Before your content can rank, it needs links. Google finds your posts and pages best when they’re linked to from somewhere on the web. Internal links also connect your content and give Google an idea of the structure of your website. They can establish a hierarchy on your site, allowing you to give the most important pages and posts more link value than other, less valuable, pages. So using the right internal linking strategy can boost your SEO!
What are internal links?
An internal link is any link from one page on your website to another page on your website. Both your users and search engines use links to find content on your website. Your users use links to navigate through your site and to find the content they want to find. Search engines also use links to navigate your site. They won’t find a page if there are no links to it.
There are several types of internal links. In addition to links on your homepage, menu, post feed, etc, you can also add links within your content. We call those contextual links. Contextual links point your users to interesting and related content. Moreover, they allow search engines to find out what content on your site is related and to determine the value of that content. The more links an important page receives, the more important it will seem to search engines. Therefore, good internal links are crucial to your SEO.
Internal links vs external links
Every website consists of internal and external links. Internal links connect pages and posts on your own website and external links connect your pages to other websites. In this post, we focus on internal links and what they mean for SEO. If you want to get more external links pointing to your site, see our posts on link building.
Why are links important to Google?
Internal linking is an important factor for Google and other search engines. But why? And where do you start?
Google follows links to discover content on websites and to rank this content in the search results. If a post or page gets a lot of links this is a signal to Google that it’s an important or high-value article. This counts for internal as well as external links.
Internal linking is something you control as a site owner. With the right internal links, you’ll guide your visitors and Google to your most important pages.
Relationships between content
Google crawls websites by following links, internal and external, using a bot called Google bot. This bot arrives at the homepage of a website, starts to render the page and follows the first link. By following links Google can work out the relationship between the various pages, posts and other content. This way Google finds out which pages on your site cover similar subject matter.
On top of this post, for example, you’ll see links to the ‘Content SEO’, ‘Internal linking’ and ‘Site structure’ tags. We make sure Google understands that the content on those pages is related to the content of this post by adding these links.
In addition to understanding the relationship between content, Google divides link value between all links on a web page. Often, the homepage of a website has the greatest link value because it has the most backlinks. That link value will be shared between all the links found on that homepage. The link value passed to the following page will be divided between the links on that page, and so on.
Therefore, your newest blog posts will get more link value if you link to them from the homepage, instead of only on the category page. And Google will find new posts quicker if they’re linked to from the homepage.
When you get the concept that links pass their link value on, you’ll understand that more links to a post mean more value. Because Google deems a page that gets lots of valuable links as more important, you’ll increase the chance of that page ranking.
Setting up an internal linking strategy
It’s crucial for your site’s SEO to evaluate and improve internal linking strategy on a regular basis. By adding the right internal links you make sure Google understands:
the relevance of pages;
the relationship between pages;
and the value of pages.
To set up your internal linking strategy, there are several things to take into account. How you go about it exactly, of course, depends on your site and your goals, but the following steps are a good rule of thumb.
1. Determine the ideal structure for your site
We always advise website owners to imagine their website as a pyramid. On top of it is your homepage, below that there are some sections or categories, and further down there are individual posts and pages (possibly with subcategories in between).
If you do it well, your website’s menu should reflect this structure. In our Ultimate guide to site structure you can read how to create the best site structure for your site.
2. Decide what your most important content is
Then, you should determine what your most important content is. If you’re not sure, please read our article on cornerstone content. In short, it’s your best and most complete content; it’s about the core of your business. It’s the content you want people to find when they’re searching for a topics or products that you specialize in.
Because you want to let Google know that this is your most essential content, you need to add many links to it. There are various spots from where you can link to your cornerstone content. Here, we’ll give the most common options, from your post’s copy to your navigation.
3. Add contextual links
When you’ve written various articles about a certain topic you should link them with each other. This will show Google – and users! – that those articles are topically related. You can link directly from sentences in your copy or add links at the end of your post.
Moreover, you want to show Google which of those articles is your cornerstone: your most complete article on this topic. To do so, you have to add a link to the cornerstone in all of the articles on this topic. And don’t forget to link back from the cornerstone to the individual posts.
Contextual linking: an example
On our blog, there’s a cornerstone content article called ‘The ultimate guide to keyword research’. We want this post to rank for all related search queries about [keyword research] in Google search results.
So we’ve added links from other relevant articles, such as ‘7 keyword research mistakes to avoid‘, ‘ What is keyword research‘ or ‘Focus on long tail keywords‘ to the main article. And we link back from the main article to these posts. In doing so, Google will understand that the ultimate guide contains most information about [keyword research]. So in the end, Google will rank the ultimate guide above the other, shorter posts about keyword research.
4. Link hierarchical pages
If you have hierarchical pages on your website, link parent pages to its child pages and vice versa. Also, don’t forget to link sibling pages to each other. On a well-organised site these pages should be related and linking them like this will make perfect sense.
5. Consider adding a related post section
There are many plugins and modules that add complete related posts sections to your posts. If you use one, we recommend testing whether the related posts actually are related posts. If you’re not sure, linking to posts manually is probably best.
6. Try adding navigational links
Besides linking from topically-related posts and pages, it’s possible to make your cornerstone content more authoritative by adding links to it from the homepage or the top navigation. You should do this with the posts and pages that are most important to your business. This will give these posts or pages a lot of link value and makes them stronger in Google’s eyes.
7. Add links to your taxonomies
Taxonomies, like categories and tags, help you organize your site and help users and Google to understand what your content is about. If you have a blog it could be beneficial to add internal links to the taxonomies the post belongs to. Adding links to the category and tags helps Google to understand the structure of your blog and helps visitors to more easily navigate to related posts.
8. Consider adding links to popular or recent posts
The last option to mention is creating internal links to the most popular or newest posts on your website. Preferably create these sections in the sidebar or the footer of your website to have them appear on all pages and posts.
As link value passes to these most popular/recent posts from many different pages and posts they really get a boost. Besides that, the posts will be easier for visitors to access, which will increase traffic – and more traffic is a positive sign to Google.
More on internal links
You also probably have links that aren’t important for SEO on your website. If you have a login link for your clients on the homepage, for example, you don’t want to leak link value to your login page – that page doesn’t need to rank high in the search results.
You used to be able to prevent losing link value to unimportant links by giving them a nofollow tag. A nofollow tag asks Google not to follow the link: so no link value is lost. Now you might think: “I’m going to nofollow less important links to give the most important links more link value.” While this worked in the past, Google has become smarter. Now it seems that the link value for those nofollow links doesn’t automatically flow to the other links on the page. The nofollow link will be counted as a link and the link value for that link will be lost. Therefore it makes more sense to have fewer links on a page instead of nofollowing some of the links.
Note that adding a nofollow tag doesn’t mean that those target pages can’t be found in Google’s search results. If you don’t want pages or posts to show up in the search results you should give them a noindex tag as well. The noindex tag means that Google shouldn’t render the page and shouldn’t give the content a place in the Google index to show up in the search results.
Once you have decided which links should be on a page and which pages should get link value, it’s important to use the right anchor text. The anchor text is the clickable text that visitors see.
If you over-optimize anchor text you might hurt your website. And by over-optimizing, we mean keyword stuffing. Previously, you could give all anchor texts the same keyword and Google made your website rank higher for that keyword. Nowadays, Google is smart enough to understand that the content around the anchor text says more about the relevancy of a keyword than the anchor text itself. So make sure the anchor text looks natural in your copy: it’s fine to use keywords but don’t add the exact same keywords to every link’s anchor text.
Go link your content
Without links, your content can’t rank! With a solid internal linking strategy, you can show which content is related and which of your articles are most informative and valuable. If you follow the guidelines in this post both Google and your users will understand your site better, which will, in turn, increase your chance of ranking.