SEO Internal Linking Structure

The Definition of an Internal Link

An internal link is a hyperlink that connects a page within a website, to another page within the same website. An internal link differs from an external link in fact that the source and destination link is the same.

What Google Says About Internal Links

“The number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page. If an important page does not appear in this list, or if a less important page has a relatively large number of internal links, you should consider reviewing your internal link structure.”

Wow! If that isn’t a clue about the importance of internal links in SEO, I don’t know what is!

Internal links, or a link pointing to another page within your site are a great way to help pass PageRank throughout your website. Internal links helps create a stronger SEO presence of your website. Creating internal links also helps provide a path for Googlebot (or Bingbot etc) when it crawls your website.

Always be sure to use a natural strategy when linking within your website. Always try to link to the most important pages of your website i.e. the ones you want to rank for. For instance on our website our SEO services page is one of our most important pages, so we want to be sure to have a lot of internal links on as many pages as possible pointing to that.

Google also makes a very interesting point in their webmaster guidelines. When in doubt we like to use this point as our internal linking mantra: “Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.”

Website frameworks such as WordPress do an awesome job of this by creating categories, tags, and other elements that create a hierarchy of internal links by default.

Try to avoid linking just to link. Make sure all of your internal links are actually helpful to your users and will actually assist them in navigating through your website. As with any linking strategy always be sure to consider anchor text when creating a link.

Uses of Internal Links

People link to pages internally or within their own websites for a number of different reasons. Most notable are:

  • menu or navigation
  • sub navigation internal links such as footer links
  • within a page or like this
  • to launch an application
  • special links such as tel: or mailto:
  • many more

There are many reasons why internal links exist, but today we are going to focus on how they play a part in on-page SEO optimization.

Internal Linking: Navigation

Website navigation, sometimes also referred to as “the menu” is a huge part of a websites internal linking strategy and SEO in general. The main navigation area of the site is meant to highlight the most popular areas of the website. By developing a well organized navigation area that includes drop-down links you can really increase the overall internal linking strategy of a website. Try to develop a universal navigation system that is easy to remember. Don’t get fancy with naming your navigation links. For instance don’t name your “about us” page ” something like “who we are.” Yes, it sounds clever but a lot of less savvy users might not get it.

One thing pretty much all websites, from Amazon to “nobody here” have in common: they almost all have top (horizontal) or side (vertical) navigation:

If you play your cards right your navigation / menu will give Google some hints and they’ll give you some site links in the search results. While you can’t exactly control these links, you can definitely help Google along by providing a standardized navigation menu that doesn’t change around a lot and makes sense.

Always be sure to plan out your main navigation before you structure your website. When we send our clients an initial website design questionnaire, that is one of the first questions we ask them: what at the primary navigation links you want on your website. Based on this, we either go with that and expand from it or make some recommended changes.

secondary navigation is meant to showcase links to areas of the site that aren’t a normal part of the main sections but could be useful to all visitors. This might be a “discounts page” or a page for various brands. This type of navigation may even change depending on the page the user is on. For example if a user is looking at the “bathing suit” category, the secondary navigation may list popular bathing suit brands or styles. These menus can also be dynamic menus. For instance the menu might change to “blog links” if you are on the blog page and then back to “sale links” if you are on the main shopping area of an eCommerce website.

Related Posts

One nifty trick a lot of webmasters and SEO’s implement is adding a related posts section to the bottom of each page or post.In this example you can see how the New York Times adds a “more in X category” widget to the bottom of each post. This is a great way to not only beef up your internal linking but engage users when they are finished with your post. Websites like Upworthy make millions from this by keeping visitors on their website for hours at a time.

These widgets are actually algorithmic filters that will display related posts based on the keywords within the post itself. The great thing about most related posts widgets (such as our favorite one for WordPress) is it will actually show you if you are on the right track as far as keyword targeting. You can also play with the filtering on these widgets, block specific posts or only show a selected bunch of posts such as only posts from 2013, 2014 etc. You can see how on our related posts widget (for Elite Strategies) it actually shows a relevancy score next to each post if you are logged in as the admin.

A lot of websites put this in the footer, but you can also put it in the sidebar or even header.

Another strategy people use in addition to the main navigation is creating a secondary navigation. A secondary navigation bar will highlight links to pages on your website that aren’t part of the main focus but could still be useful to some customers. Some examples of this would be some of the lesser known pages such as “privacy, copyright, mission statement, and refund policy.” Another example is creating a special “sale” navigation for promo codes, sales and discounts.

Locate Your Most Inner-Linked Pages

Linking from pages within your site is a great idea and everything, but there is a method to all this madness. Yes, it is generally a good idea to interlink any indexed pages from within your website. But how do you tell which pages have the most juice? One way is to pop open Google Search Console and see which pages have the most external links pointing to your website.

From here, you can really start to see which pages have the most power. For instance our blog has the 2nd most amount of links, so if we are looking to build a page internally it would behoove us to link to that page from our blog.

On the flip side of the equation, if you want to do an internal link audit you can also use Google Search Console for this. In this module, we can see which pages have the most internal links pointing from within our website. This is very useful for locating problem areas of the website. For instance our “services” page is one of the top pages on our website, if it had only 6-10 internal links pointing to it, that would be an issue.

In short, your most important pages or the pages you want to rank the most for should have the most internal links pointing to it.

A lot of people underestimate the power of internal linking, but it is a very important part of on-page SEO and definitely something that shouldn’t be ignored.

The Right Anchor Text

We’ve already written an entire chapter in our on-page SEO guide dedicated to anchor text, which is worth checking out but it is definitely worth talking about how anchor text plays a role in internal linking and SEO in general.

If you think about SEO and Googlebot in the realm of your site gives clues to Google about how you want it to rank, think about it this example. Google crawls these next 2 sentences:

really like SEO.

I love internal linking, its my favorite part of SEO.

Both links point to the same URL, but one is anchored with the word “really” and the other is anchored with the word “internal linking.” (getting meta here, I know.) Most likely, Google is going to “like” the later example, being that it is more descriptive, and probably because it matches the permalink of the anchored URL.

Be Natural, Be Relevant, Be Reasonable

One huge way to make your website visitors angry is to be weird about the way you link. Website visitors can spot a spammy SEO from a mile away. Gone are the days where you can do stuff like this within a paragraph:

Even if Google does ignore this, it is going to irritate your users. When your users are irritated, they will leave. When they leave, it can increase bounce rate, lower your time on site, etc. When that happens it can definitely devalue your sites overall metrics and possibly demote you in the rankings.

Don’t Overdo It

While its a common fallacy that too many internal links can be bad for SEO, its generally not good practice to sparingly use internal links. You’ll find that some webmasters or writers / editors are more liberal with their internal linking policy than others. I’ve heard before that most search engines will only crawl about 100-200 links on a page before they move onto different pages. They might go back and recrawl depending on the crawl budget, but it is really unknown how exactly G bot works in that regard.

Be concise with your text, and avoid using text that is off-topic. It wouldn’t make sense for me to start talking about my woodworking hobbies, band saws, wood glues, and types of wood within a post about on-page SEO, would it?

Internal Linking: Be Helpful!

Most of all, internal links are cues to help your website visitors find what they are looking for. Let’s look at these 2 sample paragraphs of text:

Example 1:

Quite often, when I think about on-page SEO I think about things like title tags and meta descriptions. While these are common fundamentals of on-page SEO, there are many other aspects of on-page such as schema markup, website and page speed, and keyword proximity. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, if you have you can follow me on Twitter!

Example 2:

Quite often, when I think about on-page SEO I think about things like title tags and meta descriptions. While these are common fundamentals of on-page SEO, there are many other aspects of on-page such as schema markup, website and page speed, and keyword proximity. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, if you have you can follow me on Twitter!

The first (not preferred) example of internal linking doesn’t really help the user, or give them any cues. It links to words like “like” or “other” rather than the object or subject of the sentence. The second (more preferred) example is not only helpful, but it links to helpful keywords that match to the outgoing page title as well.

The good part about learning SEO is that we’ve been around long enough to know that these little hacks definitely help and have been shown to help sites rank better in Google.

Another way of making your internal links helpful, is to make them prominentYou want your internal links to be easy not only for Google to crawl, but your users to find!

A word on rel=no-follow internal links

Instead of going into the theory of no-follow, I’ll just give some examples of situations where you might want to no-follow an internal link:

  • links to categories or tags
  • links to your CMS login page
  • links to your supplier login…or any login
  • links to a form or landing page only used for PPC
  • links to internal documents you also have “noindexed”

It is really your choice what internal links you don’t want followed. Remember, just because you add the rel=no-follow to a link, doesn’t mean Google will listen! Google has historically overstepped their boundaries in robots.txt and no-index, so why shouldn’t they with no-follow as well.

I would also be weary of links created using JavaScript. There are times when these links won’t be rendered by the browser (check the DOM) or crawlable by Google.

Avoid Internal Linking Plugins

I generally don’t make harsh judgements within my written materials on the web, but any plugin or script that tries to do internal linking generally is not very good. Seriously. If you can’t take the time to manually place internal links throughout your website, you shouldn’t be SEO’ing. Even if you have a huge site, there are ways around this.

On a side note, if you want a really interesting example of interntal linking, check out the table of contents listed below. I’ve jammed in a mini-menu on all 22 pages of our on-page SEO guide. You can do the same!

On-Page SEO Guide Table of Contents