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Imagine that you’re walking through the woods. Suddenly, you need to cross a river but can’t find a bridge. That is what a website without internal links feels like. Internal links connect pieces of content on a site, and they’re vital to the success of a digital marketing strategy.
They help users cross over from one topic to the next and allow crawlers to access all the pages your site offers. Without them, your web pages will suffer search rankings, limiting your SEO visibility and target audience.
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What are internal links?
Internal links are links from one page to another page on the same website. They are often formatted as hyperlinked text on a page but can show up in other areas like the navigation menu, buttons, and images. As long as the link takes users from one page to another page on your site, it is considered an internal link:
In the HTML source code, internal links look like this:
<a href=”http://www.yourwebsitename.com/” title=”Keyword Text”>Keyword Text</a>
Unlike external links, internal links keep users on your website. Users and crawlers follow these links to find more information on your site. If a piece of content has no internal links pointing to it, the search engine may not be able to find it. And if a search engine can’t find your page, your page won’t show up in search engine results.
Why are internal links important for SEO?
By connecting pages on your website, internal links help both the crawling process and user experience. And with a well-thought-out internal link structure can come an increase in search engine rankings. Here are the main ways that internal links influence your overall SEO performance.
They help Google find new content
During the crawling process, Google crawlers analyze a web page and follow all of its links. Then, they crawl the content on the linked page:
Pages that don’t have any internal links to them are called “orphan pages.” Without a link to find a piece of content, crawlers won’t index it, and users won’t find it in search results. So, if you want your content to rank, you have to make sure to link to it internally.
They pass link equity to your other pages
Link equity, also known as “link juice,” is a concept centered around the idea that links can transfer value between each other. Each link that points to a page adds some value because, as Google sees it, a link to a page is like an upvote. If the first web page links to the second web page, it means it must be valuable.
Each internal link passes some of its link value to the next page. This helps your site perform better with the PageRank algorithm:
That’s because PageRank considers both the quality and number of internal links on your site. Also, if you link to and from high-quality content, this shows Google that your site prioritizes the user experience.
When compared to backlinks, the link juice of internal links is less powerful. The search engine puts more emphasis on the outside perception of a brand than internal perception.
So, while internal link equity does influence your site’s rankings, it won’t have the same impact as the equity passed from an authoritative referring domain.
They help users find more information
SEO involves improving user experience and creating more valuable content. Internal links do this by helping users find the exact information they need on a topic.
If you bring up a term or topic that users might be unfamiliar with, include an internal link to another piece of content that goes more in-depth. That way, if they want to learn more, they can.
Wikipedia is a great example of how to do this effectively. For example, from this landing page for The Avengers film series, users can follow links to learn more about actors, related movies, producers, directors, and more:
This keeps users on the website and shows Google that the site truly covers the subject in detail. Even the sidebar is full of helpful links to different tools, publication information, and international web page versions.
They help Google understand how your content is related
As crawlers move from link to link, they collect information about your content. During this process, they try to determine how comprehensive, credible, and relevant the content is for users.
Each internal link says: “This next piece of content relates to information on the current page.” This defines a hierarchy within your content and helps Google learn how pieces of content relate to one another. The better that Google understands your content for a subject, the higher your potential SEO rankings for it will be.
Internal linking for SEO: Best practices
The benefits of internal links are undeniable. While there are many ways to use them for good, you also want to avoid some issues. Follow these best practices so that your links positively influence your SEO performance.
Use internal links to improve the user experience
In a perfect scenario, users would come to your website and find everything they need without ever leaving. Internal link building aims to keep users on your site. It improves the user experience by finding the tools and resources they need without abandoning your content.
For example, ecommerce sites should always provide a series of links taking users through the shopping experience all the way to check out. The flow of links might look like this:
Homepage → Category page → Product page → Checkout
Your internal linking structure should also allow users to learn more when a topic isn’t discussed in detail. If you have written a lot about a subject, a user should leave your site with a thorough understanding of it.
You can make this possible by linking relevant pages within the written content itself. That way, users can easily navigate to new pages after reading all of the current page’s content.
Write relevant and clear anchor text
Crawlers analyze the words that you hyperlink to understand the page’s content. These words are known as the “anchor text,” which are important context clues for the search engine.
Anchor text also helps users. It tells them what they can expect to find on the next page, allowing them to decide whether or not they want to click on the link.
The best anchor text for internal links accurately describes the main topic of the web page. Here is an example from Semrush of using the page’s keywords in anchor text:
And here is the page that users see when they click the link:
Descriptive anchor text defines the content and helps search engines and users understand the link’s relevancy to your page. This impacts how your page is indexed, its click-through rate, and it can positively influence your overall ranking. Use keywords in the text to make it obvious what the overall topic of the linked page is.
Group related pages together
Webmasters need to develop content within a niche. This allows them to build credibility in a field and generally leads to higher rankings because it satisfies Google’s E-A-T factors (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness).
Having a simple and organized site structure centered around your area of expertise is key to ensuring that search engines recognize your content’s authority on a topic.
One of the best ways to do this is to silo content into subcategories known as “topic clusters.” This site architecture connects different pages related to a specific topic. These connections come from internal links on pillar pages and cluster pages:
This helps Googlebot really understand your content on a given subject. It also guides users through all of the topic’s content. In other words, if someone visits your website to learn about a topic, they will be able to access all of its subpages through internal links. The result is a convenient and easy transition between topics and better SEO performance for related keywords.
Add internal links at the top of your pages
According to Brian Dean, who has tested internal link placement, putting links at the top of your pages can reduce dwell time. This practice offers users relevant information right away.
If users have more to explore from the get-go, he claims, they are more likely to stay on your page for a longer amount of time. That means that your SEO metrics like bounce rate and dwell time may improve, ultimately leading to higher rankings.
What kind of pages should you avoid linking to?
You want to avoid linking to pages that provide surface-level information. This includes places like the contact page or “about us” page. While these are important for content marketing purposes, they don’t really help your SEO, and users should easily find them anyway.
You can tell a page is bad to link to when it doesn’t help further the user’s understanding of the main topic. Ask yourself: “Does this link take the user deeper into this topic or farther away from it?” Each link should unlock a new level of understanding for the user.
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Should outbound links open in a new window?
Whenever you send users to a different website, the link should open in a new tab. This is for multiple reasons:
- When outbound links open in the same window, users have to hit the back button to return to your website. By opening them in a new window, you prevent this interruption in the flow of your content.
- Opening links into new tabs allows users to finish reading the current page before moving on to a new post. This creates a smooth flow from topic to topic.
- External links that open in the same window may negatively impact your site metrics. They can make it seem like users are leaving the site faster than they would if the link opened in a new tab. When readers click a link, they often don’t always want to leave the page but intend to finish reading the current content and move on to the new tab when they’re done.
Set up external links to open in a new tab so that users can continue browsing your content. You’ll still be providing the same value without impacting your own site’s performance.
Don’t stuff your pages with internal links
Although internal links are powerful for successful on-page SEO, there is such a thing as too many of them.
According to Moz: “The search engines all have a rough crawl limit of 150 links per page before they may stop spidering additional pages linked to from the original page. This limit is somewhat flexible, and critical pages may have upwards of 200 or even 250 links followed. Still, in general practice, it’s wise to limit the number of links on any given page to 150 or risk losing the ability to have additional pages crawled.”
In other words, just because you can add hundreds of links doesn’t mean you should. When you cram too many links on a page, it can also negatively impact user experience. Any links you provide should direct the user to somewhere they can learn more about a relevant and/or unfamiliar topic.
If you start adding 100+ links to your page, they probably don’t all provide value. Chances are you’ll overwhelm your users and the search engine. Please keep it simple to save time and crawl the budget.
Tools and plugins for internal linking
Optimizing your internal links is even easier with different automation and analysis tools. These are some of the best tools and plugins for internal linking that you should consider using on your site:
- Google Search Console: This tool provides a report that helps you analyze your current link profile. Use this to see the number of internal links on given pages, which pages those links are coming from, and more.
- Yoast SEO: You can use this WordPress plugin to track your internal links while creating content. Its “related links block” allows you to build a list of related links as well quickly.
- Ahrefs: The Ahrefs Link Opportunities tool cross-references your site’s top 10 ranked keywords with all of its crawled content. It then shows you a list of places where you’ve mentioned those ranking keywords so you can link to the high-performing content.
- Screaming Frog: It runs an analysis of your site’s linking structure and creates a data visualization chart to help you understand where improvements can be made.
- Semrush: Semrush has an internal linking report that shows you if you have broken links, pages with too few or too many links, etc.
Blindly building your internal linking structure is not efficient. These tools can identify issues and opportunities quickly, which can streamline the optimization process.
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Links form essential connections between internal pages. They are critical to the successful crawling and indexing of your content and greatly impact user experience. An internal linking strategy will ensure that every page on your website is accessible to crawlers and users alike.
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