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Internal linking for SEO: 9 practices anyone can do

External link building often gets most of the focus when trying to get good search engine rankings but internal links also play an important role.

To date, Google has around 200 ranking factors as part of its algorithm and the quality and quantity of internal links pointing to another page is one of them.

Therefore, it’s vital that internal linking for SEO should be carefully considered, strategically planned and effectively implemented if you want because, let’s face it, who doesn’t want:

  • Users to find your content
  • Search engines to better understand and crawl your website’s structure
  • Boost keyword rankings on SERPs
  • Increase organic traffic

In this guide to internal linking, we’ll cover:

  • What internal linking is
  • Why it’s important for SEO
  • The 9 best practices to implement
    1. Identify internal linking opportunities
    2. Create valuable content for users
    3. Ensure anchor text is keyword-enriched
    4. Ensure links don’t have the ‘nofollow’ attribute
    5. Fix broken links
    6. Correct links that point to the final destination page
    7. Link up orphan pages
    8. Remove links to unimportant pages
    9. Don’t overlink
  • Final thoughts

What is internal linking?

Links can be internal or external. External or outbound links are links that take you from one website to another, whereas internal links take you to another page, file or resource that’s on the same website. (There are also inbound links or backlinks that are links that come from other websites to yours, but that’s another story for another day.)

It’s quite easy to identify an internal link when you’re browsing a website. They’re highlighted in the middle of some text like this one.

However, internal links also include ones that can be found in a website’s footer and navigation and any that are hidden in images, infographics, headings, CTAs, icons, telephone numbers and email addresses. It all counts… (within reason!)

Internal linking is, therefore, an SEO best practice that helps users and search engines to discover content and pages on your website to ultimately improve keyword rankings and organic traffic.

Why is an internal linking strategy important for SEO?

If you take away all internal links from your website, your users and search engines will have a really hard time finding content and navigating to other pages.

Even though internal linking is only one ranking factor, you can already tell how important it is.

Below are just a handful of benefits of internal linking and why it’s important for SEO.

Delivers a better user experience

Every SEO knows that a website needs to be geared towards users first and foremost, as opposed to Google’s algorithm.

Ironically, Google is clever enough to understand when you’re trying to optimise for its algorithm rather than your users so you may get penalised for it.

Therefore, it’s really important to prioritise your users when it comes to internal linking, such as creating a navigation that makes sense or implementing ones that point to your most useful pages. More on this later…

If you do this, it will give users a better user experience (UX), which in turn will help increase your website’s SERP visibility.

Enables search engines to crawl your website easily

Without giving you a full-on science lesson on indexability, rendering and crawlability, internal linking helps search engines understand and navigate your internal link structure and site architecture.

If search engines can easily crawl your website, it will gain a better understanding of the relationship between your web pages, posts, other forms of content and the subject matter that content is about.

For example, when Google finds this blog post, it’ll see that it links to other Hallam pages, such as link building and UX, so it’ll understand that the content on those pages is related to the subject matter of internal linking on this page.

Therefore, it’ll help with the overall organic visibility and keyword rankings of this page as well as the other pages it links to.

Boosts domain authority

SEOs often think that improving domain authority of a website can only be done through gaining backlinks from external websites, which isn’t the case.

It’s highly probable that your homepage receives the most backlinks. It’s then important to note that the link equity (more commonly known as “link juice”) that comes from those backlinks will then be passed to other pages via internal links. And then if those pages have internal links as well, the link equity will then be shared even further, creating a domino effect.

visual demonstrating how link equity is passed between pages

The more times that a page is appropriately linked to, search engines will see that as a signal, indicating that your web pages and content will be important and relevant to searchers. As a result, you’ll increase the chance of that page ranking.

Internal linking best practices

So now that you understand the what and the why of internal linking, here’s the how and below are just a few best practices that you can follow.

1. Identify internal linking opportunities

Internal linking isn’t just a simple task that you can just tick off your to do list.

For it to be effective and positively impact your organic results, an audit should be carried out which will help you identify where to start. Google Search Console’s internal link report can help with this, which can be found on the left hand side menu.

Google Search Console screenshot of top linked pages

It’s good to have a look at this list. The ones at the top that gain the most internal links: are they ones that you’d expect to be here? How about towards the middle and bottom, are there any pages on there that are important and need some more internal links?

Scroll up to the GSC search results performance report and choose the pages tab. Are there any pages that gain a lot of impressions but not as many clicks? This means that they are being displayed on SERPs, but aren’t being clicked on due to low rankings.

As an example, I saw that Hallam’s blog on featured snippets has received a lot of impressions, but hardly any clicks and we can assume that’s because it’s deep on page 7 of SERPs (yikes – I think I might know what my next blog is!):

screenshot of Google Search Console clicks, impressions and position

Not only could this do with some keyword research, a content refresh and some on-page SEO optimisation, but it could also do with some internal linking.

So, the next step is to find other relevant pages on your website where it would make logical sense to add an internal link through to the page you are attempting to boost.

Use the “site” and “intext” search operators in a Google search and replace the domain with your site’s address and the target keyword.

site:DOMAIN intext:”KEYWORD”screenshot of a search operator

As you can see in the results below, there are a number of relevant pages on our site containing our key phrase “featured snippet.”

The top page on the list “What Are Featured Snippets?” is indeed the page we’re trying to boost:screenshot of a Google search results page displaying a blog on featured snippets

And all of the other pages underneath that sit on Hallam’s website are ones that can link to the blog post we’re wanting to improve:

screenshot of Google search results page displaying blogs

What also might be helpful is editing all of those other pages and making sure they link to each other, but only if it makes sense to do so.

Just as a quick side note: it’s great to spot opportunities like this, but it’s important to link equally.

By this, I mean avoid linking to the same pages over and over again. Your internal linking strategy is about linking to a variety of specific pages deeper in your site with the result of helping them to rank better in the search results.

2. Create content

Internal linking can only be implemented if there’s content to link to.

As you add content to your site, ensure that it’s useful and relevant to your user and carefully consider how you use internal linking by bearing in mind the user experience and the signals these internal links will send to the search engine.

Internal linking between useful and relevant content can be done using a siloed approach to a content strategy, which is when you group together and link between similar topics, as discussed previously.

visual demonstrating how similar content topics can link between each other

3. Ensure the anchor text is keyword-enriched

Now that you’ve figured out which links should be on a page and which pages should get link value, it’s important to use the right anchor text.

Anchor text is the text contained in a hyperlink that leads you to another page.

For example, the anchor text in the following link makes it clear what the destination page is going to be about: learn about our search engine optimisation services.

Including keywords in your anchor text is important, because not only does it tell your reader what the destination page is going to be about, but it also boosts the keyword ranking of the page it points to.

In this case, using this link and descriptive anchor text on this blog post will help boost the keyword ranking of ‘search engine optimisation services’ on our SEO service page.

However, be sure to keep your anchor text concise and on topic. Don’t force keywords into anchor text for the sake of it as this can be seen as spam. Remember, Google is clever enough now to understand when you’re over optimising.

4. Ensure links are follow links

A follow link is one that search engines crawl and follow to the destination page, which in turn, passes link equity throughout your website and boosts that particular page.

However, some links, whether internal or external, have a ‘nofollow’ attribute, which means they are not crawled and don’t pass PageRank, therefore not providing you any SEO value.

For those internal links that have a ‘nofollow’ attribute, remove it if it’s appropriate and logical to do so. This will mean that any link equity can be passed between pages effectively.

Also note that ‘nofollow’ attributes aren’t the same as ‘noindex’ attributes. A ‘nofollow’ page can still appear on SERPs. If you don’t want a page to appear on search engines, make sure it has a ‘noindex’ attribute.

5. Fix broken internal links

There are a few tools, such as ContentKing, Screaming Frog, Semrush and Ahrefs, that can uncover broken links or 404 pages, which result in a poor user experience and stops link equity flowing through your website.

Whichever tool you use, you could then export these, understand the reason why they’re 404ing and either reinstate the page (if it got accidentally deleted for example) or redirect it to another page that exists.

If there are lots of 404s, I would be selective with the process. Analyse each page and decide how important it is that you fix them, such as if they’re indexable and/or valuable to users.

You could also kill two birds with one stone and look at whether there are any 404s that are being used as backlinks from other websites, which would also be hindering link equity.

Ahrefs can reveal these from their broken backlinks report. When you export these, don’t forget to remove duplicates from your final list and then you can tackle redirecting broken links that are being used internally and externally at the same time.

6. Correct links that point to redirects

Now that you have fixed some broken links and/or identified some redirects that already exist on your website, it’s always good practice to correct those redirects to the destination page, shortening the chain.

In short, internal links should point to final targets, not to redirects.

This will ultimately make it quicker and easier for your users and search engines to find and load content.

ContentKing is a good tool that can identify these opportunities on an sitewide-level or a page-by-page basis:

screenshot of Content King that highlights links to redirects present

So in this instance on Hallam’s SEO page, I’d find where it says ‘Digital Marketing Services’ and correct the link so it points to the final destination page, getting rid of the redirect in the middle.

This is the same practice that you’d do if you wanted to resolve long redirect chains and loops or reduce click depth of a particular journey.

7. Resolve orphan pages

Orphan pages are pages that aren’t linked to from any other page or resource on your website. Sad! 

You should avoid having orphaned important pages because users and search engines won’t be able to find them and link equity won’t pass through to them, hindering ranking and organic traffic.

Tools like Ahrefs and Screaming Frog can give you a list of orphaned pages. Skim this list for pages that are important and make sure they’re being linked to from other relevant pages.

You can also look at solitary pages, which are pages that link to and from just the once.

8. Remove internal links that point to unimportant pages

The opposite can also be done, a kind of cleanse of internal links if you like. 

Above we talked about linking to important content, but it might also be worth looking at unimportant pages that receive a lot of internal links too.

There are a number of ways and tools to identify these, including Ahref’s site audit tool. You can bring up a list of 200 pages and sort the number of links from high to low:screenshot of Ahref's site audit tool

If you skim this list and see that an unimportant page is receiving a lot of internal links (with or without a lot of organic traffic) it may be worth removing them.

9. Don’t over do it

How many internal links is too many on a page? A question that all SEOs have asked at some point in their career.

Having too many internal links on a page can dilute the link equity you’re trying to achieve and search engines can flag it as over-optimisation. Just like keyword stuffing. Plus, it doesn’t offer the user a very good experience.

Therefore, use a sensible and appropriate amount of links per page. Although there’s no definite answer, the guidance from Google is to simply keep links on a given page to a reasonable number. Moz suggests a limit of around 100 links per page, which includes all navigation, footer and contextual links.

Final thoughts

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of my guide to internal linking for SEO! Drop me an email and I’ll send you a little present.

Internal linking for a website is a big can of worms to open, but it doesn’t have to be as complex or daunting as you think. All you need to do is implement these best practices and ensure you prioritise your most important pages:

  1. Identify internal linking opportunities
  2. Create valuable content for users
  3. Ensure anchor text is keyword-enriched
  4. Ensure links aren’t nofollow links
  5. Fix broken links
  6. Correct links that point to the final destination page
  7. Link up orphan pages
  8. Remove links to unimportant pages
  9. Don’t overlink…

Some of them are quite technical, but use the tools around you to help or you can drop me a message on LinkedIn or contact a member of our SEO team for further advice.

The post Internal linking for SEO: 9 practices anyone can do appeared first on Hallam.

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