Not all links are created equal. When marketers and SEOs talk about linking, they could be referencing one of these three kinds:
And some are more important to your marketing and SEO strategy than others -- especially based on how they are structured. So what's the difference between the three? Why should we care about them? And how do we know that, when we receive an inbound link, give an outbound link, or internal link our own content, that we're doing it the most effective way?
Because there is a right way and a, well, less than right way to approach all of these links. When you do it the right way, you help your website and others' improve their search engine rankings. When you approach it incorrectly, however, any good will and hard work is undermined. Let's break down the right way to "do" linking, and the qualities that make up powerful inbound, internal, and outbound links.
The Qualities of a Quality Outbound Link
An outbound link is a link from your website to another site.
As HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah explained about the importance of outbound links in 2007, links make the internet world go round, so it would make sense for Google to incentivize a behavior that helps it deliver more meaningful results -- outbound linking -- by giving even a little love to sites that provide them. But regardless of whether Google truly incorporates this factor into its algorithm, outbound links do help Google crawlers discern what the site to which you're linking is about. Plus, it builds good will among other sites, which may help you get an inbound link of your own later down the line.
So what does a quality outbound link look like? Let's start by examining the structure of a poorly constructed outbound link.
The improved version of the sample outbound link is better for three reasons:
Relevant anchor text - The text "definition of an outbound link" is more representative of what this link leads to, and as such will help Google's crawlers identify what the site to which we're linking is about.
Reader-friendly - A reader can scan the linked text in the improved example and know what they'll be reading, whereas the linked verb "Read" could refer to much more, resulting in fewer clicks and a poorer user experience.
Opens in a new browser window - If you're linking to an outside site, you want to give credit to them and drive traffic their way, but not at the expense of your own time-on-site. Opening a link in a new browser window, as opposed to the window they are currently in (your website!) makes it less likely that a user will permanently abandon your website for the one you linked to.
The Qualities of a Quality Inbound Link
Also known as the Holy Grail*, an inbound link is a link coming from another site to your own.
Inbound links are important because they are generally considered to be the biggest indication to site crawlers that your site is an authority on a certain subject. The more inbound links to your site from quality, high authority sites, the higher your website -- and the individual page on your site to which these sites link -- rises in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Let's continue to examine what a good inbound link looks like by dissecting a bad inbound link. And so we don't offend anyone, we'll use HubSpot as an example. Why is this inbound link -- which lives on the HubSpot site and points to the Social Media B2B site -- a bad inbound link for Social Media B2B?
Next, take a look at that anchor text -- or lack thereof, rather. An inbound link with poor or no anchor text, just as with an outbound link, provides far less value to the website receiving the link. You'll also notice this link directs a reader to the site's homepage -- perhaps the least effective page to send a visitor. It would be preferable to send someone to, say, a related blog post with a compelling call-to-action or a landing page with an offer that the visitor can download. To further examine why this inbound link is not helpful, let's take a look at the page it was left on.
This is a news post announcing the release of new Facebook ad functionality, which means that first outbound link highlighted in orange is one of five other outbound links in the post. And the more outbound links in a post, the more the "link juice" is divided. In other words, if this post only linked to one other website, that website would receive 100% of the benefits of their new inbound link; if there are five outbound links, however, each website only receives 20% of the benefits of their inbound link. This blog post is also brand new -- and the older the page, the more valuable the inbound link.
Despite the fact that its link juice is divided, does the above link have any redeeming qualities as an inbound link? There are two. The HubSpot blog has a high mozRank, so links coming from the site are high authority inbound links. It is also a relevant link -- the link comes from a post about social media on a website that talks about social media marketing frequently, and is pointing to another site that discusses the same topics. And relevancy and authority are two key components of great inbound links.
*not an official moniker
The Qualities of a Quality Internal Link
An internal link is a link to another page on your own website.
Internal links are important to your SEO strategy because, like inbound links, they help build up the authority of pages on your website that are important for you to rank for in the SERPs -- except lucky for you, internal links are 100% within your control!
So what does a bad internal link look like? Like this:
First, the anchor text isn't as strong as it could be. As we've learned from the best practices around both inbound and outbound links, anchor text that includes relevant keywords that more clearly indicate what the linked content is about is best for crawlers.
Second, the page being linked to isn't the best page to choose -- for readers, or SEO strategy. That page doesn't provide an in-depth explanation of how to use internal linking, nor is it the one we want to return in the SERPs for a search query around using internal linking. To get the most out of internal linking, select one page (the best you have!) for which you're trying to rank in the SERPs for a particular keyword phrase, and always link to that page in your internal links. If you continually link to different pages, you're splitting any linking authority among two pages instead of one, making your link half as useful. You could edit this for more effective internal linking, though, like this:
In this improved version, the anchor text is far more relevant, giving Google valuable clues about what the link leads to -- in other words, what the page we want to rank in the SERPs is about. Also, this link takes us to a much more relevant page about internal linking strategy, a crucial part of a good user experience. The copy around the linked text is improved as well. Crawlers read the anchor text, as well as the words around it. So seeing a word like "SEO" near the linked copy helps clarify to crawlers that the linked page would also be a relevant result for queries that include internal linking and SEO in the search phrase.
How important are internal links, outbound links, and inbound links each to your marketing and SEO strategy?