Internal linking is a powerful strategy for improving your SEO. The best part about internal links, is that you are in control. Learn about internal linking best practices so you can distribute your link equity properly and help users navigate your website with ease.
When you land on a website, one of the first things you navigate to is most likely the top level navigation, or the “main menu”. With these navigation items, are the pages on your site that you wish users to visit the most, whether that be your shopping page, services page, or about page. These navigation items are considered internal links, and have their many benefits when it comes to SEO. Additional places internal links can be found is in the body of content, also referred to as hyperlinks.
In this guide, we will cover all the ins and outs of internal links and how you can use them to your advantage.
What is an Internal Link?
Internal links are hyperlinks that connect one page on the same domain to another. The opposite of an internal link is an external link, which is a hyperlink that points to a page on a different domain.
Code example for an internal link:
<a href="http://www.example.com/" title="Title of the link goes here and shows up as a tooltip">Keyword Anchor Text</a>
Internal links are one of the most important things (and one of the easiest) ways to improve your website’s SEO. They help establish a hierarchy for your site, with the most linked to pages being deemed the most important. Not only that, but they help users navigate your site and help crawlers navigate the site, which helps distribute link equity throughout.
SEO Best Practices
Internal Link to Important Pages
Since internal links help establish a hierarchy, you can choose which pages get more link value and help search engines understand which pages to pay attention to. One of the best ways to do this is to add your most important pages to your top level navigation. Additionally, you can add internal links from pages that have the largest amount of backlinks to harness that link value.
Internal Anchor Text Optimization
Anchor text is the clickable text you see on a website that link internally or externally. The anchor text is a way to help explain what the link is, which helps Google determine the page’s relevance. Because we are talking about internal links, you are okay to be somewhat aggressive with the anchor text.
By aggressive, we mean using exact match or partial match anchor text. From our observations, we’ve noticed that the following internal linking anchor text distribution is somewhat balanced:
Too aggressive anchor text usage can come off as spammy to search engines and can cause rankings to plummet, which is why we recommend a balanced anchor text distribution.
For an overview of the different anchor types, see below:
An exact match anchor text is when the main keyword of a page is used. For example, a page about content marketing is linked to with the anchor text, “content marketing”.
A partial match anchor text is when a variation of the main keyword of a page is used. For example, a page about content marketing is linked to with the anchor text, “content marketing strategies”.
Branded anchor text is when a brand name is used. For example, our homepage is linked to with the anchor text, “Generic Marketing”.
A naked link doesn’t use words, but instead uses a URL. For example, “genericmarketing.org/learn/”.
Generic anchor text uses words or phrases that are common, such as “Click here” or “this website”.
An image anchor is when an image is used to link to a page instead of text.
It is also important to note that you should diversify your anchors. Don’t use the same for two different pages.
Place Internal Links Higher Up and Closer to Homepage
A few years ago, Google was granted a patent, that constructed the way that links were weighed on webpages. This was called the Reasonable Surfer Patent or the Reasonable Surfer Model.
The reasonable surfer model essentially states that the amount of link value passed, is based on the probability of a user clicking on that link. With this in mind, structuring the way your navigation and links throughout your site are placed, is important.
When creating internal links, place them higher up on the page, and less clicks from the homepage (lower crawl depth). By following the concepts of the reasonable surfer model and how search engines perceive your pages, you can improve the SEO of your most important pages.
For a full understanding of Google’s patent on the reasonable surfer model, check out Bill Slawski’s breakdown.
Keep Internal Links Relevant
While you are internal linking, make sure to keep them relevant. By relevant, we mean linking to a post about chef knives from a post about the best kitchen utensils. A non-relevant internal link would be linking to a post about chef knives from a post about the different types of birds in the Amazon. With relevancy, there will be some sort of overlap of information.
By keeping the internal links relevant, a strong connection will be created allowing users and search engines to jump from page to page while staying on topic.
Follow Internal Links
Nowadays, people are always trying to game search engines like setting a nofollow tag on links to “preserve link juice”. While this is worth doing for some links (paid links, affiliate links, etc.), you should make sure that your internal links are followed.
If you nofollow internal links, you are telling Google to not count your page, or pass page value to it.
Best practice is to follow all the links on your site, internal and external, because you wouldn’t be linking to anything sketchy… right?
Implement Related Articles
Related articles are a great way to introduce internal linking to your blog. They are relevant to the topic being discussed if done correctly, and enhance the question/answer process of users by providing additional content to consume.
You can easily implement related articles with a plugin on WordPress, but be sure to configure the settings right to keep the related articles relevant.
Think related Youtube videos and how those seem to take users down rabbit holes.
Create an HTML Sitemap
An HTML sitemap, not to be confused with an XML sitemap, is a great way to add internal linking opportunities. Websites usually add this to the footer.
The page consists of a sitemap that covers the most important pages, which is helpful for users when they are navigating through. Also, these links can be set with whatever anchor text you desire and any pages you think are worth including.
How to Conduct an Internal Link Audit
An internal link audit can give you insights on which pages are being linked to the most, your anchor text distribution, what pages can use more internal links, and much more. The two best tools for an internal link audit are Screaming Frog (Free crawling up to 500 URLs, or about $187 a year) and Ahrefs (Starting plan is $99 a month).
To run an internal link audit with Screaming Frog, simply enter your URL into the ‘Enter URL to spider’ box at the top and click ‘Start’.
Note: If you have Google Search Console and/or Google Analytics setup, we suggest connecting those APIs.
After the crawl is complete, you can export the internal links by going to ‘Bulk Export’ then ‘All Inlinks’, which should download a CSV file which you can open in Excel or Google Sheets.
Once downloaded you should have a sheet of all the internal links on your site. Take this data and match it up against your Google Search Console or Google Analytics metrics to give you a good idea of what your important pages are, and if there are enough internal links pointing to them.
Also, you can check what the crawl depth of your site’s pages are by looking at the internal link data on the Screaming Frog interface, or by exporting that data and looking under the column ‘Crawl Depth’.
Other things you should look at are 3xx and 4xx errors, which you can export through:
‘Bulk Export’ → ‘Response Codes’ → ‘Redirection (3xx) Inlinks’ or ‘Client Error (4xx) Inlinks’.
And finally, the redirect chains report under:
‘Reports’ → ‘Redirect and Canonical Chains’
This will provide more data on your 3xx links. You will have to filter these spreadsheets to show internal data only.
By fixing 3xx and 4xx pages, you can rest assured that your site can be crawled by search engines with ease.
To audit your internal links with Ahrefs, you would just click on ‘Internal Backlinks’ in the left side panel. You can export this data to take a more granular look, or through the Ahrefs interface, which will show you the internal anchors and backlinks for the pages on your site.
You can also setup a project in Ahrefs under their Site Audit tool to audit your internal links. The Site Audit tool will give you additional insights into 3xx pages and 4xx pages that you should fix.
How to Find Internal Linking Opportunities
There are many methods of finding internal linking opportunities. The first is having knowledge of the content of your site, remembering which pages are about what, and placing those internal links.
Another way to find internal links is through the help of plugins, if your site is on WordPress. Keep in mind that these plugins create repetitive anchor text and aren’t personalized. Also, additional plugins can decrease the performance of your site!
Without using a plugin, one of the simplest ways to find internal linking opportunities is to do a “Site:” search. For example you would do:
The “Site:” search operator searches Google for any indexed pages for a specified site. The double quotes around the query force an exact-match search. By using the two together, you can search your site for certain anchor texts to internally link to.
Internal linking is one of the key SEO initiatives that you have control of. Take your site’s internal linking to the next level with the steps we have outlined above.
- Internal links establish a hierarchy for your site and give search engines as well as users, a good idea of what pages are important.
- Link to your most important pages often.
- Optimize the anchor text that is used, but also keep in mind to diversify them.
- Links that are higher up on the page and less clicks to the homepage will be given more weight.
- Keep your internal links relevant.
- Following all internal links will ensure page equity is distributed properly.
- Related articles on blog posts are your friend.
- An HTML sitemap is a great way to implement additional internal links.