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Internal Linking for SEO: The #1 Way to Keep Visitors on Your Site

  • Post category:SEO
  • Reading time:10 mins read

The main goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is to rank on the SERPs. However, before you can rank, your content needs links. Why? Well, Google finds your posts and pages best when other pages link to your pages. Furthermore, internal linking for SEO also provides Google with a look at the structure of your website. Another great aspect of internal linking is that you can create a site hierarchy. Doing so allows you to give more important pages and posts more link value than other, less valuable, pages. All in all, an effective and well-thought-out internal linking strategy can ultimately boost your SEO rankings.

What are Internal Links?

Internal linking for SEO involves linking one page on your website to another page on your website. Internal linking is important since both users and search engines use links to find content on your website. Users use links to find their way through your site and to locate the content they want to find. Search engines also use links to navigate your site. It’s important to note that search engines won’t find a page if there are no links to it.

There are a number of different to approach internal linking for SEO. In addition to the links on your homepage, menu, post feed, etc., you can also incorporate links within your content. These links are called contextual links. Contextual links guide your readers to interesting and related content. Furthermore, they provide search engines with a roadmap of related content. The more links an important page receives, the more important it will seem to search engines. With that in mind, solid internal links are critical to your overall SEO success.

Internal vs. External Links

Every website contains both internal and external links. Internal links connect pages and posts on your website and external links connect to pages on other sites. This post will focus on internal link building and what they mean for SEO.

Why Are Links Important to Google?

Internal linking is an essential factor for Google and other search engines. So that likely leads you to wonder – how does it all work?

In the most basic sense, Google follows links to discover content on websites. It then ranks content based on these links. If a piece of content has lots of links, then Google recognizes that it’s a high-value piece of content.

Internal linking is something that you control as a site owner. With effective internal links, you can guide your visitors and Google to your most important pages. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Yoast plugin since it provides you with pages to which you make want to link.

Internal Linking for SEO - Curious

Relationships Between Different Pieces of Content

Google has a nifty tool called Googlebot. This bot crawls websites by following links – both internal and external. Googlebot first arrives on the homepage of a website, begins to render the page, and follows the first link it encounters. Google can figure out the relationship between various pages, posts, and other content by simply following links. This is also how Google determines which pages on your site cover the similar content matter.

Link Value in a Nutshell

Google not only understands the relationship between content, but it also divides link value between all the links on a page. In most cases, the homepage has the greatest link value since it has the most backlinks. That value is shared between all the links found on the homepage. The link value passed along is then divided between the links on that page.

With that in mind, newer blog posts will get more link value if you link to them from your homepage. Furthermore, Google will find new posts faster if you link to them from your homepage.

Once you grasp this concept, you’ll understand that more links to a post equate to more value. Since Google views a page with lots of valuable links as important, you’ll increase the chances of that page ranking.

Developing an Internal Linking Strategy to Boost Your SEO

It’s critical for the sake of your site’s SEO to improve your internal linking strategy on a regular basis. Improving your internal linking strategy is a great way to improve the overall fitness of your website. Furthermore, by adding the right internal links, you ensure that Google understands:

  • the relevance of pages
  • how pages relate to each other
  • and the value of pages

There are a handful of things you’ll want to take into account when setting up your internal linking strategy. How you go about doing it depends on your site and your overall goals. However, the following points provide a strong starting point.

Determine the Ideal Structure for Your Site

The majority of digital marketers envision their website as a pyramid. At the top, you have your home page. The second tier includes sections or categories. Further down you have individual posts and pages. If you do this well, your main menu should mirror this basic structure.

Identify Your Most Important Content

Next, you need to identify your most important content – some refer to this content as your “cornerstone content.” This is your best and most complete content. It’s about the core of your business. It’s the content you want people to find when they search for topics that are your specialty.

Since you want to let Google know that this is your most valuable content, you want to add as many links back to it as possible. There are different spots from where you can link back to your cornerstone content. Here are a few of the more common (and effective) ways to link your content back to your cornerstone content.

Internal Linking for SEO - Identify

Add Contextual Links to Boost your Internal Linking for SEO

When you produce a number of articles on the same topic, you should link them to one another. Doing so shows Google (and users) that these articles are topically related. You can link directly from the body of your content or add links at the end of your posts.

Furthermore, you want to show Google which of those articles is your cornerstone – your most complete article on the topic at hand. In order to do so, you have to add a link to the cornerstone in all of the articles related to the topic. Lastly, don’t forget to link back from the cornerstone to the individual posts!

Link Hierarchical Pages

If you have hierarchical pages on your website, make sure to link parent pages to their child pages and vice versa. Furthermore, you want to make sure that you link sibling pages to each other. On a well-organized site, these pages should relate, and linking them like this will come naturally.

Consider Adding a Related Post Section

There are countless plugins and modules that allow you to add a related post section to your posts. If you do use one, it’s wise to test whether the related posts are in fact related. If you’re not 100% sure, then manually linking related posts to each other is probably the best course of action.

Try Adding Navigational Links to Improve Your Internal Linking for SEO

You can make your cornerstone content more authoritative by adding links to it from your homepage or top navigation. You should do this with the posts and pages that are most important to your site. Doing so will give these posts and pages more link value and make them more impressive in the eyes of Google.

Add Links to Your Taxonomies

Taxonomies (aka categories and tags) help you organize your site and help both users and Google understand the nature of your content. If you have a blog, it can be beneficial to add internal links to the taxonomies to which the post belongs. Adding links to the category and tags helps Google understand the structure of your blog and helps readers easily navigate to related posts.

Consider Adding Links to Popular or Recent Posts

The final method we’ll touch on is creating internal links to the most popular or most recent posts. You can accomplish this by employing widgets in your sidebar or footer that highlight your most recent or top posts.

You’ll likely notice an uptick in traffic as link value passes to these popular/recent posts from a variety of other different pages. Furthermore, the posts will be easier for visitors to find, which, in turn, will increase traffic. When all is said and done, Google will take note of this increase in traffic and make the necessary adjustments.

Internal Linking for SEO - Popular

More on Internal Links

Nofollow Links

Odds are that you have links that are of zero SEO value on your website. For instance, a login link for your clients on your homepage. Naturally, you don’t want to leak link value to your login page since that page doesn’t need to rank high in the SERPs.

In the old days, you could prevent the loss of link value to zero-value links by attaching a nofollow tag. A nofollow tag asks Google to not follow the link. You’re likely thinking, “I’m going to nofollow less important links to give the most important links more link value.”  This is a brilliant idea and may have worked in the past. However, Google has evolved and has become smarter. It now seems that the link value from nofollow links doesn’t flow automatically to the other links on the page. The nofollow link counts as a link and the link value for that link will be lost. That being said, it makes more sense to have fewer links on a page instead of nofollowing some of the links.

It’s important to note that adding a nofollow tag doesn’t mean that those target pages can’t be found in Google’s search results. If you don’t want other pages or posts to show up in the search results, you should also give them a noindex tag. Adding a noindex tag means that Google shouldn’t render the page and shouldn’t give the content a place in the Google index to show up in the SERPs.

Anchor Texts

Once you’ve decided which links should be on a page and which pages deserve link value, it’s important to employ the right anchor text. Anchor text is the clickable text that visitors see.

You can hurt your website if you over-optimize anchor text. The most egregious form of over-optimizing is keyword stuffing. Back in the day, you could give all anchor texts the same keyword and Google would rank your content for that keyword. Today, that simply doesn’t work. Google is smart enough to understand that the content around the anchor text says more about the relevancy of a keyword than the anchor itself. That being said, make sure your anchor text looks natural in your copy. It’s fine to use keywords, but don’t add identical keywords to every link’s anchor text.

Andrew Roche

Andrew Roche is a Digital Consultant at Shift Digital. He is also pursuing an MBA in Marketing & Finance through the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University

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