When creating content for our clients, we often get questions about links. It’s easy to see why there’s confusion and uncertainty: They can have implications for search engine optimization (SEO), conversion rate optimization (CRO) and the overall user experience (UX). Those are all important components of content marketing!
So, without further ado, here are four questions about links that we get a lot—and our answers.
Are all links the same?
Nope. There are two main types of links you can directly control:
Internal links point users to other pages on the same domain. Internal links help users navigate your site. For example, if you’re writing a blog post and mention a service that you offer, you could link to your service page so that anyone who wants to learn more can click through to that service page. Internal links are also instructive to search engine web crawlers that are trying to figure out what your content is about. When a large quantity of internal links all lead to a certain webpage, Google is more likely to consider that page important. Web crawlers will also look at other clues, such as anchor text.
External links direct users to pages off of your site. These links point to a different domain, and while that might seem like a no-go for SEO, used in the right way, external links can actually improve the credibility of your website. And Google likes credibility. Remember the goal with all of your content—linking included—is to provide the best possible experience for your users, and external links can help you do that. (Read more about the best ways to incorporate external links below).
And there’s one type of link that you can’t typically directly control (unless you’re working with link farms, a practice we avoid):
Backlinks are links from external websites to your content. When other sites link to your content, the Google Search algorithm sees that as a signal that your content is high quality. Google also does its best to discern the quality of the websites that are linking to your content. So, a link from The Economist will be seen as a stronger signal of quality than a link from a lesser-known blog that went live yesterday. The more high-quality backlinks pointing to your content, the more valuable Google perceives your content to be, which can help increase your chances of ranking higher in search.
Which brings us to another common question about links…
What anchor text should we use?
If you’re dashing off links to your content rather than thoughtfully crafting anchor text, you’re missing out. Anchor text (also known as link text) are the words that are hyperlinked in your content.
Here’s an example: Links can help your prospects along the buyer’s journey.
In that example, “buyer’s journey” is the anchor text.
To write effective anchor text, you want to give the reader a clear sense of what they’ll get if they click it. If I used “buyer’s journey” as the anchor text for a link to our Contact Us page, readers would feel rightly duped, and they’d be unlikely to trust any links I include in the future. That’s not good for anyone.
As mentioned above, Web crawlers use the anchor text as a signal to what that page is about, too. When you use an oft-searched key phrase that relates to the content you’re linking to, it can give that content a little boost in the rankings for that key phrase. That’s a win for SEO and your users. And for that reason, you usually want to avoid using vague anchor text like “click here” or “learn more.”
How many links should we include?
It would be great if there were a magic number of links to include on any given webpage, but the answer is that it really depends. If there are helpful pages both within and outside your site that can help your users learn more about related topics or explore your sources, then include those. Your internal and external links can demonstrate expertise, authority and trustworthiness to Google and other search engines.
At the same time, you don’t want so many links that your content is awash in blue, underlined text that is difficult to read. There’s a tension. When asking, “To link or not to link?” it always helps to put yourself in the shoes of your readers. Will the link be valuable to them? If not, leave it out.
Should we even link to external sites if it’s going to take users off our site?
While it’s generally not a good idea to link to external sites on your homepage, services pages and conversion-oriented landing pages, linking to external sites on your blog can enhance the content experience for your audience. External links can help users gain more context, discover more great content and check out your sources. (Attributing your sources is also part of how to write helpful content like a journalist.)
When you’re generous with your external links, it builds trust with your audience. As a result, they’ll be more likely to return to your site and share your content.