Internal links are crucial for guiding users from one page to another on a website, helping them navigate content and find the information they’re searching for. But, it’s not just visitors who need internal links. Search engines rely on them to crawl and index the pages on your site — a crucial step in evaluating how your content should rank on search results pages (SERPs).
I’m going to fill you in on the basics of internal linking so you can use internal links strategically on your own site. Having internal links in place will help visitors and crawl bots find relevant information on your website.
What Are Internal Links?
Internal links are hyperlinks that take you from one page to another on the same website. The links might be navigational, such as those on a menu, sidebar, header, or footer. They can also be contextual and placed within the body of a page. Users and search engines can’t find a page that doesn’t have a link, making internal linking a critical part of both search engine optimization (SEO) and user experience (UX).
Internal and External Links: What’s the difference?
Internal links keep users on a website by linking to pages on the same domain. External links — also called outbound links — point users to a different domain.
Both internal and external linking are important to SEO. Search bots travel links to gather information about a site’s structure and understand how content is related — and humans do the same thing.
Internal links indicate which pages of a site are most useful to visitors. The more links that point to a page, the more important Google considers it. In the grand scheme of SEO strategy, internal linking is considered an on-page SEO tactic because, although your strategy is bigger than one page, you’re taking action on each page of your website.
Learn more about our on-page SEO services.
External links can be inbound backlinks to your website from another site or outbound links from your site to another. These links are considered a vote of confidence for the destination page.
Because your vote counts, when linking out from your site, you only want to share relevant pages that provide information your site visitors can benefit from. While these outbound links don’t directly affect your SEO, they can help you establish topical authority, flesh out the content of your page by providing additional resources, and showcase expertise. However, if you link to poor-quality sites, you are sending a signal to search engines that maybe your site isn’t trustworthy.
On the other hand, backlinks directly impact your SEO and are considered an important off-site ranking factor. When seeking backlinks, you want to create a link-building strategy that focuses on quality backlinks from trustworthy sites. Bad links that appear spammy can negatively impact your SEO and should be disavowed.
Learn more about our link building services.
Why Are Internal Links Good for Users?
Internal links affect user experience. An effective internal linking strategy can make the difference between an easy-to-navigate site that invites visitors to explore your offerings and one that’s a series of dead ends — frustrating even the most interested prospect. When a visitor can’t find what they’re looking for on your site, they’ll return to the search results to find another source of information (possibly one of your competitors).
When visitors land on a site, they’re dropped into unfamiliar territory.
Internal links with descriptive anchor text can:
- Steer visitors to the specific product, service, or information they’re looking for.
- Anticipate needs by queueing up information. Visitors who look at a services page, for example, may appreciate a link to a pricing page or case study that illustrates results.
- Serve as a resource. Links to related content provide extra information or knowledge and say to users, “hey, you might be interested in this too.”
User-friendly websites are logically organized, usually with a pyramid structure. Typically, the home page is at the top of the hierarchy, with core pages on the next level. These pages then break further into related sub-pages.
Internal links show users how this hierarchy works, leading them progressively through your pages until they reach the specific page they’re looking for. Usually, site visitors take information hierarchy for granted, which is a sign that it’s well done.
Why Are Internal Links Important for SEO?
Google relies on internal links to gather information about how a site is organized, what each page is about, and how pages on the site relate to each other.
If crawlers can’t find a page or understand how it relates to other content, the page is more difficult to index.
Here are some benefits of internal links SEO.
Internal Links Tell Google How Content is Related
Google web crawlers investigate the billions of pages on the internet, learning how pages relate to each other by following their links. The internal links on your website help crawl bots understand how it’s organized and where it can find your most important pages.
The information gathered by crawling your site enables search engines to determine how your pages relate to any given query and rank your content in search results.
When a page has a large number of internal links pointing to it, Google factors that into its PageRank algorithm, assessing its value according to how you’re directing your own visitors to it.
These core pages tend to have sub-pages that are thematically related. A house painting company, for instance, may have a core page about exterior painting services. This page might link to sub-pages about painting decks, siding, and fences. Links that use descriptive anchor text inform people and search bots what the destination page is about.
Internal Links Help Preserve Crawl Budget
Google has a lot of resources but it needs to limit the time spent on each site to cover more ground. The crawl budget that Google assigns to your site is set by an algorithm that factors your website’s size and responsiveness, how popular it is, and how often you update content.
Once a crawl bot reaches your crawl budget limit, it’s off to crawl another site.
By focusing on internal links and SEO, you help search bots move efficiently from page to page, guiding them deeper into your site to discover and index new pages.
You can further optimize your crawl budget by:
- Keeping your site map up to date
- Removing duplicate or unimportant pages
- Fixing redirects and error messages
- Optimizing site speed and load times
Internal Links Share Ranking Value
Much of the focus of SEO is demonstrating to Google that a site is authoritative and trustworthy. Once you’ve demonstrated that a page has value—for example, your home page—links from that page can share that value. Although it’s not a direct ranking factor, link value, or link equity, can help ranking power flow from one page to another.
That’s why internal links are so effective. A page that has built up link value can share that value to help other pages on the site rank better. As those pages gain value, they can also spread link value, lifting the overall authority of your site.
Link value can also be shared between websites, which is why backlinking is a key SEO strategy.
SEO Best Practices for Building Internal Links
Here are a few best practices to help optimize your on-page link structure.
Link to Key Pages
Place links throughout your site to lead users to key content pages, such as your homepage, service or product pages or strategically important conversion points.
This strategy ensures that Google:
- Can find the pages quickly and easily. The crawling process always begins with pages Google knows about, so place links on already-indexed pages.
- Knows they’re important. A high number of internal links to a page indicates the significance of the page.
Strategically Add Links From Your Homepage
The most highly ranked page of a website is usually the homepage. While this means it has significant link value to pass to other pages, be selective about which pages you link to from here.
While you might be inclined to link to a bunch of pages, link value, like pie, is divided evenly among everyone at the table. The more links, the less equity passed on per link.
Depending on your business goals, you may want to link to:
- Products or information that are of the most interest to visitors
- New content on your website
- Your most popular content
If the rest of your site content is well-organized, visitors and crawlers can locate other pages by clicking through to second or third-level pages.
Reveal Your Site Architecture
Google notes that it…
“likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.”Google SEO Starter Guide
Your site should be organized into sections or categories, with links sending visitors deeper into each category. As search bots crawl the site from broad categories to more specific, they better understand the site’s architecture.
A furniture company, for example, may have a general category for dining furniture and subcategories for dining tables, dining chairs, and dining sets. Internal link structure SEO helps Google understand which categories pages belong to and return more accurate results to search queries.
Use Internal Links to Make Indexing Easier
When your page is indexed, it’s added to a search engine’s vast library of information. But the search bot has to find the page first. Internal links help by pointing bots toward pages that are new or located further down a site’s hierarchy. Every page needs at least one link to be indexed. If it doesn’t have a link, Google can’t find it.
Link Between New & Old Pages
Robust blogs have a lot of content, but as you add new posts, older content can fall deeper into the archives and be less likely to be found by visitors browsing the site. It’s good practice to create links between older content and new pages, as long as the subject matter is relevant. Doing so helps drive traffic to older pages to keep them active and improve their ranking.
Likewise, pages that have been around for longer (and kept updated) often rank better than new pages because they’ve had more time to accumulate backlinks and build authority.
Internal links keep equity flowing in both directions between old and new pages.
Make Sure Links are Dofollow
The dofollow link attribute signals that Google should follow a link to its destination. By default, every link you add to your website is dofollow. As long as you haven’t labeled them as nofollow links, Google will follow them as it indexes your site.
Site owners will sometimes use nofollow links when referring to an external site they don’t wish to endorse with the power of a backlink. Keep your internal links dofollow so that the search bots continue moving and link equity flows between them.
Use Keyword-Rich Anchor Text
Anchor text refers to the clickable words that display over a hyperlink. Ideally, anchor text incorporates keywords to tell both users and search engines what kind of content the link is pointing to. For example, in the sentence, “Learn more about our interior painting services,” the phrase “interior painting services” is more informative as anchor text than “learn more.”
Although it’s important to use keyword-rich anchor text sparingly when building backlinks, your internal links should always use words and phrases from a keyword set that reinforce the relationship between that content and the keywords you want it to rank for.
Anchor Text Leading to Different Pages
It’s good practice to be consistent with the anchor text used to direct visitors to a specific page, as this helps clearly distinguish that page as an authority for a specific keyword. Never use the same anchor text to point to different pages. Doing so can create keyword cannibalization where two of your own pages compete against each other to rank for the same keywords.
Using the example of a painting company, the keyword “interior painting services” should only be used to take visitors to the core page for interior painting services. All sub-pages—for example, a page about a kitchen cupboard painting—should be linked with different anchor text.
Some marketers track keyword anchor text for each page in a spreadsheet to avoid cannibalizing keywords.
Anchor Text Leading to the Same Page
While you should avoid using the same anchor text to link to different pages, you can use different anchor text to point to the same page. For instance, you might opt to use keywords that are semantically related to your primary keyword.
Audit Internal Links With the Google Search Console
Google Search Console (GSC) enables you to run internal link reports on your site. Simply create an account by adding your domain and verifying that the site belongs to you.
Once you have an account:
- Log onto Google Search Console
- Choose the website property to run a link report on
- Click Links from the navigation menu
- Under Internal Links, click more to view the Top Linked Pages report
This brings up a table showing the pages in your site with the most internal links. You can select a specific page to see all of the links to that page. This data can be exported and helps you decide which important pages may need more internal links.
Learn more about how to run a GSC link report here.
How to Create an Internal Linking Strategy
1. Determine Site Architecture
Website architecture describes the way you categorize, structure, and inter-link content on your site. Ideally, you’d have an information hierarchy in place before you build your site, that delineates how your pages relate to each other..
2. Create a Hierarchy of Links
Once your structure is in place, make sure the links flow from top to bottom (and back up) in the hierarchy. The home page should link to category or topic pages. Each of those core pages should link to sub-pages and supporting content. Where possible, link across sub-pages as well.
3. Provide Navigation Links
Navigation links help users to find their way around a site. You can create global navigation for the entire site and local navigation within a category or even a single page.
In addition to navigation bars, sidebars, and footers, you can add breadcrumb links, so users always know where they are in relation to other sections of your website.
4. Determine Your Most Valuable Content
To devise your linking strategy, you’ll want to consider which pages are most helpful to your visitors and how you want to guide them through their customer journey. Also, ask yourself which pages are most strategically important to conversions or other SEO goals you have. Once you identify which web pages you want to focus on, you can use internal links to signal the importance of this content. If you’ve done your site architecture properly, it should be obvious which pages are central to your site and are needed to generate leads and convert sales.
5. Add Links Within Content
Contextual links are positioned within the content of a page. An article about choosing between wallpaper and paint, for example, is an ideal place for a contextual link to an interior painting services page or a post about giving a fresh look to a bedroom.
6. Recommend Content
Internal links can be used to recommend related content to visitors and keep them engaged. You can suggest content at the bottom of a page in a bulleted list or use a plugin to create a block of thumbnail images. Content recommendations can include:
- Related posts: Thematically relevant content
- Popular posts: Your site’s most viewed posts that readers won’t want to miss
- Newest posts: Recently added content that can use some link value from an established page
7. Create Taxonomy Links
A good way to organize a blog or collection of resources is through categories and tags. Taxonomy—the process of organizing or grouping—helps narrow down content by subject matter to make it easier for users to find what they’re interested in.
Take a look at the Victorious blog page. The main page displays all recent posts, but you can also navigate directly to a subject you’re interested in. Click the on-page SEO button to go to a page of filtered blog content. These kinds of links are another way of telling search engines which content is related.
Internal Linking FAQs
How many internal links per page is ideal?
The right number of internal links depends on your content. Generally speaking, we suggest 3 to 5 internal links per 800 words of content, though a resource-heavy page may have more links.
How do you identify internal linking opportunities?
Start with an internal link audit to see which pages could benefit from additional internal links. Then, match them to high-ranking pages with similar content and use keyword-rich anchor text. The link value from those ranked pages, as well as organic traffic, will filter through.
Should I drive traffic to my homepage with internal links?
If your homepage is a valuable keyword target, then you’ll definitely want to add internal links throughout your website that point to it. For instance, if a keyword research service identifies an opportunity to get your homepage ranking for a specific keyword, one way to support that effort would be to add internal links from other pages that use that keyword as anchor text.
Help Google Understand Your Site With Internal Links
Internal linking is a key part of on-site SEO, helping users and search engines find their way around your website. For optimal results, an internal linking strategy should be part of a well-rounded SEO campaign. If you’re interested in creating an SEO plan that’s customized to your business needs and goals, reach out to the team of specialists at our SEO agency for a free consultation.