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Internal linking is a powerful, yet often overlooked SEO tactic. When internal linking is done well it can provide a significant traffic boost, as well as enhance your website’s user experience. Here’s how to boost your SEO with internal linking…
The impact of a good internal linking strategy is often underestimated. Done well, internal linking can significantly boost your SEO efforts. In fact, Google says that:
“Internal linking is super critical for SEO”
Good internal linking helps Google crawl your site and understand the relative importance of articles on your site. It also helps your readers navigate your website and can significantly improve the User Experience on your site.
“[Internal linking] is one of the biggest things that you can do on a website to guide Google and guide visitors to the pages that you think are important.”
But to benefit from the power of internal linking, it needs to be done in an intentional and strategic manner – don’t just link everything to everything!
“…you should look at [internal linking] in a strategic way and think about what do you care about the most and how can you highlight that with your internal linking.”
And done well, internal linking can give you a significant traffic boost. (Here’s an example of one company which boosted their organic traffic by 40% just by improving their internal linking.)
But what exactly are internal links? Why is internal linking important for SEO? And how exactly do you use internal linking to boost SEO? I answer all of these questions in this article.
What are internal links?
Internal links are links that point from one page of a website to another page on the SAME website. Internal links help both search engines and readers to navigate the website and understand what topics the website covers.
Internal links vs outbound links vs backlinks vs external links
There is sometimes confusion over what the difference is between internal links, external links outbound links and backlinks.
- Internal links are links from one part of your website to another part of your website
- Outbound links are links from your website to someone else’s website
- Backlinks are links from someone else’s website to your website
- External links is a catch-all term for both outbound links and backlinks – in other words, external links are links to or from an external site
In this article we will look specifically at internal links, why they are so important for SEO and how you can use them to boost your SEO.
Why is internal linking so important for SEO?
Internal links are important for SEO because, if you do internal linking well, internal linking can give your website a significant boost in search engine rankings and traffic. There are 6 main reasons for this:
1. Internal links help search engines find your content
Internal links are important because they help search engines FIND your content in the first place. Here’s what Google says:
“Google must constantly look for new and updated pages and add them to its list of known pages... Some pages are known because Google has already visited them. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.”
Pages with no internal links pointing TO them are known as orphaned pages. (More on orphaned content below.)
2. Internal links help search engines understand your site structure
Internal links help search engines FIND your content, but they also help search engines UNDERSTAND the relationship between your blog posts and the relative hierarchy of your posts and pages.
According to Google, the number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page. Broadly speaking, the more internal links a post or page receives, the more important it is perceived to be by search engines.
Because of this, you can use internal links strategically to give your most important pages an SEO boost.
3. Internal links pass authority
Used strategically, internal links can be used to pass ‘authority’ (also known as PageRank) from one page on your site to another. This means if one post or page on your site has received some good backlinks, you can pass some of the benefit of those backlinks to other posts/pages on your site via internal linking.
4. Internal links help readers to navigate your website
Internal links don’t just help search engines find and navigate your content, they also help your readers navigate your website and find the information they want to read. This improves the user experience (UX) of your site, which will in turn give your SEO a boost.
5. Internal links keep readers on your site longer
One of my favourite compliments is when someone says to me… “I found your website via Google and then sort of fell down a rabbit hole” This tells me I am doing well with my internal linking!
If you do your internal linking well, your readers will stay on your site longer – clicking from one page to another as they follow your internal links. This boosts the length of time they spend on your site (known as ‘dwell time’) and reduces your bounce rate.
All of this sends positive user signals back to Google that, in turn, boosts your search engine rankings and traffic.
As Brian Dean from Backlinko puts it:
“When someone spends a long time on your site, it tells Google: ‘People are loving this result. This page must be a great result for this keyword. Let’s bump it up a few spots’.”
6. Internal links help you direct readers to the ‘money’ content
If you sell products or services on your website, your ultimate aim for anyone who arrives on your website is that they buy your product or service.
Internal linking can help you direct people who arrive on your website to the ‘money pages’ – in other words the pages that actually make you money. This could be your product sales page or services page, but it could also be to an email sign up page / lead magnet page. (With the aim that they will sign up for your lead magnet and you can then put them into a sales funnel that will eventually lead to a sale.)
How do you do internal linking for SEO?
So, you are now sold on the benefits of internal linking, but how do you actually do it? Or more specifically, how do you do internal linking in a way that will boost your SEO and get you more search engine traffic? Here are 12 internal linking best practices…
1. Always link to helpful resources in new posts
Whenever you write a new blog post, you should always be thinking “what else can I link to?” Link to other content on your website that will help your readers even more and improve the user experience for your readers.
For example, in the sentence above, I have added an internal link to the words ‘user experience’. I have done this to help you, my reader, in case you want to learn more about UX and how it can help boost your SEO too.
By adding internal links to every new post, you will create that ‘rabbit hole’ effect, whereby readers arrive on your site via one query, but then end up spending a long time on your site following a whole series of internal links.
But adding internal links to every new blog post will also help search engines understand your content and site structure better. (Oooh – see how I added ANOTHER cheeky internal link there 😉 )
I recommend adding both contextual links (links within the main body of your blog post, just like the two above) and a ‘recommend reading’ or ‘related’ section at the bottom of your post. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to see mine.)
Another good option is to add a ‘read more’ link at the end of a section, like this…
2. Always link to a new post when published
To avoid orphaned content (see below) and to help Google find new content quicker, it is always a good idea to add some internal links TO new posts as soon as they are published.
Make it a habit that, as soon as you hit publish, you find a few relevant older articles on your website and link from them to your new blog post.
This will not only help search engines, but it will also help your readers find your new content more easily and improve the UX of the older posts.
I recommend you point at least two internal links to every new piece of content. (And a lot more if it is a very valuable piece of content – see below for more on this.)
3. Use keywords in your internal link anchor text
When you create a new internal link, it is always advisable to use appropriate keywords in the anchor text. (Anchor text is the actual words which are hyperlinked.)
This is important because it tells both search engines and your readers what to expect if they follow that link. Google says:
“Write anchor text that provides at least a basic idea of what the page linked to is about.“
However, it’s important to add one big caveat here. The anchor text should make sense to the reader – don’t tie yourself in linguistic knots trying to stuff keywords into your anchor text! If in doubt, go with what would be most helpful to your READERS. Which leads me neatly onto…
4. Have a ‘readers first’ mindset
Used well, internal linking can be an incredibly powerful SEO tool. However, whenever you are doing work on your internal linking the golden rule should always be ‘readers first’.
For example, Google says:
“Avoid creating unnecessary links that don’t help with the user’s navigation of the site.”
“Avoid using excessively keyword-filled or lengthy anchor text just for search engines.”
Do not EVER prioritise search engines over readers when it comes to internal linking. If you are ever not sure what to do when it comes to internal linking, just think ‘what would be most helpful to my readers?’
Prioritising readers is always the smart long term SEO strategy… because if they have a great experience on your website, that will boost your search engine traffic in the long term.
5. Make sure your internal links are always relevant
In the same vein, make sure your internal links are always relevant to the context. If I suddenly, randomly linked to a post on email marketing in the middle of this section, that would be random and confusing to you as my reader… and it would likely confuse search engines too.
Conversely, RELEVANT links (like my links above to my articles on user experience and site structure) are both useful to your readers, helping them to explore the topic more thoroughly, AND they help search engines understand your post better and how it fits into your website as a whole.
6. Make sure you don’t have any orphaned content
Because internal linking is how both search engines and your readers find your content, it’s important to ensure that you don’t have any content on your website that has no links pointing TO it. Posts and pages on your website which have no internal links pointing TO them are known as ‘orphaned content’.
It is important to remember that the more internal links pointing TO a piece of content on your website, the more important search engines perceive that piece of content to be. So, an orphaned post – with zero links pointing to it – will obviously be perceived by search engines as unimportant.
To find out how to find and fix orphaned content, head over to my post on site structure.
7. Use Internal Linking to boost your Most Important Content
Given that the more internal links pointing TO a piece of content on your website, the more important Google perceives that piece of content to be, you can also use internal linking strategically to boost your Most Important Content, by boosting the number of internal links pointing TO that piece of content.
First you need to establish what your Most Important Content is. Typically, it will be your cornerstone content and content that converts readers into email subscribers and/or buyers.
Once you’ve established what your Most Important Content is, you then need to work through the rest of your posts to find good (helpful and relevant!) places to link TO your Most Important Content.
Your Most Important Content should be the posts/pages that have the most internal links pointing TO them.
Periodically, you should also check that your most important posts are still the posts with the most links pointing to them. My post on cornerstone content explains how to do this.
8. Don’t link too much to unimportant pages
While linking lots to important content is a great way to boost your most important posts and pages, the number of links is a RELATIVE thing. If all your posts and pages have a lot of links pointing to them this technique won’t help you.
So, in order not to muddy the waters, it’s also important to check that your less important content has fewer links pointing to it.
I recommend periodically checking your most linked to content, to ensure you have not accidentally pointed lots of links at a relatively unimportant post or page.
9. Boost important content with internal links from relevant, high-authority pages
Another great internal linking strategy is to link from High Authority Pages to your Most Important Content to give your Most Important Content an SEO boost.
High Authority Pages are the posts / pages on your site that have received a lot of good backlinks from high authority sites. When you link from a High Authority Page to another page or post on your site, you are essentially passing some of that authority from the High Authority Pages to the recipient piece of content. Or, to put it another way, you are passing on PageRank (AKA ‘link juice’) from one page to another.
You can use a tool like Moz Link Explorer to find your High Authority Pages. (But please remember Moz is only a tool. Its Page Authority score will give you a good indication of which of your pages have the highest authority, but it is only an educated guess and not gospel. Google does not use DA or PA for ranking purposes, but rather DA and PA are educated guesses about the PageRank algorithm Google does use!)
It goes without saying that this technique should only be used where the link is relevant and useful to your readers. But used carefully and sparingly, this can be a powerful strategy to boost your most important content.
10. Create topic clusters to establish authority
Another good internal linking strategy is to create Topic Clusters (also known as Content Silos and Hub And Spoke) to establish topical authority in the areas you most want to be known for.
The idea here is very simple. Create one really good, very well written, very comprehensive piece of content on a topic you want to rank for – this is the ‘hub’ (AKA cornerstone content or pillar post).
Then, create lots of supporting blog posts on sub-topics – these are the ‘spokes’. Finally, use internal linking to link from the hub to the spokes and vice versa. Your hub post will now have a lot of internal links pointing to it, showing search engines that this is an important piece of content.
This hub and spoke setup also signals to search engines that there is real breadth and depth in your coverage of the topic, which will help you establish your website as an authority on that topic, which should in turn give you a boost in search engine rankings for that topic.
For more on this technique, head to my post on topical authority.
11. Create links to categories and tags
Categories and tags are another way to organize your content and make it clear to Google and your readers what your website is about. But you can also use categories and tags in your internal linking strategy, where appropriate.
For example, if you have a running blog and one of your categories is ‘Training Plans’, it would be a good idea to link to your Training Plans category in each of your Training Plans posts. Something like… ‘Head here to browse the rest of my training plans’.
Or if you have a food blog and one of your tags is ‘Curry’, it would be helpful to your readers to provide a link to that ‘Curry’ tag archive, so they can see what other curries you have.
Adding internal links to your category and tag archives helps your readers find the content they want to read more easily AND it helps Google understand your site structure better.
12. Fix broken internal links
You can do this in exactly the same way as you would check for broken outbound links, by using a tool such as Broken Link Checker to find where on your site you have broken internal links. You then need to go into the individual posts and fix your broken links as appropriate, either deleting them or pointing them towards a different piece of content.
I recommend checking for broken links (both internal and outbound) once a month.
Over to you!
Do you have any other internal linking tips? Or perhaps you have seen a big jump in traffic after doing work on your internal linking? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below.
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