Internal Linking for Strategic SEO

Search engine spiders are the data collectors that populate the search results we use every day. They are simple robots that follow one link to another, tell the search engines what web pages exist, and what web properties point to them. Links from external sources are the most sought after, but internal linking is an important part of a strategic SEO plan.

What Are Internal Links?

An internal link is a hyperlink to a page or other asset that is located on the same website. The linked object could be text, an image, or even generated by javascript. These are necessary for users to get from one point of the website to another, but are also used by search engine spiders and other robots in order to index a site as completely as possible.

Diagram of how a link code works in a link building campaign

Examples of page elements that are NOT internal links:

  • Links to different websites
  • Form submission buttons
  • Javascript links defined by “onclick” instead of “<a href>”
  • Links to iframes that contain content from different websites
  • Embedded media from external sites like YouTube

Why Internal Linking is Important

Internal linking is just about the only publicly available way a site visitor will be able to navigate your website. Without internal links, a visitor trying to find information that is located in a different location than the homepage would need to have the direct URL available. 

If a site were created without any internal links from its homepage, search engines like Google would find it very hard, if not impossible, to find the rest of the pages on the site. Contextual backlinks could open the website up to further discovery, but this is a very poor choice for search engine visibility. 

Typical SEO practice is to label pages that do not have any internal links to them as “orphan pages.” These pages may get indexed in search engines through other means, such as a sitemap, but without any internal links, the possibility of them ranking for anything is extremely low.

How To Link Internally

The most basic form of internal linking is handled by a standard navigation bar or menu at the top of a page, or links in the footer information at the bottom of pages.

Internal linking via navigation links

Since these locations are limited in the amount of content that can be placed there, including links, a large website would not be able to link every URL from the homepage. This is where web pages need to be strategically organized into a coherent structure, called the website hierarchy. From the top down it is important to organize the website into different sections, often called silos, which creates a defined internal linking structure.

Diagram of creating a sitemap

This type of site architecture makes it easy for website visitors, existing customers, and search engines to figure out how to easily navigate throughout your website.

Options to include new links to and within these silos include, but are not limited to:

  • Extended navigational elements in addition to the top-level navigation
  • Links directly in the page content
  • Silo-specific table of contents

SEO Considerations for Internal Linking

While the site architecture creates an organized and easy to follow structure, it only scratches the surface of how search engines index and rank website pages. Keyword usage, context, and the number of internal links pointing to a page help search engines, Google specifically, know how much ranking weight to place on different URLs. This is important for your website SEO strategy.

Using Keywords With Internal Links

Keywords are still at the heart of Google indexing, if not necessarily the top ranking factor anymore. They provide clues to search engines about the meaning of the page. Hyperlinking the text “click here” provides no information for search, and is also against ADA website compliance guidelines.

When hyperlinking text to other internal pages, be sure that the linked words are appropriate and relevant to the keywords and topic of the page being linked to. Try to use different keyword variations if linking to the same page from multiple sources.

Context and Internal Links

Text that the hyperlink is applied to is a direct signal to Google as to the topic of the page being linked to, but the text around links is important as well. With the improvements in AI and machine learning from Google, it is able to define the context of whole pages, sections of pages, and even specific sentences as it applies to the intent of a searcher.

Internal links (and all links, for that matter) should point to locations that are relevant to what is currently on-page. It does not have to be the exact same topic, but at the very least should have some sort of established relevancy between the two.

How to properly utilize context words with internal links

Internal Link Weight

There are different metrics to judge the implied weight of internal links to a web page. Each page is ranked according to many different factors, but there are ways to suggest to search engines that one page is more important than another.

One way to do that is to have a high number of links throughout the website pointing at a particularly important page. This is often shown as a navigational element on every page, but beyond that, but other additional internal links can be added in places such as the main page content.

When rankings are established for the website, you will find that some are ranked more highly than others. These anchor pages are excellent places to place internal links in the content, since they will pass some of the rank to the linked page.

Tools for Internal Linking

As a website grows, it is difficult to keep track of every single link within a website. This is where 3rd party tools can come in handy. These tools range from testing how many internal links there are to making suggestions of pages that would benefit from additional internal linking.

For All Sites:

For WordPress Sites:

Wrapping Up

Internal links are one of the major factors for keeping your website accessible to not only visitors, but to search engines as well. Site hierarchy and internal linking should be planned out in advance between the content and SEO teams to ensure that the correct amount of weight and relevancy are added to the content.

Zach Good
 

Zach Good is the Technical Director of 201 Creative, LLC. He specializes in search engine optimization including technical, internal, and local SEO.

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