SEOs rarely see internal linking as a way to propel their sites in search, especially considering the laundry list of technical SEO practices that help them reach their goals faster.
The fact of the matter is that websites with a clear and well-defined architecture tend to rank higher and acquire better search visibility.
Your homepage rests at the top, while cornerstone pages or category pages sit beneath it. Those assets, in turn, interlink deeply to relevant blog posts or product pages.
All the critical assets should reside as close to the homepage as possible.
Search engines have fewer problems with crawling their content, for one. Crawlers can go deeper into the site within the available crawl budget, too. Not to mention that a solid internal linking strategy will increase the user experience and positive engagement signals.
I get it; with thousands or more assets to choose from, it’s hard to decide the most important pages to interlink.
That’s why, in this post, we’ll discuss leveraging the internal link analysis on an enterprise site to build up its authority. Follow along below, or jump to a specific section:
- Why is Internal Linking Important to SEOs?
- The Benefits of Internal Linking
- How to Develop an Internal Linking Strategy
- What to Measure in an Internal Link Analysis
- Actions to Take Now
Not familiar with internal links? In short, it’s when you link from one page of your site to another of your own web pages. We explain it all over in our ultimate cheat sheet on internal linking.
Why Is Internal Linking Important to SEOs (and Google)?
To begin, let’s discuss why you should (strategically!) use internal links in the first place. There are three main reasons.
#1. Speed to Market
There is an indisputable link between the amount of content on a site and the subsequent SEO performance.
Regularly posting new content — from articles, press releases, product and category pages, landing pages, and many other content types — increases your chances for gaining a greater visibility in SERPs.
After all, the more content you have, more ranking opportunities are available.
Publishing new content enables search engines to crawl and index your pages quickly, but not only the new content. When content assets are strategically interlinked with older, existing content, those pages can be crawled, too.
It also helps you get more content to the search engine results pages (SERPs) fast, which is imperative during highly-important commercial periods (e.g. the holiday shopping season for retail.)
#2. Increase Authority
For Google to rank your content higher in search, it needs to be seen as the most authoritative content or page on the topic.
One way to achieve this is by improving the quality of what you publish, of course. Another is by ensuring that the page receives link value from other authoritative pages on the site.
In other words, to strengthen the page’s authority, interlink to it from the more established content you have. Pages higher in the site architecture or assets that have amassed more external and internal links already.
Recommended Reading: Why Internal and External Links are Important for SEO
You may hear some say that internal links pass “link juice” from higher authority pages to content assets that need such a bump in authority.
TIP: Some pages have no internal links pointing to them at all. These are known as orphaned pages, and they have a hard time being indexed by Google! Linking more authoritative pages higher in the site’s architecture creates those links and helps the orphaned pages earn authority.
#3. Higher Indexation Rate
Having a clear interlink structure means that more of your pages will get indexed within the crawl budget available to you.
What’s more, improving interlinks (making it match the canonical version and the XML site, for example) can increase your indexation rate even further.
On average, our clients experience a 90% indexation rate (via Google Search Console) if their internal links match the above criteria.
That's not all they do …
Internal links help confirm relationships between different content assets.
By interlinking relevant pages, you:
- Build topic clusters, and
- Confirm your topical authority.
In this sense internal links act like a glue that holds everything together. This helps you build relationships between various content assets and logically connect different pages on your website to deliver more relevant information to users.
Internal links also help Google understand the page’s content. The connections between pages help the search engine to decode the overall topic of the page.
The Benefits of Internal Linking
We talked about what internal linking does and how it helps your site. But what are the overall SEO benefits of focusing on interlinking content? Here are just some of them:
- Interlinking allows crawling of web pages previously inaccessible to search engine spiders.
- The strategy also helps to organize content into topic categories.
- Both internal links and deep links improve user navigation.
- Anchor text in internal links helps Google determine a page’s topic better.
- Internal links help tell Google which pages on the site you consider as the most important.
To see the full list of benefits of internal linking, head over to The Benefits of a Strategic Approach to Internal Linking.
How to Develop an Internal Linking Strategy
Let’s get into developing a strategy! You can do it in two ways:
Strategy #1: Improving the Existing Internal Link Structure
Unless your site is brand new, many existing internal links connect pages with one another. Many of those, however, can be improved either by pointing them to another source or changing their anchor text.
Here are some common internal linking mistakes to look out for:
Single or Irrelevant Anchor Text
Anchor text provides an insight into what the page is about. It can help determine its topic for users and Googlebot alike. However, that’s only true if you use the anchor text that relates to the page’s topic.
Often, however, we use generic anchor text and by doing so, miss out on the opportunity to capture everything the page is about.
The anchor text report (above) will help you identify those missed opportunities quickly.
Another issue with anchor text is a lack of diversity. Often, our content is complex and focuses on many aspects of the topic. A single anchor text, therefore, isn’t able to capture all aspects of the page.
In the Internal Link Analysis report, look for pages with many internal links but few unique anchors.
Links in Page Templates
Often, internal links reside in the site template. You can find many of them in the footer or sidebar, for example. Having them is not a problem, of course. However, since they get created every time you create a new page with a specific template, they pass little authority to the target page.
When you analyze internal links in the platform, pay attention to pages with extremely high number of interlinks pointing to them. Most likely, these are templated links.
Clicking on the number will access the full list of inbound links.
Review them to decide whether all those links need to be there.
Critical Pages Too Deep in the Infrastructure
Often, a page that generates revenue, converts well and targets a highly-valuable keyword resides deep in the site’s architecture. It might require three or more clicks to get it from the homepage.
Internal links will help you adjust the architecture and bring it closer to the higher levels of the site’s structure.
Similarly, critical pages on levels 4 or lower do not get crawled by Google. It often happens due to the Googlebot using up the crawl budget on all the assets higher in the architecture.
Internal links will help ensure that the crawler will reach those pages too.
Our clients love our internal links workflow. To see how we coach our clients to have success in this, see: Internal Links Workflow: How to Optimize and Gain More Site Authority.
Strategy #2: Build the Keyword Map for Interlinking
In this strategy, your goal is to identify top keywords you want to push in SERPs. These are keywords that fall into one of the following categories, typically:
- Rank between positions 4-7.
- Rank at the bottom of page one.
- Rank at the top of page 2.
In each situation, you want to build more internal links to those pages, pass more link juice and increase their authority to push them higher in rankings.
In seoClarity’s Rank Intelligence, filter the results by the three categories above – keywords ranking between positions 4 and 6, those sitting at the bottom of page one, and the top of page two.
Once you identify the keywords, review the target URL to identify the target landing page to interlink to.
Returning to the Internal Links Analysis, we can review how many other pages link to the target asset already, and what anchor text they’re using.
With that information, you can decide where else to link to it from, and whether you need to improve the anchor text of the existing internal links.
What to Measure in an Internal Link Analysis
Undoubtedly, reporting is one of the biggest challenges SEOs face. After all, how do you establish benchmarks and then, prove the success of your actions?
By monitoring and tracking relevant KPIs that can demonstrate the success of your internal link analysis efforts.
And here are the internal linking KPIs that we always recommend our clients to track:
#1. Organic Link Growth
A lot of the content you publish should, in theory, attract references and mentions on other websites, resulting in more organically-built backlinks.
For more about link building to your site and overall link management, read: How to Build Backlinks Without Creating Content Chaos.
Monitoring your link profile will reveal if that’s actually the case and which content spurs the highest growth.
#2. Traffic Increase to a Page
Measuring traffic change at the individual page level can also prove whether your internal links help send more visitors to the content.
#3. New Keyword Rankings and Growth in Keywords for Which a Page is Ranking
One of the advantages of improving interlinking is that, by optimizing anchor texts, you can send a clear signal as to which keywords you want the linked content to rank for.
Google, in turn, will use that information to properly position it in SERPs, but also display it for relevant phrases that searchers might use. And, analyzing what new queries a page begins to rank for could signify whether Google displays it for the most relevant ones.
#4. New Links Acquired Through PR Efforts
Press releases you publish offer an opportunity to gain new links, if another media outlet or website picks any of them up. Tracking those media mentions will reveal the success of those efforts.
Actions to Take Right Now (Yes, Now!)
You know why optimizing internal links is so important, and how to monitor your progress. So now, let’s discuss how to leverage your internal linking to help increase your site’s authority, and in turn, visibility in search.
Here are six steps we recommend.
Step #1: Analyze all internal links in navigation
We’ve already mentioned the interlinking criteria that help improve indexation rate significantly. And for a start, optimize your navigation for the first one – relevance to the canonical version.
Search engines use both internal links and canonical tags to establish the relative importance between the two pages you interlink.
And surely, if the two contradict (i.e. internal link and the canonical tag pointing to different URLs) the search engine might trust the link more. But at the same time, the canonical tag might actually point to the preferred URL.
So, as a first step, establish whether your internal links and canonical tags match.
Step #2: Publish the same URLs to XML sitemap
The second factor that can improve indexation rate significantly is relevance between internal links and URLs in the XML sitemap.
And so, update your sitemap with those links to make both match.
By doing so, you’ll create a complete synergy between the link, the canonical tag and the sitemap.
Step #3: Track your PR efforts
Another element that can seriously boost your authority, not to mention help Google index more of your content, is PR. I’ve already hinted at this earlier in this article.
Posting press releases (and other PR-related content) to your site first, helps achieve a number of objectives:
- Become the first source of the story – the authority,
- Attract external links from other outlets that pick up the story. Your content distribution efforts will affect this too.
- Send crawlers to that content fast, and then, deeper into your architecture through internal links.
But how can you know whether any of this has happened by tracking the performance of your PR efforts?
seoClarity offers a Content Distribution Tracker capability that allows you to monitor if other sites reference your pages, and what goes with it, link to it.
Step #4: Track specific URLs with targeted keywords
One of the best ways to monitor the success of your internal linking efforts is by tracking traffic increase to a URL. But obviously, to do that, you need to have access to all the content data you’ve improved.
So, once you establish the pages that needed a boost in internal linking, add their URLs along with keywords you want them to rank to Page Clarity – seoClarity’s capability to view and manage pages that you wish to focus on in your SEO efforts.
We designed Page Clarity to give you a quick overview of the most important factors affecting your URLs, including the traffic.
Step #5: Create internal linking dashboard
Properly monitoring internal linking efforts requires data. A lot of it.
True, for some of it, you need to have granular access to page information (and that’s why you should set up its URL in Page Clarity!).
But to monitor many other factors – link and ranking growth, traffic and other KPIs we discussed in this article – you must have a birds-eye-view of your data.
For that, create a dashboard that tracks internal links on the site.
Check out some of our favorite custom SEO dashboards to highlight your wins.
Step #6: Promote Pages that are crawled frequently
The more people - customers, readers, but also other webmasters and content creators – learn about your content, the greater your chances to:
- Attract more visitors,
- Gain quality links from their references and mentions, and
- Entice web crawlers to visit those pages earlier in the crawl budget, increasing their chances to reach content you’ve linked from them.
To increase your chances of that happening, share those pages regularly on social media, and reach out to external sites to introduce it to them, and potentially, strike a relationship that could result in the above.
If you don’t have a plan to share your content across channels, you can create a content distribution strategy.
Link management isn’t always the primary focus for SEOs. But at the same time, analyzing internal links and overall site architecture delivers incredible opportunities to boost a site’s authority and search visibility.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in 2019 and has been updated to reflect improvements in the industry.