Internal vs. External Links: Why You Need a Balanced Link Building Strategy

by Guest Author on May 16, 2019

in Articles, Guest Posts

Since the 90s, search engines have used links as critical votes in their overarching popularity contest. Namely: how highly your site is ranked in SERPs.

But in order to win the popularity contest, you need a balanced link building strategy. And unless you’re using internal and external links equally, you’re not going to get many votes.

Here’s what internal and external links are and why you need both to succeed with search engines.

What are Internal Links?

Internal links are popular with website owners. Why?

Simple: they keep visitors on your site longer.

Internal links are links that point at a domain that matches the domain the link exists on. In plain English, it’s a link to one of your own site pages instead of someone else’s.

These are useful for three reasons:

  1. They establish a site hierarchy
  2. They help visitors navigate your site
  3. They help spread link equity

Put it this way. Your web pages get domain authority when a user clicks on them. Some pages on your site have greater authority because users are more likely to click on them.

So your contact page, for example, often has greater ranking power than a random blog post.

But if you include internal links on a page, it helps distribute some of that linking power among your pages.

What are External Links?

If internal links stay within your site, external links are the other way around.

External links are links to a site that’s different from your domain. For example, if you cited a statistic on your page, the link to your source would qualify as an external link.

Well, it would qualify as an external link for you. For the site you’re linking to, it’s a backlink.

Backlinks are SEO gold. They’re the bread and butter of domain authority because they show search engines that you’ve written high-quality, useful content.

What is Link Building?

Taken together, internal and external links comprise your link building strategy.

Link building is something you do and see all the time. It’s the process of acquiring links from other websites to your own (and, in turn, linking to other sites from your own). Links are simply clickable objects leading you from one page to another (like the link at the start of this paragraph).

It’s a give-and-take process that requires reciprocal participation in order to succeed.

There are many techniques for link building and many SEO experts agree that it’s the hardest part of their jobs. After all, it doesn’t just rely on your own efforts–it relies on the whims of other sites.

So why would you submit yourself to the struggle?

Because link building is one of the most important SEO tactics in your site’s arsenal.

The Importance of Linking

To understand the importance of linking, you need to understand how links work and how search engines crawl the web.

Links and Web Crawlers

A link consists of four parts:

  1. The anchor tag, which tells search engines that a link to something else will follow
  2. The hyperlink referral, or href, which indicates the URL to which the link points
  3. The visible anchor text, which is what users see on a site
  4. The link tag closure

Without these component parts, a web crawler cannot understand a link. And if it can’t understand the link, it can’t use it to crawl the web.

Think of the internet as a library with billions upon billions of books and no central filing system. Web crawlers are sort of like the librarians of the internet, in that they allow search engines to categorize sites and pages.

A web crawler trawls the internet in much the same way a person does–by jumping from link to link. The difference is that when web crawlers look at a page, they render it and send the information back to a search engine’s server.

When the crawler renders a page, it tags any relevant signals and sends them to the Search Index. Think of the Search Index like the index at the back of a textbook. The difference is that the Search Index gets entries based on the signals that web crawlers send it.

When your site is indexed, the Search Index uses the key signals from a web crawler to categorize your site under any relevant entries in the index.

When a crawler tags a page, it uses links on the page to discover new pages. Then, much like a person, it jumps from one page to the next by following links.

Crawlers, Links, and Your Site Ranking

If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably guess how links bolster your site.

Search engines rely on your link structure for two things:

  1. Discovering new pages
  2. Determining how to rank your site

You see, the strength of your link structure helps a search engine determine the quality of your content. When combined with your page’s domain authority, this helps a search engine decide how well to rank you for a given keyword in the Search Index.

Then, when a person types a query into the search bar, the search engine can rifle through its Search Index, like searching a book for a word. It displays SERPs based on the listing under a particular Search Index entry.

Why You Need Both for Link Building

You need both internal and external links for a strong link structure.

Why?

Internal links help distribute your ranking power among various pages because they keep visitors on your site longer. External links show that your site is using high-quality sources for your information, lending credibility to your pages.

Taken together, both of these things improve your site’s standing in search engine algorithms, improving your rating in the Search Index and, in turn, allowing you to rank higher in SERPs.

Making the Most of Your Linking

As with all things SEO, the art of link building relies on balance.

Internal links help distribute your ranking power, but your pages won’t have a great deal of ranking power to share without external links to boost your credibility.

The best way to build good links, internal and external?

Write good content and cite good content. As long as you keep those things in mind, the rest of your SEO strategy will fall in place.

Guest article written by: Ben Shepardson is the owner of NoStop Content and expert at creating custom content solutions for businesses.

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