Hyperlink text markup (HTML) is the backbone of every website and webpage. In backend code, HTML tags indicate how on-page content (including text, hyperlinks, images, and more) are formatted. What users see on a webpage is a direct translation of HTML.
The HTML link tag (which creates what is known as a “hyperlink”) is commonly used tag that links externally (to another page or document on a different website) or internally (to other resources on your website.)
There are a variety of different HTML link tag attributes that allow you to further specify how your hyperlinks will appear to users. When you link on-page content to an external resource, you should note that these types of links have significant SEO ranking power.
What are HTML Link Tags Used For?
Use HTML link tags whenever you want to link externally or internally. You can use link tags to encourage external linking from other sites to your own (known as “inbound links”), and enhancing your SEO by linking to trustworthy sites (“outbound links”).
It’s ideal to utilize HTML link tags and hyperlinking in situations like:
- Linking to an external style sheet
- Crediting a quote
- Adding sources to a fact or study cited
- Suggesting related content to your readers
HTML Link Structure
All HTML link tags are preceded by a lesser than symbol, and at the end of the section, closed with a forward slash (/) and greater than symbol, e.g.: <link> and </link>.
Link tags must be placed between the head tag of a webpage (<head></head>) and must include the href attribute, which indicates the link's destination.
HTML link tag attributes
HTML link tag attributes further instruct how a hyperlink should behave. There are many options, but most are optional. Here are some of the most common:
The href= attribute indicates the link's destination. Add the URL you're linking to in a set of quotation marks ("") to this attribute. You must include "href=" in the link element.
Rel= describes the relationship between two linked entities. For example, “rel=icon" imports a related icon onto the page. It's good practice to include this attribute when using the link element.
The Hreflang= attribute specifies the language of the text in the linked document.
The Target= attribute instructs which window the link should open into. For example, "_blank" usually indicates a new tab or new window, depending on the default.
Why Users & Search Engines need HTML Link Tags
External hyperlinks to other sites (also known as “outbound links”) provide added value to users because they refer users to information and services that are relevant.
Search engines utilize linking information when ranking web pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Although they won't be the most important ranking factor, outbound links should make up a key part of any SEO strategy.
Search engine bots consider external links from one website to another (referred to as “backlinks”) more significant than internal links on a website. The number (and type) of inbound links a particular website earns can be a sign of popularity, relevance, authority, and quality.
Search engines rely on HTML link tags to provide information on a website or webpage. Hyperlinks (inbound or outbound) form a core part of search engine ranking methods.
SEO Benefits of using HTML Link Tags
Externally linking to a particular website (to create outbound links) can function as a “vote-of-confidence” for the linked domain. Search engine bots will recognize if a particular website (or webpage) is frequently linked to and are more likely to rank that website higher in the SERPs.
This result is based on the theory that these types of links are harder to manipulate, so the number of inbound links a site has is probably due to popularity amongst users. It can also indicate that the site or page in question is trustworthy, engaging, and a source of quality content.
Generating organic traffic is the name of the game with SEO, so it’s important for other websites to link to your site. However, it doesn't hurt your SEO to link to other sites as long as they're trustworthy.
In fact, you’ll only boost your chances of ranking higher. Externally linking to relevant, quality websites can increase your website’s visibility and authority in the eyes of search engine bots. The more popular and relevant your outbound links, the better.
Other websites are more likely to link to yours (and create inbound links) if you’ve linked to other reputable sites or if your pages provide useful content they can reference.
Externally linking to related websites can also strengthen your “topic signal” for search engines, which helps bots understand what your site or page is about.
How Semrush’s Site Audit tool Scans for HTML issues
You can keep track of the state of your website and its hyperlinks by using an on-page issues diagnostics tool, like the Site Audit tool.
Good SEO is supported by healthy websites with excellent technical SEO. HTML issues (including linking errors) are a common pitfall.
Poor hyperlinking structure can create a less than stellar experience for users. Additionally, broken links signal to search engines that your site isn’t secure, potentially malicious, and not helpful to their users.
The tool's crawlers can help you identify and fix linking errors, as well as provide valuable marketing and crawlability insights. Once you've set up a project for your website, you'll configure the tool to crawl your website.
You'll have options to limit the number or types of pages you want crawled, as well as disallow any URLs from the scan. You'll also be able to grant the crawlers additional access to your site or schedule the audit.
The tool will return a set of thematic reports to review. Check out the Errors section of the generated report to see where your hyperlinks are broken and letting down your entire website.
Proper hyperlinking is an important part of good SEO strategy. Site audits are one way to ensure that the links present on your site are working properly, but it will be up to your discretion to determine how and when to link to reputable, useful sites (or have such sites link to yours.)
Be prepared to maintain your hyperlinks with a consistent auditing schedule. As you or others create or remove pages, links will easily become broken without your knowledge. By maintaining a good linking structure, you're improving your website's reach and credibility — keep at it!