We’re going to start with the simple answer. No SEO effort is complete without an internal link strategy.
If you understand our approach to SEO as search experience optimization, you know that you can't provide a good experience for your audience without internal links. Done correctly, they establish a web of connections between content related to a specific topic, helping your audience discover what they need far beyond the initial post or article they land on when engaging with your site.
Of course, internal linking also matters from a technical perspective. The right strategy helps you eliminate broken links and redirect loops, while also building site authority.
After reading this article, you should have a stronger understanding of this crucial SEO concept and its advantages. More specifically, we'll cover:
- An exploration of internal links and their benefits
- A brief reference on why internal linking is so important
- A practical use case of internal linking to explain the concept in context
- Whether or not too many internal links on your pages are bad for your user experience
What are Internal Links, and What are Their Benefits?
Let's start with a basic definition of internal links:
Internal links are hyperlinks from one of your web pages to another page that lives on the same domain.
(We’ve covered the best practices on how to internally link in a previous blog).
The why is where it gets a little more complex. The process of interlinking your pages with each other comes with 5 important benefits. Understanding both the how and the why when it comes to internal links helps you optimize for your target audience.
Read our additional Internal Links content by clicking the images below:
Top 5 Benefits of Using Internal Links in Your Content
#1: Internal Links Improve User Experience
SEO is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to ranking factors. Between RankBrain, Hummingbird, BERT, and more - there is too much to consider. That’s why the focus has turned to the user experience. Most SEO ranking factors don't matter if you don't get the user experience right. You can't chase the algorithm if you don't place that experience at the forefront.
Good to know, then, that internal links play a central role in building that user experience. They offer your audience the ability to dig deeper and inform themselves more about a specific topic of interest.
Take this example from our own blog. From the audience’s perspective, you might be reading about homepage SEO. The topic of crawlers comes up, and you don't realize you know as much about them as you should. Voilà: an internal link gets you to an introductory article on web crawlers.
In our writing, we apply these internal links as “Recommended Reading” links to clearly call out to the reader that there is additional information on our site that can help them understand the topic fully.
Those connections help your audience continue to build their knowledge on topics they find interesting. If you've ever been down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, you know exactly what we're talking about.
#2: Internal Links Drive Users Towards Conversion
For ecommerce brands, building an internal link structure in your site improves user navigation, ultimately driving your target audience toward a sale. A relevant connection, especially from your early-funnel content, can bring your audience deeper into the funnel and drive conversions.
Links on your homepage push towards your content marketing. Individual blog posts within that structure push towards gated content, a free trial, or product page. Just like that, your audience moves from initial awareness all the way to becoming leads and customers.
To build a link network in this fashion, you need to analyze and optimize for the buyer's journey. Think about it in the same way you would think about content mapping. You go from creating the right content and optimizing it for the right searches to connecting it through interlinking it in a way that drives your audience forward at their pace and preference.
#3: Internal Links Build Your Website Architecture
Your website's basic structure is its site taxonomy, the way in which your content is sorted within your menus and navigation to go from your homepage all the way to your deeper-lying pages.
But your website architecture is about more than just that structural taxonomy. Through internal links, you add another layer that creates the web of content and pages we've already discussed above.
Your structural taxonomy is likely organized by various topics and subtopics that make sense from a homepage perspective. Your services live in a different section than your About Us content. But what if you need to link from one topic to the other?
That's impossible to achieve within a linear taxonomy. The second layer of your website architecture, your internal links, create these cross-links to improve your UX design, turning disconnected pages into a comprehensive online experience.
Recommended Reading: A Guide to Site Taxonomy and Its Effect on SEO
#4: Internal Links Help Improve Crawl Efficiency
Related to the topic of your site architecture is the idea of crawl depth and crawl efficiency. Search engine crawlers work in a simple pattern:
- Automated algorithms, called spiders, crawl the web on new and existing domains.
- When they find your website, they scour the code for SEO ranking factors on every individual page.
- What they find becomes part of your site's record or index, which then determines whether and how it will appear in search results.
- On a regular schedule, the process happens all over again.
Here's one thing that these crawlers do, though: they check out your internal and external links, looking to discover new and updated content. A strong network of internal links is the perfect aid your site can provide.
We've covered crawl depth in a previous post, but as a quick refresher, here are the steps to take to optimize for a crawl:
- Reduce the number of clicks required to reach the pages you want crawled more frequently.
- Determine there to link to target pages from popular content. Clients can use the Internal Link Analysis tool to eveluate what links point to which pages. In the screenshot below, you can see the analysis for pages in Depth 3, all of which only have one internal link pointing toward them. There is likely an opportunity to bring these pages higher in the site's hierarchy with some internal linking work.
- Use categories and tags within your content management system to provide structure for a crawler to follow.
- Create, update, and submit your XML sitemap often. Search engines will crawl URLs in the sitemap more often than others, so keep it fresh and increase your chances of those pages being crawled.
- Improve the page speed. A faster site will reduce the time it takes for crawlers to render your site pages. seoClarity runs page speed analysis based on Lighthouse data to deliver the most relevant insights to drive your strategy.
Search engines like Google appreciate when things are simple. The more easily they can crawl your site, the better for your search results.
#5: Internal Links Can Build Your Link Equity
Every link on your site has something called link equity. It's a measure of authority that the link passes from one page to the next.
You know how Google ranks a page based on metrics like value, relevance, and authority? Internal links can transfer some of them from a page that performs particularly well to another you link to from it.
Let's use the above homepage SEO example again:
- Maybe that blog post is getting great results on Google.
- By linking to an explainer about search engine crawlers, the ranking factors that led to the good results partially transfer to that article.
- As a result, the crawler explainer now also gets better Google results.
That's the whole game. Strategic use of internal links ensure that your link equity spreads through to strategic spots within your site, and the rising tide begins to lift all boats.
Recommended Reading: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Internal Link Analysis for SEO
In a Nutshell: Why is Internal Linking So Important?
Each of the above points is unique, but they all add up to one thing: the ways in which internal links can improve and build your SEO. And that, ideally, should be the biggest takeaway as you look towards your own strategy.
We can't quite turn that into a bumper sticker. But we can summarize with a statement that about the above benefits and you can use as a mantra for your strategy:
Internal links matter because they turn isolated web pages into part of a bigger content infrastructure. They keep your users engaged and make them more likely to become customers. That, along with their ability to direct your link equity for highly relevant sites, results in significantly improved SEO.
Recommended Reading: Why Are Internal and External Links Important for SEO?
How Many Internal Links are Too Many?
Can there be too much of a good thing? That's a great question, especially when it comes to this concept. We often get clients wondering how many internal links are too many. The answer: it depends.
Too many internal links can make your website seem spammy, and harm your optimization efforts. But you need at least some internal links on your page. Powerful sites with strong aggregate link equity have 20+ links per page. For most businesses, though the absolute max is closer to 10 on the page.
SEO expert Matt Cutts said it best back in 2009 when he proclaimed that, while the number of links won't necessarily impact indexation of a page,
If you're showing well over 100 links per page, you could be overwhelming your users and giving them a bad experience" (source).
One important note here is that the higher a page is in your hierarchy, the more internal links are palatable. It’s okay to have 20 internal links on your homepage, for example. As you go deeper into your site's navigation, though, that number should get progressively smaller.
Look to major brands for examples of what that might look like in practice. Apple's homepage, for instance, has plenty of internal links to get you into any product direction. By the time you get to an individual product page, you're down to a few key links to learn more about the product or buy it online.
Recommended Reading: Internal Linking Strategies to Build Site Authority
Next Steps: Prioritizing Your Internal Links
Of course, all of the above is only the beginning. As with so many SEO topics, exploration into the nature and use of internal links can go far deeper. It's just a matter of how much time you have to devote to this topic as a core piece of your SEO strategy.
It all starts, with appropriately prioritizing your internal links. You need to consider it as an important factor anytime you build a new page, and even as you revise your existing pages. Our Internal Link Analysis helps you get started on the latter, creating a more purposeful internal linking strategy in the process.