When link-building comes up in SEO circles, it’s unsurprising that most SEO agencies talk about the power of high-quality backlinks. A backlink represents ‘a vote of confidence’ from one site to another, proving to search engines that others vouch for you.
Without doubt, this is true. Google’s Andrey Lipattsev even confirmed that backlinks are one of Google’s strongest ranking factors.
However, the problem with being too backlink-centric is that your SEO strategy becomes one-dimensional. What’s worse, this often leads you to overlook a key SEO tactic that creates a more authoritative site: internal linking.
Internal links are one of the most underrated ways of improving your visibility and increasing your overall SEO performance. When implemented properly, content would rank more quickly, boost engagement and drive traffic to other pages of your website.
But what is the role of internal linking for SEO? How exactly do they help search engines in crawling and understanding your website? And if this is your first time hearing about internal links, you’ve probably used them, even when you’re not aware of it.
We have your back. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about internal linking, its benefits, best practices and more. Continue reading below!
Getting Started: What is Internal Linking?
Internal linking is the process of hyperlinking one web page to another page on the same website. For example, if you click on the ‘search intent’ link displayed on the screenshot below, you will be directed to our ‘A Basic Guide To Search Intent: Why Does It Matter To SEO?’ blog. This is what you call an internal link.
These internal links are crucial for SEO, helping both users and search engines understand information architecture and website navigation. People who visit your website can easily jump from one section to another, such as product categories, blog posts and policies.
They also provide paths for search spiders to find newly published content, make a strong network of related pages and increase visitors’ time on your platform.
Your links will look like this when marked up in HTML:
<a href=”www.example.com>Link Text</a>
They shouldn’t be confused with external links, which are clickable links that direct users to other websites. They are usually used to give additional resources, references and citations to improve content credibility.
Understanding The Benefits of Internal Linking For SEO
On the surface, the purpose of internal linking seems to focus on getting your website’s visitors from point A to B. But when internal links are strategically used in SEO, they can potentially enhance the performance of the web pages you’re linking to.
This was confirmed by Google’s Senior Search Analyst John Mueller in the Google SEO office-hours video. He said that it ranks among the most significant actions you can take to let Google and visitors know what pages are important to you.
To further understand the benefits of internal linking for SEO, let’s delve into the details:
Helps Users Easily Navigate Your Website
One of the most important benefits of internal linking is it allows you to tailor the navigation experience and the customer journey map of your visitors.
Keep in mind that readers who land on your website have varying intentions and needs. Some are trying to reach out to you, some are interested in buying your products, while others are looking for informational content.
When your internal links are properly structured, you anticipate your visitors’ needs by leading them to pages they might find relevant. For example, users who view your About section may appreciate a link to a contact information page.
Think of internal links as road signs in a city. Just as road signs guide drivers to different destinations, internal links guide users through your website. Users know where to find the right section with ease without feeling lost and overwhelmed.
What’s more, having a good user experience can positively impact your website’s SEO. This includes getting higher page views, reduced bounce rates and longer time on page.
Improves Crawl Efficiency
Google, despite its ever-growing resources, manages the time it spends on every website to cover a wider range of sites. This is why Google assigns a crawl budget to every platform, determined by an algorithm that considers a website’s size, responsiveness, popularity and content update frequency.
When a crawl bot reaches your allocated crawl budget, it moves on to crawl other websites.
This is where internal linking comes into play. When you focus on internal links, you can assist search bots in navigating your site efficiently. You can lead them deeper into your website to find and index new pages.
And when you make things easier for search engines, you’ll likely rank higher on the SERPs.
Here are some tips you can use to optimise for a crawl:
- Keep your XML sitemap updated.
- Delete duplicate pages and resolve redirects. This will reduce the number of clicks needed to reach the pages you want crawled more often.
- Take advantage of tags and categories in your content management system to build a clear structure crawlers can follow.
- Improve the page speed. When your website has reduced load times, it will lessen the time it takes for crawlers to render your pages. You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool for starters.
Spreads Link Equity to Other Pages
Image source: Neil Patel
Also referred to as link juice, link equity is the value that one link can transfer to another. When a high Domain Rating (DR) website links to a low DR website, the link carries a lot of link equity, making it more valuable. However, this principle doesn’t only apply to external links.
You can also pass link equity across your website using internal linking, helping you pass authority from one page to another.
Let’s give you an example. Say you have a web page on your site that ranks high on the SERPs and has earned several backlinks. You can use this particular page to link out to other pages on your site that may have lower rankings, giving them a helpful boost.
Builds a Good Site Architecture
Another benefit of internal linking for SEO is it builds the architecture and structure of your website. Internal links act like an organisational chart, grouping interconnected sections and pages to showcase the depth of your coverage on certain topics.
Image source: Hubspot
Keep in mind that internal links also create the second layer of your website architecture. They establish these cross-links to take the UX design to another level, providing your visitors with a more comprehensive view of what you offer.
Types of Internal Links You Should Know
Internal links come in different types: navigational, contextual, footer and sidebar links. Take a closer look at their definition and how they should appear on your website:
Considered the most important type of internal linking, navigational links serve as the main navigational structure, helping users access various parts of a website.
They are typically found in the top menu or sidebar, often displaying main content topics, product categories and services, among others. This is what it looks like on a website:
These navigational links represent your website hierarchy. When your readers arrive on your website, they can use these links to know what the most important pages they should click on.
Sidebar links are used to direct visitors to related content or pages on your website. These kinds of links are usually found on news outlets, recipe websites and other platforms that feature a lot of content.
Take a look at the sidebar links of The Business Times under Breaking News:
Also called in-text links, contextual links appear in the main body content of a page. Instead of aiding in navigation, these links direct users to relevant information that users can access at their preference. You’ll also notice that they are placed within descriptive anchor texts.
For example, a company’s About Us section can feature contextual links:
How To Build an Internal Linking Structure for SEO Success: Strategies to Consider
Now that you know the basics of internal linking, it seems like a simple concept that even up-and-coming SEO experts can just wing it and get it right. However, this isn’t entirely true.
Once you start thinking about your internal linking structure, processes and practices can quickly become extra-complicated. How do you do it and where do you exactly begin? Let’s find that out with these internal linking strategies:
Determine Your Site’s Pillar Pages
To get started, begin by compiling a roster of pillar pages—these are core pages centred around broad topics. These pillar pages serve as the foundation for building topic clusters, which are clusters of content focused on specific subjects.
When you come up with pillar pages and topic clusters, it will be easier to figure out the best architecture for your website.
Remember that pillar pages should capture broad keywords with substantial search volumes instead of long-tail keywords. If you implement them correctly, they can be an entry point to your marketing funnel, potentially turning users into paying customers.
Make Topic Clusters Using Internal Links
Once you’ve identified your pillar pages, the next step is to craft more specific topic clusters for each of them.
Imagine your pillars as the main topics and the clusters as auxiliary, more detailed topics. For example, your pillar page mainly talks about the basics of SEO. Your clusters may include keyword targeting, on-page optimisation, SEO content marketing and more.
What’s more, you can create additional clusters for your existing clusters. For instance, if you have an ‘on-page optimisation’ cluster, you can support them with pages that talk about page speed, user engagement, meta description optimisation and schema markup.
Just make sure that these cluster pages internally link back to the pillar page. This sends a message that the main pillar page is the most authoritative source.
Use The Right Anchor Text
One way to ensure that internal links work is to use descriptive anchor texts. Since you have complete control over the anchor text on your website, you should be strategic in choosing words and phrases that signify the topics of their target pages.
In addition, choosing the right anchor text helps search engines and users know what a page is about even before they click on it.
It also helps Google’s algorithm in understanding your site’s structure. Crawlers will have more context on how pages relate to one another.
To use SEO-friendly anchor texts, here are some guidelines to consider:
- Relevant: Vague, clickbait-style anchor texts like ‘click here’ or sensational claims like ‘10 life hacks that will help you earn $50,000 a week’ don’t convey the actual content of the linked page to Google.
- Brief: Avoid linking more than one sentence! It might feel tempting to have an entire paragraph hyperlinked, but this will only make the user experience terrible. We highly recommend that you stick to five words or less when using anchor text to point to an internal link.
- Optimised: As long as the anchor text is relevant to the linked page, you won’t be at risk of penalties for using exact-match anchor text. Make sure that you also don’t engage in keyword stuffing.
Include an Appropriate Number of Internal Links Per Page
Before you publish a new piece of content like blog posts, try including five or more internal links to existing, relevant articles on your website.
The reason behind this is that Google detects ‘freshness value’ in websites, incorporating the factor into its ranking algorithm. Moreover, including new links to older pages can improve their chances of higher rankings in the SERPs.
And when readers actually follow your internal links, they refresh your older content, signalling its relevance.
But here’s a warning: make sure not to link excessively within your content. Moz stated that search engines only have a rough crawl limit of 150 links per page before they stop. If you overdo it, it could negatively affect your SEO performance.
Only Use Dofollow Links
We suggest that you only use dofollow links for internal linking.
If you use nofollow links, they don’t influence the search engine rankings of the linked destination site. Google doesn’t also pass along PageRank or anchor text across nofollow links. It will even avoid crawling them.
Your Internal Links Should Open In The Same Browser Tab
When it comes to internal linking, you might ask yourself: Should I open links in a new browser tab or not? The answer is that it’s considered best practice to have internally linked pages open in the same tab the user is on after clicking.
When users are kept in the same tab, they will understand the navigation flow of your website. This can also keep the user experience from becoming too confusing and redundant, which is the result of having too many tabs on one’s browser.
Common Internal Linking Problems and How To Fix Them
Internal linking can get pretty tricky, leading to problems that can negatively impact your SEO and UX.
This is especially true when you’re managing big websites like e-commerce platforms and forum sites. If left undiagnosed, these internal linking problems can easily frustrate users and make them leave your website before they can even read a blog, buy a product or contact you.
To keep you guided, here are the most common internal link issues you should be wary of and how to fix them:
Broken Internal Links
Broken links display a 404 status code. This typically occurs when a web page that was previously linked to has been renamed, relocated or deleted. Sometimes, a 404 error can just be a result of a mistyped link.
To fix it, conduct a site audit using an SEO tool. For example, if you’re using SE Ranking, open filters in the Internal Links tab, pick the 404 status code and apply the filter. The page should display a list of broken links, the pages from which these broken links originate and additional data.
Image source: SE Ranking
Orphan pages are pages without internal links directing search engines or users to them, which means it has no ‘parent’ page. They can’t be easily discovered by website users, raising the question of why you would even need such a page.
Search engines also find it hard to locate them so they don’t get usually indexed. Orphan pages are just off floating somewhere, not appearing in the SERPs and not receiving organic traffic.
Using SE Ranking’s Site Audit feature, you can filter out pages that contain zero inbound links. Just go to Issue Report and find the Internal Links section to view the No Inbound Links Report.
Image source: SE Ranking
Don’t just delete orphan pages! Before taking any action, see if a page adds value to your site; if it does, link to it. But if the orphan page isn’t valuable in any way, shape or form, consider deleting it and setting up a 301 redirect.
On the other hand, if it’s a campaign-specific page that holds no SEO value, keep it as it is but add a noindex tag instead. Search engines will then exclude this page from their search results.
Too Many Internal Links
There’s no doubt that internal links can do so much for your SEO and site structure. However, too many internal links pointing to low-value and unimportant pages can diminish the authority passed from other pages.
Your web pages will also look spammy, making it impossible for readers and crawlers to determine which links really matter.
Thankfully, SE Ranking notifies you if you go beyond 400 links. Take note that the tool suggests that having 400 links and above isn’t necessarily a problem since it depends on the nature of your website. For example, large e-commerce sites may naturally have more than 400 links without harming the UX.
This will all boil down to the specific content and goals of every page. Regardless of your website’s size and purpose, make sure that you only link to pages with relevance and value that help you align with your SEO goals.
Building a good internal linking strategy for SEO isn’t difficult; it just takes the right amount of patience and calculation to get it right. Your internal links can help you gain better ranking positions, spread link equity to other pages and boost user engagement.
We understand that it might take you a couple of months to make these internal linking best practices into habits, considering it has too many layers. But if we could give one advice that matters the most, put your users above everything else.
Prioritise their experience. When you put yourself in their shoes, you will understand what their motives and intentions are. That way, you can easily place your internal links where they matter, where they can help users reach their goals through your site.
It’s helpful to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. This is why here at Roots Digital, we emphasize the importance of internal linking, especially when building a holistic SEO strategy with our SEO Services!
Together, let’s build a great internal linking structure that matters to your target audience. Work with us—we’re ready to lend a helping hand.
How can I measure the success of my internal linking strategy?
To measure the effectiveness of your internal linking strategy, monitor metrics like bounce rate, time on site, page views and keyword performance. You can also use Google Analytics to gain valuable insights into user behaviour.
What are the benefits of internal linking for SEO?
Some of the benefits of internal linking for SEO include:
– Helps search engines discover and index content on your website efficiently
– Establishes a good site architecture
– Distributes link equity across your website.