Fact: Internal links offer so many opportunities for boosting search visibility.
Is there really anything else you could do with them other than just linking relevant pages together?
There is. Quite a lot, in fact.
This post will cover three specific strategies for improving your internal linking structure to boost your pages’ authority with just internal links.
What Are Internal Links?
An internal link is a hyperlink that points to a page or any other asset on the same domain it resides on. Unlike external links that, as their name suggests, point to external resources, internal links reference content or documents within the same domain.
So, any link on this post that points to content on seoclarity.net is an internal link. Any reference to another website, however, is an external link.
But there's more to internal links than just pointing to other pages on the site. In fact, their importance to SEO is immense, yet often overlooked.
Internal links help Google and your user understand the structure of your site, and how different pages relate to each other. The search engine will use your internal linking structure to crawl and access all your content.
Your user will use those internal links to navigate to other related content or further information, products, and services pages.
The search engine will also use the anchor text of an internal link to better understand the topic of the page it's linking to. The anchor text are the words that you apply the link to – you'll see some examples throughout this article.
Finally, you can also use internal links to establish the hierarchy on the site, and pass link juice from the most important pages to those with less authority.
But Why Focus on Internal Links?
Here’s something I often remind our clients and our client success and support teams about:
“Optimizing internal links is a lot easier than trying to acquire new external backlinks since the website is under your control.”
You see, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into building backlinks, your success is always limited by factors beyond your grasp. For instance, other webmasters might reject your guest posts, refuse to publish your infographics, and never even reply to your outreach.
You can, however, adjust and improve internal links as you see fit for your site. You’re in full control to continuously tweak and amend your internal linking strategy.
And, as a matter of fact, you should.
After all, Google uses external and internal links too to assess your content’s authority, understand the relationship between pages, and establish their value.
Not to mention that the search engine distributes the link value between all pages on a site, starting from the most important content, right to the least significant.
In other words:
Internal linking allows you to effortlessly optimize for two of the most important ranking factors: page authority and relevance.
To further demonstrate this statement, take a look at this case study describing how Daily Mail, a leading UK newspaper, failed to rank due to a weak internal linking strategy.
To summarize, internal links give you control over two critical elements of your content strategy: page authority and relevance of the content in relation to other pieces of content.
Since Google follows links to crawl a web page, it will use your internal linking structure to identify new pages of yours to crawl. It will also use those links to learn more about the structure and the hierarchy of your site, and the relationship between your different pages.
Google will also use internal links to pass the link juice to whatever pages those links point to. You can use this to strengthen the authority of pages in need of such a boost, simply by interlinking them with more authoritative pages.
So, with that out of the way, let's walk through how to improve an internal linking strategy.
The Principles of a Solid Internal Linking Strategy
First, let's cover what you should always remember when building an internal link strategy – there are some key principles that you should always apply. These are the questions to ask yourself when interlinking:
Am I linking to the most important pages? A common mistake I see sites make is to include any internal links they can think of, just for the sake of ticking that on-page optimization box. Instead, you should always be mindful of the number of links and link to the most valuable pages only.
Are they accessible within the fewest clicks? The deeper the page is in the hierarchy, the longer it will take for users and crawlers to reach it. Make sure that you always link to the page directly, creating the shortest possible path to it.
Am I consistent with the anchor text I use in those links? Google uses the anchor text to discern the topic of the linked page. So, be conscious about what anchor you use to describe the destination page. Ideally, avoid ambiguous or generic anchor texts, like "Click Here" or "Read More" as much as possible.
Am I pointing to any pages that are broken? Broken links ruin the user experience and stop Google crawlers in their tracks, too. Always test your links to avoid sending users and bots to a 404 page.
Am I sending visitors to different versions of the same page? This problem often occurs when you link to pages with potentially dynamically-created content. If possible, always use the version of the page that's the same for everyone. It might mean not including variables in the internal link URL, but it's worth it for the user.
Advanced Strategies to Boost Internal Linking
#1. Organize Your Internal Links into a Web Graph Structure
In theory, building internal links is so easy. All you need do is reference other relevant content from your page and you should end up with a neat internal link structure.
I’m sure you’ll agree that it rarely happens this way.
Sure, you link a lot of content together. But I bet that most of the time, you do it without any strategy or plan whatsoever.
You simply reference similar information as you create the content and leave it at that. Or use the hierarchical model to link from top-level pages, further down the site structure.
(Please note: I’m discounting links in the header, footer, and sidebar here. As you now, for the most part, Google ignores those with a process they call “de-chroming.”)
But, there is a better way to interlink relevant pages together – a web graph mode.
Some SEOs also refer to it as topic cluster model.
This structure uses a primary, pillar content in the center, linking out to all other relevant or related pages on the site. Those, in turn, interlink with one another, too.
The web graph mode looks more or less like this:
Why does this model work?
- First of all, it allows you to distribute link equity between all relevant pages evenly.
- It also provides a great search experience to a user, since no matter what page they land on, they always get access to more relevant information on the topic.
- Finally, the web graph model helps you clearly indicate topic relationships to search engines, helping them better understand what your content is about, and what phrases to rank it for.
How do you assess your current internal linking structure?
As I’m sure you can imagine, doing so requires more than you could do manually.
Luckily, various tools exist that can help you establish relationships between content on your site.
For example, seoClarity’s Internal Link Analysis analyzes information about every page that links to another. And you can easily extract and filter this data by a number of factors. Internal Link Analysis was developed by SEOs based on client feedback, so its features go far beyond the standard link checker that just checks redirects, errors, etc.
(Internal Link Analysis showing relationships for a specific URLs.)
#2. Optimize Sub-Optimal Anchor Text
Even though he talks about alt tags, this quick message from Sean Work sums up the anchor text.
Because, search engines use the anchor text to get a better idea about the context behind the content.
John Mueller confirmed it actually during one of this Hangouts. He said:
“We do use internal links to better understand the context of the content of your sites.”
As a result, we can easily assume that anchor text suggests to Google what keywords you want a particular page to rank for.
There’s even great research that proves it. Shaun Anderson from Hobo Web conducted a test during which he added an exact match anchor text from a high-quality page on his site.
The result? As Shaun concluded:
“It seems to me that, YES, Google does look at keyword rich internal anchor text to provide context and relevance signal, on some level, for some queries, at least.”
What’s more is that his test revealed the strength of internal links in influencing ranking keywords. As he points (note, the emphasis in bold is mine):
“Where the internal anchor text pointing to a page is the only mention of the target keyword phrase on the site (as my test indicates) it only takes ONE internal anchor text (to another internal page) to provide the signal required to have NOTICEABLE influence in specific keyword phrase rankings (and so ‘relevance’).”
But, how often do you use generic anchor text in internal links such as “click here,” “buy now” or “read this here”?
My guess is a lot. And in turn, you miss out on the opportunity to impact for what keywords Google would rank a page.
Note: Internal Link Analysis allows you to analyze anchor text and identify sub-optimal copy to replace with one that closely relates to the content of the page.
#3. Identify High-Value Pages with Low Link Count
Implementing this strategy requires you to do two things:
- Identify your under-linked, high-value pages. Meaning content with high search visibility but few internal links.
One way to do it is by looking for pages with the highest number of ranking keywords. And then, assessing internal links pointing to them.
For example, take a look at this page’s search visibility. It’s impressive, right?
But the seoClarity’s Internal Link Analysis reports only a handful internal links pointing to it:
Now, given that this page resides on a huge enterprise site with thousands of content assets, I’m sure there are many more opportunities to link to it.
- Build more internal links to those page. Ideally use the web graph mode or topic cluster model to strengthen their authority and increase content’s relevance.
Again, be strategic in what content you link to and from. Focus on passing the link value from high-authority pages down to content in need of more internal links. This should help boost link equity attributed to them, and improve their search visibility, as well as keyword and topic targeting.
Although SEOs understand the value of interlinking, many put little thought into what content they reference together and how.
Using a strategic approach to internal link building, however, could help you quickly boost your site’s search visibility, and improve your content’s keyword relevance.