Build the Power of Internal Linking for SEO.
Even if you don’t have a grand SEO strategy, you can pump it up by leveraging internal linking for SEO and a positive user experience (UX). A good internal linking strategy will make your website more successful–without spending lots of time or money. Let’s dive into what internal links are and how you can make to most of them.
What are internal links—and why are they important?
An internal link is simply a text link from one of your web pages to another on your website. The most obvious example is your top navigational links to major sections of your website. But for SEO value, it’s critical to focus on links that connect your website on a deeper level. How? by creating “contextual” internal links from one inside page to another.
Backlinks are #1 but internal links still count toward SEO.
Internal links affect SEO differently than backlinks. Also called inbound links, backlinking is where another site refers traffic to yours. While backlinks are Google’s #1 ranking factor, internal linking is highly worthwhile for several reasons. The most obvious is that while you can’t control backlinks, you control the links you create within your own website. This puts you in the driver’s seat for adding value for both users and search engines.
Here’s how internal linking boosts ranking power and user experience (UX).
1. Boost Authority.
“Authority” is an SEO concept that refers to “strength” or ranking power on a search engine results page (SERP). Backlinks provide the greatest value because they increase the authority of your entire website (“domain authority”). Internal links don’t create domain authority. However, any time a link points to a page—from an external site or from within your site–it raises that page’s authority. Creating a “cluster” of internal links around a particular topic demonstrates topical expertise and distributes authority throughout your site.
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2. Help Spiders Find and Index Webpages.
A search engine’s mission is to serve up the best, most relevant information for a particular search. But first, it has to find and “index” each page on your site–collecting, parsing, and storing data. Once pages are indexed, search engines will rank them for each user search. Internal linking supports this process by enabling search engines to understand your site’s architecture, the context of each page, and when you add new pages.
3. Improve user experience.
In addition to navigational links, your “contextual” links help readers delve deeper into the topic they’re interested in. By setting up “clusters” of interlinked pages focused on a particular topic, the reader’s journey naturally expands. For example, say your reader is interested in evaluating computer hardware. On the SERP, they click on a link to your blog article on that topic. Your blog includes an internal link pointing to a webpage describing the evaluation process. On that page, you have a CTA that promotes a relevant guidebook. If the reader acts on the CTA, you have a new lead. It’s a win-win situation; Users get the information they want. You improve “website “stickiness” plus you get a lead. It’s a win-win.
Linking Techniques and Strategies to increase SEO and UX
Here are some important guideposts to create a successful linking strategy that will earn you points with readers and with your Google page rankings.
- Only Use links that Help Your Readers. Links should be user-focused, not forced for SEO. Your internal link on the “linked-from” page should naturally relate to the page the link points to (the “link-to” page). If you think a page is relevant and will improve user experience, link to it. If not, skip it.
- Create Lots of Content. Beneficial internal linking strategy relies on having sufficient content. As you expand your site, consider the internal linking possibilities. For example, every time new blog article, should connect with another page or post. When you have lots of content on a particular topic, you can use internal links to create a “topic cluster.” Clusters indicate that users have deep expertise, which helps ranking power.
- Use anchor text properly. The anchor text of the internal link is the text that users see and click on. Use descriptive anchor text based on the keyword of the “link-to” page—but only if you can make it sound natural to the reader. If it sounds out of place, try a closely related term. If you can’t work it naturally into the body copy, you can parenthetically add “Related Link” as the anchor text. When pointing to a blog article, you can add “Read [Name of Blog Article] as the anchor text.
- Use a reasonable number of internal links. Don’t overwhelm or confuse your readers with too many internal links on a page. It looks sloppy, spammy, and takes away from your main message. Google’s instructions, unfortunately, are quite vague: “Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number.” My articles are generally around 2,000 words, and I often include three to five internal links. Some people suggest dozens and dozens, but I think it risks sending users ping-ponging inefficiently around your site.
- Fix broken links: Links that don’t work and result in error messages are bad for SEO and UX; hunt them down and fix them quickly. Some are relatively easy fixes, and others may require a more experienced developer. There are paid SEO tools that have this capability, such as Screaming Frog (and free versions of paid tools). Or, you can simply go to Google Analytics for free. WordStream has great instruction on how to do this.
- Avoid certain links: There’s not much point in linking to the homepage, top-level pages (like About Us), and the Contact Us page.Your site probably has many built-in avenues to get to these pages already, such as in your footer and site map. Search engines generally understand the essential nature of these often linked-to pages; While too many internal links on a page can dilute its authority, it doesn’t hurt on these page. But they’re not crucial for ranking.
- Use links strategically: You can use internal links for different strategic purposes related to SEO, user experience, and conversion. Here are two techniques for boosting authority and conversion:
Increase the authority of a high-value page: If you have a page that gets good traffic but you want to give it a boost, link to it from a high-authority page. You can find which pages have high authority with paid SEO tools like Moz. You can also use the Google Search Console by going to Links > External Links > Top Link Pages Report. Your higher authority pages will be the ones with the most external links (to or from other websites). You might first see your homepage but look for pages like old posts that still get strong traffic.
Increase conversion: In this case, you’ll want to link from pages with high traffic to pages with high conversion rates. This strategically leverages the power of each page. Google Analytics makes it easy to find your high-traffic pages in Google Analytics by going to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report. Choose a date range of several months minimum to see, in date order, to see which pages were viewed the most.
- Link every page to another page: Pages that are not linked to from anywhere are called orphan pages.Users and crawlers can’t find them because nothing directs them. Even if an orphan page has good content, they are still likely to have low rankings on SERPs and don’t get much organic search traffic (not from paid ads).
- Audit your internal link structure: Sometimes links get messy, even when to do your best to keep track of them. It’s a good idea to audit your link structure about every three to six months to see if you can improve it. You may be successfully calling attention to a high-conversion page, but not leveraging a high traffic page to point to pages that you’d like to have more traffic. There are paid and free tools and plugins to help understand how your pages link to others, Link Whisper (paid), Yoast (Free and Premium), and Internal Link Juicer (free).
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Make the most of your internal link structure.
Internal linking is a great way to boost SEO and guide your visits to high-value pages on your site. The most important rule is to use links in a way that benefits your reader—and that will, in turn, generates the best search results. As you develop content for your website and blog, work with a content strategist or copywriter who is knowledgeable about how to leverage internal linking.