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How To Add Internal And External Links That Get Clicks And Conversions

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How To Add Internal And External Links That Get Clicks And Conversions

Internal and external links have a significant role to play in guiding website visitors to the answers they seek about your products and services.

Each link should lead your audience to the next relevant piece of content they need to continue their information gathering and/or customer journey.

Links are the lifeblood of the web, connecting each piece of content to the next. Search engines use both internal and external links to determine, in part, which pages are most authoritative on any given subject.

As such, both internal and external links play an important role in SEO.

Why Are Internal Links Important?

Internal links are used by Google and other search engines to better understand the structure of a website.

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They enable site owners to let their visitors and the search engines know which pages are most important.

For example, the top-level sections in a website’s navigation (e.g., Products, Services, About Us, Resources) tell the search engines what the site owner believes to be the most important content.

Search engine spiders crawl the various links within a site to determine its structure, and those pages closer to the top of the hierarchy are naturally considered more important.

After all, you wouldn’t want to bury your most important content several layers deep within your website where it would be difficult to find.

Always keep in mind that you are ultimately creating your website and all of the content within it to provide readily accessible answers to your target audience’s questions.

Why Do External Links Matter?

Google and other search engines value links. If you link to an external website, search engines perceive this as an endorsement of the content being linked to.

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External links can be used to cite a source, provide verification for information, and offer further context for the reader.

Again, Google’s modus operandi is delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. It doesn’t really care where the answers live, so sometimes it makes sense to link to the right piece of external content. You can’t be expected to have all of the answers.

For example, there may be an excellent article published on a highly relevant and well-respected industry website that directly or indirectly relates to a product or service offered by your organization.

If the information in this article will benefit your audience by answering additional questions they may have or shedding more light on a topic, it certainly behooves you to link to such an article.

Where, When, And How Should Links Be Added?

When you’re looking at adding links to new or existing website content, put yourself in the shoes of a member of your audience. Think about how they will want to engage with it and where a link might help.

If you have not already, take a step back to map out your typical customer journey. This will help guide which pieces and/or types of content you control should link through to other pieces, from awareness to consideration to intent, and on to conversion.

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Do not be afraid to incorporate clear calls to action (CTAs). These are helpful for those customers who are ready to click through to the next logical step in their journey and/or those who are not ready and may require additional information.

Today, most customer journeys are not linear. It’s important to provide options depending on where your customers find themselves in their search for answers, products, or services, and you do that with links.

Are there topical keywords and/or concepts within your new or existing piece of content that require elaboration or raise questions?

Do you have additional content to answer those questions (in blog posts or FAQs, for example) or do you know where the answer lies? Can you conduct some research to find it?

By linking to content that provides relevant answers to these questions via the actual keywords (a.k.a., anchor text), you provide the search engines with an important signal to help tie the questions and answers together.

Your most prominent links and calls to action can naturally be tied to a button or image, such as a banner, and placed strategically to better catch the attention of your website visitors.

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Visual UX analytics tools like click heatmaps can and should be used to monitor how visitors are engaging with your content and which links they are (or are not) clicking on.

Screenshot from Hotjar.com, October 2021

Further, tools like a Path Analysis Report in Google Analytics 4 can be used to determine the paths taken by website visitors from page to page and any on-page actions taken.

Path Analysis Report in Google Analytics 4Screenshot by author, October 2021

Data from tools such as these can help to inform and optimize your ongoing internal and external linking strategy.

Having identified where and when to add links, there are a couple of items to consider when linking.

Open In A New Window/Tab

When linking externally, you may want to have the link to the external web page/content open in a new window or tab.

This way, when the reader is done looking at the “related” content, they can easily close this second window, navigate back to your original article, and continue on with their journey.

Internal links generally do not need to open in a new window as you are not directing your reader away from your property.

However, there may be instances where this makes sense; for example, when linking to an associated Help documentation on a software website.

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Far too often, I click on a link and am taken to an external website within the same browser/window, then click on another link that takes me to a second external site.

Suddenly, I’ve lost track of where I started.

Yes, I could hit my browser Back button or review my browsing history. But I am not making an extra effort to find the original article if the author didn’t think it was important enough for me to stick around in the first place.

Follow Or Nofollow

As a website owner, you have the option of designating your links as Follow or Nofollow by tagging the link with a <rel=”no follow”> attribute.

All other links are Follow by default.

Using Nofollow tells search engines that support it not to assign any value to the link in relation to the page it has been included on.  It literally means that you do not want Google to follow that link and crawl the corresponding page.

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It’s worth noting that Google has clearly indicated they take this attribute as advice and not as a directive.

Virtually all of your internal links will be Follow links, but there may be circumstances where you choose to have Nofollow external links on your site.

There are also attributes for links to paid, sponsored, or user-generated content where you cannot confidently vouch for it or have control over it.

See Should You Use Nofollow, Sponsored, or UGC Links? to learn more about when to use each one.

Add Links, But Don’t Overdo It

While using internal and external links adds value for your audience and the search engines, as with all things SEO, it is also important not to overdo it.

In fact, Google recently indicated that having too many links on any given page can actually have an adverse effect, as it will dilute the value of those links.

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Google uses links to understand the structure of a website and if there are too many, it can become a jumbled mess.

However, if you’ve done a proper job of reviewing your content and incorporating links to other relevant complementary content, a logical structure should reveal itself.

If you review your content and it feels like there are too many links or links that do not really add value for your audience, reevaluate and edit with that in mind.

To Recap

Strategically adding and managing internal and external links remains an important SEO activity.

Links help guide Google, other search engines, and ultimately all website visitors through the logical structure of a website, highlighting those pieces of content deemed most important as they go.

A good linking strategy will roughly follow a customer journey, answering searchers’ questions or elaborating on topics with awareness content through to conversion via links and clear calls to action.

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Always keep your user’s experience top of mind with linking, and you’ll naturally optimize for search, as well.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal




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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

Understanding the impact of your content at every touchpoint of the customer journey is essential – but that’s easier said than done. From attracting potential leads to nurturing them into loyal customers, there are many touchpoints to look into.

So how do you identify and take advantage of these opportunities for growth?

Watch this on-demand webinar and learn a comprehensive approach for measuring the value of your content initiatives, so you can optimize resource allocation for maximum impact.

You’ll learn:

  • Fresh methods for measuring your content’s impact.
  • Fascinating insights using first-touch attribution, and how it differs from the usual last-touch perspective.
  • Ways to persuade decision-makers to invest in more content by showcasing its value convincingly.

With Bill Franklin and Oliver Tani of DAC Group, we unravel the nuances of attribution modeling, emphasizing the significance of layering first-touch and last-touch attribution within your measurement strategy. 

Check out these insights to help you craft compelling content tailored to each stage, using an approach rooted in first-hand experience to ensure your content resonates.

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Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or new to content measurement, this webinar promises valuable insights and actionable tactics to elevate your SEO game and optimize your content initiatives for success. 

View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

Competitor keywords are the keywords your rivals rank for in Google’s search results. They may rank organically or pay for Google Ads to rank in the paid results.

Knowing your competitors’ keywords is the easiest form of keyword research. If your competitors rank for or target particular keywords, it might be worth it for you to target them, too.

There is no way to see your competitors’ keywords without a tool like Ahrefs, which has a database of keywords and the sites that rank for them. As far as we know, Ahrefs has the biggest database of these keywords.

How to find all the keywords your competitor ranks for

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Organic keywords report

The report is sorted by traffic to show you the keywords sending your competitor the most visits. For example, Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword “mailchimp.”

Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.

Since you’re unlikely to rank for your competitor’s brand, you might want to exclude branded keywords from the report. You can do this by adding a Keyword > Doesn’t contain filter. In this example, we’ll filter out keywords containing “mailchimp” or any potential misspellings:

Filtering out branded keywords in Organic keywords reportFiltering out branded keywords in Organic keywords report

If you’re a new brand competing with one that’s established, you might also want to look for popular low-difficulty keywords. You can do this by setting the Volume filter to a minimum of 500 and the KD filter to a maximum of 10.

Finding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywordsFinding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywords

How to find keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter your competitor’s domain in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis reportCompetitive analysis report

Hit “Show keyword opportunities,” and you’ll see all the keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap reportContent gap report

You can also add a Volume and KD filter to find popular, low-difficulty keywords in this report.

Volume and KD filter in Content gapVolume and KD filter in Content gap

How to find keywords multiple competitors rank for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter the domains of multiple competitors in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis report with multiple competitorsCompetitive analysis report with multiple competitors

You’ll see all the keywords that at least one of these competitors ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap report with multiple competitorsContent gap report with multiple competitors

You can also narrow the list down to keywords that all competitors rank for. Click on the Competitors’ positions filter and choose All 3 competitors:

Selecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank forSelecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank for
  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Paid keywords report
Paid keywords reportPaid keywords report

This report shows you the keywords your competitors are targeting via Google Ads.

Since your competitor is paying for traffic from these keywords, it may indicate that they’re profitable for them—and could be for you, too.

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You know what keywords your competitors are ranking for or bidding on. But what do you do with them? There are basically three options.

1. Create pages to target these keywords

You can only rank for keywords if you have content about them. So, the most straightforward thing you can do for competitors’ keywords you want to rank for is to create pages to target them.

However, before you do this, it’s worth clustering your competitor’s keywords by Parent Topic. This will group keywords that mean the same or similar things so you can target them all with one page.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Export your competitor’s keywords, either from the Organic Keywords or Content Gap report
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
Clustering keywords by Parent TopicClustering keywords by Parent Topic

For example, MailChimp ranks for keywords like “what is digital marketing” and “digital marketing definition.” These and many others get clustered under the Parent Topic of “digital marketing” because people searching for them are all looking for the same thing: a definition of digital marketing. You only need to create one page to potentially rank for all these keywords.

Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"

2. Optimize existing content by filling subtopics

You don’t always need to create new content to rank for competitors’ keywords. Sometimes, you can optimize the content you already have to rank for them.

How do you know which keywords you can do this for? Try this:

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  1. Export your competitor’s keywords
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
  4. Look for Parent Topics you already have content about

For example, if we analyze our competitor, we can see that seven keywords they rank for fall under the Parent Topic of “press release template.”

Our competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" clusterOur competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" cluster

If we search our site, we see that we already have a page about this topic.

Site search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templatesSite search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templates

If we click the caret and check the keywords in the cluster, we see keywords like “press release example” and “press release format.”

Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"

To rank for the keywords in the cluster, we can probably optimize the page we already have by adding sections about the subtopics of “press release examples” and “press release format.”

3. Target these keywords with Google Ads

Paid keywords are the simplest—look through the report and see if there are any relevant keywords you might want to target, too.

For example, Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter.”

Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

If you’re ConvertKit, you may also want to target this keyword since it’s relevant.

If you decide to target the same keyword via Google Ads, you can hover over the magnifying glass to see the ads your competitor is using.

Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

You can also see the landing page your competitor directs ad traffic to under the URL column.

The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”

Learn more

Check out more tutorials on how to do competitor keyword analysis:

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Google Confirms Links Are Not That Important

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Google confirms that links are not that important anymore

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at a recent search marketing conference that Google needs very few links, adding to the growing body of evidence that publishers need to focus on other factors. Gary tweeted confirmation that he indeed say those words.

Background Of Links For Ranking

Links were discovered in the late 1990’s to be a good signal for search engines to use for validating how authoritative a website is and then Google discovered soon after that anchor text could be used to provide semantic signals about what a webpage was about.

One of the most important research papers was Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment by Jon M. Kleinberg, published around 1998 (link to research paper at the end of the article). The main discovery of this research paper is that there is too many web pages and there was no objective way to filter search results for quality in order to rank web pages for a subjective idea of relevance.

The author of the research paper discovered that links could be used as an objective filter for authoritativeness.

Kleinberg wrote:

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“To provide effective search methods under these conditions, one needs a way to filter, from among a huge collection of relevant pages, a small set of the most “authoritative” or ‘definitive’ ones.”

This is the most influential research paper on links because it kick-started more research on ways to use links beyond as an authority metric but as a subjective metric for relevance.

Objective is something factual. Subjective is something that’s closer to an opinion. The founders of Google discovered how to use the subjective opinions of the Internet as a relevance metric for what to rank in the search results.

What Larry Page and Sergey Brin discovered and shared in their research paper (The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine – link at end of this article) was that it was possible to harness the power of anchor text to determine the subjective opinion of relevance from actual humans. It was essentially crowdsourcing the opinions of millions of website expressed through the link structure between each webpage.

What Did Gary Illyes Say About Links In 2024?

At a recent search conference in Bulgaria, Google’s Gary Illyes made a comment about how Google doesn’t really need that many links and how Google has made links less important.

Patrick Stox tweeted about what he heard at the search conference:

” ‘We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.’ @methode #serpconf2024″

Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted a confirmation of that statement:

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“I shouldn’t have said that… I definitely shouldn’t have said that”

Why Links Matter Less

The initial state of anchor text when Google first used links for ranking purposes was absolutely non-spammy, which is why it was so useful. Hyperlinks were primarily used as a way to send traffic from one website to another website.

But by 2004 or 2005 Google was using statistical analysis to detect manipulated links, then around 2004 “powered-by” links in website footers stopped passing anchor text value, and by 2006 links close to the words “advertising” stopped passing link value, links from directories stopped passing ranking value and by 2012 Google deployed a massive link algorithm called Penguin that destroyed the rankings of likely millions of websites, many of which were using guest posting.

The link signal eventually became so bad that Google decided in 2019 to selectively use nofollow links for ranking purposes. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the change to nofollow was made because of the link signal.

Google Explicitly Confirms That Links Matter Less

In 2023 Google’s Gary Illyes shared at a PubCon Austin that links were not even in the top 3 of ranking factors. Then in March 2024, coinciding with the March 2024 Core Algorithm Update, Google updated their spam policies documentation to downplay the importance of links for ranking purposes.

Google March 2024 Core Update: 4 Changes To Link Signal

The documentation previously said:

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“Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The update to the documentation that mentioned links was updated to remove the word important.

Links are not just listed as just another factor:

“Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

At the beginning of April Google’s John Mueller advised that there are more useful SEO activities to engage on than links.

Mueller explained:

“There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall”

Finally, Gary Illyes explicitly said that Google needs very few links to rank webpages and confirmed it.

Why Google Doesn’t Need Links

The reason why Google doesn’t need many links is likely because of the extent of AI and natural language undertanding that Google uses in their algorithms. Google must be highly confident in its algorithm to be able to explicitly say that they don’t need it.

Way back when Google implemented the nofollow into the algorithm there were many link builders who sold comment spam links who continued to lie that comment spam still worked. As someone who started link building at the very beginning of modern SEO (I was the moderator of the link building forum at the #1 SEO forum of that time), I can say with confidence that links have stopped playing much of a role in rankings beginning several years ago, which is why I stopped about five or six years ago.

Read the research papers

Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment – Jon M. Kleinberg (PDF)

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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