaction with your site.
What is Internal Linking?
Internal links are links within a post that lead the reader somewhere else on your own, same website. The deeper within your website the internal link resides, the more valuable it is to add since the reader would be unlikely to find it on their own otherwise.
Some internal link examples include:
- Links to another post on your blog, or to your “Services,” “Contact,” or “About Us” page.
- A link to a landing page for a specific product. For instance, you may want to link to your new e-book’s landing page if it relates in some way to the information covered in the blog post. (^^ That’s an example of an internal link for ourselves.)
What are the benefits (and possible drawbacks) of links in your blog post?
Both external and internal links offer unique benefits for your content marketing strategy. But they also have some drawbacks if not used in a thoughtful way.
The Biggest Benefits of External Links Include:
- Linking to authoritative (high-quality and well trusted) websites increases your digital footprint and, as SEO expert Rand Fishkin says, ups “the potential to attract important, relevant, valuable eyeballs.” You are essentially building a history of links between your site and more established ones.
- Linking to external sites can build relationships and expand your reach. For example, if you are a siding company and you link to a trusted home improvement advice blog, their SEO manager may notice the new influx of traffic from your site. If and when that happens, it can lead reciprocal links to your site, or enable a different beginning of a mutually beneficial connection.
- Your willingness to include valuable external links demonstrates that you care about your readers. Instead of wanting to greedily hold onto every second of their attention, you provide them with the resources they really want and need to fully explore the topic, and generously include external options to accomplish this.
Of course, it’s also important to consider the potential drawbacks of external links:
- You’ll need to occasionally check that all links are still active and up-to-date. If you don’t, especially if you link to non-secure sites, search engines may penalize you.
- If you use links in an unnatural way, link anchoring them to irrelevant and unrelated keywords, your use of links may hurt your SEO more than it helps. Luckily, this can be prevented through a few simple best practices, which we’ll cover shortly.
- We hear a lot of concern that when you link to an external site, you lose your reader’s attention. The key here is to limit your external links and set them to the setting “open in a new tab” in your blogging platform. You should also keep your own content so enticing that no one wants to abandon it for an external link to get to the information they seek.
What about Internal Links? They are Just as Useful, but for Different Reasons.
Internal linking makes your site way more useful and user-friendly. Instead of having to search through your blog archives or heading to the main website menu to find the link they need, it’s already there in your content, right in the spot and moment where it’s most relevant for the reader.
With plenty of well thought-out internal links, your site is easy to navigate and helpful. That makes website visitors more likely to come back, navigate your site easily, and engage more actively (and positively!) with your brand.
Internal links also boost your SEO. When outside sites link to your site in an organic way, Google sees your site as more valuable and makes sure it appears higher in search results. While not quite as powerful, judicious use of internal links can have a similar effect. This is simply a helpfulness measure for search engines.
Internal links lead to people spending more time on your site and decreasing your bounce rate. The more time your readers spend reading old blog posts, learning new information, and becoming more familiar with your brand, the better.
Drawbacks of internal linking include the fact that they take time to do well, since what internal links really do are create a meaningful, logical, easy-to-follow internal architecture for your entire site. Like external links, if your internal links don’t make much sense in context, or don’t provide real value to your visitors, you may be seen as less trustworthy and more spammy.
What’s the Best Practice for the Number of Links in My Blog Post?
There is no hard-and-fast rule for how many links in a blog post are too much. But there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Those guidelines are a bit different for external and internal links:
Use External Links for High-Quality Value Adds
While there are exceptions, a good rule of thumb is to aim for no more than 2-5 external links per longer blog post. If you find yourself needing to link to tons of outside sources in every post, you might find it more effective to simply explain those concepts yourself instead of directing traffic elsewhere.
As for what type of links should qualify:
- When you’re citing a study or quoting an expert, absolutely include a link.
- When you mention a general concept like “content marketing” or “e-commerce, you don’t need to include an external link to someone else defining it. It doesn’t add value for your readers.
How Often Should I Include Internal Links in My Blog Post?
As long as you’re deliberate and thoughtful in which internal pages you link to, it’s typically okay to include several links per blog post. When I polish and optimize blog posts for Verblio Complete clients, I usually aim for around 4 internal links for a short, 600-word blog post.
I try to do this in a natural way, linking to relevant blog posts, products, and services I think the reader will be genuinely curious about, right at the point in reading when they will be most interested.
Internal links help SEO by distributing search engine ranking power throughout a website. So, instead of only your homepage being recognized by Google, various blog posts, links to services, and other components of your website will also show up in search engine results thanks to your thoughtful use of internal linking.
Don’t go overboard, though. Internal linking done in a clunky and thoughtless manner leads to annoying your audience when it’s overdone or irrelevant.
What are Some Other Best Practices for Hyperlinking in Blogs?
1. Schedule a Periodic Link Audit
Periodically (once a quarter or so), spend a couple hours checking your links to update any broken ones to new links that are active and relevant.
When a website visitor finds broken links, their experience diminishes in quality (usually exponentially). They get the impression that the information on your site is less trustworthy or outdated. Plus, a broken link is a missed opportunity to link to a worthwhile, interesting source instead.
Even if a link still works, it’s wise to double check that the information is still valid and timely. In industries that experience frequent change (like digital marketing or anything tech), replacing old links with new, fresh links is usually wise.
2. Focus on User/Reader Experience
Your blog linking should provide the best user (/reader) experience possible. Make it your goal to create a website that is easy to navigate and a pleasure to read.
That means incorporating links in a way that makes using your website easier, instead of cramming as many keywords and links as possible into every blog post. Readers get turned off when they feel like they’re just being used as part of your SEO strategy.
Using links to boost your SEO is smart, but it should also be done in a subtle, mindful, and deliberate way that aims at user satisfaction.
3. Only Link to Reputable Sources
Only link to sites that are authoritative and trustworthy. If you link to sites that are unprofessional, sensationalistic, or considered simple clickbait, you undermine your own credibility and probably hurt your search engine results too. Once Google associates your site with a less savory one, it’s hard to undo. Incredibly hard to undo.
Good Sources for External Links Include:
- Educational websites that end in .edu
- Government websites that end in .gov
- Journalistic sites, especially from national publications like The New York Times, Forbes, or Wall Street Journal (among countless others)
- Other well established sources like Gartner, Nielsen, and thought leaders in your industry.
Always be mindful that you can have too much of a good thing, though. Linking articles in a blog post starts to hurt you if your linking strategy starts to read like like the footnotes or bibliography of a research paper.
4. Use Anchor Text Correctly
Anchor text simply means the words in your text that are hyperlinked. Sometimes bloggers tend to overthink this, but a straightforward approach is usually best.
Let’s say I wrote a sentence like “Outsourcing your blogging can help save time and resources,” and this made me think of a previous blog post called “5 Ways Small Business Owners Can Save More Time”. I would simply link the blog post to the words “save time” because that is the most obvious and natural anchor text in the sentence.
If your anchor text is not relevant to the page you’re linking to, or seems shoe-horned into your sentence in an awkward way, readers will learn not to trust your links and begin to associate anchor text with spam. It’s better to avoid a link than to be annoying about it.
A simple, common-sense best practice is to do a last read-over of your post as though you are a blog reader coming to your site for the first time. Do the links seem helpful and natural? Or are they obnoxious and overdone?
How to Use External and Internal Links in Blog Requests for Verblio
Good news: if you’re one of our customers, our tools allow you to implement these best practices pretty naturally. It all happens through a tool we call Advanced SEO Options.
If you’d like to start including more links in your Verblio posts, you have a few options of how to best express these needs in the Verblio system. Your best bet is to focus on adding links when creating new blog requests.
When adding a new active request, simply click on “Add SEO Requirements.” See above for an example. From here, you can:
- add your SEO keywords
- specific pages you’d like to link to (such as your Services page, an external link to a relevant study, or a related blog post)
- the exact anchor text you’d like the writer to use
- and other things like searcher intent if you want to get really in-depth.
Want the same internal link included in every blog post, for example having the writers add your “Contact us” link at the end of each post? Instead of adding this detail every time you write a topic description, you can include this in your general business info preferences. The best place to add this type of ongoing preference is the “Additional info for writers” field.
If you choose to do this, just be sure to update this from time to time to include fresh new links (maybe in consort with your periodic broken check). Another option is to let our writers provide you with great content, and then add a few to each post yourself before publishing.
Another small but important detail: if there are sites you’d specifically like to avoid linking to (such as a competitor’s website), please mention that in your “Additional info for writers” section as well.
The simple fact is that the more information your content writer has, the better he or she will be able to match their writing to your SEO goals. And the better and more strategic your links are, the more likely your blog will be to help you grow your business.
For more tips on how to incorporate SEO into your blog posts, please check out our downloadable SEO checklist to ensure you cover all your bases before publish.