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Internal linking for SEO
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Internal linking is one of the most underrated yet powerful SEO tactics. 

While SEOs go all out to get maximum backlinks, they often forget the value of internal links for their site. But SEO strategy is incomplete without a functional internal linking strategy. 

If planned and implemented correctly, internal linking is a legitimate way to improve your SEO performance and rankings. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss why you need an internal linking strategy and how to create one. 

But before that, let’s catch up on the basics. 

What is Internal Linking?

An internal link is a hyperlink from one page of your site to another page on your website. 

What is Internal link

Internal links help users and search engines to navigate through your site. For instance, a user is on your site’s homepage and wants to visit your blog section. So they’ll use your site’s navigation bar at the top that links to the important category pages and web pages of your website. 

Similarly, when Googlebot crawls your site, it visits different pages with the help of links. 

Some other examples of internal links include:

  • Footer links at the bottom of your homepage
  • Links in blog posts that lead to other content resources on-site
  • Links embedded in content or webpage that lead to different sections of the site, etc. 

That said, let’s understand the difference between internal links, external links, and backlinks. 

Since we’ve already discussed what are internal links, let’s understand the other two types of links on your site. 

External links are the hyperlinks that point to web pages on other sites. For example, you want to cite a source for the research statistics or you want to direct the reader to an in-depth resource on the topic you’ve covered in brief. 

It passes link authority to the site that you link out to. 

internal-external-backlinks

On the other hand, backlinks — also known as inbound links — are the links that point to your website from other websites. For example, you’ve developed a free SEO audit tool and a blogger mentions this tool in their content. In this case, you’d earn a backlink from this site. 

The more quality backlinks your site gets, the more authority and credibility it can establish.

Googlebot understands the relationship between the current page and linked document better when you’ve applied the correct rel attributes to the link. The three types of rel attributes are:

  • Nofollow: It indicates that the current page is not recommending or promoting the linked page or site. Here’s an example HTML code: 
    <a href=”https://domain.com” rel=”nofollow”>Google</a>
  • Sponsored: This attribute indicates that the page you’re linking to is not included as an editorial suggestion. Rather, it’s a business arrangement like a paid promotion or ad. Here’s an example HTML code: 
    <a href=”https://domain.com” rel=”sponsored”>bitcoin</a>
  • User-generated Content (UGC): This attribute informs crawlers that it’s user-generated content such as blog comments, discussion forum, etc. Here’s an example HTML code: 
    <a href=”https://domain.com” rel=”ugc”>your site</a>

Here’s our link rel attribute bookmarklet tool that quickly helps you check these attributes on your web page. 

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s understand the importance of internal linking and how to strategise it effectively. 

Why Internal Linking is Crucial for SEO?

A well-defined internal linking structure can bring a multitude of benefits to your site’s SEO. So it shouldn’t be considered an afterthought. 

Here are some of the key benefits of internal linking. 

Helps Users Navigate Between Site Pages

Users are the topmost priority for search engines. So anything that improves the user experience (UX) of your site, is valuable for SEO. 

Adding relevant internal links simplifies your site’s navigation. Thus, users can steer between different pages easily. Moreover, they’ll stay longer on your site if they’re having a good experience. 

This increases users’ dwell time on your site. It’s a signal to Google that users like your site and it may consider you pushing up in SERPs. 

On the other hand, if users find it difficult to navigate through your site, they’ll leave quickly. This will increase your bounce rate and affect your SEO negatively. 

Helps Search Engines Understand Your Site Structure

Just like an organisational chart conveys a company’s internal structure, internal links help Google understand your website’s internal structure. 

internal-linking-site-structure

This is what Google says about internal links:

“Google must constantly search for new pages and add them to its list of known pages. Some pages are known because Google has already visited them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.”

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/beginner/how-search-works

So whenever you add new content or pages, consider linking them from your already indexed and popular pages. 

Thus, your internal linking strategy along with site navigation and URL structure helps you create an SEO-friendly website. 

Furthermore, create a sitemap — a blueprint of your website — and submit it to Google Search Console. This helps search engines identify the most important pages on your site. 

Passes Authority 

Internal links can help you pass the authority across the different pages with Google’s PageRank algorithm. Just like a higher number of quality backlinks make your web page more authoritative, a page with more quality internal links would have a higher PageRank. 

Here’s how it works. 

how-pagerank-works

In simple words, Google considers the page important if there are internal links pointing to that page. The higher the number of links, the more it’s important in the eyes of Google. 

Helps Google Establish Context 

Googlebot crawls different pages on sites by tracking the internal and external links. So internal linking is one way you can help Google establish the context of what your site is all about. 

Here the key is to use the appropriate anchor texts so that Google recognises the correct context and relationship between the linked pages. 

Here it is, in the words of John Mueller from Google. 

context-anchor-texts

Therefore, ensure that anchor texts are relevant to the page you’re linking to. 

Mainly there can be two types of internal links on your site: contextual links and navigational links. 

Let’s understand both. 

Contextual 

Contextual internal links are crucial for SEO since they not only provide the context but also pass authority to destination pages. They’re usually placed in the main body of content. 

Google’s algorithm is more advanced and evolved than before. Besides anchor texts, it also reads the words surrounding the link. So if you want Google to interpret the destination page correctly, provide clear meaning and context around the link. 

Here’s an example of contextual internal linking from our blog post on duplicate content

contextual-internal-link

Here we have linked to an anchor text — crawl budget. But as you can see, we have provided the meaning, intent, and context in the text surrounding the link. This aids easy understanding for both users and search engines.

Navigational

The navigational links are what make up the site’s navigation structure and hierarchy. Navigational links are usually found in the top navigation bar and footer of the homepage. 

This is what Sephora’s navigation bar looks like.

internal-links-navigation-bar

Similarly, most sites also have site navigation in the homepage footer.  

They don’t pass the PageRank or context like contextual links. However, they help users discover and navigate between the important pages on your site.

So they add value to the UX and that’s why it’s important for SEO. 

If you’re not sure how to implement the contextual and navigational internal links on your site, you can consider hiring professional SEO services for the same. 

Now that we’ve learnt what internal links are, why they’re important, and their types, let’s find out how you can create an effective internal linking strategy.  

How to Set up an Effective Internal Linking Strategy

Having and improving an internal linking strategy is one of the ways you can keep your site’s SEO in good shape. 

That said, here’s how you can create your internal linking strategy. 

1. Define a Site Structure

First things first. 

Before creating an internal linking strategy, you need to define your website architecture. The key is to keep things simple. 

In other words, your site structure should be easy to navigate for users and Googlebot. This makes an SEO-friendly website and it looks like this. 

simple-site-architecture

A good practice to follow is ensuring that any page on your website can be reached in less than four clicks. The key benefits of having a shallow site architecture are:

  • Link authority can easily flow to important pages (product or service page) from high-authority pages like homepage or category pages. 
  • Helps you optimise your crawl budget by making it easier for Googlebot to crawl more pages on your site.

2. Identify Most Important Pages

The next step is to identify the most important pages — pillar or hub pages — to create a well-organised site structure using a pillar-cluster model

Pillar pages are the ones that target the main keywords for your business. These are usually broad category keywords that have high search volume as compared to specific long-tail keywords with lower search volume. 

For instance, if you’re an SEO agency, “SEO” can be your target keyword for the pillar page content. And your cluster topics can be “technical SEO”, “Local SEO”, etc. 

Pillar cluster model with contextual link

Once you’ve identified the most important keywords that you want your website to rank for, you can create your content strategy and decide your primary and secondary cluster topics. 

3. Link to Topic Clusters

Topic clusters allow you to arrange your site architecture in a way that helps Google to establish a semantic relationship between content on different pages. 

Moreover, this cluster set up signals search engines that there’s depth and breadth in content. As a result, your pillar pages would gain more authority on the topics. And becoming an authority on a topic is a surefire way to rank your pages higher in SERPs. 

For instance, if we take “content marketing” as a main keyword and topic for the pillar page, the cluster topics may look like:

  • How to create a content marketing strategy
  • Benefits of content marketing
  • Content marketing for SaaS businesses, etc.
link-cluster-pages

As you create cluster content, ensure that you implement two-way links between pillar and cluster pages. This means you find opportunities to link cluster pages from pillar pages and vice versa. 

This requires you to check for such internal linking opportunities periodically. 

4. Select Relevant Anchor Text

An important part of the linking process is choosing the right anchor texts for the link. So you need to be mindful of it. 

Unlike in the case of external links, using the exact match of the main target keyword for internal links isn’t a violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. Nonetheless, avoid over-optimising the anchor texts for internal links. 

Here are some quick tips for selecting the right anchor texts:

  • Keep it natural. Don’t force it to be the exact match of the target keyword. 
  • Don’t use the same anchor text while linking to two or more different pages on your site. It confuses search engines. 
  • Use descriptive anchor text instead of linking with a single word. 

In short, do not take anchor texts for granted. Plan them carefully since they help you create the contextual connection and topical relevance between your site pages. 

5. Add Contextual Links

Besides linking the pillar and cluster pages with each other, find ways to establish cross-linking for other pillar and cluster pages on your site. 

Here’s an example of a site that targets “SEO” and “Content Marketing” as their main keywords.

Thus, you have multiple articles for different topic clusters. Now find opportunities to cross-link internally between multiple pillar pages, clusters, and secondary clusters. 

In addition, you can also create collaborative content that includes both pillar topics. For instance, a topic like “Why SEO and content marketing are interdependent” can establish greater context between these pillar topics and internal links. 

6. Add Navigational Links

Apart from contextual linking, you can link from the top navigation to your most important pillar pages. This will help you increase the authority of your pillar content by getting more PageRank from high-authority pages like homepage, category pages, etc. 

Here, you should focus on linking to content or pages that are important for generating business. So it’ll pass the link authority to these pages and signal its importance to Google.

7. Link to your Recent and Popular Content

Lastly, you can consider creating separate sections such as “most popular content”, “recent articles”, etc. in the sidebar or footer area of your site.

So in addition to the contextual links, your new/popular content would also get link value from other pages. It’ll not only give a boost to these pages but also allow users to access them easily. This would eventually lead to more traffic to these pages. 

Internal Linking Best Practices

Now let’s look at some of the best practices to consider while implementing an internal linking strategy.

Just like you audit your backlinks, you should regularly analyse your internal links. You can find your internal links in Google Search Console. 

internal-links-gsc

Here are some of the reasons why you should do it.  

  1. If there are issues like broken links, you can identify and fix them.
  2. You can replace internal links with fresh or more relevant content if there’s an opportunity. 
  3. You can analyse and improve your anchor texts for internal links. 

Don’t go Overboard with Internal Linking

Internal linking is great for your site’s SEO. However, don’t go overboard with it. You don’t want to do this for two reasons:

  1. If there are too many links going out from a page, it would reduce the PageRank that the destination page would receive. 
  2. Let’s say there are more than 100 links (including external links) on a page. Beyond this point, links wouldn’t pass as much value.  

Insert Keywords in Anchor Text

It’s okay to use the exact-match keywords as anchor texts for internal linking purposes, unlike backlinks. So use them if they fit naturally in anchor text.  

At the same time, you can also use variations of the keywords to avoid using the exact same anchor. 

When you’re adding internal links to establish context, you should add them to the main body of the content. It’s because the links in the main body have more SEO value than those in the header or footers sections. 

Besides, both navigational and contextual internal links serve different purposes. You need to work with both to get the maximum benefits of internal linking. 

Final Thoughts

The main purpose of SEO is to make your website user-friendly and easier to understand for search engines. Internal linking helps you achieve both purposes. 

All you need to have is a well-thought-out plan. And the good news is that you’re in total control when it comes to internal links, unlike earning backlinks.

So follow the steps we discussed above to create an effective internal linking strategy for your site and achieve your SEO goals. 

With that said, happy ranking! 

 

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