Internal Linking

Internal Links are hyperlinks that point from one page to another webpage on the same website. These are different from external links that link to pages on other websites. A good link strategy is important for both SEO and user experience.

Table of Contents

What is Internal Linking?

Internal linking means linking different webpages to each other on the same domain. There are different types of internal links on a webpage, and each helps your site in many ways. 

Internal linking, along with external linking and backlinks form part of your SEO link strategy. Here, internal and external links are categorised as on page SEO, while backlink building is more of an off-page SEO element.

Proper internal linking on your site can be great for SEO, but before you begin, keep reading to learn what are its types, why it’s important, and the best practices for your site’s internal linking strategy.

Types of Internal Links

The main types of Internal links include:

  • Navigation Links
  • Contextual Links
  • Sidebar Links
  • Footer Links

Navigation Links

Navigation links are the most common links on any website, part of the site’s main menu and present on all its pages. Since they are a permanent part of the site, they also happen to be the most important in determining your website structure.

Navigation Link Example

Contextual Links

These links are also referred to as in-text links and can be found within the main body of content on a webpage. Contextual links often include descriptive anchor texts and can help to direct users to other supporting information or related pages.

Sidebar Links

Sidebars are another type of navigation used for linking related products or blog posts. You’ll find sidebar columns placed at the right or left side of a webpage.
sidebar links example

Footer Links

Footers are part of every web page, just like the main menu, but appear at the bottom instead of the top. They repeat links to important pages so that a user has somewhere to go once they scroll to the bottom of the page. They can also include links to about me pages, contact information, privacy policy, FAQs, and location pages.

Why is Internal Linking important?

Internal linking is essential for: 

  • Search Engines Crawling your site
  • Spreading Link Equity across your site
  • Users Navigating your site

Search Engines Crawling Your Site

When you have a link strategy in place and add internal links to your site accordingly, you make Google’s job much easier. Optimising internal linking to link related pages on your website helps search engine crawlers understand your site’s structure, as well as its most important pages.

This means Google will use the crawl budget to crawl key pages first, and internal linking can clarify what those pages are. Internal links will specify your site’s architecture in a hierarchical way, which also assigns priority to each page and helps search engines to follow one page after another. This is especially useful for discovering new content on your site, indexing it, and displaying it on Google search results.

Spreading Link Equity Across Your Site

Internally linked pages help pass on link equity, or ‘link juice’ across each other. Different webpages on a site are assigned importance by Google’s PageRank algorithm, through the presence of backlinks. Link equity is the spreading of that authority across different web pages through internal link building.

For example, if a page has more high quality backlinks, and ranks higher on SERPs, internally linking it to another less authoritative page on your site will help pass link juice to the page, strengthening it in Google’s ranks and adding link value to it.

Users Navigating your site

We discussed how internal linking is useful for SEO and search engines, but internal linking also plays an essential part in user experience. 

Having an internal linking structure in place makes your site easier to navigate and helps users land on money pages faster. You don’t want a potential customer to be browsing your site for too long, without finding what they’re looking for.

If you use your website menu, breadcrumbs and footer links to build a site architecture that’s user-friendly, you may get better organic traffic.

Not just this, but adding in-text internal links, as well as links to related products and categories can enrich the user journey, may help to lower your website’s bounce rate metrics and may even improve conversion rates.

How to Optimize Internal Links for SEO

If you’ve understood the benefits of internal linking, you’re probably wondering how to reap them for your site. Consider the following best practices for internal linking.

1. Identify Authority Webpages

To start with internal linking, it may help to identify your most authoritative pages. For most websites, this is the homepage, followed by collection, service and blog pages.

These central pages target short tail keywords with high traffic potential and high search volume.

If you have your pillar pages listed down, you can use these pages to spread link juice across weaker pages, such as a new page, or product pages targeting long tail keywords with low search volume.

2. Build Navigational Hierarchy

If you want to make good use of internal links, building a hierarchical site structure for both the search engine and users should be on your list.

Draft a structure for your main menu in order of importance and then place internal links accordingly. For example, if you’re an ecommerce store, your main menu would highlight key category pages. You would also keep your Sale and New Arrivals categories at the forefront to have more customers navigate to those landing pages.

Breadcrumbs also play a part in improving navigation, and help users to backtrack to central pages. They are small pieces of text located on the top of the page, tracing a path back to the homepage.

The more in depth a web page is located, the more breadcrumbs it will have. Breadcrumbs not only help users, but also help Google better understand your site’s structure.

breadcrumbs tracing back to homepage

3. Use Keyword Rich Anchor Text

Keyword research is one of the first tasks you work on for your SEO strategy. It also helps when you’re looking for internal link opportunities. Contextual links require descriptive anchor text for internal links and using keyword based text here can be great. 

Anchor text provides context to the internal pages being linked to, which is good for both users and search engines. It also makes an important part of your content marketing strategy.

Best practice for anchor text would be to stick to exact match or partial match anchor text, instead of generic text. For example, linking to a men’s winter clothing category page on a blog post about styling options for men in winter with the text, ‘men’s winter wear’, instead of ‘click here’.

Of course, the internal link you add should be for relevant content as irrelevant links can lead to poor user experience.

4. Group Topics in to Hubs

If you can group different pages under similar topics, this can help you to form topic clusters which are useful for internal linking. 

Since you already have your key pages in mind, these topic clusters can tell you what piece of content stems from those central pages. With this information, you can build content hubs, with various webpages as sub-topics or ‘spokes’. By adding internal links to those spokes on your hub page, and similarly adding the hub page’s link to each spoke page, you are solidifying each topic cluster, and making user and search engine navigation easier.

content hub example

5. Link Recent, Old & Popular Posts

Some of your important pages could be an old blog post which receives plenty of traffic, and has a strong backlink profile. It could help your newer blog posts if you link them to these older, more popular posts. This helps to spread link authority across each post, lifting up weaker target pages on your site.

While you are linking multiple posts across your website, make sure that you don’t overdo it with the number of internal links and stick to linking relevant pages, to prevent bad user experience.

An easy way to do this is through in-text links. Another way is through plugins on Content Management Systems [CMS] like WordPress and Shopify that allow you to add a ‘related posts’ or ‘related products’ section. This helps to link your choice of relevant pages at the end of your content or in the sidebar.

6. Audit Internal Links

Your site may already be following an internal linking strategy, in which case it’s important to run an internal link audit for your site. 

An audit could help you identify internal links that are tagged as nofollow links. Google will only follow ‘dofollow’ links on your site, so if a link has been labelled as nofollow, PageRank will not be transferred across pages.

Another reason to conduct an internal link audit is to look for any broken links, and make sure to set redirects where needed. It might be better to just link to a new page though, as redirects can take up more crawl budget, which could be used to index new pages instead.

Consider using the Ahref’s Internal Backlink tool to help you start.

Internal Link Audit example

The Bottom Line

Internal linking is key to a successful SEO strategy, and not only helps with SEO, but is also crucial for user experience. Orphan pages with no internal linking, or poor internal linking can pull your rankings down, so consider hiring an SEO agency to design a winning internal linking strategy for you.

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