When it comes to important factors for search engine optimisation, most people know that external links from high quality, high authority websites are important. However, the value of internal links within a website is often overlooked.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at what internal linking is and how you can create a strong internal linking strategy that will not only boost your SEO efforts but also make the journey through your website as easy as possible for visitors.
At the end of this article, you’ll find a handy ‘ultimate internal linking cheat sheet’ to print off and use at your own convenience.
What is an internal link?
An internal link is essentially a link that connects one page of your website to another page on the same site. With an internal link, the source domain (the website where the link appears) is the same as the target domain (where the link leads).
Why do websites use internal links?
Internal links serve three main purposes:
- They help visitors navigate their way through a website
- They help to define and support the structure of the website
- They distribute page authority and ranking power throughout the site – this is sometimes referred to as ‘link juice’
If you have a larger website or a blog with lots of articles, internal links can be a great way of tying related content together so that visitors don’t have to go digging to read more or, worse still, miss content that might be valuable to them.
Let’s take my website as an example. I recently wrote a blog about ‘The top 10 ranking elements of the future’ – as there was an awful lot of information to cover and I have written articles about each of these individual ranking factors in the past, it made sense for me to include internal links in that article to let people read about specific ranking factors in more detail. The reader may have done lots around creating a responsive, mobile site but need help understanding website security and HTTPS. By including internal links in the article, I could make it easy for visitors to pick and choose what to read next based on their own needs.
What are the benefits of internal linking?
As you’ll hopefully see throughout this article, internal links have many benefits aside from giving visitors access to further related content, as mentioned above.
Internal links also create clear paths for the search engine spiders to crawl the site and create a closely intermeshed network of pages and posts. Also, if you can encourage visitors to move from one post to another to another, and so on, you can:
- minimise your bounce rate
- prolong the time they spend on your site
- take them deeper into your content
- encourage traffic to less visible pages
These are all strong signals to the search engines that yours is a website providing high quality and engaging content.
Strategies to create internal links
But how hard is it to create internal links? How strategic do you need to be?
As with many aspects of SEO, I believe that if you approach internal links from the perspective of creating a good user experience, you can’t go far wrong. If you write an article and you know that you’ve already created related content, then it makes sense to add an internal link to tie the two together. If you haven’t written anything else on the same subject, there’s no point in forcing a random link.
That being said, it’s worth spending some time each month to think about your internal linking strategy and employ the following tactics:
1. Create fresh content
The only way you can create lots of internal links is to have lots of content on your website. This is another reason why blogging is so valuable for businesses because it’s a reason to create fresh content for your customers on a regular basis. By adding internal links to your blog articles, you can add in valuable extras for a better customer experience.
Action to take: Think about what you would like your business to be known for. Are there keywords you want to rank better for? Do you have specific services or products you want to promote? In what areas of your industry would you like to be known as an authority?
Devise a blogging schedule and commit to consistently publishing a new blog article, even if it’s just once a month.
2. Review your existing content
When was the last time that you looked back at your old blog articles? You may have written about a topic when your blog first launched that you’ve since addressed from other angles. If visitors are still finding your older articles via Google or Pinterest, for example, they would find it helpful to be able to follow links to newer, related content too.
Action to take: Don’t just concentrate on linking back to older blog articles. Revisit some of your earliest blogs and add in internal links to new content that you didn’t have when the original article was written.
3. Make sure you link to relevant content
Bear in mind that whenever you feature an internal link within an article, you’re essentially telling the search engines that the information you’re linking to is so relevant to the reader that they might want to stop reading the current page and go to the link for content that’s even more valuable to them. Therefore, it’s important to only use internal links where there is a content overlap.
Action to take: Review your blog tags and categories and look for content that overlaps. Do all the articles have internal links that tie them together or is the only way to group them as a reader through clicking on their tags? Try to add in internal links that show the relevance of the content being linked.
4. Use a reasonable number of internal links
Although no-one can say for sure what the perfect number of internal links is per page, Google tells webmasters to ‘keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number’. Matt Cutts further clarified this by saying that 100 links seemed sensible.
While 100 links may sound like a lot, it’s really not. We’re not just talking about anchor links within an article; the search engines also view links in the main navigation, side bars, footer, ads, header, widgets, and so on, for every page.
When it comes to incorporating internal links in blog articles, most experts agree that between three and six links per article is probably enough. Honestly, it depends on the length of the post and what links your visitors will find of value. If they’d benefit from 20 links or more, it’s perfectly justifiable if the content they link to is helpful to readers.
Action to take: Try installing the Carter Cole SEO Site Tools for Chrome. Go to your website and, a page at the time, look at how many outgoing links Google sees on each page. You can find this information by clicking on the ‘SEO Site Tools’ icon to the right of the search bar and then choosing Suggestions. Using a traffic light system, the plugin will tell you if there are far too many links on a page and how this might affect how search engines crawl it.
5. Use image-based links sparingly
Although you can create internal links by adding them to images, the main source of internal links on a page should always be text-based. If you do add internal links to images, it’s important to make sure that the image has a good alt tag. An excellent tip is to write an alt tag as if you were describing the image to a blind person. It doesn’t need to be too detailed but a short, concise description of the image is best. Under no circumstances should your alt tag consist of a list of keywords.
Action to take: Check that any images that feature an internal link have a strong alt tag.
6. Use anchor text
It used to be that internal links were obvious from the trail of hyperlinked keywords peppered throughout a page. Nowadays, a good anchor link is far more about using natural sentence fragments that clearly tell people the topic of the page the link will take them through to. Think about how you can add value and information with the anchor text and the page it leads to rather than concentrating on whether the link is good for SEO.
If you link to the same page several times during one article or you have several articles that all feature the same link, try to vary the language you use in the anchor text.
In my experience, although generic anchor words like ‘here’, ‘this site’ and ‘website’ can all make anchor text look more natural and have more value than they once did, you should avoid using anchor link that simply says ‘click here’ as it doesn’t tell readers or search engines what to expect or how the internal link is relevant. It would be better to say: To learn more about earning strong backlinks, click here. This way, you incorporate a clear description, call to action and generic anchor phrase in your anchor text.
Action to take: Check the text you have used for any internal links throughout your website. Are they too generic? Are they too keyword heavy? Change those you can to natural sentences that describe the content people will find if they follow the link.
7. Take your visitors deeper into your website
Although your Home page is probably the most linked to page on your website in terms of inbound links from external sites, try to avoid sending visitors back to your Home page via internal links. Ideally, you want visitors to head deeper into your site rather than back to the top level pages found on your main navigation menu, like the Home or Contact pages.
It’s much like inviting someone to stay in your home for a while. You wouldn’t just invite them in and take them straight back to the front door. If they were going to stick around, you’d show them more than just the living room or hallway too – you’d invite them into the kitchen or show them to their bedroom, inviting them to fully explore at their leisure and relax where they feel most comfortable. It’s the same with using internal links to create an inviting experience of your website.
Action to take: Go to Google Analytics and choose Acquisition>Search Engine Optimisation>Landing pages. This will show you what pages are bringing people into your website. As well as identifying your most popular blog articles, it’s worth looking at those with a fairly high number of impressions that tend to sit on page two of Google when they show up in SERPs (check out the ‘Average position’ column). Do any of these ‘nearly visible/nearly popular’ articles tie in with any of your more popular articles? Add some internal links to and from these articles.
8. Use internal links in your footer wisely
A common SEO practice of old was to put internal links to every page in the footer of a website. Alternatively, people would stuff their footers full of keywords, each with an internal link to other pages. Nowadays, link-crammed footers tend to be regarded as spammy and unwieldy, especially if you have a larger website. Add too many links and you make it hard for Google to work out which links and content are most important.
It is possible to use internal links in the footer effectively. For example, you might choose to add a link to some of your most popular services or products, or use the footer to show people links to related articles or your five most recent posts. The key is to be selective.
If your website design allows it, a dynamic footer that changes content from one page to the next can be a powerful tool for showcasing relevant content.
Action to take: Check your footer for internal links. Are you linking to your most popular services?
9. ‘Follow’ internal links
It used to be widely agreed that ‘nofollow’ links were a good idea if you’re linking to external sites, however, if you link only to trusted sites with relevant and high-quality information, as indeed you should, then there is no reason to make these links no-follow.
This is true for your internal linking strategy also and allowing search engines to follow these links means that they are able to move freely throughout your content without hitting a dead end thanks to a ‘nofollow’ command.
Action to take: Make sure you haven’t added the ‘nofollow’ command to your internal links.
10. Don’t be afraid of links to external sources
Although internal links are important for creating an involving website experience, you shouldn’t be afraid of linking to external sources if you have found an article that gives the reader more information about a specific topic on another website. Just make sure that you create the link so that it opens in a new window, so that your article remains open rather than navigating people away from your site.
Action to take: Check any external links away from your website to ensure that they open in a new window.
So there you have it – our ultimate guide to internal linking that’s great for your customers and for your SEO. To help you even further, we’ve put together a list of handy resources below.
- Check for broken links on your website: http://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/broken-links.php
- Read this guide to conducting a content audit on your site by Quicksprout: http://www.quicksprout.com/2014/04/24/how-to-conduct-a-content-audit-on-your-site/
- Discover your most linked to pages and page performance: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/
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