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I imagine most people are pretty familiar with links at this point. Although for SEO purposes, we’ll often break links up into categories like internal links and external links and inbound links and outbound links. Stay with me here:
Internal Links vs. External Links
An internal link is a hyperlink that points at a page on the same domain that the link exists on. Internal links are helpful for SEO because the anchor text helps search engines understand what the page is about and it also helps establish site architecture.
An external link is a hyperlink that points at a page that isn’t on the same domain that the link exists on. If you link to a high quality, authoritative site from your domain (we call this outbound linking), it can help improve your authority and perceived relevance to the search engines on whatever subject the linked page covers.
Another plus side to outbound linking? Link reciprocity. Essentially, if someone sees you linking to their site a lot, they are more likely to return the favor.
That’s favorable for SEO because when a high quality, authoritative site links to your domain (we call this inbound linking), it also improves your authority and perceived relevance to search engines like Google. Depending on the anchor text of the link, it might even increase your rankings for certain keywords. These inbound links are also often referred to as backlinks.
With that being said, you want to avoid both linking to and receiving links from low quality, spammy sites. If you link to low quality, spammy websites, it stands to reason that you may become low quality and spammy by association—which is why both Bing and Google have link disavow tools that allow you to request search engines discount links from shady sources. (It’s kind of like the restraining order of the SEO world.)
It’s also important to note that Google frequently penalizes sites with a spammy backlink profile. There are millions of directory websites that have been created for a single purpose: to game the search engine algorithms. In the past, links from these types of sites have helped companies improve their rankings. However, the search engines have become far more adept at identifying such sites and either penalizing them or removing them from their results altogether.
Another way people used to try and acquire backlinks was through guest blog posting. But as recently as January 2014, Google’s head of webspam was quoted saying, “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.”
So in the days of the heavy Google penalization hammer, the best way to acquire “good” backlinks, inbound links, or whatever you want to call them is by creating unique, relevant content.
The main difference between links and citations is that citations don’t have to include a hyperlink at all. An online article simply mentioning your company’s name can be considered a citation.
Here’s a better explanation from Whitespark:
“A citation is any mention of your business out on the web, with or without a link. It can come in various forms:
- Company Name, by itself.
- Company name & phone number.
- Company name, phone number, & address.
- Company name, phone number, address, & link.
“Even just the phone number by itself can be a citation.”
While links are great for improving your rankings, citations are helpful for getting listed in local search results. While there are many ranking factors that appear to contribute to local search, experts agree that citations matter more than links. Just like with links, the quality of the citations matters, as well as the quantity. (Read more about where to get citations for local SEO and whether Yext PowerListings are worth the investment.)
One of the most popular types of citations used across the Web is called an NAP citation—which stands for name, address, and phone number. That’s why directories are a good place to start when you’re building citations.
It’s important to note that your citations should be as consistent as possible in order to improve your local search results. For example, you shouldn’t have “Blue Corona” as your company name on one listing and “Blue Corona, Inc.” as your company name on another.
What’s More Important—Links or Citations?
I think you know the answer to this—both are important. If you own a local company, however, I would argue that citations get the edge on this one—particularly citations from local sources. Whether you’re interested in getting more citations or need help writing lots of quality content that will attract external links, we can help. Fill out the form below for a free SEO analysis.
About The Author: Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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