Content | May 28, 2021
The Big Liberty Guide to Internal Linking
Internal linking is something you can easily take for granted. As a content writer, I encounter internal linking every day. However, when you’re looking at internal linking for SEO as a newcomer, it can be confusing.
When do you internally link? How do you do it? Why is it important? These are all questions that can be hard to figure out on your own. Thankfully, we’re here to help with the big Liberty guide to internal linking.
We’ll cover what internal linking is, how it impacts SEO, how it informs site structure and why you should always be considering it.
What is an Internal Link?
An internal link simply points a page to another page on the same website. In more technical terms, it takes users to a “target” from a “source” on the same domain. Here is an internal link example from one of our blog posts:
If we look deeper, the HTML code for this internal link looks like this:
Every internal links follows the same HTML format. The HTML format is:
<a href=”URL on same domain”>Keyword</a>
That’s all it is: a strip of HTML code that has a massive impact on a site’s performance. An internal link has two major effects:
- Helping with user navigation.
- Establishing a website’s hierarchy.
External links, on the other hand, are between different websites and are primarily concerned with spreading link equity, referencing information and improving the user experience.
Internal and external links: the difference
In website context, there are three types of links that you should be aware of. Let’s assume that website A is your domain:
- Internal links – Website A links to a sub-page of Website A. That is, these are cross-references to other content on the same website. The links are usually in the body content, in the footer, in the navigation or in the sidebar.
- outgoing links – Website A links to Website B. This means you set links to other websites (e.g. references to sources or useful external articles). The best way to do this is to select the “open in new tab” option to ensure your site is still in the user’s browser.
- incoming links – Website B links to Website A. That is, another domain links to your website. This is what we mean when we refer to external links or backlinks. Another website that links to you.
Properties of internal and external links
Internal and external links differ in several ways:
Internal links are 100% in your own hands . You can control where you want to take users and webcrawlers and theoretically remove the links or add new ones at any time. The same applies to out going links from your website.
External links don’t just fall out of the sky, which means you first have to earn them through link bulidng, outreach and influencer relationships. Second, you cannot control whether the link will stay in place forever.
The external or incoming links are also known as backlinks. They are very important from an SEO point of view, because a backlink is considered a recommendation for your website. It’s a bit like an election – every link to your website is a vote for you. The big difference: Not every vote is worth the same. Links from relevant domains with high authority have more influence than links from poor quality or completely unrealetd pages.
Why Are Internal Links Important For SEO?
Internal links are all about users finding new content on your website. It’s important from an engagement perspective, but where there are users, there are SEO considerations too.
You must internally link to a new page so Google can find it. Without links, Google’s crawler will be unable to identify and categorise the page. According to Google, they use internal links to:
“[find] out what pages exist on the web. There isn’t a central registry of all web pages, so Google must constantly search for new pages and add them to its list of known pages.
Some pages are known because Google has already visited them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.”
A page with no internal link to it is described as an “orphan page”. If no links are present, then Google cannot identify that the page exists.
Imagine your website as a network of islands, with each island representing a page. Each page is linked by a bridge, which transfers information – this forms the site structure. If an island exists without a bridge going to or from it, then no information is being shared, and the island may as well not be there.
This is why internal linking is central to creating site structure. If we don’t plan out internal links, then the probability of orphaned pages popping up increases. Even if a page has great keywords, excellent content, and looks amazing, if it has no links pointing to it, then Google cannot access it.
So that’s internal linking sorted, right? All we need is one link going to each page and our website is in a perfect state – job done? Well, not quite…
Why One Internal Link Isn’t Enough
It’s important to have multiple internal links to important category pages and other content. Once you have the bare bones of your site structure, building long-form content with natural, clear internal links to other pages helps search engines ascertain the relationship between your site’s content. The more internal links, the better the understanding. And, the better search engines can understand your site and its content, the better your rankings will be.
How to Add Internal Links
Confused about how to link? Adding internal links is easy enough. Usually, your website’s content management system will have a built-in tool to add internal links. If you’re struggling, you can always use the HTML code we showed above:
<a href=”URL on same domain”>Keyword</a>
Whenever you internally link, always aim to pick a logical phrase or word to link – this is called the anchor text.
The “anchor text” you choose is very important. Ideally you need to ensure it is descriptive anchor text, it should:
- Match the page you’re linking to.
- Be a keyword.
This gives Google context regarding what the page you’re linking to is about, as well as an additional hint about your overall site structure. Good internal linking and logical anchor text are the cornerstones of well-made websites.
Don’t believe us? Well, here is Google’s John Mu saying just that:
Most links do provide a bit of additional context through their anchor text. At least they should, right‽— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) November 23, 2017
So, let’s say we’re writing a blog about, I don’t know, Bruce Lee’s martial arts techniques. Let’s say it’s for a sports company that also sells martial arts equipment.
You have a great blog all about the techniques, and you’ve also managed to talk about relevant equipment the company has in stock and wants to sell more of.
In the call-to-action for this blog, you can internally link to the martial arts category page with the anchor text “martial arts equipment”. This term satisfies what Google needs, as it tells its crawlers:
- The category page is about martial arts equipment.
- The category page could be worth ranking for the term “martial arts equipment”.
- The blog post is related to the category page.
We’ve covered this more in our How To Write A Blog piece, but if you can write blog posts that target strong longtail keywords, then internally link to priority pages, it can be an excellent strategy for growth.
Internal Linking and the Conversion Funnel
So, why is it important to internally link in a blog’s CTA, body text and/or on category pages? Sure, we’ve discussed the importance it has for SEO and site structure, but it’s also essential to usher users down the conversion funnel.
Ultimately, a content’s worth is governed by its engagement. If you’ve put in the hard work to keep a user reading while occupying space in the SERPs, then you need to capitalise on that by keeping the user on-site and converting.
Internally linking to related category pages, other pieces of content and conversion pages are the ideal one-two combo of improving user experience and increasing leads/conversions.
Returning to our martial arts equipment example above, linking to a category-level page about this topic satisfies the website’s goal of selling more equipment, while also directing the user to pages they will find interesting.
You don’t always have to internally link to a category page, either. Linking to other pieces of content that are adjacent to your page can work too, especially from a brand awareness perspective. However, you should always try to avoid moving users “up” the funnel. Moving users “up the funnel” effectively means moving them away from conversion or other relevant information.
Common Internal Linking Pitfalls
There are a few internal linking pitfalls you should be aware of:
- Linking too much – adding too many links can impact the readability of your content, which hampers engagement. It can also come across as spammy, which negatively impacts how Google assesses your content.
- Not making internal linking look natural – internal links should always look natural, with anchor text that makes sense.
- Not diversifying anchor text – using the same anchor text across various pages or using it multiple times in the same piece of content is another way to appear spammy.
- Creating content without considering internal linking – internal linking shouldn’t be an afterthought; it has to play a central role in content ideation and planning.
Internal linking best practices can be overwhelming at first, but they usually come down to prioritising the user’s experience. The job of an internal link is to make a user’s experience better, not to get in a user’s way.
Creating a bulletproof internal linking strategy
How to find internal links
The first step in any internal linking strategy is to find out how which pages on your website currently have the most internal links and what pages on your site are lacking in internal linking.
This is where having Google Search Console set up is essential. Firstly, simply use the left-hand menu and navigate your way to links.
Then, in the main console interface, you will be able to quickly find which pages on your website are linked to most internally.
Tools such as Ahrefs allow you to view internal backlinks on a page-by-page level. This includes showing the anchor text that is being used.
Search for the exact URL you want information on, then navigate your way to the internal linking option in the left-hand menu.
This will then show exactly which pages are linking to the page you are analysing and what anchor is being displayed on that page.
Finding internal linking opportunities
The next step in your internal linking strategy will be to identify existing on-site opportunities to provide internal links to your important pages. Finding existing relevant anchor text using an SEO tool such as Screaming Frog is the way forward when it comes to finding existing opportunities to link internally.
To do this, you need to create a custom search by clicking configuration in the top menu, navigating to custom and selecting search.
Here you can instruct the crawler to highlight any time your desired keyword is mentioned in your website’s on-page copy. It doesn’t have to be exact match anchor text; you can provide a variety of potential anchor text terms to ensure a widespread of keywords.
Once your crawl is complete, navigate your way to the customer search tab. There you will be able to see the pages that contain the searched-for keywords. You can then go through this list and add an internal link based on the results.
Link equity, explained
Apart from improving user experience, the internal ranking should be part of your SEO strategy when it comes to passing link equity down through your website.
Contrary to popular belief, link equity is not only inherited through external backlinks, but also through internal links. When considering an internal linking strategy, it makes a lot of sense to transfer as many relevant internal links as possible from valuable/strong webpages to less strong or newer ones to help link value spread.
Link equity is an (arguably fictitious) unit of measurement that is used to measure how much “value” a link transfers from one page to another. When a website refers to another with a link, it “passes on” its positive characteristics (such as PageRank) to a certain extent.
What this means is if a page on your website has acquired relevant referring domains, the link equity that page has can be spread to the webpages it supplies internal links to. This means that with a well thought out internal linking structure and internal linking strategy, the authority from high authority pages such as your homepage or top-level service or category pages can find its way to fresher, deeper content on your website.
In turn, this boosts that page’s chances of ranking. To help ensure link equity is not blocked, it is important to make sure you are not adding a nofollow tag to your internal linking structure.
Matt Cutts – Google’s Head of Search Quality Team
“It’s usually a waste of time to use nofollow attribute on internal links because links don’t flow PageRank anymore causing them to drop out of the link graph. Just in some cases when you might not want Googlebot to come to your login page as an example, you can use nofollow. But it doesn’t hurt to have the login page visited by Googlebot. So, you shouldn’t use nofollow, because that does more harm than good.”
Should I link internally to pages already in the website navigation?
Google does admit it treats links in a website’s navigation menus and footers differently to descriptive anchor text links found in body content. This treatment is assumed for internal links as well as external backlinks.
For example, we know the higher up a descriptive anchor text link is in a page the more “weight” will be put on it. This is because the search engine algorithm calculates it as having a better chance of being clicked compared to links further down the page.
But then Google says that it only judges a link the first time it encounters it. This is often referred to as the first link counts rule.
So, in theory, if the Googlebot has already found a link it encountered first in the main menu, will it simply ignore the link again if it sees it in the body content? For example, we know internally linking to blog posts from top-level service or category pages can be beneficial in the sense of passing on link equity, but internally linking from a blog post to a service or category page that is already in the main menu, purely for link equity purposes, could be fruitless. This should be done with user experience in my mind more so than passing link equity. Even if you have the best site architecture you should still consider user experience when planning a internal link structure.
Find broken internal backlinks
The final tactic in your internal linking strategy is to now find any existing broken internal links on your website and fixing broken internal links. A broken internal link will lead a user to a 404-error page on your site which isn’t great for user experience. Using a site audit tool such as SEMRush can quickly help you find any broken internal links on your website.
All you have to do then is going into your CMS and redirect them to an appropriate alternative page or remove the link.
Benefits of internal linking:
- The link equity from pages with backlinks is better distributed to all other subpages.
- Search engines and users can find content more easily
- Internal links, anchor texts and link titles can be determined and set by yourself
- Encouraging users to view other pages on your website helps reduce bounce rate
- Create meaningful and keyword-rich anchor texts
- Make the internal link anchor text recognisable for users by highlighting it in colour
- Place the internal links at the beginning of the content if possible
- Set meaningful links that are interesting for the user
- Fix broken internal links as you find them
- Do not hide links, e.g., by using white writing on a white background
- You shouldn’t link inappropriate or unrelated topics together
- Do not link with anchor texts like “click here” but use meaningful anchor texts
- Don’t give different link destinations the same anchor text. This can help cause keyword cannibalisation with your rankings.
- Avoid internal “no-follow” links, this can halt the spread of any link equity through your site
- Make sure you’re not linking through to any 404 or internal error pages.
Internal Linking: An Integral Part of Content Optimisation
Need to know more about content optimisation? Has our internal linking guide raised other questions? Or, do you need some help upcycling pieces into memorable, readable content? Well, our Content Optimisation service helps with just that. Our optimisation services take your existing content and transform it to make it look nicer, read better and attain more traffic. We’re not interested in content for content’s sake: we want results.