Updated October 25, 2013
Entrepreneurs and small business owners hear A LOT from online marketing consultants about the importance of optimizing website links. But if you’re new to link building and optimization, the jargon and techno-speak surrounding linking can be confusing. You might see terms like inbound link, outbound link, and internal link and wonder just what they mean—and why you should pay attention.
But worry no more! I’m going to clarify what these terms mean and why understanding them is vital for your online business success.
Inbound Links: Quality Votes for Your Business
Inbound links are links pointing to your website from other places on the internet. Inbound links send people to your website from other websites and are critical to the success of your website or blog.
Quality inbound links — inbound links that come from relevant websites that have themselves gained authority and stature with the search engines — help drive up your website’s search engine rankings. Inbound links in general are good, but inbound links to your website from relevant, authority sites are ideal.
Think of it this way: All of the websites in your niche are competing for the first page search engine listings for your industry’s main keyword or key phrase. Each time another website, especially an authority website, links to your website, it is as if someone powerful has voted for your site to be listed in the search results.
With each vote, your site gets more powerful, too, and slowly moves up in the search engine chain.
Now that you understand how inbound links from quality sources work, there is something even better — inbound links that use keyword-rich anchor text instead of your basic URL.
For example: the URL link www.bourncreative.com is a good link to our site and I’d love you if you linked to our site! But if you really want some love, use a keyword-rich, anchor-text link like WordPress Web Design — which acts as a vote with the search engines to list our website under those keywords. Or, use a branded anchor-text link like Bourn Creative — which acts as a vote of support and quality for our brand
Outbound Links: Focus on Relevance
Outbound links are links on your website that point to another destination on the internet. Outbound links send your website visitors away from your website to another website, if only briefly.
You may have heard that you should minimize the amount of outbound links on your website, since they draw people away from you. But that advice isn’t precise. In fact, outbound links are also important to the success of your website. It just comes down to exactly how you use your outbound links.
Here’s the key: The goal of Google and other search engines is to provide internet users with the most relevant information possible, so you need to make sure that all outbound links on your website send your visitors to destinations relevant to your content and your mission.
Why Relevant Outbound Links Matter
Let’s say you’re a professional organizer, and your website is about organizing. The search engines assume visitors go to your site for information on organizing and getting organized, and they expect the content, images, and LINKS on your site are all related to that topic.
Outbound links to relevant, on-topic content, such as a store where users can purchase organization supplies, will make the search engines happy, and can boost your website’s listing position because you’re helping the user find even more useful and relevant information on a topic they are interested in.
But let’s say you joined a link exchange group with ten friends, and you all agreed to link to each others’ websites. (Yes, people do this.) Included in the group are a Dog Groomer, a Massage Therapist, a Life Coach, and a Divorce Attorney. Links to these websites from a professional organizer’s site may confuse the search engines!
Search engines won’t understand why a professional organizer is sending visitors to irrelevant websites that have nothing to do with the topic of your website. The problem is that search engines assume that users who visit your site are interested in organizing topics and when you provide them with off-topic, irrelevant links, they don’t like it!
So the pivotal plan in using outbound links is to include only those links that are relevant to your site’s purpose, topic, and content.
Additional points to consider when using outbound links include:
- Experts are divided on whether or not outbound links should open in a new tab. Some believe you MUST set outbound links to open in a new window or tab, so visitors aren’t ever completely disconnected with your website. Yet, others (user experience purists) believe this causes frustration with users who not only end up having too many tabs open, but then can’t use the back button if they want to.
- When including website URLs with testimonials, consider just displaying the URL and not making them “live” links. It’s okay to list the URL and not include a live link to the website. These mentions without links are called “citations” and they do matter to search engines too. It shows them people are talking about you.
- Many marketers will advise you to use the “no-follow” attribute for links that you want to include on your website, but that you do not want the search engines to follow. Sometimes this setting works. Sometimes it doesn’t. In our opinion, if you are adding a link to your site that needs the “no-follow” setting applied, you may want to reconsider adding the link and examine the reason behind the link existing on your website.
Internal Links: Improve User Experience & Get Search Engine Site Links
Internal links are links from one page/post on your website to another page/post on your website. Internal links direct users from blog posts to website pages, pages to posts, new posts to old posts, etc. on the same website URL.
Internal links are important to the success and integrity of your website or blog because they give your visitors and the search engines more ways to move through your website and access the content they are looking for. But the value of internal links goes beyond ease of website navigation.
Internal links are the secret to achieving site links — those additional indented sub-links that appear below your main page link in the search engine listings.
Check out the example in this screen shot:
The Bourn Creative Google listing shown above didn’t always include site links. It was only by adding strategic internal links to specific pages that we gained the coveted indented site links. Even better, these site links genuinely beefed up our search engine results page listing — not only giving it the stamp of an authoritative website, but also beaming some clients directly to our contact page.
Something to think about: At first, when new prospects would call us, tell us they found us in a Google search, and then confess they had never actually looked at our website, we were perplexed. After some digging, we realized that they were simply clicking on the indented “Contact” site link in our listing and contacting us right from our Contact page without clicking through our website!
A Few Quick Note About Site Links:
- Add relevant, internal links to your website. For example: Wherever we mention our services or our design work, we include the link to our design portfolio. Or wherever we’re talking about how people can work with us, we include a link to our contact information.
- Include the sub-links you want to see listed in your site links throughout your site content. A simple way to do this is to put the links in the footer of your website. Your footer shows up on every page, so if your website has 50 pages and 100 blog posts, and you include one link, you added 150 internal links to your website.
- You have no control over the site links that a search engine generates. Site links are automatically generated. However, if Google creates a site link for a page on your site that you do not want to appear, you can delete the site link in Google’s Webmaster Tools.
Leverage Links and Improve Your Website
The overall success of your website or blog can be significantly enhanced by strategic leveraging of inbound, outbound, and internal links. But don’t get too carried away!
A web page or blog post peppered with too many links throughout the content will weaken the readability of your content. And a website with too many inbound or outbound links using the exact same keywords or long tail key phrases will look seriously spammy, and could make the search engines think you’re trying to game the system.
As always, think about what you add to your website and ask yourself:
- How will this add value to my business?
- How will this add value to my website visitors?
- Is this natural and helpful, or spammy?
- 10 Ideas To Build Quality Inbound Links and Increase Website Traffic
- 6 Ways You Can Use Internal Website Links for SEO
- Learning The Difference Between a Good Link and Bad Link
- The Secret to Building More Inbound Links
- Why Broken Links Are Bad For Business
- What Are NoFollow Links and DoFollow Links? Do I Need Them?