SEO strategies are made up of numerous components, but internal links are at the core of every successful SEO and content marketing campaign. While backlinks and keywords, among others, play crucial roles, your internal links help users and search engine crawlers understand the topical flow and hierarchy of your site. Internal links also spread authority throughout your website, which affects rankings.
Link with a clear purpose from the start—the long-term benefits are worth the upfront work.
It doesn’t matter if your site has a dozen pages or thousands, internal linking is an important SEO best practice for any website since internal links assist users and search engine crawlers, both of which affect your SEO success.
Let’s take a look at what an internal link’s purpose is, along with best practices to follow when adding them to your site’s content and how they should affect your SEO strategy moving forward.
An internal link is any link on a page on your domain that directs users to another page on the same domain. While external links will direct users to an entirely different website, internal links guide users (and crawlers) to other areas of your site. Internal links are used to tell crawlers which pages are most important to your site’s goal. They also show how a page is related to targeted keywords, which can affect how well you rank for those given keywords.
Internal links, although pointing to the same website, create a trail users and crawlers use to understand the hierarchy and structure of your site. Essentially, without internal links, your SEO strategy is incomplete, which is why you must incorporate them throughout your site.
Internal links allow you to show Google which pages matter most to your website and where you want to direct traffic.
While internal links help get from page A to page B, if integrated strategically and thoughtfully, internal links can do more. For example, internal linking from high-authority pages (which already attract visitors) to lesser-known pages helps users discover them. Doing so provides users with related content they might enjoy or could inform them of the next steps by sending them to a conversion page in your funnel. Internal links help keep your users flowing throughout your site rather than leaving when they think they’ve seen all there is to see.
The longer visitors stay on your site, the better. With internal links, users can click from page to page, finding new relevant content they otherwise could have missed. These links provide an invitation to read related content and can provide the next steps like filling out a form or making a purchase. Without internal links, you might leave users hanging, requiring them to explore your website themselves to find related content.
Navigation via internal links is crucial for Google’s crawlers as well.
Although Google can typically find and index the important pages of a website, internal links establish a clearer topical structure for your site. Internal links tell Google’s crawlers to go deeper into the site, and it can better understand how your pages are related to each other and benefit users and their interests.
Internal links also allow you to show Google which pages matter most to your website and where you want to direct traffic. The more links you have pointing to a specific page, the more important it will seem.
This last point becomes especially important if you have hundreds or thousands of pages. Google might not crawl all of your pages without a clear internal link structure, which is why you must point out your most important pages.
Arguably one of the most critical SEO reasons to implement internal links is to distribute authority and ranking signals across your site. Not every page on your site sends the same ranking signals, but you can spread authority from high-ranking pages to relevant lower-ranking pages with the right structure in place. If your pages are relevant to each other and your anchor text optimized, PageRank can move from one page to the next to help bolster your overall SEO strength.
You want to ensure that your linked pages are related and you’re not just throwing internal links around without a purpose. Remember: Internal links are meant to aid in navigating your site, so randomly placing links defeats that purpose. Define how the pages on your website relate to one another in category, interest, or topical flow. Essentially, authority should follow this path:
External Link > High Authority Page > Topically Relevant Internal Link > Target Page
It seems simple but choosing which pages will link to which can be confusing if starting without a formal structure. In content marketing, it helps to start with broad categories, or pillars, and work down to more specific pages within their respective category. By adding internal links throughout each tier, you’re establishing that these pages are all related to one another. This, in turn, distributes PageRank from the top, most authoritative page down to others to provide traction. Keep in mind that authority diminishes with every link it passes through, so keep your target pages closest to your most authoritative pages.
Intention and relevancy should come before keywords.
SEO best practices aren’t as clear cut as some might assume, and most successes can be categorized as “okay for now—we’ll see what happens with the next algorithm update.” While there are certainly many things we know of that can hurt SEO efforts, when implementing our SEO strategy for clients, we put the user first since their needs are typically the same as Google’s.
With that in mind, here are a few best practices to follow as you build out your site’s internal links.
There’s more to creating internal links than finding a random piece of text and inserting a link. You must consider your overall SEO strategy along with usability and relevancy when creating anchor text for your links. Google recommends that you use descriptive, concise text formatted in a way that is easy to spot in your content and provides benefit for your readers.
Intention and relevancy should come before keywords. However, if the keyword fits the content and is a part of your SEO strategy, it’s a win-win. Exact match or broad match will work for internal links, but you should avoid using the same format throughout the page. Try to mix up your anchor text and experiment with different lengths and keywords to avoid being too repetitive.
One of the primary reasons to include internal linking in your overall strategy is to help spread SEO value across all pages on your website. To do that, you want to create links between your most authoritative and high-ranking pages to related pages that you’d like users and crawlers to find.
If you have few related pages, you’ll need to start adding new pages to create a broader content catalog. Consider the reasons that users would visit your site and the questions they might have.
How could you answer their questions and link to another page? While reading your high-ranking pages, what more would you like to know? Is there an existing page that you should link to? This is where real internal linking happens and how you create a solid strategy based on user intent and interest rather than a purely SEO perspective.
Using a link building tool or plugin, identify the top-ranking pages based on backlinks and PageRank. On these pages, place internal links to the related pages you want to influence. Keep in mind that those related pages could be your conversion or sales pages with the internal link serving as the user’s next step.
If you want to perform an internal link audit to see which pages have the lion’s share of your internal links, you can use the Links feature of Google Search Console.
This feature takes the guesswork out of internal link building, showing you how many links, both external and internal, are on each page and helps paint a picture of your overall link structure. When it’s time for an internal link audit, Google Search Console is the tool to use.
Using the same anchor text to link to two completely different pages is a bad move. Specifically, it can confuse Google’s crawlers. Duplicate anchor text is like having one road sign for two completely different places. Because your anchor text should inform Google about a page’s content and relevancy, you want to ensure you’re as descriptive as possible, so users and crawlers know where they’re going when they follow the link.
Use anchor text for your links that is descriptive, concise, and easy to spot within your content.
Make sure your anchor text provides context and is specific to the page to avoid duplicate text. Whether that means using a modifier, synonym, or a longtail or variant keyword, keep your anchor text unique to each page.
People can tell when you’re inserting a link just for the sake of inserting the link. You want your anchor text to be fluid, reading naturally with the rest of the sentence, almost like a bonus feature of your content saying, “If you want to learn more, check this out.” Don’t use internal links to disrupt the reader’s experience; instead, treat them as invitations to learn more about a similar topic or take the next step.
In the ideal scenario, readers will click your link, and they’ll be happy to find that the new page adds even more value and answers more of their questions. It didn’t trick them into landing on an irrelevant page, and by staying on the linked page longer, the chances of them converting and performing an action on your site increase.
Linking to deeper pages can accomplish a few goals. It helps spread link authority, helps crawlers index them, and gives users new parts of your site to explore and perform an action—all of which can only benefit your site.
For these reasons, you typically want to avoid internally linking to top-level menu pages like your home page or about page unless it is a part of your strategy. These pages usually have plenty of links in the navigation bar and footer pointing to them, and users can find them if they need to. Instead, link from those pages to others you want to drive traffic to such as a blog post, product page, or sales page. These pages likely need more attention and can keep your users more engaged.
If you use a link building plugin, you might have your default link-placing settings set to “nofollow.” This tag is a stop sign that prevents crawlers from following the link. This is beneficial for external links, but for internal links, the “nofollow” tag defeats the purpose since the goal is to keep them on your site and move to other pages. Double-check your settings to ensure you’re using “dofollow” links for your internal link building efforts.
Also, many find that placing internal links near the top of the page can help with user dwell time, as they have something immediately to click on. While this isn’t an exact science, this can be beneficial and help reduce your bounce rate.
The beauty of internal linking is it’s an ever-changing practice. If you’ve never given your internal links much thought, then it can take a lot of upfront work to get your site up to date. But once you have your initial links in place, keeping your strategy up to date is relatively easy, as long as you stay on top of it.
Internal links spread authority throughout your website, which affects rankings.
When you publish new content, consider your legacy pages and other authoritative pages you can use to point to the newer pages. You should also do the inverse too, adding links to older content on your new content where it seems relevant. This can give your pages a quick boost and keeps your strategy fresh.
When you get down into the technical details of internal linking, it can be easy to lose sight of the people that will actually be clicking on your links. Your website visitors matter the most in the end. If people love the content on your site and click through one page to the next, they’re sending signals to Google and other search engines that your website is awesome and worth ranking higher. Besides that, visitors are also more likely to remember your brand and convert with strategic internal links.
The best part is you don’t have to choose between optimizing for people or Google’s crawlers. If your internal links are naturally structured in a way a visitor will find them intuitive, relevant, and useful, Google will see them the same way. It should go without saying, but avoid following SEO “tricks” or “hacks” as it only takes one Core Algorithm Update to disrupt your overall strategy.
Don’t take any shortcuts. Don’t try to game the system. Instead, link with a clear purpose from the start—the long-term benefits are worth the upfront work. If you don’t know where to start or need technical assistance, work with an award-winning SEO agency to create a clear strategy and implement it swiftly.