If there’s one thing the Connective team has learned through experience, it’s that search engine optimization (SEO) is hard. Even after you’ve spent countless hours developing a half-decent strategy, that’s just the beginning. Get ready to hunker down and wait even longer for it to pay off. But what if you could take advantage of an SEO tactic that was (gasp) fast and simple? Yes, I’m talking about internal linking for SEO.
It may not get the same attention and adoration as its twin, external linking. But it might surprise you to learn this largely under-utilized SEO strategy can help you equally — if not more — than external links. Ready to learn more? Let’s go.
Internal Links 101
Although you probably already know what internal links are, we’ll reiterate just to be on the safe side. Internal links are clickable hyperlinks that connect one page to another page on the same website domain.
Let’s pretend your website is a pyramid. The apex (top) is the homepage. The internal links connecting the pages of your site form the structural foundation of the pyramid. In fact, link structure is a core SEO element that search engine crawlers use to rank the importance of pages on your website.
But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Here’s a quick excerpt from what Google recently published on its Search Central Blog:
“Every page you care about should have a link from at least one other page on your site.”
It doesn’t get much clearer than that, folks.
The Different Types of Internal Links
1. Navigational Links
Navigational links (a.k.a. menu links) are the cornerstone of an internal linking structure. They form the header menu and lead to the most important topics, products, services, etc.
2. Sidebar Links
You can use sidebar links to lead users to the newest and most popular content on your site via a menu on the side of the page.
3. Footer Links
4. Contextual Links
A blog article or similar piece of content should contain contextual (in-text) links that direct the reader to a different post with information relevant to its anchor text.
Why Internal Links Are Your New Best Friend for Boosting SEO and User Metrics
After that quick primer on the basics of internal linking (or interlinking), let’s cut to the chase: Why should you care?
Really, though. Everyone knows external links deliver excellent results for SEO and help you get a higher ranking in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But it only offers those sweeter rewards because it’s difficult to build a strong, authoritative, and credible external linking structure. It’s a formidable, challenging, and time-consuming task.
But you can add internal links to your website without much hassle or headache. So, how can this tactic offer similar or even better SEO gains than external links can? Therein lies the magic of internal linking for SEO.
Create an Intuitive Website That’s Ridiculously Simple To Navigate
Have you ever visited a website that was so difficult to navigate that it was almost physically painful? If you said “yes,” it’s safe to assume your answer would be a resounding “no” when asked if you ever used that site again.
As you know, an exceptional user experience is critical to SEO success. In today’s world, everyone’s in a rush. Even so, it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds for users to find the page they want, whether it’s your blog, return policy, bio, or whatever.
The rule of thumb is that every page on your website should be only three clicks away from the homepage.
Let’s clarify a little more. Many websites have a blog. Blogs are an excellent way to incorporate keywords, content marketing, link building, etc. In relation to internal linking, every piece of content on your blog should have links leading back to the homepage, service pages, etc.
In addition, it’s crucial to include header and footer menus containing links as permanent fixtures on your website. Don’t forget about adding sidebar links and peppering in-text links throughout your content.
Ultimately, it makes your website straightforward, user friendly, and so easy to navigate that you could do it wearing a blindfold. In return, making sure your site offers an amazing user experience benefits SEO performance in a big way.
Make It Irresistible for Users To Keep Browsing Your Site
Don’t be embarrassed — we’ve all been there. You logged online intending to spend a couple of minutes finding the answer to a question. Then, you managed to pass two hours in the span of what seemed like 15 minutes.
Google is infamously tight-lipped regarding its search engine algorithm and the many factors it uses to index, categorize, and rank websites. However, we’re not completely in the dark. One of the key factors that relates to the user experience is the length of page stay.
So, what happens when search engine crawlers “see” that users spend a lot of time browsing your site and clicking on multiple pages? It sends a powerful message and provides clear evidence that your website contains relevant, valuable, and useful information.
As you know, websites with content that follows Google’s recently updated EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) principle have much higher page rankings and SEO performance than their counterparts.
Here’s the takeaway. By adding internal links throughout your website and its content, you’re feeding the curiosity of your users. They don’t want to work hard to discover cool, entertaining, or useful information. They want you to hand it to them on a silver platter, and you can accomplish that with internal linking.
Any time you post content relevant to other articles on your website, add a link and descriptive anchor text! Maybe you’re selling leave-in hair conditioner. Include a sidebar link to your new smoothing cream or split-end repair serum.
The longer users stay and browse, the more likely they are to convert. Even better, the greater authority they establish for your site in terms of SEO performance. One of the biggest SEO buzzkills is a high bounce rate, which occurs when users quickly abandon your website or pages.
Build an Easily Indexable Site for Search Engine Crawlers
Earlier in this article, I mentioned search engine crawlers. They’re the juggernauts of SEO ranking and use a simple process to complete their job.
Search engine crawlers (a.k.a. spiders) comb through new and existing domains across the web, looking for SEO ranking factors. Their findings directly influence how (and if!) your website and its pages appear in the SERPs. This process happens over and over again, giving you opportunities to optimize your site and its SEO strategies to improve performance and ranking. These spiders evaluate factors like your website’s structure, the quality of its content, and its navigability.
Here’s another analogy: Internal links are like the roadmap to your website. When you have a high number of interlinks, the crawlers have an easier time finding your content and indexing it. Therefore, it increases crawl efficiency and relevancy, improving SEO performance and your SERP ranking.
Expert Tips and Tricks for Building a Strong Internal Link Structure
Here’s what I love the most about internal linking for SEO. Unlike many other optimization techniques, it’s easy, quick, and feasible. You don’t need to master HTML, spend hours researching keywords, or become an expert-level website designer.
That being said, you can’t just start linking pages to one another willy-nilly. Like every other aspect of SEO, it requires a tactical and cohesive approach. Here are my best tips to help you build the ideal internal linking structure to maximize your results and elevate those key user metrics influencing SEO performance.
1. Use the Right Hierarchy Structure
Building a proper and easily understandable hierarchy for your website by adding internal links between pages is essential. Two popular choices include siloing and the pyramid method.
Siloing uses internal links to create clusters of web pages that contain related topics. Let’s say you have a website with individual pages about states and their biggest cities.
The foundation of your silo would be the pages about states, and underneath would follow subpages about their major cities. This technique makes your website easier to navigate and establishes more authority for the most important pages. Plus, it makes it simpler for crawlers to categorize.
Here’s a quick example. Your website has the page URL of www.websitename.com/spring. What’s the page about? Does it have information about the season following winter, or is it referring to a coil-shaped mechanism that’s an integral component of clocks?
With a silo that begins with the page hub of “The Four Seasons,” the crawler can quickly put the “Spring” page into its proper context, improving efficiency and relevancy.
On the other hand, the pyramid method uses the same basic foundation as siloing. However, siloing doesn’t permit linking between relevant pages outside of each silo.
The pyramid method allows interlinking between relevant pages, even if they’re in different sections. For example, you could link a page with opal earrings to one with an opal bracelet, even though one is under the “necklace” category and the other is “earrings.”
2. Use Strategic Anchor Text
Anchor text is just a fancy term for the part of a hyperlink that the user clicks. Usually, it’s blue and has an underline. While it might seem innocuous, the anchor text you use for internal links is quite important.
Using keyword-rich, relevant, and descriptive anchor text also helps those oh-so-important crawlers assess and categorize your web pages. Keep it short, concise, and accurate.
Fine-tuning your skills with anchor text can be tricky. Here are the most common mistakes to avoid when using anchor text.
- Use lame, generic text like “this article,” “click here,” or “read more”
- Make the link look like regular words with CSS or styling
- Use long, rambling sentences or paragraphs
- Include text with no relevance to the linked page
- Stuff or force keywords or unnatural phrases
- Create links just for the sake of doing so
You may prefer using the actual URL as anchor text, like www.connectivewebdesign.com. Although Google doesn’t recommend using URLs as anchors, there’s no definitive evidence that it harms search traffic volume.
3. All Things in Moderation
Have you ever heard the saying “everything in moderation?” It might be an eye-roller, but it’s true. Of course, it also applies to internal linking. But wait. I just said creating a relevant linking structure between your pages was a good thing.
If internal links benefit SEO, then the logical thought process here is that the more links you add, the bigger the SEO boost they’ll produce. Right? Well, not exactly.
The most effective internal linking structures are cohesive, straightforward, and relevant. Excessive interlinking does more harm than good. If a spider comes across a website that is basically one gigantic mass of interlinked pages with no sense of order or logic, there’s no way to determine which are the most important.
Too many internal links also lower their value in the “eyes” of a crawler. A convoluted site structure with a crazy web of links has basically zero chance of getting a first-page ranking in the SERPS. So, the lesson is to use moderation when building an internal structure. An ideal range is between 40 and 44 links.
How Good Is Your Current Internal Linking Structure? Watch Out for These Common Issues
Just like you audit your website to evaluate SEO performance, you can also measure the quality of your internal links and overall structure. Stay vigilant and check for these typical problems that can adversely affect your interlinking and hinder its benefit to your SEO strategy.
1. Are There Too Many Internal Links to Unimportant Pages?
The primary purpose of interlinking pages is to demonstrate a clear hierarchy and make it simple for crawlers to rank the importance of each page. If your website has too many links pages that don’t offer much value, it can hurt your page ranking.
You can also look for multiple links that lead to non-indexable pages. Ask yourself: What’s the purpose of these links? Do they serve a vital function or contribute to site navigation? If not, either de-link or delete the page altogether.
2. Does Your Website Have Orphan Pages?
A page on your website without internal links is an orphan page. Generally speaking, the occasional orphan page is okay if it’s unimportant. But you should never have primary pages or “hubs” with no interlinks.
Why? Well, the only way Google will be able to find those pages is if they have backlinks from pages on other sites or if you submit your complete sitemap to Google Search Console.
Websites containing a lot of individual pages may have difficulty finding orphaned pages. One option is to sort the volume of organic traffic from high to low. Adding internal links to your orphan pages will most likely net even more traffic.
3. Are There Broken Internal Links?
You wouldn’t want your website full of broken external links, right? The same thing applies to your internal links. Broken interlinks are harmful to your site’s user experience. In addition, they negatively impact SEO by lowering the value (or equity) of your links.
How can you fix this problem? One method is to redirect the broken page to another URL. However, it must be relevant. You can fix this by removing or updating all of the broken links that lead to the page.
The easiest way to remedy accidental link deletions is by reinstating the link with the same URL. Just be sure to check your website periodically for this common problem.
4. Does Your Website Contain “Deep-Linked” Pages?
Do you remember the rule of thumb I discussed earlier? Every page should be no more than three clicks away from your homepage. In accordance with this best practice, you should identify any essential web pages that are deep-linked over the three-click limit. Search engine spiders may consider deep pages as irrelevant or unimportant. In that case, they’re less likely to recrawl them very often.
I just said “important” pages, which include those that generate revenue, drive traffic, are high-converting, or target high-volume keywords. You can easily fix this problem by changing your link structure so it’s closer to your home page.
The Final Word
Successful, high-performance SEO strategies take hard work, knowledge, time, and lots of trial and error. Usually, the best tactics are difficult to master and slow to deliver results. That’s why internal linking for SEO offers such a sweet reward. It’s a relatively straightforward and simple strategy that provides easily attainable benefits, even if you’re a novice to the world of SEO.
Of course, you can always leave this critical responsibility in the hands of experts. No matter what you choose, don’t underestimate how much internal linking for SEO can benefit the growth and success of your website.