The businesses we work with are all too aware of the importance of linking - However, this importance tends to be placed on backlinks to their site, without understanding the power of what links on their own site, to pages on their own site, can do for them. This practice is also known as internal linking (or sometimes interlinking.)
We’ve helped many a client improve their link architecture, and now we’d like to help you too. We won’t lie to you and say that internal linking is super complex - but there are some pitfalls that most beginners encounter that could be counter intuitive to your SEO efforts.
So, what are internal links?
As far as SEO terms go, internal linking is pretty self explanatory. It is a clickable word or collection of words (also known as anchor text) on a website page that directs you to another page on the same site. Look, we just did it with the words “SEO terms” at the beginning of this paragraph.
This differs from an external link, which links out to a website with a URL different to the one the link is on. Although outbound links are good practice too, they won’t help spread link authority within your own site.
Here is an example of internal linking in HTML:
Why do you need to internally link?
If you need some convincing before you start going <a href> happy, there are a few key reasons why internal linking is important for SEO.
1. Google can understand your website structure, and index your pages faster:
Your high-priority pages should have a higher amount of internal links going to them. This gives them more link value and a hierarchy to your website that Google can understand. Google bots can then better crawl your website, hopping from one page to another through your internal links. This is great for newly-created pages of importance to you, as it means they get indexed faster and therefore appear on the SERP a lot quicker.
2. It helps Google understand your website content
When you use an internal link you send both users and Google bots to another, relevant page. Google will get an idea, and as will the user, on what that page is about when you use descriptive anchor text.
This means it is preferable to describe the page you are linking to with a key word rather than something generic like “click here”.
The words “clicking here” do not tell bots what content will be on the page you are linking to, whereas “blue hats”, for example, reveals this.
Using interlinking on your blog helps you form so-called topic clusters with your content. You’ll have one high-priority page (a pillar page), with other posts that contain content on the same theme but at a more granular level (cluster posts) - The pillar will link to each cluster and vice versa; this is SEO interlinking.
Google will understand that you cover the topic in detail, establishing yourself as an authority on the subject, so therefore Google better understands what your website is about and it can rank you more highly for all the surrounding related keywords you may target.
3. It helps spread link juice to all of your site
The majority of backlinks go to a website’s homepage, giving the most authority, or ‘link juice’ to this page. But, by using strategic internal linking, you can help spread the power of the site through all the inner pages too. Just make sure you don’t NoFollow your own internal links (it happens!)
It’s good practice to go on your website and check the pages or blog posts with the most backlinks- you can then try and find opportunities to link internally from these pages to make sure you spread link value throughout your site.
You can use Google Search Console to find out your pages with the highest amount of backlinks.
Just log in to GSC, click on ‘links’ at the bottom of the left hand side, and you can then see the sites that link to you most and which pages are the most linked to.
Psst, you can also see which pages have the most internal links too, and use this to run an internal link audit- more on this later.
Use these powerful pages to link internally to your high-priority pages.
4. It provides value to users
Not only are internal links a great way to communicate with Google, but they also are invaluable to users. Often when someone is researching a topic, they will probably have questions that relate to that topic that you can provide answers to, or products for.
An example from one of our clients, GolfSupport (a golf e-commerce store), may be a blog post we wrote on the different types of golf clubs on the market.
Although the post may take you through the differences between woods and irons, it doesn’t answer other questions around the topic - like once you’ve decided on the club you want- how do you know what size to get? Here we could link internally to the cluster post we created on that topic, helping push the user along the buyer’s journey. Then, in the golf club size guide, you may want to internally link to a category page for that particular golf club (if you are an e-commerce store).
You’ve helped a consumer narrow down what they want, and pushed them deeper into your site through an internal linking strategy. Hurrah!
When to use internal links:
There are some instances where you should always link internally, and the more you do it, the more you will recognise when an internal link would fit nicely, and naturally, on the page. Here are some of those instances:
1. When you have a relevant post on a topic mentioned, but not explored, in a post.
This goes back to our pillar and cluster structure. It also helps maintain a lower bounce rate if you give a reader all the possible information they might need, preventing them from bouncing back onto the Google search page to find what they need.
2. On an E-commerce site: link from subcategories back to parent categories.
Doing this helps Google better see the connection between your pages. And again, going back to descriptive anchor text, doing this can allow you to use more targeted anchor text than you might in breadcrumb links. This type of internal linking can also be beneficial to users - and in turn great for your site by potentially increasing user engagement signals such as time spent on site and low bounce rates.
3. When you want to avoid internal competition
When writing multiple articles on the same theme or topic, it is likely that you will share some of the keywords across posts, or those thematically linked site pages will start ranking for the same terms. To avoid this, you can start using some internal links to link all pages back to your main/more important page on the topic- Google will then know to rank this above the others.
Likewise, if you have pages that are ranking for key terms better suited to another page you can redirect Google to that page using internal links.
4. To strengthen the page for certain keywords
By using the focus keyword of a page in the anchor text of all pages linking to it, you are strengthening the connection Google has with that page and that key term.
5. If you have a new page/ a page lacking in backlinks
It’s always good practice, after creating a new page, to go into other pages and use internal links to help strengthen that new page. This helps a page that needs to build backlinks and earn some authority.
When not to internally link
We see these mistakes quite often during our SEO audits:
Do not use the page’s keywords and variations to link to another page.
Do not use parts of a page’s keyword to link elsewhere - we see this on e-commerce sites where the page targets blue nike hats, but the word ‘hats’ is linked to their general hats page. You want to keep the focus key terms in tact for that page.
Do not use the same anchor text to link to two different pages [they will compete].
At the same time, do not constantly use the same keyword to go to one page- this is over optimising, and looks spammy.
Internal linking best practices
Make sure the anchor text is keyword rich (but vary it). If you’re not sure about what words to use as anchor text for a certain page, you can use an SEO tool, I tend to use Ahrefs for this, to input the page’s URL and see what it already ranks for. You can strengthen rankings for these words by using it as anchor text in your internal links to the page.
Use the first mention of the phrase to link out, ensuring the internal links are high up on the page
Make sure they are do follow
Do not include too many internal links on a page (it looks spammy!) - Google Webmaster Guidelines advise no more than 100 links on a page.
Ways to find internal linking opportunities for content
If you aren’t sure how best to identify opportunities for internal linking, here are a few tips we share with our content writers:
Use the Google ‘site:’ command.
When writing a new post for a client or you own blog, you should do a site: search on Google when you come across certain phrases that are relevant to you and content you have previously written.
Using Reboot as an example, if I write a blog post that mentions certain terms pertaining to marketing or SEO - such as “backlinks”, I can do a search:
This will tell you all pages containing this term on your site, and Google will rank them in order of relevance, tell you the best page to link to.
This is also a good way to find opportunities to link to a page you have just created- by finding all mentions of the key term across your site, you can use that as anchor text to link to your new page.
Do a GSC link audit
As mentioned earlier, you can use Google Search Console to find out which pages are getting tons of internal links, and which aren’t. You can use this to structure your internal linking strategy moving forward and make sure you aren’t over-linking to lower priority pages.
You should be doing an internal linking audit a few times a year to make sure you are on top of internal linking, as it is easy to neglect going back into old pages to update internal links to new posts or landing pages you have created.
Read more on how you can use Search Console to improve old content..
Sometimes you may need to add extra content in order to have an opportunity to link internally to an important page. Just make sure that the content you add is relevant and useful to the page- you don’t want to add things for the sake of it, people will notice!