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Internal links, External Links & Backlinks: What They Are and Why They Matter

Jun 15, 2020
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Links make the internet what it is. They are roads and bridges to all the content we know and love.  But there are many different types of links. In this video, we examine the difference between internal links, external links, and backlinks


Video Transcript: 

As I said, in the introduction in this video, we're going to be looking at internal links, external links, and backlinks, what they are, and why they matter. Before we get into the different types of links, let's talk about why links are important in the first place.

Why Links Are Important

The internet is based on links. It's based on linking pages, content, resources, data. It's all about creating these connections and links are how we connect. This is how web crawlers go from one page to another to crawl sites, to understand the connections between them, but also understand and find new pieces of content. Without links, web crawlers would never be able to find your content. They would never be able to see your website pages. Links are also important for a user. Links help users go from one page to another. It helps them go deeper into your site, but also helps them find other relevant pages online. Without links, the internet would not be the internet. There are three basic types of links. We're going to see internal links, external links, and backlinks.

Now for the rest of this video, we're going to go a little bit more in-depth into each one of these, but here is a quick overview.

  • An internal link is a page from one of your pages to another one of your pages.
  • An external link is a link from one of your pages to somebody else's page. This could be their website or another resource online.
  • A backlink is a link from somebody else's page coming into your page. These are all different types of links.

They all have purposes, and they all can be very beneficial for both marketing, but also user experience.

Internal Links

Internal links generally have two purposes. The first purpose is to connect site users with other relevant content on your site. You use internal linking to move somebody from one page to another, or to find other resources on your site that either can back up what you're talking about, or maybe move them towards a conversion. The links are the road map that helped them find content.

From a web crawler standpoint, which is the second purpose, they also help crawlers find relevant content. But it also helps crawlers understand the structure and the flow of your website. Internal links make the crawling process more efficient. And if the crawling process is more efficient the web crawlers can spend more time on your site, can get more of the context of your site, and this can help when it comes to indexing, making sure that your pages show up in search and making sure that your pages are in the index and are being indexed properly. Internal links do have a big role in both the user experience, as well as your SEO and how your site is going to be indexed as well as recalled in search.

All right, so let's take a look at an internal link. This is a blog post on our site, and we use internal links for a number of different reasons. Technically you could say each one of these navigational links is an internal link because it's a link from one page pointing to another. On our blogs, we also use internal links in a couple of ways. We can post by topic. You can actually go to a topic page using an internal link. And we also have a section here that really breaks it down into relevant categories of things that we do as an agency. So I need help with inbound or SEO, and these are all internal links to these core services, pages, or solution pages to help people reading go a little bit deeper. Again, we've got internal links in the form of images as well. These are popular posts. If you click on these images, it will take you to another piece of content within our site.

Internal links can be used to really navigate through our site and to move from one piece of content deeper to another.

External Links

External links are typically used in the following ways. We would use external links to cite content or resources. Let's say we make a claim on our blog. We would want to cite the source that we got some information from. These resources would be a link. That's the original kind of thought process behind these external links. We're linking out and citing where we've gotten our sources from. Maybe we borrowed an infographic. We would link back to that page or that infographic. There's a number of ways that we can use external links to cite sources. Another type of external link would be from user-generated content, that's what UGC stands for.

This could be if you're a site that accepts comments or maybe you have a forum, where you allow people to create content and post on your website. Again, external links can be very beneficial to your site. External links can increase the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (or EAT) of your content because you reference other authoritative sources. When you have links out to really high-quality sites, these sites can actually help substantiate the claims that you're making in your content. A lot of people are afraid to use external links because they don't want people to leave their site, but there are ways around that. You can have them open in a new window. External links are very beneficial and are something that you want to use on your site to help make sure that Google can understand that, Hey, you're not pulling this idea in thin air, that you have others that can back it up. And those sources are authoritative as well.

It's very important that you're using external links. You don't want to go crazy, but make sure that you're citing your sources. One, it is the right thing to do if you're taking an idea from somebody else. But two, it can help increase the expertise because it's not like you've pulled this idea out of thin air. One thing you want to do if you're using user-generated content in your external linking is to make sure that if it's not authoritative or it's not links that you want to be associated with, that you leverage, rel="nofollow." There are some new implications, some new rules around this that Google has done some updates around and I'll make sure to put a link in the comment section of the video, that you can learn a little bit more about that.

But what this will help do is make sure that if it's somebody's site that maybe comments on your blog and the comment got approved, but you don't  want it to be associated with the website. You have the rel="nofollow" tag in there and says, Hey, this guy, this is user-generated content, but we have no relationship with them. Please do not count this towards our own authority.

Using the same piece of content that we showed before now, we're going to look at an example of an external link. This post is about leading a virtual team and digital marketing tools for collaboration. As you can see here in the beginning, we have a joint case study where we're citing that case study and linking out to them. We are showing here a Slack survey. This is an external link going to Slack. Over here there's a Gardener study.

Anytime we've used a quote or anytime we've used a statistic from his case study or citing that case study we're telling people that this is where we're getting our information from.

Now what we've done, as you can see this opens in a new link so we don't actually have people leave our website. We just have that link open up in a new link if they want to read a little bit deeper into that case study. We have a couple of other types of external links. Here's a button, an image external link, which goes to some of the training courses that we have available. We also have here Kiva, which is another one of the partners that we work with to do some philanthropy. You can do external links in a number of different ways, but again, want to make sure that you're linking out to people that you trust.


The third type of links is backlinks. This is kind of the reverse of what we just talked about in external links. Backlinks are foundational to SEO, search engine optimization. They are at the core of Google's page rank algorithm. When Google came on the scene, this is something that they used to really differentiate their results. Again, they were using backlinks like citations in a research paper. They were citing sources and saying, okay, if a high number of qualified sites say that this site is relevant, then we will also give that site more weight or more authority. This is why backlinks have gained so much steam since 2008, because many people have just tried to get as many links as possible. Thinking that if they do this, it's going to increase their page rank.

Backlinks are extremely important and it is a foundational part of SEO. But site owners need to prioritize quality over quantity and make sure that they're having linking relationships with sites that really are going to help boost their authority. That they're not linking to, or not having links from low-quality sources and that they're working to continue to increase the quality and the quantity of their links over time. This is so that as they grow other people see them as authoritative, that we're linked to them naturally and it will really increase the weight of that site. Backlinks still play a big role, and it's still an important element of SEO and search marketing. But again, it's something that you have to prioritize quality over quantity and understand that it's just not having a bunch of links that's going to get you to where you want to be in the search results. Because honestly, there are hundreds and thousands of different factors.

Backlinks are still one of the top factors, but there's still a lot more to it than that. All right, so the last type of link was a backlink and here we go. This is a blog where they're talking about untapped digital marketing strategies. Most of these links are backlinks. I'll show you right here we have, short-form blogging. This is a backlink to our website. If we click on it, it will open up into one of our blogs. This is a link from another blog to this blog. This site is a medium authority. It's within the same space as us, untapped digital marketing strategies. We're a digital marketing agency. It's very contextually relevant. This is an example of a good backlink, link from somebody else that saw one of our pieces of content and decided to use it as a referencing point, or give us a link back to our site.

Wrapping It Up

Let's wrap it up. Internal links. They have both user experiences as well as SEO implications. You need to make sure that you're using internal linking to help crawlers and users find the content throughout your site. The next type was external links, and this can help increase the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of your content. Make sure that you are linking and citing relevant and authoritative sources in your content. Backlinks are foundational to search engine optimization. You need to have links from sites that are both authoritative and trustworthy, and that are in the same kind of niche as you or at least related to it, so it's contextually making sense. Backlinks are still one of the core foundational elements to Google's search algorithm. I hope you guys learned something new today. I hope this video was helpful. If you have any questions, please comment below. We'd love to continue the conversation with you. And until next time, Happy Marketing.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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