Understanding and using the difference between external and internal links strategically as part of your overall digital marketing plan is an important part of SEO. Each type of link has its place in a strategic SEO plan aimed at boosting your position on the search engine results page.
External or internal links: What's the difference?
External links point from one domain to an entirely separate domain. They may be links from your website to another website to provide additional information for readers, or they may be links from your website to an affiliate program. Links from other sites into yours can also be called external links, although the preferred term is “inbound” links, to distinguish them from links you’ve added to your own site that connect to other sites.
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Internal links only point within your own specific website or domain. The menu bar at the top of your site includes internal links. Links from pages on your site to your contact page are another simple example of internal links.
External = links that point to a separate domain
Internal = links that point to content within the same domain
Using external and internal links for SEO
Both external and internal links have a place in an SEO plan. Here’s how you can use them strategically.
External links can build visibility. External links from other websites into your content are a great source of free traffic as well as an important component of Google’s search engine algorithm. The quality and the quantity of links count. For example, links from poor-quality sites can actually have negative consequences.
To encourage links into your own website, add rich, relevant content to your site. Develop an outreach program offering to guest post on other sites in your niche in exchange for a link into your own site. Other ways to encourage inbound links or external links into your site include adding link-embedded infographics with HTML code that can be copied and used on other sites, direct requests to webmasters to add links and more.
External links may help readers more than you. Links that point to someone else’s site are a great benefit for your readers, but add little in terms of strategic SEO value. These links may connect readers to resources such as products or information you deem valuable. But keep in mind that, in that case, the SEO benefits accrue for the website you link to, not your own.
Internal links can build your SEO. Internal links confer several SEO benefits. When search engine spiders find your site, they follow links to discover additional pages on your site. They follow these link webs so that they can discover and archive as many relevant pages as they can on one visit.
Sure, you can leave pages unlinked to others on your site and hope that the search engines will find each page. But that may take weeks, even months, for them to get to your page. With millions of new web pages added daily, those spiders are quite busy.
Internal links also form the structure of your website. A logical linking structure is both visually appealing and effective. It helps organize the content on your site and helps visitors find information quickly. Common page elements, a concise menu bar, and natural page links sprinkled throughout your site help both readers and search engines find your content.
Find and fix broken links
One thing that will detract from your SEO score are broken links. These are links that no longer work. They may no longer work because the target website for an external link is offline, or a page has moved. One or two broken links probably won’t impact your rankings, but multiple broken links may harm them.
Regardless of their impact on search traffic, broken links lead to a poor reading experience and decreased traffic. It’s a good idea to identify and fix them to improve your website.
To find and fix broken links, use tools such as Broken Link Checker. It’s a free tool that simply scans your site to find broken links. You then go into each page, find the link and remove or fix it.
Links are only the start
SEO experts estimate that there are between 100 and 200 elements that Google and other search engines consider as part of their algorithm to calculate your site's position on search engine results pages. Internal and external links are a small, but important, part of this exercise, in the big scheme of things.
It may take time to build your links and fix any that are broken, but all of your efforts will pay off in the long run by a boost in traffic and position on the SERPS. And that makes the effort worth it.