Google issues new best practices for links

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 20 Feb, 2023
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New best practice guidance on anchor text, internal and external links.

Google best practices for links.

Image: Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash

Google has published a new document on SEO best practices for links on its Search Central blog.  As well as previous advice on crawlability, it includes sections on how to construct and write anchor text, and recommendations on internal and external linking.

Anchor text

Anchor text placement

Anchor text is the visible text of a link which tells readers and search engines about the pages being linked to. It needs to be placed between <a> HTML elements which Google can crawl.

Here’s Google’s example of how it should look:

<a href="https://example.com/ghost-peppers">ghost peppers</a>

 

If you miss off the text and have an empty text link:

<a href="https://example.com"></a>

 

Google can as a fallback use the title attribute as anchor text.

<a href="https://example.com/ghost-pepper-recipe" title="how to pickle ghost peppers"></a>

 

Where an image is a link, Google uses the alt attribute of the img element as anchor text:

<a href="/add-to-cart.html"><img src="enchiladas-in-shopping-cart.jpg" alt="add enchiladas to your cart"/></a>

 

So, don’t forget to include descriptive alt text for all your images.

Writing anchor text

Good anchor text should be “descriptive, reasonably concise and relevant to the page it’s on and the page it links to”. It’s about making it clear and easy for your readers to navigate your site, and for Google to understand what the linked page is about.

Overly generic links which don’t give much of a description of the page being linked to are considered bad by Google. For example:

  • Click here to learn more.
  • Read more on our website.
  • Learn more about our cheese on our website.

Try to make your anchor text more descriptive, and provide information about the page being linked to.

So, instead of:

We have an <a href="https://example.com">article</a> that provides more background on how the cheese is made.

 

Make it more descriptive:

For a full list of cheese available for purchase, see the <a href="https://example.com">list of cheese types</a>.

 

However, be careful not to make your anchor text too long.

Here’s an example Google describes as “weirdly long”:

Starting next Tuesday, the <a href="https://example.com">Knitted Cow invites local residents of Wisconsin to their grand re-opening by also offering complimentary cow-shaped ice sculptures</a> to the first 20 customers.

 

A better, more concise version would be:

Starting next Tuesday, the <a href="https://example.com">Knitted Cow invites local residents of Wisconsin</a> to their grand re-opening by also offering complimentary cow-shaped ice sculptures to the first 20 customers.

 

Write naturally and don’t cram in keywords. Don't forget, keyword stuffing is a violation of Google’s spam policies. Rule of thumb: if it feels like you’re forcing keywords into the anchor text, it’s probably too much.

Google also says don’t pile up links one after the other, as it makes it harder for the reader to distinguish between them.

For example:

I've written about cheese <a href="https://example.com/page1">so</a> <a href="https://example.com/page2">many</a> <a href="https://example.com/page3">times</a> <a href="https://example.com/page4">this</a> <a href="https://example.com/page5">year</a>.

 

A better way to do this would be:

I've written about cheese so many times this year: who can forget the <a href="https://example.com/blue-cheese-vs-gorgonzola">controversy over blue cheese and gorgonzola</a>, the <a href="https://example.com/worlds-oldest-brie">world's oldest brie</a> piece that won the Cheesiest Research Medal, the epic retelling of <a href="https://example.com/the-lost-cheese">The Lost Cheese</a>, and my personal favorite, <a href="https://example.com/boy-and-his-cheese">A Boy and His Cheese: a story of two unlikely friends</a>.

 

This also gives you the space to put context around your links, making for a more informative sentence and links.

Internal links

People often concentrate on external links over internal links. However, internal links help people and Google to navigate and make sense of your site.

Google says:

“Every page you care about should have a link from at least one other page on your site.”

External links

External links can provide context and also help establish trustworthiness, for example by citing your sources.

“Link out to external sites when it makes sense, and provide context to your readers about what they can expect.”

The link attributes nofollow, sponsored and ugc allow you to qualify your external links. Use nofollow if there’s a site you want to link to, but which you don’t necessrily trust or rate. Google gives the example of linking to an article you want to rebut.

If there's any kind of payment for the link, you should use sponsored or nofollow. Use ugc or nofollow if users are allowed to insert links into content, for example in comments or discussion.

Given that links are one of Google’s important ranking signals, if you’re involved in SEO or content creation it’s worth making sure you’re following these guidelines.

You can see Google’s SEO Link Best Practices document on Search Central.

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