May 2, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
If you want your audience to go from one page to another on your website, how do you expect them to get there? The logical answer is usually “through the navigation” or “by a click.” But those two options only work if you have a logical internal linking structure for your website. Today, we’re looking at internal links and exploring how they can make your website easier to browse for both audience members and search engines:
Internal links are hyperlinks that take browsers from one webpage on your domain to another. Search engines and visitors use internal links to find information on your website and better understand the context of your content. The top three reasons marketers use internal links on their websites include:
While search engines may index all the pages on your website unless you tell them otherwise, it’s harder for both bots and your audience to find content on your site without an internal link. If your audience can’t get to a page through your navigation or by clicking a link on another page, the only place people could ever find it is organic search. The probability of that happening is low, or sometimes nonexistent if search engines can’t understand the context of the page and connect it to other information on your site.
Internal links are crucial for improving and maintaining your website and content SEO. They let search engines better understand what the content on your site is about and its value in relation to other pages and information. The more links a page receives, the more a search engine understands that page to be valuable. Then, your content is more likely to receive a higher search engine results page (SERP) ranking. Here are a few more reasons you should include internal links in your content:
Internal links help establish relationships between content for both search engines and your audience. Google and other bots and crawlers find websites and content using links to travel from one page to another. For most sites, this process starts on your home page. Google uses all internal links on your site to travel from one page or area to another until your context is indexed. The location of these links helps Google understand the content connections between pages and pieces.
Subheadings in a navigation bar, category sections in a blog, and internal content links all help bots and crawlers understand how pages and pieces relate to one another. But these links aren’t just for Google’s benefit. While the bots and crawlers may use them to index your content and recommend it in search, your audience also uses the links when they visit your site.
Grouping content or providing recommendations through internal links helps your audience understand what information goes together. This can make their browsing experience more logical and make it easier for them to find exactly what they’re looking for faster. A good internal linking strategy ultimately leads to a better user experience.
Pages that don’t have internal links pointing to them are orphaned pages—meaning there’s no parent page or post that directs to them. And if there aren’t any internal links to a page, search engine crawlers can’t find it. Some sites get around having orphaned content by having a sitemap that lists every URL on your website for indexing. While having a sitemap is a good technical SEO practice, it takes bots and crawlers much longer to find and index your sitemap rather than other internal links, especially if that’s the only location for some of your URLs.
Linking internally to all your pages and content makes it easier for search bots and crawlers to find all your content more efficiently. They don’t have to dig as deeply into your site before they encounter these links.
Though the number of links a page or piece of content gets isn’t the top Google ranking factor, it does still play a role in where your content appears in SERPs. Google views pages and content that have more links than others as more valuable. Why? Because if they didn’t matter or didn’t help your audience, nobody would link to them. If you can logically link your content to pages that have many backlinks or “link juice” you can increase the value of those associated pages.
There are multiple types of internal links you can use in your content to make navigation and locating information easier for your audience and search engines. Here are some of the most common types of internal links you may use on your site:
The navigation bar or menu is how your visitors find the pages and content they’re looking for when they use your site. Most navigation bars or menus include primary links that lead your audience to the main areas of your website. Navigation bars can also include sublinks and tertiary links that take people deeper into each primary section of your site right from the main menu.
Navigation links are a way to establish a hierarchy on your website. Without them, your audience wouldn’t be able to move throughout your site and find what they’re looking for. And even if they could, it wouldn’t be easy. Navigation links also help search engines understand the layout of your site. The links you share there help the search engines understand what your site is about and how the information connects to each other. In most cases, navigation links may lead to a subdomain or a highly relevant external link.
Sidebar links are often used to recommend content and pages to your audience based on their browsing history or preferences. For a publication area on your website, such as a blog or knowledge base, you may automate sidebars to pull internal links for your most recent content. It could also pull the most popular content based on algorithms and browsing history to appear there as a recommendation. Sidebar links may be a permanent fixture on site pages or they may act like a pop-up or menu that a browser can open and close by choice.
Page links are internal links that appear on the pages of your website. These often lead to other relevant areas on your site that people may want to visit as they explore. For example, on your services pages, you could have links to your contact page or landing pages where your audience can convert. Page links serve as a secondary, targeted option for navigation. They allow people to move throughout your website without scrolling back to the navigation bar or menu. These links are helpful for call-to-actions and for increasing conversions and engagement across your website.
Contextual links are those that appear in-text or within the content on your website. Different from page links, these may show up in articles, blog posts, eBooks, white papers, or other content marketing assets. Contextual links often lead to other content assets and web pages. You can use them to help keep your audience engaged on your website by providing more information or additional resources to the content they may find helpful. Contextual links can also include external links as well as internal links.
Even though they sound similar, internal and inbound links aren’t the same things. Internal links connect to content on the same domain. Inbound links bring views and traffic to your website from a different domain. Both of these types of links are different from external or outbound links. External links leave your website and take visitors away to another domain. Despite the differences among all the types of linking, it’s important to use all three when developing a link-building strategy. Each one has its own advantages for your audience and for SEO.
And luckily, internal linking is something you have control over as a marketer or website host. Unlike inbound and outbound links, your team has complete control over the information and pages on both sides of the hyperlink. You don’t have to trust or rely on another site to stay updated or consistent with its content. The entire process is in your hands.
The number of internal or contextual and page links you should use in content is a hotly debated topic among SEOs. Some say you should have a strict limit between two and five internal links on each page or piece of content. Others say you should link internally wherever it’s relevant. There is no magic number of internal links you should or shouldn’t use when developing web pages and content. Instead, consider what Google and other search engines can do.
Google claims that its bots can crawl hundreds of links per webpage. But you don’t want to max out that crawl space with just one page on your site. Since anything under 100 links isn’t putting a bot or crawler at its capacity, you’re likely able to include this many links or less on every page. But remember, that index capacity is for all links. Not just internal ones. You have to account for external links and your navigation links in addition to any internal page or contextual links in your content.
Depending on what type of internal link audit information you want, there are many different analytics and SEO tools you can use to explore your internal link profile. If you’re looking to make sure you have enough internal links on each page or piece of content you publish, a website plugin like Yoast SEO could help. This tool tells you if you’ve included enough internal links in the content for its length, based on algorithms.
If you want to know more about your orphaned content that doesn’t have any internal links, use Google Analytics. This program can show you a list of all your orphaned content so you can develop a plan to fix that problem. Other SEO and keyword tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and SEMrush also provide internal linking reports to help you audit your website and learn more about your internal linking structure.
Programs like Moz and Screaming Frog can run a site crawl analysis on your website to determine how and where content links to each other on your website. These crawls can reveal nofollow links, orphan pages, and other internal link issues you may encounter.
Here are a few ways to work with internal links on your website to get the most value from them:
You most often hear about nofollow links when you’re working on an inbound or outbound linking strategy. But did you know that nofollows apply to internal links too? Some links on your website aren’t important for your SEO. For example, a login link to a client-only area of your website likely isn’t something that’s going to generate much traffic for you in organic search. People that have a login are going to come to your site directly.
If you don’t need to grab “link juice” for certain pages on your website, you can add a nofollow tag to them on other pages. This helps you make sure that you’re only passing link value across your site in the most important places. The nofollow method for internal links isn’t a foolproof strategy. If you find yourself adding tons of nofollow links across every page, it may be time to rethink your internal linking strategy instead. You should use the internal nofollow tactic sparingly to push more link juice to other relevant links within content or on a page.
Anchor text, or the clickable part of an internal link, is just as important for your audience and search engines as the URL itself. The anchor text tells bots, crawlers, and visitors what they can expect on the other side of the link. It should be descriptive to tell them about the page they’ll visit or the content of the information on the other side.
Don’t over-optimize your anchor text or try to stuff it with keywords. For internal links, it’s also important to try to vary the anchor text you use each time you link to the same page or content. Using the same anchor text every time you link to a page may look spammy to Google. Logical variety can help search engines from discounting your internal links.
Internal linking is all about strategy. To grab that all-important link juice and spread it around your site, it’s important to link internally to your pages that already perform well in search. In most cases, those are your product and service pages, relevant conversion-optimized landing pages, and your most popular content marketing assets. By linking to these pages and pieces where relevant, you can help search bots and crawlers better understand your website and share authority and value across pages.
Where you put internal links on a page may matter as much as the URLs and anchor text you choose. Adding a link higher up on a web page or within content can encourage and increase engagement on your site. The higher up the link, the earlier it gives your audience something to do. When your audience is clicking on links, they become more engaged in your content. This keeps them on your site longer and allows them to explore more of your pages and content.
Internal links are just one factor that affects your SEO and online browsing experience. Making sure you’re developing high-quality content and sharing and distributing your pieces in the right places are also important steps to take to make sure your audience can find and engage with your brand. When you understand the importance of having a linking strategy, it makes it easier to incorporate one into your SEO plans and help you reach your goals.
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