However, too often the conversation about link strategy is dominated by backlinks: links from external pages to your own. While these are undoubtedly important and are used by Google’s PageRank to determine a website’s credibility, they aren’t the whole story. The importance of internal links is too often underestimated and neglected. While backlinks are great at getting your site noticed, internal links help users and search engines navigate around once they’re there.
What are internal links?
Internal links are hyperlinks within your website that point to other pages on the same domain. An internal link takes the person following it to another page without leaving the website.
Internal links can serve a number of purposes on a page. Most commonly, they can be there to allow for easy navigation. Think of a navigation bar at the top of a webpage, or breadcrumb trail of links that shows users where they are on a site.
For content-based webpages, internal links can also serve as citations for information or further reading for interested visitors.
Finally, internal links can serve as calls to action - taking users to a product, or a contact form.
Internal links both start and end on your own site. They don’t directly contribute as a ranking signal like backlinks do - this would be akin to voting for yourself. Instead, they help direct search engines and users around your site and provide extra information as to what they’re looking at.
Why bother with internal links?
If internal links don’t directly contribute to SEO, why bother having a strategy for them?
The answer is that although internal links do not count as votes in the same way that backlinks do, they can still benefit your SEO efforts. And, because you have much more control over internal links than backlinks, investing your effort here can often be more productive.
Search engines discover pages by using ‘crawlers’, automated bots that constantly browse new content to index it on the search engine. The crawlers follow a backlink to your site, then use the internal links to find all the pages on it.
No matter how good your content may be, the search engine can only rank a page if they can get to it. An orphan page, with no links pointing towards it, will be much harder for the crawler to find and consequently may get missed. Making sure that you have good internal links within your site helps you get the most out of your content by making it easier for the search engines to find it.
Internal links also help the crawler understand what the page is on about by giving more information about the context and importance of a page.
Imagine you have a page entitled ‘Apple’. Is this about the technology company, or the fruit? Without further information, it could be hard to tell. Now imagine the page has links to other pages on your website called ‘Pear’, ‘Strawberry’, and ‘Banana’. It’s much more obvious that the page is about the fruit. Internal links help situate a page within a content ecosystem, which provides context to the search engine about your meaning and can result in a stronger relevancy signal.
Looking at the links also tells the crawler about how the site is structured and the relative importance of a page, so that the pages you want to direct people to are the ones that get ranked.
If you find that a single page of your site attracts more backlinks than others, then internal links can be used to channel some of the authority from those backlinks to less prominent pages.
Typically, the homepage of a site attracts more backlinks that other pages. While internal links don’t act as extra votes in the same way as backlinks, they can help distribute the gained authority around the site. Links from the homepage to blog posts or product pages can impart some of the credibility of the more prominent page to the less prominent page, thereby helping it in the search engine rankings.
In today’s online landscape, improving user experience is an integral part of SEO. Logical, well-placed internal links make your site easy to navigate around for visitors. Anticipating the questions that users may have, then adding links to further content that addresses those queries, can help retain visitors and increase the time they spend on your site.
Internal Link Structure
A good internal link strategy starts with a good structure. Without this, you’ll be building a house without a frame - the links may be there, but they won’t all be working together to achieve the best SEO effect.
For most sites, the internal link structure should look like a pyramid, with the most important page at the top.
Given that the homepage of a site usually attracts the most backlinks, this is normally the page you want at the top. The homepage should then link to the next most important pages - often the section pages, like your blog or product sections. This structure should continue until you get to the end points - individual blog posts or products. Each row should have fewer pages than the one below, so as you travel up the pyramid the links become more concentrated on fewer pages and the authority of the pages increase.
Some SEO experts recommend ‘siloing’ pages, by creating clusters of content that only link to other pages within the cluster in an effort to increase the relevancy score. This can be effective, but it can also restrict your opportunities for internal linking. Start with some rough topic clusters, but don’t follow it dogmatically - if there’s an obvious opportunity to link to another page, don’t ignore it just because it’s not in the cluster.
Implementing your Strategy
Once you have your high-level architecture planned, you can start implementing it. Following some best practices can ensure that you maximise your SEO efforts.
Audit your site
Unless you’re setting up a site from scratch, you probably won’t have the luxury of having everything already organised according to your plan. As a result, the first step of an internal link strategy for an existing site is to carry out an internal link audit.
Many online SEO tools, like ahrefs or SEMrush, offer this functionality. This should give you a map of where your links are pointing at the moment, including which pages have the most authority - quite often these will not be your most important pages. From this, you can see what you need to change to get everything in line.
Fix Broken Links
The site audit should also show you any broken or uncrawlable links as well. Fixing these should be a priority, as they result in a poor user experience and waste link authority. If the page was deleted by accident, then you can reinstate it at the same URL. Otherwise, update the link to a current page. Another thing to look out for are links to redirected pages - sometimes this won’t be an issue, but if the redirected page is no longer relevant or doesn’t match the anchor text then you’ll want to update it.
Use relevant anchor text
Anchor text is the text of the hyperlink. Search engine crawlers (and human visitors!) use this as a way to work out what is on the other end of the link. Non-relevant anchor text can confuse the crawler and decrease the relevancy score of the page. At the same time, keyword stuffing or using the exact same anchor text each time can look spammy and decrease the value of the link. Like headings, metadata, and captions, the best strategy is just to use relevant but natural language.
We understand that this all sounds hard and time consuming, here at Rumble Digital Marketing we make it sound easy right? That’s because this is what we do, so if you need any advice on email marketing, video marketing, content marketing, social media or pay per click advertising then please do get in touch. Alternatively if you just want advice or are looking for resources to help our website has some great free downloads.