Internal vs. External Linking: Does the Difference Even Matter?

Jun 25, 2012   //   by AmandaDi   //   link building, SEO Blog  //  17 Comments

Most business owners who have even an elementary understanding of content online know that linking is important. However, what many do not realize is that there are many different kinds of linking, all of which have different benefits and different pitfalls.  The two most basic (but important) types of linking to understand is internal and external linking. This then begs the inevitable question: Do they differences really matter when it comes to SEO?

Internal Linking 101

When someone says “internal linking” they simply mean a link that navigates between different webpages of your website. This is a great way to keep people on your site as long as possible and gives you the opportunity to help them learn more about a given topic by looking through your site as opposed to heading somewhere else. It’s hard to get all the information you need in one article, so linking internally is a huge help. Consider some of the other benefits:

  • PageRank – Linking internally can help your page rank. This will help you move up to the top of search engine pages, so it can make a big difference when it comes to trying to improve the visibility of your brand. Although this doesn’t hold as much weight in terms of PageRank as someone else linking to your webpages, it doesn’t hurt.
  • Navigation – As discussed above, having internal links can help your customers navigate your webpage. Most experts recommend having the page open on the existing page so that people will stay on your site longer, but as a reader I always prefer when an internal link opens a new webpage. You could also consider installing breadcrumbs on your website for even easier navigation.
  • Index – Lots of internal links will help search engines classify your site quicker and more accurately. This could help readers find your site easier on search engines because it will help ensure that your site is indexed in the proper places.

The Know-Hows of External Linking

External links take readers from your website to another website. Although this may seem like a terrible idea, it can potentially have many benefits for both your company and your readers:

  • Credibility – Chances are your website does not gather its own data and facts. For this reason, you will want to link to websites in order to give them credit for the information you are using. This will help readers see where you get your facts; thus improving your credibility.
  • PageRank – Although linking to another site within your article will not help your PageRank, external linking will help if it is done to you. In other words, if another site is linking to your website, your PageRank will improve. Many websites utilize guest posting on other blogs—they offer free articles in exchange for what would be an external link back to their site.
  • Traffic – Your traffic will certainly increase if you have reputable sites linking back to your site. Not only will you show up more on a Google search page because of your PageRank, but you will have new sets of eyes looking at your website.

The most important thing to remember about linking is that the links should be relevant. Linking just for the sake of linking will not fools readers, and it will most certainly not fool Google. As long as you can link, both internally and externally, in a natural way, you will find that linking is a small way to make a huge difference.

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Amanda DiSilvestro is a graduate of Illinois State University. Although she graduated with an English Education degree, she found herself working as a full-time blogger in the SEO/social media department at HigherVisibility SEO, a leading franchise SEO company.

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  • Just to add a little info about external linking – it’s believed that obtaining links form multiple domains has more of an effect on your page/site than obtaining multiple links from one domain. Something else you didn’t mention was nofollow and dofollow links. Domain/page authority will not be passed through nofollow links, but could still have a dramatic effect on web traffic depending on where the link is published. For anyone who doesn’t know what dofollow/nofollow links are I would suggest reading up on it. According to some people the dofollow vs. nofollow ratio is important, but I don’t really have enough experience with that to comment on. I guess just do what works best for you.

  • Great post Amanda, I think you have cleared up any confusion that people might have about internal and external links. I believe that internal links are a great way to get people to buy whatever you are offering.

  • AmandaDi

    Thank you both for commenting. @Rob you’re absolutely right about getting links on multiple domains as opposed to a bunch of links on one domain. This is harder so I think that some companies try to ignore this fact, but it will pay off in the long run! Nofollow versus dofollow is also extremely important. Some companies might be getting a lot of great links and no even realize that Google isn’t “counting” these links. However, they ARE beneficial as you say.

    In general, nofollow links are often found in the comments. I have written about this in the past, so feel free to Google my name and you’ll find tons of information if you need it! Otherwise, you can click on this nofollow link that is giving me great publicity 🙂

    @Neil Thank you for reading! When I was first starting out internal links always confused me a little bit because I didn’t see the purpose.

  • Good work Amanda. This helped me explain a few things to one of my clients.

  • Ray says:

    I think it is important to do both internal and external as long as you don’t go overboard with it. I know some people try to get backlinks anywhere they can. Others seem to link way to many pages in a post internally. I don’t know what the perfect amount is, but when there are 20 internal links in a short post it not only becomes annoying, but too much.

    • AmandaDi

      That is a great point. I didn’t discuss how many links are too many links because as you say–there is no right answer. However, you don’t want to go overboard with your internal links because this can look like spam. I usually say no more than one per paragraph, and sometimes even this looks like too many. It’s all about good judgement and what looks natural. The same goes for external links within your content.

      As far as too many backlinks–I think it’s good to have a lot of backlinks, but try to spread them out across different domains and keep these brief as well. If you were going to submit a guest post, don’t put a ton of links back to your site in the content. This will look spam (same problem as above) if an editor even allows it. Thanks for reading!

  • Derek Maak

    I also think internal linking helps with your keyword diversity. If you just read through your post, it’s easy to pick out things that make sense to link. And it’s not always a keyword necessarily. It could be something like “read this post” or “take a look at my review”.

    After recent Google updates, keyword diversity seems to be ever more important and I think internal linking in a natural way (e.g. in a way that makes sense to someone reading the post) is one way to keep from falling into the habit of linking to the same page with the same keyword over and over again.

    • AmandaDi

      I think that’s a great point to make. Keyword diversity is slowly becoming more important in the eyes of Google, and internal linking is probably the easiest way to make that happen. Thanks for reading!

  • Internal linking is as important as external linking. Though these are two different ways of linking, they have one similar goal – helping the user in the best way. Whether you’re linking to pages on your own website or others, it’s always important to focus on the needs of the user who will be reading the specific article.

    Thanks for the post, Amanda!

  • Brynn Snow says:

    I just checked out “the business bungalow”, great idea! for a long time I thought that linking to other blogs within my posts would help with my google ranking. I know, silly silly.

    • AmandaDi

      You’re so nice! It’s a work in progress–I just started a few weeks ago. I write so much content for other websites that I barely get time to write for my own!

      And linking to your other blogs within your posts will help give you credibility–not a total loss!

  • craig

    A very informative post Amanda. I am always worried about too many external links in my posts so use no follow when using list but do follow if its a resource that is generally useful.

    I do sometimes forget to to internal link my posts but have hopefully helped my case with a related posts addon that seems to be increasing my site visit length.

    Thansk for the post

    • Glad you liked it! Many blogs set the comment section to nofollow links and keep everything in the content dofollow, which I think is probably the best way to go about that. The whole reason that nofollow links started was because people would spam the comments (much easier to do than get something inside the content).

      Internal links are always helpful and they are so easy. Good luck 🙂

  • Felipe Veiga says:

    I guess one could sum up the new Google guidelines as “link only to who really produce great stuff” and “make your site user friendly” and we will take care of the rest of evaluating you and your content.
    People were able to change the ranking only by doing internal SEO, which is like saying “Hey people, I’m the best” and the others “Ok, if you say so, you must be!”!

  • leonardo

    Good work Amanda. This helped me explain a few things to one of my clients. Thansk for the post…

  • David LaPlante

    Say you have 6 links to your homepage on one page. Google will read the first instance and not count the other 5. Does putting a nofollow on the other 5 help in that it would then give that 1 link more link juice? Having all 6 follow could dilute the link juice into 1/6 of the page’s strength. Does nofollow on 5 of the 6 give more strength to the one you leave as followed?

    Obviously there will be more links on the page, but this is just an example.