Absolute vs. Relative Links: Which is Better for the Search Engines?

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Reader question: What type of link is better for getting search engine rankings: an absolute or a relative link?

Answer: This reader question raises some good points. Some items on a page might be good for site usability and sales conversions, but they might make no difference as to whether a site ranks or not.

In terms of search engine visibility, it does not matter if you use absolute or relative links on your Web site. The search engines automatically convert relative links into an absolute links. However, using absolute links will not make a site rank higher merely because Webmasters choose to use absolute links on their sites.

Absolute and relative links

For those of you who do not know the difference between an absolute and relative link, the following examples should make it clearer.

An absolute link defines a specific location of the Web file or document including: the protocol to use to get the document, the server to get it from, the directory it is located in, and the name of the document itself. Below is an example of an absolute link:

<a href="http://www.domain.com/pagename.html"></a>

With a relative link, the search engine spiders and browsers already know where the current document is located. Thus, if you link to another document in the same directory, you will not need to write out the full URL. Only the file name is necessary. Below is an example of a relative link:

<a href="pagename.html"></a>

Notice that the domain name or the http://www is not included in this type of link.

Personally? I tend to use relative links because the shorter code can decrease a page’s download time – less code means a faster download time. However, if I have a client that prefers to use absolute links, then I will use absolute links on the site. Use whatever link type you are more comfortable using.

The only exception is when I optimize PDF files. With PDFs, I always use absolute links.

Absolute links and PDF files

Even though using relative links will not affect search engine visibility, I make an exception with PDF files.

Reason? People commonly email PDF files to each other, or they download PDF files to their desktops. If you place a relative link in your PDF files and try to click on that link from your desktop (or email), the Web page will not load.

In order for the page to load properly from your desktop or email, the PDF-file links should be absolute links.

I know this question is coming: do search engines follow the links inside of a PDF file? The answer is yes. Both Yahoo and Google can follow the links inside of a PDF file.

Always consider your site visitors and target audience. Yahoo and Google will not download a PDF to their desktop or email them. But your target audience will. So I recommend using absolute links inside all of your PDF documents.

URL structure and link development

One tip I constantly hear from many search engine marketers (SEMs) is to put keywords in the domain name, subdirectory, and page name. For some search engines, keyword-rich URLs have no impact on rankings. Other search engines use it as a component of their algorithms, but the impact is very small. So I don’t obsess over this optimization strategy.

What concerns me more is to name my Web pages in a manner that my target audience might use. I have already written about this topic extensively. I have included links to these articles at the bottom of this page.

Since Google uses anchor text pointing to a Web document to help determine relevancy, many SEMs like to create URLs like the following:


What they are hoping that other Web sites will do is link to their company in the following manner.

<p>Company name and keywords
<a href=" http://www.keyword1domain.com/keyword2/keyword3.html"> http://www.keyword1-domain.com/keyword2/keyword3.html </a>
<br />
Short description of company name using keywords.</p>

For those of you who do not code, I will explain this strategy. The hypertext link in the above example is placed around the keyword-rich URL. Since major keywords are separated by a hyphen (-), forward slash (/), and period (.), SEMs believe that the anchor text in the URL will help boost keyword emphasis. Technically? They might be correct in this assessment. However, many SEMs only think about rankings. They do not always consider site usability or how people actually link.

The reality is that when other Web site owners link to your URL, they don’t place the URL within the hypertext link. They often do not display the URL at all. Rather, they link to the company name, page title, or headline (depending on what text is of value to the Web site owner), as follows:

<p> <strong><a href="http://www.keyword1domain.com/keyword2/keyword3.html">
</a>Company name and keywords</strong>
<br />
Short description of company name using keywords, if applicable to the Web site owner.</p>

In fact, you can sometimes detect spam link farms when you see the overuse of keywords in URLs. What do you think is more important to your target audience: keyword-loaded URLs or content that actually contains important query words?

Using keywords in URLs is a poor substitute for keyword-rich content.


When deciding what type of links you wish to use on your site, always consider your site’s visitors first and foremost. Download time does not affect search engine rankings, but it does affect sales conversions. Using too many absolute links on your Web pages can have a negative impact on download time.

Related links

URL Structure and Search Engine Optimization
Keyword-rich URLs and Search Engine Visibility – Part 1
Keyword-rich URLs and Search Engine Visibility – Part 2
Search Engines and Web Site Directory Structure

Shari Thurow is Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc., a full-service search engine marketing, web and graphic design firm. This article is excerpted from her book, Search Engine Visibility (http://www.searchenginesbook.com) published in January 2003 by New Riders Publishing Co. Shari can be reached at shari@grantasticdesigns.com.

Shari Thurow Answers SEO Questions: Click Here For Free Answers

Absolute vs. Relative Links: Which is Better for the Search Engines?
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  • http://www.pakkretair.com ??????????

    thank you very much.

    I’ll change my website to absolute link

  • http://www.eOneNet.com Fione – eOneNet.com – Internet Marketing Asia

    Hi Shari,

    Simple explanation. Yes, getting good rankings in search engines are important, but in the end it’s the customers that will give you money. I agree that we should have a good balance between SEO strategies and the ease of usability for the website and then get good ROI on the website.


    Fione Tan

  • http://raihem.blogspot.com Hem Rai

    Excellent article. I will wait for your some interesting topics and comment it.

  • http://www.sherlockrecords.com Background Check

    Ok this article is good but im not really enlighten up that well. I think absolute is good because when somebody steal your content and if that thief is that dumb they may not remove your link and it will point to your site as backlink.



  • http://seobycanz.com Lynn Bishop

    The post wouldn’t show for anymore than a few seconds, and then I was dumped onto this page, I tried three times but the same thing happened. If the above comment is correct, and you stated that it takes longer for the page to load if I assume the link is absolute, then the above comment is probably true, this isn’t the case at all.

  • http://www.fullinfaw.usana.com claude from Usana Health Sciences

    Thanks you for explaining about the differences between absolute and relative links.

    I had a number of websites up on google for adsense and had not done any work on them for months until I realise that I was beginning to earn income from them. I wondered why and what caused this sudden sow trickle of money to come in. As the amount started to increase I noticed one of the pages had most of the clicks and income associated from the.

    I started to ask questions. I realised I had done a few things different at the time of set up of this pages that may be the cause of this. So I started to search for answers.

    You have probably given me some clues here and I may going to do some more testing on another new site and see if I get the same results.

    Incidently this has given all the pages a rank of 2 and 2 pages have even got page rank 3.

  • http://www.eduardo9.com Eduardo Da Silva

    Glad to have found this article. I always thought about the importance of relative vs absolute links when writing HTML codes, it comforting to know they are both the same and that I do not need to change all pages in which I used relative links or vice-versa!


    Thanks for the info.

  • Guest

    Thanks so much for the info!.. I’ll definitely have to change all my links to absolute as I currently have them as relative… Especially my PDF links!..

  • http://travel-guide2india.blogspot.com/2008/08/agra-travel-guide-agra-vacation-agra.html Agra vacation and Agra travel

    I dint have any idea about absolute and relative lins thans for this in depth article for increasing my nowledge base.

  • http://ppccampaignmanagement.blogspot.com/2008/01/pay-per-click-management.html PPC Campaign Management

    Hey Shari, Thanks, i was searching for the difference & wht to use b/w absolute and relative links.. ( was unaware of the types actually), spent about half an hour, and yeah finally got the right one,

    You have really cleared more than what i wanted :),

    Thanks, for the useul information.


  • Guest

    Great article… Will definitely be using absolute links on my website.. Thanks again..

  • http://www.ozarkscompu-tech.com Branson Computer Repair

    Thanks for the good information. I have often wondered about which method of linking the search engines preferred. I usually build all of my links as relative (because it’s shorter to type with less characters). Thanks for the clarity!

  • http://www.ThePowerOfaTeam.com Daren Wride

    Very helpful- I was on the brink of redoing all my relative links based in the idea that absolutes were better for SEO. Saved me a ton of time!

  • http://jobsnow.blogsome.com/ Job interviews

    Didnt know about relative links and using them. I ve always used absolute links. – Brad

  • Karl

    Thanks for sharing this information. I never knew the difference between absolute and relative URLs until I read this article. Also, I never knew that absolute URLs could slow a web page’s load time. Again thanks.

  • http://www.kareo.com Ahmed

    Hey Shari,

    Thank you very much for sharing this article. I did not realize the point you made about download time affecting users when using too many absolute links on your page until I read your article :)

    Thanks again. Keep up the good work!


  • Morefree

    Simple and you point out what is really important for SEO and users.
    The conclusion was beyond controversy. Thanks!

  • http://www.lifs.in <a href="http://www.lifs.in">Rishi</a>

    hey now i know that why should i give relative links……..

  • http://www.lifs.in Rishi

    hey now i know that why should i give relative links…….

  • http://www.ayushkumar.com SEO Specialist

    Thanks for sharing nice article on Absolute Vs Relative links. Somehow I am not totally agree that Absolute URLs could slow a web page’s load time concept., because nowadays most of the users have high broadband net speed, so they wont even realize fraction of second delay. However if a web page has a lot of Absolute URLs then it can make an issue. Anyways thanks

  • http://www.leadzoomer.com/seo-pune.html seo pune

    Thank you for your valuable information.

  • Guest

    Post needs updating as download speed is set to be a factor in ranking a site, boubt it will hold a great weight but is misleading to say it doesn’t effect rank.

  • http://www.seothomas.com Thomas

    Alot of emphasis has been placed on page load times in the recent months. And relative links will help reduce your overall page load time which is a valuable factor in terms of search engine optimization.

  • http://www.edralas.blogpost.com/ Lee Edralas

    Just stumbled another article for this but there’s no explanation. I’m so glad you have it here fully explained. Thanks.

  • http://www.published-articles.com Published Articles

    Good point about using absolute links in PDF files. I also agree that concerning yourself with site usability is what is most important.

    I enjoyed the entire article, great job Shari.


  • http://www.technopus.com/ Guest

    Thanks for sharing nice article on Absolute Vs Relative links.

  • http://nickmudge.info/ Nick Mudge

    For the vast majority of web pages the extra size from absolute links is so negligible that it really doesn’t matter.

  • http://www.mukeshmamtora.com Mukesh

    Thanks for sharing Great information Online. It helped me a lot about understand about the difference between absolute and relative URLs. Thanks Again

  • Peter

    Thank s for mentioning the issue of pdf files. I had not though, nor read anywhere else on the web, about this (and I intend to usw pdf files in future).

    Good article.

    I am suing absolute links at the moment, because I am still in the planning stages of my site, and I think that I may be using some files and images on more than one sight, or in sub-domains.

    I do hear that there is a performance hit, but it is not that big.

  • http://Don'tCare.net Unexisting Person

    I have sexdaily. I mean Dyslexia. Fcuk

  • http://Don'tCare.net Unexisting Person


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