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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Why Does Google Not Recognize My Competitor’s Links As Manipulated?
This week’s Ask An SEO question comes from Arvin from Vancouver, Canada, who wrote:
“One of our competitors has gotten tons of backlinks from unrelated posts including forums like that of apache.org (and many other .edu sites, too). Even after updates like Penguin, why are they considered relevant backlinks by Google?”
Let me begin by saying, Arvin, that we are a sports-loving family.
I currently have four kids on seven teams.
I love the lessons that sports teach my kids.
And one of the big lessons I work to instill in my kids is never to blame the referees for a loss.
I’ve never seen any sporting event where, if one of the teams did something better, the referee’s call would never factor into the outcome.
This lesson translates well to SEO.
Focusing on your competitor’s SEO instead of improving your own is a frustrating waste of time.
But, as an SEO, it is important to understand the factors that are affecting the rankings of each keyword.
Like Anyone Could Ever Know
Unless you work at Google, you can never be certain about why one site is ranking over another.
We can run sophisticated mathematical models to try to understand the algorithm.
But the bottom line is we can’t ever know for sure.
In fact, I’m not even sure the folks that work at Google could unequivocally tell you why one site ranks over another.
The algorithm is so complex that no one person could ever decipher it completely.
How Do You Know The Links Are Relevant?
There is no way to know if the links that your competitor has built are being counted by Google.
Google knows a lot more than our tools tell us it knows.
None of the many backlink analysis tools available on the market today can tell you if Google is counting a link or isn’t.
These tools use data gleaned from their own analysis to determine if a link is relevant or if it is toxic.
Meanwhile, one piece of content or simple link from a strategic site could be boosting the site’s rankings.
Concentrate On Your Competitor’s Strengths
When you look at the “bad” things your competitors are doing, you may miss a tactic that could put you over the top for that keyword you just can’t get to rank.
Instead of looking at all the things you think they are getting away with, look at what they are doing that is legitimate that you aren’t doing.
Frequently, when a prospect comes to me screaming about the travesty of an “inferior” company is ranking above them, the real reason for the ranking usually has nothing to do with the perceived injustice.
But usually when we find the real reason – or at least what I think is the real reason – we uncover a technique that this prospect should double down on.
It could be that your competitor has more robust content around a specific subject.
It could be that your competitor is utilizing technical SEO techniques better than you are.
It could be a thousand things.
Bottom line – when doing competitive analysis, concentrate on discovering things your competitors are doing better than you are.
Look for techniques you can modify for your own use rather than concentrating on how your client is cheating.
Especially if you don’t plan to cheat yourself.
And I recommend you don’t.
Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
Featured image: VectorMine/Shutterstock
5 Key On-Page Optimizations For Local SEO
When trying to capture those “near me” results, these are definitely beneficial.
However on-page optimization also plays a significant factor in the signals that are sent to the search engines to influence your local rankings.
On-page SEO helps you rank higher in organic results and in MapPack results, as well.
Here are five on-page optimization tips to help boost your local visibility in search.
1. Make Sure Your NAP Is Consistent
NAP is an acronym for Name, Address, and Phone Number.
These three simple pieces of information can make or break your local SEO strategy.
Make sure you have these bits of information displayed prominently on your site. A footer is a great place to house your NAP since it will appear on every page.
Linking it to your Google Map is even better.
You can also display your NAP on service area pages and on your contact page in the body.
Consistency matters. It’s important that this key business information is the same anywhere potential customers find you online – and anywhere Google may be using it for comparison to ensure its accuracy.
This helps crawlers and bots to connect the dots between your Google Business Profile, website, and other local citations through the web.
Don’t get lost in minute details such as abbreviations over spelling out street names. It doesn’t really matter as long as you choose one and stick with it.
2. Spruce Up Your On-page Content
Your site content is an opportunity to show both your customers and the search engines that you are the authority in your area for the service you provide.
Include specific details such as landmarks and street names, in addition to the services you provide in this area. Make it clear why the customer would need your service in that specific area.
The more you sound like you belong there, the better the user experience for your customer.
Think as your customer thinks.
If you were looking for your service near you, what terms would you use?
Would you include your local metro, city, or even neighborhood?
The answers to these questions will help you determine the type of content you need and which keywords to include in this content.
These keywords will help you target both combination searches [dentist in Chicago] and GPS-based searches [dentist] while sitting in Chicago.
This is where the “near me” searches come into play.
Google matches the location of the user (using IP or geolocation) with sites that service the area near the user to provide these search results.
You can optimize these keywords on overall service pages or on targeted pages created specifically for the service and the targeted service area.
Using the dentist example, let’s say you offer teeth whitening services throughout the Chicago and Southern Wisconsin areas.
In addition to your main teeth whitening page, you may have individual pages for teeth whitening in Chicago, Evanston, Milwaukee, and Racine.
Each of those pages should be hyper-targeted and optimized for that specific location.
Don’t be shy here; this may be the landing page for many of those location-based searches.
Really tell your customer why they should trust you enough to click on either the next page or your CTA.
Don’t forget to do your research.
Customers who live in an area will know the common jargon and things that are native to the area.
If you come in with half-baked information, they won’t trust that you are authentic and truly care about their local area.
3. Optimize Header Tags
If you haven’t explored this subject yet, be sure to check out this resource on best practices in using header tags.
By creating local-based service pages, you have just created additional real estate to create highly targeted header tags including local-based keywords + your services.
Having great header tags gives both the visitors to your site and the crawlers a basic idea of the overall structure of the page and what to expect as they read through the content.
Be careful not to just stuff keywords into the header tags as this will be unnatural to both your visitors and the crawlers.
Keep it relevant.
4. Internal Linking
Use the power of internal linking throughout the site to educate both your customer and the search engines that you are available to serve customers in that local area.
As you are adding city names to your on-page content, you can use them as an anchor link to the service area pages.
You can also get a bit creative and create widgets, lists, and blocks that house multiple links to your service areas on top-level pages for a bit of SEO boosts.
This could be in the form of a “metro areas we service” block that includes the name of the metro, an image of the area, and a short excerpt.
The text would then link to the location page.
5. Local Business Schema
Schema markup can help give the search engines a better understanding of your site.
The local business schema type includes important and relevant information such as addresses, reviews, hours of operation, social media accounts, service area geo-shapes, and departments in your code that may not necessarily live in your on-page content.
This tells the bots and crawlers all about who you are, what you do, where you do it, and why others trust you without cramming it all on a page.
This also gives you a bit more control of the information you are putting out there instead of relying on the search engines to figure out different resources around the internet.
How Will I Know If This Is Working?
Once you have everything optimized and ready to go, you will want to know if this is really having an impact on your local SEO strategy.
There are many tools out there however we will take a quick look at a few.
Local Search Results Tools
There is nothing like looking at the SERPs directly unless you can look at the SERPs in a simulated environment that mimics the local area that you are targeting.
With these tools, you even have the option to view Google Maps, select options such as desktop and mobile, and get as granular as the zip code level.
Geo-Grid Local Ranking Tools
Geo-grid local ranking tools like Local Falcon and Local Viking are a bit more visual and monitor the map results within a selected area.
These tools are great because you can actually schedule periodic scans that will capture a snapshot of your results and keep a history of how well your site has performed locally on the maps throughout time.
Since these scans are also keyword-based, it’s also an effective way to monitor optimizations within your content and title tags.
Google Business Profile Analytics
There’s nothing like getting information directly from the horse’s mouth.
When making optimizations, if successful, you should see a boost in your Google Business Profile metrics, whether those are click-throughs to your site, calls, or requests for driving directions.
As your visibility increases, you should naturally see an increase in traffic.
Remember when optimizing for on-page local SEO, keep it simple and relevant to your business.
Once customers see that you are providing what they are looking for in the location that they desire, the rest is natural.
It is your job to make sure that you are providing them with the right information.
Even with the rapid changes within the local SEO space, a solid on-page strategy is a winner for both you and your customers.
Featured Image: MaDedee/Shutterstock
Google’s Core Web Vitals Badge Likely Won’t Happen
Google says there are no plans for a Core Web Vitals badge in search results after proposing the idea when the metrics were first introduced.
A question was submitted asking for an update on the Core Web Vitals badge and whether it’s something that will be rolled out in the future.
It was never 100% confirmed there would be a Core Web Vitals badge in SERPs, but it was an idea Google mentioned on numerous occasions.
Now it sounds like Google won’t be following through on its idea.
Read Mueller’s full response in the section below.
No Plans For A Core Web Vitals Badge In Search Results
Mueller says he can’t promise a CWV badge will never happen, but chances aren’t good.
Since the badge hasn’t rolled out yet, and the idea was first proposed over a year ago, the feeling is that it won’t happen.
“I can’t promise on what will happen in the future, unfortunately. And since we haven’t done this badge so far, and it’s been like over a year, my feeling is probably it will not happen.
I don’t know for certain, and it might be that somewhere a team at Google is making this badge happen and will get upset when I say it, but at least so far I haven’t seen anything happening with regards to a badge like this.
And my feeling is, if we wanted to show a badge in the search results for Core Web Vitals or Page Experience, then probably we would have done that already.”
Muller brings up the fact that Core Web Vitals and Page Experience are always evolving.
The Core Web Vitals metrics, as they are defined today, may include different measurements in the future. It depends what users care about.
“That said, everything around Core Web Vitals and Page Experience is constantly being worked on. And we’re trying to find ways to improve those metrics to include other aspects that might be critical for websites or for users that they care about.
So I wouldn’t be surprised if any of this changes. And it might be that, at some point, we have metrics that are really useful for users, and which make sense to show more to users, and maybe at that point we’ll have something more visible the search results, or within Chrome, or I don’t know. It’s really hard to say there.”
My interpretation of Mueller’s response is that a Core Web Vitals badge in search results isn’t an ideal solution, considering the criteria for earning the badge may change from one year to another.
If the Core Web Vitals were a set of metrics that would remain the same from year to year then a badge might make more sense, but that’s not the case.
Hear Mueller’s response in the video below:
Featured Image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, January 2022.
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