Internal linking for SEO: The complete guide

From site menus to blog posts, every website uses internal links. Yet, when you think about SEO and linking, your mind automatically goes to backlinks. There are countless articles explaining the ins and outs of getting quality links from other websites. But what if I told you that a good internal linking strategy can boost your organic traffic by 40%?

Now, I’m not saying you don’t need external links and that you should only focus on the internal ones. Think about those two types of links like macaroni and cheese. They simply go better together. But before we dive into how you can boost your SEO with internal linking, let’s cover some basics.

What are internal links?

Simply put, they are links that point from one page on your domain to another. They’re used to connect content and create a website structure. More importantly, they help Google and your visitors navigate through your website.

Think about the last time you did some online shopping. Whether you were only browsing or had a specific product in mind, you took advantage of the site’s internal linking to see what you’re interested in. For example, if you were looking for some shoes, you clicked on that specific category. Next, you saw another page with different shoe types, also categorized. That’s because the site owner used internal links to create a user-friendly site structure.

How important is site structure?

Structuring your website in a clear way that’s easy to navigate is crucial for SEO. Google is putting more emphasis than ever on user experience, meaning the days of messy websites are long gone. Good riddance, if you ask one in two users who leave a website getting a bad first impression of it.

The thing is, visitors leaving your website as soon as they see it is bad for your search engine ranking. Since bounce rate has an impact on ranking, it’s easy to see why you’d want it to be as low as possible. But a well-organized website does more than keep users clicking on more pages. It also:

  • Helps crawlers navigate your website
  • Spreads link equity
  • Lets you establish information hierarchy
  • Increases conversions

Want to know the best part of internal linking? You are in complete control. This means you can guide both your users and Google to the most important pages on your website. As opposed to life in general, when it comes to website structure, pyramid schemes are a good thing.

graph of internal linking

For most website owners, creating a structure as shown in the image above means that the topmost page is the homepage. From there, internal links bring you to the Services, Blog, Contact, etc. Each of those categories then leads you to another subcategory. Remember the online shopping example from the previous paragraph? High-revenue e-commerce websites use this structure very effectively. So how can you create an effective internal linking strategy for your own website?

Creating an internal linking strategy

Now that you understand the importance of internal linking, it’s time to roll up your sleeves. You’ll have to go through several steps before you have your links in order, but it will pay off in the long run.

1. Group similar content

Having the pyramid structure in mind, think about your website’s pages and where they fall in the hierarchy. Since your homepage is the equivalent of a shop window, chances are you’ll put it at the top. But how do you decide on the position of other pages you have? The answer is relevance.

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Imagine that you have a website on baking with these pages:

display of sweet categories

The obvious thing to do would be to categorize those pages into:

  1. Main ingredient pages
  2. Recipe pages

Once the pages are in their correct categories, your site structure would look like this:

categorization of goods

Each ingredient page now links to relevant recipes and you have connected pages that relate to the same topic. This kind of content structuring has been around for a while now, and it’s called siloing. In addition to making your site user-friendly, it also makes it easier for crawlers to understand the purpose of your content and spreads link equity.

2. Run an audit

You wouldn’t start fixing your fridge before you know what’s wrong with it, right? The same logic applies here. Unless you’re starting your website from scratch, you will need to check the current state of your internal links. Running an audit on existing links will save you time once you start adding new ones. You can easily check this in Site Audit by Ahrefs.

Once you get your results, you need to watch out for the following warning signs:

  1. Broken pages. In addition to harming user experience, links to broken pages also waste link equity. If someone removed the page by accident, it would be best to bring it back with the same URL. If the page was only moved, make sure to redirect it to the new, relevant URL.
  2. Links to redirected pages. Every redirected page is an extra link hop, which means the pages are deeper in the site structure. You can either update or remove those links.
  3. A large number of links to unimportant pages. If a page isn’t getting you traffic, it makes sense to remove internal links from it. You don’t want to waste link equity on a page with little relevance.
  4. Important pages linked too deep. All your important pages should be no more than three links away from the homepage. If you see that, for example, your most revenue-generating page is four hops away, bring it closer.
  5. Orphan pages. These are all the pages with zero incoming internal links. The only two ways for crawlers to find an orphan page is by you submitting a sitemap or the page having a backlink. But even if your orphan page is getting some link juice from another website, it won’t transfer any of it to your other pages. Why? Because it’s not linked to them.

3. Use anchor text to your advantage

Every link needs an anchor. And while you can’t control what that will be with backlinks, you can make the best of it with internal linking. But before we dive into tips on good anchor text, let’s look at the options you have:

  1. Exact match anchor text includes a keyword that completely corresponds to the page you’re linking to. For example, using “SEO” to link to a page about SEO would be an exact match.
  2. Partial match anchor text would be a variation of the keyword that corresponds to the linked-to page. For example, using “SEO tips and tricks” to link to a page about SEO would be a partial match.
  3. Branded anchor text contains the name of a brand. For example, we’d consider using “Amazon” to link to a product on their website branded anchor text.
  4. Naked anchor text means that, in a sense, there is no anchor text. In this case, instead of connecting the link to a phrase, it would look like a URL:
  5. Generic anchor text is, well, generic. It doesn’t contain keywords and it’s usually a phrase such as “click here”, “this post”, etc.
  6. Even though images technically aren’t text, you can still use them as an anchor. If you do, Google will create an anchor on the alt text associated with the image.

Now that you’re aware of all the options out there, it’s time to learn how to use them. Here are some tips on making your anchor text SEO-friendly.

Keep it to the point.

Make sure your anchor text is in line with the page you’re linking to. This means you should think of the most precise way of describing the linked-to page. Now, there isn’t a character limit for anchor text, but that doesn’t mean you should use a whole paragraph. Your link should look natural and tempt visitors to click, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t use generic phrases.

How many times have you actually clicked on the phrase “click here”? If you’re like most people, chances are it wasn’t very often. That’s because generic phrases like this one tell you nothing about the destination. The worst part? It’s just lazy and adds no value to a website visitor.

Don’t over-optimize.

Keywords in anchor text are, in essence, a good thing. In fact, you should use descriptive keywords to let your visitors know what it is you’re linking to. However, keep in mind that too much of anything is bad. When it comes to anchor text, this means you shouldn’t rely on repetitive or keyword-stuffed phrases.

4. Link to old articles

Let’s say you have an SEO blog. Since you’ve been working on it for months, it’s safe to assume you’ve covered a lot about the topic. It’s also probable that, at some point, the content of your articles will overlap. And this brings us to contextual links. Every time you publish a new article or a new post, try to find some common ground with the ones you’ve already published. This is not only a simple way to build internal links, but it also brings value to your visitors. What’s more, it shows Google that your content is about the same topic.

Remember the site structure we covered earlier? It also applies to your articles. For example, say you’ve written an ultimate guide on baking techniques and several other articles that mention them. In this case, your ultimate guide is your cornerstone content. But how do you show Google your guide is the most important piece on that topic? The answer is simple: internal linking. This means that your guide needs to link to other related articles, and all of the related articles need to link back to the guide. That way, you are placing your guide on top of the pyramid and signaling that it’s the most complete article on the topic.

5. Update old content

It’s all about working smarter, not harder. When you make changes to your old content, crawlers see it and index it again. Updated content gets an improved ranking value and your new page gets a link to an established page on your website. It’s a win-win situation.

Chances are, you have multiple articles on your website. So how do you decide which ones to update? It’s simple – look for old articles that cover a topic similar to the one you just wrote. When you have a list of articles to update, you should:

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  1. Take a look at the data. If you included any statistics or research, check the most recent results. You don’t want to get stuck with old information.
  2. Check your outbound links. Broken links are bad for SEO, so make sure the sites you linked to still exist. If they don’t, look for recent and existing pages to link to.
  3. Link to new articles. Read through your old articles and try to find a connection with the one you just wrote. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t link to the new article only for the sake of internal linking. When done right, internal linking will improve user experience and dwell time. When done wrong, it will disappoint the user and they will likely not come back to your website.

At the end of the day, all content you have on your website should bring value. Dwell time is an important ranking factor because it is the total time people spend on your website. A longer dwell time signals to Google that people find your content useful. If people find your content useful, you will rank higher. And the easiest way to increase the time people spend on your site is to interlink quality pieces of content.

6. Link to pages that convert

Every website has one or more pages that convert visitors into customers more than the others. Since internal linking is under your control, don’t waste the opportunity. Placing internal links to pages with high conversion rates brings in revenue.

7. Don’t add the no-follow attribute

In most cases, it’s not necessary. After all, you’re linking internally, which means that you trust your own website. In the past, you could prevent losing link value by adding the no-follow attribute. This would bring more link value to more important pages without wasting it on the less important ones. But Google is smarter these days and counts no-follow links in your overall link profile. This means that adding the no-follow attribute makes less sense than simply having fewer links on your page.

Keep in mind that pages can appear in search results even if they have a no-follow attribute. If you want to hide pages or posts, what you need to do is give them a no-index tag. That way, you’re giving Google the signal not to let the content show up in the results.

8. Don’t get carried away

Although it’s good to have internal links, you shouldn’t overdo it. Keep in mind that Google will divide your link value among all the pages on your site. For example, if your homepage has the most backlinks, that means it has the most link value.

Imagine that the only link from your homepage goes to your blog page. In this case, the link value from Home will get passed down to Blog. But what if you have six blog posts? You’ve guessed it – the link value will get passed on to those as well.

What you need to keep in mind is that, at around 100 links per page, not a lot of value will get passed on. It’s also important to note that this number includes all internal and external links.

Two different types of internal links

At this point, you’re probably wondering if your internal linking strategy is working as well as it can. But before you run off to check your site structure, you should know about the types of internal links and the differences between them.

Navigational links are usually found in the main menu, sidebar, or footer of a website. Their purpose is to help the user find what they’re looking for and they’re normally implemented site-wide.

Contextual links are placed in the body of text on a page, also known as content. They show topical connections between pages and should have anchor text that appears natural.

Note that using these two types of internal links properly is crucial to your linking strategy. After all, knowing what actions your users take after seeing the links helps you stay in control. You can use this knowledge to adjust your strategy and guide them to the pages you want them to see.

Internal Linking Tool

If you have up to 20 or even 30 posts on your blog, it may not seem daunting to add internal links. But what if your posts are nearing or have long passed the 100s? You may want to consider using an internal linking tool such as LinkStorm.

LinkStorm crawls your blog and suggests appropriate internal linking. All you have to do is see which links you would like to add to your pre-existing posts. If you’re short on time, using such a tool will definitely decrease your workload.

Final thoughts

In addition to a backlink strategy, it’s crucial to create an efficient internal linking process. Once you have a coherent site structure, all you need to do is back it up with your internal links, using a tool such as LinkStorm. Paying attention to your anchor text, link value distribution, and quality content is the easiest way to boost your SEO.

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Patricija Šobak

Patricija Šobak joined g a little over a year ago. She puts her talent in spotting bad grammar and shady syntax to good use by writing about various business-related topics. Besides writing, she also likes coffee, dogs, and promoting the Oxford comma. People find her ability to name classic rock songs only from the intro both shocking and impressive.