Most search marketers underestimate the impact that internal links have on their site rankings. We focus so much on building external links, which is commonly referred to as back linking and forget the value of developing an internal linking strategy.
Unlike external links, which point to a page outside your domain, internal links are those that point to another page on your site. For instance, we can have a link in this article that leads to another page within the website with more information on this topic. That’s an internal link. While building links to external sources is very important, neglecting internal link improvements can hinder the site’s rankings. There are some common mistakes that people make in internal link building that we’d like to highlight and educate you on how to build a robust strategy that would boost search rankings.
There are three main reasons why internal links matter in search engine optimization:
- Enhance crawling and indexing of site pages by the search engines
An internal linking strategy builds a proper site structure which allows search engines to find and index the pages on your website. Google simply follows a link from a known page to the new page, discovers new content and indexes that page on your site. Internal linking is a sign that two pages are connected which helps search engines to discover relevant content on your website regularly.
- Internal linking boosts page authority
When you have two pages and one has a higher PageRank than the other, by linking the two using internal links, you can pass authority to the page with a lower PageRank. This helps to build the quality and importance of individual pages on your website and overall the site’s authority.
- Simplifies navigation
Internal links enhance user experience by giving people an opportunity to navigate through relevant pages and easily find related content. Whether it’s an internal link that’s taking a user to a buying guide to get a particular product or a related article that expounds on a particular topic, these links increase the time a user spends on the website and in turn the search performance.
Most websites already have the basic internal linking already in place. However, to come up with a more optimized internal link building strategy, you need to first know where you stand. Begin by performing a site audit of all your internal links. There are several site audit tools that you can use to audit your internal links. We recommend SEMRush and ScreamingFrog due to the numerous reports they provide and their simplicity.
SEMRush has extensive internal linking insights that can help you to develop your full strategy. Its internal linking report comes with 5 main sections:
- Internal links: The tool gives you a summary of the pages that contain internal links and those orphan pages that don’t have any internal linking.
- Internal link distribution: SEMRush also has an Internal Link Rank, which indicates which pages you’ll need to focus on more than others.
- Pages crawl depth: The crawl depth of your site indicates how many clicks it takes to reach certain pages.
- Internal link issues: SEMRush also highlights broken links, errors, or any other issue you need to fix that’s related to your internal linking.
- Pages passing most Internal Link Rank: This is a highlight of your top authoritative pages and the ones that you can use to boost the low performing content on your website.
With a complete report from SEMRush, you can gain insights into what your focus areas should be and develop a strategy to fix your internal linking issues and enhance what’s already working on your web pages.
- Broken internal links: These are links that send both users and search engine crawlers to a dead end (a non-existent page). This is never a good indication for search engines and could significantly impact your authority rankings. Use a tool like SEMRush or ScreamingFrog to identify all the broken links on your website. You can either remove the broken link or redirect it to another that points to a live page.
- Links that can’t be crawled: Poor formatting of the web page’s URL can cause crawling issues. When search engines are unable to crawl content on your website, it cannot be indexed and ranked. Formatting issues can be fixed by checking the site URLs to ensure all content is crawled successfully.
- Overdoing internal links on one page: When you have too many internal links on a page, your site can be flagged and overall rankings will be significantly affected. Overloading pages with on-page links is also not a good strategy for site usability purposes. If you have any pages on your website with more than 3000 links, cut them down immediately and leave only the necessary internal links.
- Outgoing internal links with no follow attribute: This restricts search engines from crawling the pages linked and needs to be removed immediately.
- Orphaned pages: These are pages that are not linked at all and cannot be accessed from any other page on the website. If you have orphaned pages that are valuable and need to be indexed, include them in your internal linking strategy. If the page is not valuable, consider removing it or adding a noindex tag.
- Page crawl depth of more than 3 clicks: This simply means that it takes too many clicks to reach a page which gives search engines a signal that the page is not that important. Improve this page crawl depth not only for search engine purposes but also to help your users get the content they want quicker.
- Solitary internal links: Some pages have only one internal link which is not a very good strategy so make an effort to identify other relevant pages that you can link to.
Planning is key to execute a successful internal link building strategy. You’ll need to start by building a list of your hub pages. These are often pages that target broad keywords that have high search volumes and will drive the most traffic to your website. You then need to figure out which related topics you can add to your content to internally link back to the hub pages. Simple steps like choosing the right anchor text for your internal links should not be overlooked. You’ll need a proper plan to leverage any existing authority within your website.
The sole purpose of internal linking is to connect your content and give search engines an idea of the structure of your website. When a search engine bot arrives on your website, it begins to follow links both internal and external. The search engine then works out the relationship between different pages and posts as well as content on your website. If there are pages that cover a similar subject matter, search engines will only discover this if there are internal links that connect these pages. With proper internal linking, search engines can quickly determine the most important pages and posts on your website and divide link value between all the links on that page. In many cases, your site’s home page is given the greatest link value by search engines. This is often because it has the most backlinks.
The site structure is one of the most important aspects search engines use to determine how to rank your content. It’s the site structure that tells search engines which content is important and the one that’s less relevant for ranking purposes. Without a defined site structure, your website would be just a random collection of pages and posts.
Your users need a proper structure in order to easily navigate your website and find what they need without wasting too much time. Site structure significantly impacts UX. If your website visitors can’t find what they are looking for, they are likely to drop off and never come back. Therefore investing in a proper site structure is important for both usability and crawlability.
One of the common mistakes website owners make when creating content is writing about the same topic so many times on different pages without having a proper structure. For instance, if you have several blog posts that cover the same topics, Google may not be able to tell which of those is the most important. This means you will be competing with your own content to rank in Google.
By building a proper structure, you are able to tell search engines which pages you think are the most important. This means that even if you create blog posts that are related, you use internal linking and taxonomy structure to tell search engine crawlers how to prioritize that content. This will eventually ensure that all the pages work for you instead of against you.
It’s easy to come up with the perfect site structure if you are building your website from scratch. You can organize your content and pages like a pyramid with the home page at the top and the categories and subcategories flowing below it. The individual pages and posts will only come at the very end of your site structure. By having the home page at the top, it means that all your categories or sections should be linked to the home page. For larger sites, you will have to create subcategories, link them to the categories, which would be linked to the home page. This type of structure, as simple as it may look, works effectively in terms of making your site user friendly and also enhancing crawlability for search engines.
Maintaining a proper site structure may seem like a challenging task especially if you blog a lot. Since it’s quite important, you must find a way to do it seamlessly whenever you add new content to your website. Ideally, maintaining a proper site structure should be a top priority in your long term SEO strategy. Here’s how it can be done:
Ideally, every page of your website should be easily accessible from your website menu. This is the most accessible section on your website that aids navigation for users. That’s why you want to make the best use of it. However, as your website grows you may find it difficult to include all your important pages on the menu. How then do you determine what to include on the menu? We’ll go over a few best practices that will help you to determine how to optimize your website menu not only for search engines but also for your users.
- Have a primary and secondary menu: This will prevent you from putting everything on one menu, which makes your site appear cluttered. Your main menu should have your most important content. For instance, the contact us link can be on the secondary menu for most online shops.
- Avoid having too many links on the menu: Get rid of unnecessary links such as tag clouds, long blog archive lists, menus that have sub-menus, and sub-menus (too many extra levels).
- Monitor the number of clicks different links on your menu get and adjust as needed.
- Update and republish out-dated content
Another step is to clean up your site by either getting rid of content that is outdated and no one ever reads it or updating it and republishing. This is a nice way of making your content relevant again. Be very cautious about just deleting content on your page. If search engines cannot find that page, your users get 404 error messages, which is a poor user experience hence limiting your SEO efforts.
If you have pages that you want to get rid of, the best practice is to properly redirect the URL. This means that the user can land on a different page that is equally relevant to them. This way, you won’t have any 404-error pages that hinder SEO.
A common mistake many people make is optimizing their content for keywords that are too similar. When you have two articles on a specific topic that are both focusing on similar keywords, you compromise your chances of ranking in Google. This basically means that you are competing against yourself. What then happens is that both pages rank lower.
The best way to approach keyword cannibalization is to begin by searching on all your content. Look at your main content and the keywords you’ve been optimizing for. If you have several pages, which are ranking well but have both been optimized for the same keywords, it would make sense to merge and redirect some of it.
There are those pages and posts on your website which you always want to rank the highest on search engines. These web pages have what is referred to as the cornerstone or evergreen content. Cornerstone content can be a blog post or a website page.
For blog posts, these are articles that share extensive insights, are relatively longer than typical and combine information from different sources. They usually cover a subject matter extensively and include everything there is to know about a certain topic. The main purpose of such kind of articles is to provide as much information as possible about a particular subject. When creating such content, you must ensure that it is well written, regularly updated, and optimized for some of the most competitive keywords.
Competitive keywords and search terms are often very hard to rank for. However, when you utilize a cornerstone approach, you are able to include these competitive search terms and show search engines that certain subjects are most important to you then increase your chances of ranking well in search results. Below are 5 tips to help you create effective cornerstone content.
- Keyword research: Before you begin writing your cornerstone blog post, perform an extensive keyword research. This will help you determine the essential keywords to use to produce long, informative and well-written content.
- Review current posts: Go through the existing posts on your website and determine which one is optimized for some of the your most important keywords. Focus on that post as your cornerstone from now on.
- Rewrite the post: It’s time to go back to your cornerstone post and add more content that helps improve relevance and provides more insightful information about the subject matter. Ensure the article is broken down into plenty of headings. Add more up to date information and make sure you update the article regularly.
- Optimize other blog posts for long tail keywords: When doing your keyword research, there are those long tail variants that you had come up with. Make sure you include these variants in the other articles that you are linking to your cornerstone content.
- Link back all your long tail articles to the cornerstone content to tell Google that it is the most important on your site.
Whenever you’re writing a post, think about all the similar topics you’ve written and link to these as well. This will create a more solid site structure so that both website users and search engines can easily navigate to the website and find what they want. There are different ways to link articles that are topically related. You can link in sentences within the copy or just add the links at the end of the post. When linking from sentences in your copy, make sure it looks as natural as possible and not forced. The idea is to give users relevant information about the topic.
Additionally, you want to show Google your most important article on the topic. The only way you can do this is to add links to all the related articles that cover that topic on your cornerstone article. The cornerstone article should have links to all these individual posts to tell Google that it contains most of the information about the targeted keyword.
Contextual linking is probably the easiest to implement on a blog compared to other websites like online shops. First, you need to begin by writing blog posts on the topics that you would like to rank for. These should be your main articles (cornerstone topics as highlighted above). Once you write some main articles begin writing various posts about subtopics of that topic. You can have as many posts related to the cornerstone articles as you wish. Just make sure you link these posts back to your cornerstone topics. This way, you will show Google what your most important pages are. Ideally, your main articles should have the most links. It’s not just important for your main articles to be receiving the most links; all these links must be relevant.
For online stores, contextual linking works slightly differently. An online store has very few pages with only educative or informative content. On the product pages, the idea is to present just the relevant information on the product you wish to sell. You don’t have to explore a certain topic in detail because the intention is to sell. This means that contextual linking may not be as relevant on a product page as it is on other pages like blog posts. In fact, it’s not a good practice to add contextual links on places like the product descriptions. It could cause people to move away from the page and hence not buy the product.
However, there are still some smart ways to add contextual links to online store pages.
- If you have pages that list product bundles (a group of products) you can link to the individual products.
- You can have a “related items” or “people who liked this also liked” section on all your product pages.
- You can have a section for “customers who bought this also bought” to direct users to other complementary products on your website.
- You may also add a “frequently bought together” section on your website product pages
Ever wondered why most websites always have a related posts section? Webmasters use plugins and modules to show related posts on web pages because of two reasons. First, the related posts section helps users navigate content easily and find what they need. Linking to related posts also has an SEO impact.
Related post plugins use an algorithm to determine the relationship between posts based on certain elements. The algorithm can compare post titles, content, tags and categories and determine which content is related to another. However, sometimes these plugins are not as effective and linking to posts manually works best.
First, when you switch off the related post plugin, you may notice an improvement in your site’s loading speed. Site speed is an important factor in SEO rankings and some plugins are known to bog down website pages.
Additionally, picking your related posts manually helps you to choose the most relevant articles for your readers or even determine when there’s no related content and use it as an opportunity to create something new and exciting for your readers.
Last but not least, linking manually allows you to use more relevant anchor texts and link to one of your cornerstone content for a certain subject. Related post sections, on the other hand, are usually cluttered with links to social share buttons, the newsletter subscription and other information that makes the links less important for Google.
The posts and pages that are most important on your website should also have navigational links. These are simply links to the cornerstone page from the homepage or top navigation. Adding the page to the navigation of your website gives it a lot more link value. It helps search engines identify the content as more valuable and rank it higher than the rest on your site.
Categories and tags are very important taxonomies on your website. They allow you to create a proper site structure not just for search engines but also for your users to easily navigate related content. If you have a blog, adding links to these taxonomies can help Google to quickly understand the structure of your blog. This ultimately helps boost search rankings for your blog.
You may also create internal links to the most popular or newest content on your website. You can add these links on your website’s footer section or on the sidebar. This will ensure that the new content appears on all pages and posts of your website. When you do this, search engines attach a higher link value to the new or popular content. This really gives them a boost. Additionally, whenever you post a new blog and create an internal link on the footer or sidebar, it’s easy for visitors to access that content which increases traffic and overall the page rankings.
There are certain links on your website that do not have an effect in terms of your search engine rankings. For instance, a login link for your clients that’s on the homepage or footer section doesn’t add any SEO value. For this reason, you don’t want to lose link value to these kinds of pages. Your login page doesn’t need to rank high on SERP. How then do you prevent such links from leaking link value?
Previously, webmasters used nofollow tags to prevent search engine crawlers from indexing these unimportant links. A nofollow tag simply works by telling search engines not to follow the link. This meant that no link value is lost because search engines will not add a link value to the page. The perception was that by ignoring these less important links, search engines could give more value to the important pages. This seems to have worked in the past but not anymore.
In recent years, search engine algorithms have become smarter. Instead of Google passing the link value of the nofollow links to other links on the page, the value of the nofollow link is lost. This means that it makes more sense to have fewer links on a page that are most relevant instead of adding a bunch of nofollow links.
Also, keep in mind that adding a nofollow tag doesn’t make the page invisible on Google search results. The page with a nofollow tag can still rank on Google. If you don’t want a page to show up on search results completely, give it a noindex tag as well. This will prevent the search engine from not only rendering the page but also giving the content a place in the index so it won’t show on search results.
There are several pages on your website that you may want to noindex, they include:
- Author pages for blogs with just one author: If you are the one writing your blog, chances are that the author pages are just the same as what you have on your blog homepage. For this reason, it makes no sense for Google to crawl these author archives. You want to make sure that your author pages do not appear on your search results. You can do this by noindexing them.
- Specific custom post types: There are website plugins that add custom post types which don’t need to be indexed. This often happens in online shops where plugins like Woo Commerce add certain specifications like dimensions and weight as a custom post type. This kind of content is not considered user friendly by Google. When search engines index it, it could negatively impact your rankings. That’s why it makes sense to noindex and keeps them out of the search result pages.
- Thank you pages: These pages don’t serve any other purpose other than thanking customers for taking a specific action such as subscribing to your newsletter. Since they are thin content pages, they don’t add much value content-wise. Therefore, it’s important to keep thank you pages off your results page and that’s by using the noindex tag.
- Admin and login pages: Adding noindex will keep your login and admin pages out of Google search results. Unless the login page serves a community, this shouldn’t be something you need to rank for. Keep in mind that if you can never Google a login page, your users won’t either. It’s safe to keep it out of SERPs and that’s by adding noindex.
- Internal search results: When users search for something on your website, you want to provide an actual result and not a list of links to other search pages. Google doesn’t want to send users to these internal search results because they don’t have substantial content. That’s why there are tools that set these internal search pages to noindex by default.
For the example pages we’ve mentioned above, you don’t need to apply a nofollow tag. You may not want those pages to show in search results but you certainly want search engines to follow them. Google recommends 3 scenarios to apply nofollow.
- Untrusted content e.g. you can add the nofollow tag to links in comments because you’re never sure what all users are dropping on your comment section.
- Paid links
- Crawl prioritization e.g. login links add no value hence should be nofollow to allow Google to prioritize on your most important content.
Typically, on regular websites, there are very few nofollow pages. Perform a site audit to check if there are pages that contain links like the 3 mentioned by Google and then prevent the search engine from following them.
An important aspect of link building is using the right anchor text. An anchor text is that clickable and visible descriptive text that appears on the link. This text describes what content is being linked to and entices the web user to click. On most websites, this text usually appears in a different colour than the surrounding content to indicate that it’s clickable. A good anchor text should use the right words in order to tell the reader what to expect before they click on the link. At the same time, it should give search engines an idea of the context of that link. Google should quickly understand that the article linked is relevant and will only do this if the URL and anchor text can correlate. Linking should look natural to the reader and a good anchor text can help you achieve this.
In html, an anchor text appears like this:
<a href = “https:dnovogroup.com/what-are-internal-links/”>What are internal links</a>
The code starts with a URL and the next part that describes the link is the anchor text.
Anchor texts can appear in different ways depending on their use. We’ll go over some common examples below:
Branded links: This is an anchor text that has the name of your company as the anchor e.g. DNovo
Plain URL: Sometimes the anchor can be a link only without a text, which is usually not the best practice e.g. https://dnovogroup.com another option is to use the site name as the anchor text e.g. dnovogroup.com
Article title: The anchor text can also be an article that matches the title exactly e.g. “How to Audit Your Site’s Existing Internal Links”
Exact keywords: You may also choose some of your focus keywords and phrases to appear as the anchor text.
Variants of focus keywords/phrases: You can look for words that are closely related to your focus keywords and use them as the anchor text.
Related keywords: Anchor texts can also be different phrases that are not a direct match to your focus keywords but are closely related.
Generic anchor texts: Examples include “click here”, “Read more” which is not a recommended practice since it doesn’t tell the reader what the link is about.
- Avoid using generic anchor texts to get people to click on the link
- Avoid keyword stuffing. Anchor texts that are full of keywords could negatively impact your rankings.
- Don’t use text that’s not related to the linked content.
- Use links that look like links so that readers don’t miss them. Your site design should be user friendly so make sure the links are visible.
- Don’t link for the sake of it. Only add links that add real value to users and write a great anchor text that tells them they can find out more by clicking on the link.
- Keep it natural, Google has a way of finding out whether a link is worth visiting or not.
Great content, proper keyword targeting, and smart advertising cannot make search engine crawlers reach pages on your website that have not been properly linked. Google may miss out on your most important pages because of a poor link building strategy.
We’ll go over some poor link building strategies that cause pages to not be reachable and hence not indexed by search engines.
Links in Submission-Required Forms
A website form is an HTML form that allows website users to enter their information. For instance, if the web user wants to subscribe to your newsletter, they’ll fill in their email address or any other data you wish to collect and send the form to the server for processing. The basic elements of a website form include drop-down menus and input areas. Some web forms have comprehensive structures such as surveys. If links are accessible via the form, the search engines will never reach them. This is because search engines can never attempt to “submit” a form. Search engine crawlers will ignore any links or content within that form.
Links Only Accessible Through Internal Search Boxes
Search engine spiders are not designed to perform searches to find content. They simply crawl the website according to the site’s structure. This means that any content that is hidden inside internal search box walls will be missed. If the users cannot find this content easily without having to search on the website, it will not be indexed by search engines as well.
Links in Flash, Java, or Other Plug-Ins
In the same way, any links that are embedded in plugins, Flash Players and Java apps can be extremely inaccessible to search engines. Ensure that you don’t have links embedded in any of these for the pages where search engine traffic is important.
Links Pointing to Pages Blocked by the Meta Robots Tag or Robots.txt
Website owners can use metarobots tag or robots.txt file to restrict search engine access to the web page. Don’t use these tags unless you want search engines to ignore those pages.
Links on pages with Hundreds or Thousands of Links
There are some poor practices that pile up too many links on a single page. What most people don’t know is that search engines have a rough crawl limit of between 150 to 250 links per page. The search engines may stop spidering the pages linked when they reach 150 links. The number may go upwards on the very important pages like the home page.
A poor practice that some people do is spamming popular blogs and leaving their links on the comment section. If you went to a popular blog and posted your links on the comment section where many other spammers have done the same thing, search engine crawlers may never even get to those links. Web owners are advised to limit the number of links on any given page to 150. Having too many links will prevent search engines from crawling some additional important pages.
Links in Frames or I-Frames
Linking in both frames and I-frames is not a recommended practice as it prevents search engines from easily indexing and following the links. If you would like clean and spiderable HTM links, avoid this practice.
You content will never rank if you don’t link it. Building a solid internal linking strategy will give users an idea of what content is informative and valuable and at the same time allows search engines to understand your site better. Surprising, we’ve seen some of the biggest internal linking mistakes made by webmasters so easily. A small mistake like not redirecting a page can have a huge impact on your search engine traffic. These are 5 most common mistakes that many site owners make:
Broken internal links
Broken links can be as a result of a faulty URL or a web page that you deleted so it doesn’t exist anymore. To start with, broken links upset your web visitors and may lead to high bounce rates, loss of credibility and site authority. Secondly, broken links send a signal to Google that the site doesn’t care about its user experience and hence wouldn’t rank it higher on SERP. There are many tools that you can use to easily identify broken links on your website and fix them.
Under utilizing internal links
Internal linking is one of the most effective link building strategies. If you have pages that don’t have any internal links, you miss an opportunity to pass SEO juice among different pages on your website. Additionally, internal links simplify navigation and allow web visitors to spend a lot more time on your website. If you can retain visitors on your website for longer, it lowers your bounce rate, increases dwell time and other engagement metrics that Google considers when ranking website on SERPs.
Stuffing internal links on a single page
On the flipside, some site owners go overboard with internal linking. While it’s important to interlink content from different sources on your website, if it’s overdone it has a negative SEO impact. A general guideline is not to have more than 150 links on a page. Search engines are known to index a certain maximum number of links per page hence you must ensure that internal linking is done when necessary. Additionally, too many links on a web page may compromise user experience. The internal links should be natural and relevant to the user.
Over-optimized anchor texts
Anchor texts that are stuffed with keywords don’t work. Search engines are smart and they know how to identify anchor text that is over-optimized versus one that is natural and relevant to the user. The natural link profile will always win so don’t be tempted to stuff keywords on your anchor text in an attempt to trick search engine spiders. In fact, over optimizing the anchor texts can lead to a penalty which heavily impacts your site rankings or could even result in the site being banned completely from appearing on SERP.
Ignoring the site structure
Site structure is one of the most critical aspects of link building. Without a proper site structure, you won’t be able to pass SEO juice from some of your highest ranking pages to the rest of the content on the website. Revaluate your site structure from time to time. Spend time updating your content and providing relevant information to your users.