Internal Linking Best Practices for SEO
Links and SEO
There are two major types of links: external links (also called backlinks) and internal links. External links point to a page on a different domain while internal links connect to another page within the same domain.
When SEO experts discuss the value of links and link building to SEO, they mostly talk about backlinks. Does that mean internal linking has no value? Of course, NO. In fact, implementing an internal linking strategy can be a great boost for your SEO.
Wikipedia, for instance, is a master of internal linking. Besides the references page, every link within the body of a Wikipedia page links to another Wikipedia page. Since it consistently ranks on the first page for several keywords, Wikipedia cannot be violating Google’s guidelines.
Before discussing the keys to proper internal linking, it is important to highlight how internal linking is useful to SEO.
Benefits of Internal Linking
- It improves how Google crawls and indexes pages on your site.
- It distributes page authority throughout the site.
- It enhances site navigation for visitors.
To understand internal linking, here is a brief explanation of how search engines crawl and index pages.
The crawling begins from the homepage, which is the most important page on any site. The bot then follows the links from the home page, crawls and indexes them. This continues until every link on the domain has been crawled and indexed.
Link juice (or link value) is the value passed through links. For instance, the homepage is the most valuable page on every website. Let’s call it the ‘first-tier’. The value (link juice) of the homepage is shared across every page that links from that homepage. We’ll call that ‘ second-tier’. The value of every second-tier page is also shared across every link to that page, creating a third tier. And on it goes. Think of it as a pyramid structure.
Internal linking helps you build a proper site structure that places the most important pages on the highest tiers so that they are easily discoverable by search engines and attributed higher page rank. You can also use internal linking to group pages with similar topics together. This is called ‘siloing’.
A good practice is to ensure that no page (or at least none of the important pages) on your site is further than three links from the homepage. Such a compact architecture not only makes your site easy to manage, but it also makes it easy for visitors to find what they want quickly.
Finally, internal links can help you reduce the bounce rate and increase dwell time, both of which are important ranking factors. By making it easy for users to navigate to other pages on your website for additional information, you make them spend more time on your site. This boosts your page rank.
Internal Linking Best Practices
- Use a relevant anchor text. Though Google treats internal links differently from external links, the principle of relevance remains the same. The anchor text should appear naturally in the body and should be contextually relevant to the page it links to. Use relevant keywords in descriptive anchor texts.
- Use keyword-rich anchor texts. You risk making the links appear spammy if you do not. Avoid linking to different pages with the same anchor text. Your anchor texts should not only be descriptive but also specific. Also, consider adding a list of selected and relevant internal links under a ‘see also’ or ‘related posts’ section at the end of each post.
- Use ‘follow’ links, especially since your aim is to boost the rank and authority of your webpages. You might need to check the HTML code to ensure that a plugin or a bug hasn’t automatically added a nofollow attribute to the link. In some cases though, the nofollow attribute can be useful, for instance, when the page is behind a paywall or requires a login to access.
- Keep things simple. You don’t need too many links on a page; you only have to be strategic about it. That means adding links only when they are necessary and relevant to the context. No one can recommend a definite number; the number of links you use would depend on your strategy, type of content, and lengths of posts. Some recommend that a page features no more than 100 links. Before you think that this is a lot, that figure includes every link on the page (including, header, footer, sidebar, etc.) and not the body of the post.
- The best links are those within the body of a post. Links in the header and footer sections, navigation bar, and sidebar don’t do as well as those in the body; links in those sections are mainly for easing navigation around the website for users. This doesn’t mean they are not important; they only serve a slightly different purpose. If you want real SEO value, add a couple of links to the body of the post.
- Avoid automation. Why? Internal linking affects the architecture of your site, so it requires some personal attention. There are certain factors that automated systems simply can’t consider, such as creating keywords that focus on user intent. Besides, such a system for automatic internal linking can easily create spammy links that would be counterproductive for SEO.
- Audit internal links. Google Search Console, as well as other SEO tools, allows you to audit your internal links to have an insight into your site’s structure. You can find reports on the most internally-linked pages, and so on. This would help you determine if the most important pages are getting linked to enough, among others. Auditing can also point you to linking opportunities in old, evergreen pages in order to renew their value.
Links should be user-focused. Don’t just add a link for its sake; it must be genuinely helpful to the user in providing additional information. Always put relevance ahead of any SEO strategy. Remember that, with SEO, you are not just optimizing for search engine bots; first, you are targeting the user.
Finally, note that, while internal links are very useful, they are not as important as backlinks. Therefore, your linking strategy should be one that blends both internal and external linking, rather than focusing on one part at the expense of another.