Links, Link Tag - An Overview
Links are an essential part of the Internet, as essential as the content itself. A web page or website not linked from other pages doesn't exist.
Website's Link Architecture
When discussing links in a web page, we have to include the topic page rank which was an important ranking signal for Google and may still be up to a certain extend.
Page rank may be seen as numeric value of the importance of a web page and is achieved by having many pages linking to the web page and there is a qualitative difference between a page being linked from external resources vs internal resources.
Internal linking allows us to direct web page visitors to other related resources while being linked externally provides us with those visitors in the first place.
In technical terms, internal linking allows us to distribute page rank within a website while externally being linked provides us with page rank value in the first place.
Both statements are true but we prefer to look at it in a user centric manner and less in technical terms.
The Link Tag A
The tag contains a mandatory attribute href and optional attributes such as target, rel or title.
- href Contains the url of the page the link is pointing to.
- target Provides the browser instruction how to open the linked page.
- rel Provides technical information to browsers and bots.
- title Provides information as tooltip or for screen readers.
In between the opening tag and the closing tag, a link has either text or a media file e.g. image.
The value of the href attribute in an internal link must include the full path from the root of the website but never should include protocol (https) and domain name.
<a href="/path-to-page/" title="Link Title">Link Text</a>
An external link points to a third party website and therefore the href value must include protocol (https) and domain (e.g. www.example.com).
<a href="https://www.example.com/path-to-page/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener" title="Link Title">Link Text</a>
As personal preference, we provide links to external resources with a target value _blank which forces the browser to open the page in a new tab or window. With the rel value nofollow we tell bots that the link doesn't count as vote for the external source. With the rel value noopener we make sure that the linked page won't receive information about the source of the link and prevent the linked page to access resources on the linking page (security).
The central importance of links within the Internet led to different search engine optimization strategies around links.
Over the years we concluded that a white hat SEO approach builds a hierarchical internal linking structure using cross links on same hierarchy level restrictively and lets grow links from external resources organically.
This is not an aggressive linking strategy but will work out on the long run.