Internal links offer so many opportunities for boosting search visibility.
They help search engines identify the most important pages, guide crawlers through the site, and let you highlight the context of each page.
And there’s so much more you can do aside from simply linking relevant pages together.
This post will cover three specific strategies for improving your internal linking structure to boost your pages’ authority with internal links. But we’ll also cover:
- What are internal links?
- Types of internal links
- The importance of internal links
- Principles of a Solid Internal Linking Strategy
- Strategies to Improve Your Internal Linking Structure
What Are Internal Links?
An internal link is a link that points to another page on the same site. An SEO or webmaster has full control over the implementation of internal links (unlike with external links, which connect your site to an outside source).
Want to learn more about the different link types? Head over to Why Are Internal and External Links Important for SEO?
Because the underlined text used in the sentence above links to another webpage on this site, it’s an internal link!
Types of Internal Links
Internal links have several subtypes and understanding them and how they work will help you gain authority and get acknowledged for your expertise through the appropriate treatment of your links and how they relate to each other.
The first and most obvious type of internal link to make note of is a navigation link or universal link. Navigation links can be found on every website in the header or footer section of a home page and provide global context to your visitors on what is important on your site.
For the most part, each item in a homepage navigation bar or menu has a link to each section of the website, navigating the user from the home page to the rest of the site.
The second type of internal link is called a category link. These appear in the left navigation and often show refinements when searching for a product or subtopic.
These links are also referred to as dynamic navigation or dynamic filters. Optimizing your site structure and paying careful attention to category links can have a big impact on your site’s organic traffic.
When we drill down from navigation and category links we also have content links. Surprisingly, not many companies use this type of internal link, but those who do see big results. A content link provides the user with context around the copy that appears on your site.
For example, if you run a travel site, there is a big difference between Rome, Italy and Rome, Indiana. A content link is highly effective at telling your users which Rome you’re referencing in your text.
Though often overlooked by some companies, the key bits of text in these links work very well to provide a more in-depth context to your site visitors.
Product and service links are also internal links and they show up on product and service pages. They are the cross-sell and up-sell opportunities at the bottom of a web page as well as similar products listed as well on the same page.
They help crawlers and visitors find related products. It’s important to use detailed and unique product descriptions, and showcase an understanding of how your website’s products are related.
Internal Link Modules
Internal link modules are another type of link that only the smartest companies are using. When search engines can navigate your site with the least amount of clicks, it dramatically increases the position of your site in the results pages and increases traffic. Most websites use a hierarchical taxonomy.
This structure resembles branches on a tree, and because it involves drilling down into a lot of layers of information, it’s not always easy to quickly find information.
Deep linking bypasses the standard tree-like hierarchy to hasten discoverability of the right topics. Internal link modules use the shortcuts offered through deep linking to reference other parts of a website much faster.
Why Focus on Internal Links?
But there's more to internal links than what page you land on when you click on them. In fact, their importance to SEO is immense, yet often overlooked.
Internal links help Google and site users understand the structure of your site and how different pages relate to each other.
The search engine uses your internal linking structure to crawl and access all your content, while your site visitors use those links to navigate to other related blog posts, or other product and services pages.
Google also uses the anchor text of an internal link (the hyperlinked text that users click on to navigate to another URL) to better understand the topic of the page it's linking to.
Finally, internal links help to establish the hierarchy on the site, and pass link juice from the most critical pages to those with less authority.
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. That's just the nature of link building.
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:
Properly internal linking allows you to account 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.
For the full list of benefits of internal linking, head over to 7 Benefits of Internal Linking in SEO.
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.
Recommended Reading: 5 Challenges of Internal Linking at Scale
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 SEO checkbox. 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 accurate and consistent with the anchor text I use in those links?
Google reads the 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 phrases like "Click Here" or "Read More" as much as possible.
Am I pointing to any pages that are broken, canonicalized, or redirected?
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. You also want to avoid unclear or incorrect directions that point to a dead-end.
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.
Controlling How Your Links Are Crawled
If we do everything right, keeping the basic principles in mind, site owners can make sure that they only allow search engines to go exactly where they want them to go on their site.
With the right instructions, meta tags, and directives in place it becomes easier to control how your site is crawled and ranked per your own specifications.
Our clients love our internal linking workflow. You can follow along here: Internal Links Workflow: How to Optimize and Gain More Site Authority.
Advanced Strategies to Boost Internal Linking
Below are three simple strategies to strengthen your linking. For a full scope of our strategies, read: Internal Linking Strategies to Build Site Authority in SEO.
#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 topic cluster. .
This structure uses 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.
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 topic cluster 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.
Google Search Console has a “links” feature that can be used to audit the link structure.
You can also benefit from an all-in-one SEO platform.
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 his 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 the applicable text clues Google in on 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 (where the text directly matches the target keyword) 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, 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’).”
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 Internal Link Analysis report shows 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.
Recommended Reading: Common Internal Linking Mistakes in SEO (and How to Fix Them)
Although SEOs understand the value of interlinking, many put little thought into what content they reference together and how.
When you know the importance of internal links and how they operate, you’re on your way to creating a strategy that delivers a structured result that will boost your site’s search visibility and improve your content’s keyword relevance.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.