Perhaps we are stating the obvious here, but the experience that our agency gained through numerous website audits obliges us to say it: You can’t expect to provide a good user experience without internal links. Internal links weave a web of connections between content related to a specific topic and help your website visitors find the information they need beyond the actual article that brought them to your site. From a technical standpoint, internal links help you find broken links and redirect loops and increase your website authority.
They are a powerful way to strengthen your content marketing program. Since so many SEO managers invest way too much in backlinks, although their websites already have tons of authority, but no internal linking strategy, professional SEO experts from our agency reveal why internal links are so important and how to optimize them in order to improve the organic visibility of your project.
What are internal links?
Internal links, also known as interlinking, are hyperlinks between two pages of the same website.
You may come across those definitions of internal links that use the word domain instead of the word website. Explaining interlinking in that way is not always precise enough due to subdomains. For example, if your website has multiple subdomains, links between them are considered internal since you are the owner of those sites. However, things change when we talk about subdomains on Domains that different people own. Since each of those domains is a different website and has a different owner, links between them are considered external.
Types of internal links
Before we dig into answering the question of why linking between web pages is required, let’s talk about different types of internal links. Internal links can be divided into two large groups:
- Structural links – These links belong to a specific structure due to which they are repeated on multiple or all pages of the website. For example, links in the navigation menu or the footer are structural.
- Contextual links – These links are essential for SEO. They are inserted within a text and surrounded by context, which search engines use to give the link greater meaning.
We can further categorize internal links as follows:
- Body content links
- Main navigation links
- CTAs and sidebar links
- Footer links
Internal links vs external links vs backlinks
Since both internal and backlinks are types of hyperlinks, they look identical in HTML. They contain an href attribute, anchor text, and an additional tel attribute in some cases:
<a href=”https://alphaefficiency.com/blog/internal-linking/”>internal linking here</a>
As each of them serves a different purpose, they also provide value differently.
- Backlinks – These play a large role in your SEO efforts as one of Google’s ranking factors. They are hyperlinks between two pages on separate websites. Backlinks increase your website’s authority which helps you rank better on SERP. There are two ways to earn backlinks. You can get them either naturally or through strategic outreach.
- Internal links – Due to the fact that you add internal links yourself, they don’t increase your website’s authority. However, they do funnel existing authority and relevance earned from backlinks through your website.
- External links – These are hyperlinks from your website to a website on a different domain. Though some SEO experts state that linking to high authority websites can help you with SEO, Google’s webmasters claim the opposite. Be as it may, external links can build credibility if used right. One thing that is very important to mention when it comes to external links is it is crucial to often check your website for spam links. Through SEO, spam hackers can use your website to rank their own products. SEO spam does more damage the longer it stays on your website, and it may even result in Google removing your site from their search engine.
Why is linking between web pages required?
From the early days of simple keyword matching to using natural language processing to better understand search queries, Google search has certainly come a long way. However, algorithms are not all-knowing, and they still need context to understand what the page is about, how it is related to other pages, and how important it is on your website.
Including internal links in your content brings many benefits that result in better optimization for your target audience. They establish your website architecture, convey meaning, funnel authority, and so much more. Understanding why and how to place internal links strategically will help you achieve the best results with Google and other search engines. So, why is linking between web pages required, and which results will you get? Let’s explore.
Internal links improve crawl efficiency
Search engines crawl the internet by jumping from one link to another to discover new pages and include them in their SERP. Internal linking is what guides search engine bots while crawling your website, and the more internal links a page has, the higher the relevancy of the page will be. This is why, for example, it is crucial to include the most important pages in your navigation menu since they receive a link from all the pages of your website. Search engine crawlers follow a simple pattern:
- Automated algorithms, called spiders, crawl the internet on new as well as existing domains.
- Once they come across your website, they search the code for SEO ranking factors on each page.
- The data that these algorithms find becomes part of your website’s record or index, which determines whether and how your site appears on SERP.
- The entire process repeats on a regular schedule.
Crawlers check both your internal and external links in search of new and updated content. Having a strong network of internal links can speed up this process. Here is what you need to do to optimize your website for a crawl:
- Reduce the number of clicks required to access pages you want to be crawled more frequently.
- Determine which links point to which pages and target those that contain popular content with extra internal links.
- Use categories and tags within your content management system to create a structure for a crawler to follow.
- Regularly create, update, and submit your XML sitemap since search engines crawl those URLs more often.
- Improve the page speed to reduce the time crawlers take to render your pages.
Internal links enhance the user experience and improve engagement metrics
Internal links play a crucial role in achieving a better user experience. It offers your audience a chance to inform themselves more about a topic of their interest. These links suggest to readers that there is a piece of additional information on your website that they can access directly from the page they are currently on in case they don’t fully understand the topic at hand. This way, they can continue to build their knowledge on topics of their interest.
Also, as you set up a path for your audience to follow, there is a greater chance that they will explore deeper into your website and visit more pages. This, in return, reduces bounce rates and increases the time on the page, both of which are crucial user experience metrics.
Links convey authority
To better answer why linking between web pages is required for page authority, we first have to explain what Page Rank is and how it works.
Page Rank is a system patented by Google. Google gives a numerical value to each page of your website according to the quantity and quality of links the page obtains both from third-party websites and the website itself. Pages with higher Page Rank are more likely to rank high on Google’s search results page.
It is important to say that not every link transmits the same Page Rank. It largely depends on the position of the link with content and how relevant the link is. Links higher up the content are more valuable since there is a greater chance somebody will click on them. This means that the authority transmitted by a link placed in the navigation menu is higher than of the link placed in the page’s footer.
Each type of internal link passes the value differently
Internal links differ in value. Google has filed patents that pass Page Rank differently depending upon the likelihood of an internal link being clicked on. Here are the types of internal links from most to least valuable and how each of them helps your site:
- Body content links – This is the most important type of internal link for SEO. Body content links pass both context and authority to the page they point to. Google’s algorithms don’t just consider anchor text anymore. They also extract information from the text around your link. The more meaning, context, and intent you put into the surrounding text, the better Google will understand the destination page. Also, body content links serve to cite a source, entice a click, or offer more information and therefore pass more authority than navigation links that appear on every page.
- Breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs are a navigational feature placed near the top of a page that shows where you are in the website hierarchy. Not every website uses breadcrumbs – especially not those with relatively simple architecture. However, eCommerce websites with thousands of product pages usually do. These links provide a better user experience as it offers website visitors the option to jump back to any point in the content hierarchy easily. Breadcrumbs also tell search engines how your content is organized, which helps them discover important pages on your website. They pass along valuable backlink power and are automated, which means that you only have to incorporate them into your website once.
- Main navigation links – This type of internal link communicates information about the hierarchy and structure of your website but doesn’t pass Page Rank or context. However, your website visitors use them to discover and access your content. So although they are less valuable in terms of authority, they are still a crucial part of your internal linking structure.
- CTAs and sidebar links – The primary purpose of sidebar links is usually navigation. They are typically a simple list of categories or related content. CTAs tend to be more commercially focused. That being said, both of these types pass very little Page Rank. However, there is a way to strategically employ them to improve both user experience and website crawlability. For example, you can create a sidebar containing related links to similar content or link deep pages that might not fit naturally into your body content.
- Footer links – These mainly serve navigation and won’t do anything for you in terms of authority. However, footers packed with a large number of links appear spammy, so it is best to keep them simple and put only links to your contact, privacy, disclaimers, and about us page.
Internal linking increases conversion rates
We continue answering why linking between web pages is required with the section on conversion rates. Incorporating internal links into eCommerce websites improves navigation and guides visitors toward a sale. A well-established connection that starts with early-funnel content will direct your audience deeper into the sales funnel and drive conversions.
Internal links that you put on your home page point your visitors towards your content marketing. From there, articles and blog posts push them towards gated content, a free trial, or a product page. This is how your audience moves from initial awareness to becoming leads and customers. However, to build an infrastructure of this kind, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.
Internal links build a website architecture
Your website taxonomy is the first layer of your site’s architecture. It represents how your content is sorted through various topics and subtopics in your menus and navigation. Internal links add another layer that is impossible to achieve within a linear taxonomy. They create cross-links from one topic to another and turn content on separate pages into a cohesive online experience.
Link equity, colloquially referred to as link juice, is a search engine ranking factor through which certain links pass value and authority from one page to another. The value that a link will pass to another page depends on various factors, some of which are:
- The linking page’s authority
- Topical relevance
- HTTP status
To put it simply, if a particular page has an authority value of 100 and links to four other pages, it will transmit an authority value of 25 to each of those pages. Furthermore, if one of those pages is linked to 5 other pages, it will transmit an authority value of 5 to each page. As you can see, page authority dilutes bit by bit from one link to another.
Internal links can help you decide which pages of your website receive the highest authority.
Anchor text: internal vs external linking
Anchor text is the text you use to link a page to another one. Google uses anchor text to find out what the page it points to is about. To be more precise, Google positions the page it is linking to by the anchor text itself as well as the context surrounding it. For example, if you want to let Google know that you wish to position a certain page of your website for the keyword SEO experts, you need to use the exact words as anchor text on other pages.
Keep in mind that while this technique is recommended for internal links, we advise you not to use it for external linking since Google may see it as an attempt at manipulation and penalize you.
If you use contextual links for link building, it is important to put the keywords you wish to promote in the same paragraph as the link to your page since Google will note the context surrounding the link.
Use keywords in anchor text to improve rankings
Continuing to answer why linking between web pages is required, let’s point out a very useful SEO technique. Let’s say that you have optimized the content on a particular page to the max. You have included your keywords in the title, headings, and so on, but you still haven’t managed to improve the page rankings. What should you do?
One thing you can do is analyze the content on other pages of your website and see if there is any way you can include anchor text that links to the page in question. This way, you can speed up the indexing process and give your content authority from the moment it is published.
Another thing is to analyze the keywords for which you rank on the second page of Google’s SERP. Then attack top spots by including more internal links in your project that point to those pages and use those exact keywords as anchor text.
Dofollow vs Nofollow
Continuing our discussion on the question of why linking between web pages is required, let’s talk about an HTML tag that you can include in the head to apply to all links on your page or individually for a specific link.
This HTML tag tells search engine bots whether to follow a specific link or not. If you don’t indicate anything, the link is considered Dofollow and it will pass authority from one page to another. However, if you don’t want a link to transmit authority, you need to include a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag. This practice is known as link sculpting.
If we consider everything we’ve talked about in this article, it is best not to mark internal links as nofollow links so they would continue to pass authority, guide crawl algorithms, and enhance user experience.
The first link priority
If a website page links to another page more than once, Google will pass link equity only to the first link it comes across. Many SEO professionals have documented this rule, and it is Google’s way of making sure you don’t add countless anchor text links and cheat your way in for better SEO results. So, when the search engine spider crawls your page and finds two links pointing to the same page, it will consider only the first link’s anchor text and completely disregard the second one. Bear in mind that when we say first, we refer to the location in the code, not the visual location on the page.
On the majority of websites, the source code is composed in a way that the navigation menu is located above the content, so the spiders end up crawling it first. This usually presents an issue since navigation menus usually don’t use fully optimized anchor text. However, there are a few ways to get around this rule and still get your desired anchor text:
- Place the menu below the content in the source menu
- Internal link only to deep pages
- Use a hashtag for multiple internal links
For the sake of providing a premium user experience, you should only use the hashtag method if you have an H1 tag that contains your keyword in order to bring users to that H1 tag via anchor text containing that specific keyword. Otherwise, you are only trying to manipulate search rankings by adding links that don’t benefit users.
Internal linking dos and don’ts
We are nearing the end of today’s article, and so far, we have covered all the whys of internal linking. Next, let us consider all the hows as we explore the best practices of wiring your website in this manner:
- Integrate SEO into your content strategy – The content you create with SEO in mind is naturally ideal for internal linking.
- Use topic clusters and pillar pages – Topic clusters are bundles of related topics that altogether cover broad concepts. Each group contains one pillar page and multiple supporting cluster pages. Pillar pages cover high-level topics and introduce subtopics. Then you can create separate blog posts according to those subtopics and link them with pillar pages.
- Don’t use the same anchor text to link to different pages – This is usually an indication of a bloated content strategy that produces multiple blog posts that all look alike and target the same keyword. As a result, none of your pages will rank for that keyword.
- Link out from authoritative pages – Add internal links to relevant pages with a ton of great backlinks. The more backlinks a page has, the more internal links you can add without watering down their value.
- Don’t use complex internal linking formulas – Don’t tire yourself with overly complex algorithms just to sculpt Page Rank. Instead, keep your users in mind.
- Use keywords in internal link anchor text – Use internal links and anchor text that makes sense contextually and is there to help your website visitors explore your website.
- Don’t jam links into your navigation or footer – Keep your navigation clean and simple for a better user experience and include links to the most important pages of your website.
- Mix up your anchor text – The best way to boost your rankings for lower volume terms is to include them in your internal links.
- Don’t use silo techniques – Siloing is a practice of linking only within a specific category or topic group. Many SEO experts claim that this way, you can concentrate topical relevance within a group of URLs. We don’t advise you to force out-of-context links. However, if something comes up naturally, why not include a link?
- Prioritize relevance over location – Add internal links to the most useful place on your page instead of unnaturally packing them as high up as you can.
- Add internal links from old content – We understand that the more content you create, the more laboring it is to go back and add internal links. However, you owe it to yourself as well as your website visitors to provide the best user experience you can.
- Fix broken internal links – The larger your website is, the bigger the chance you’ll have broken links. If you redirect pages to another URL, tend to these so you would avoid sending mixed signals to search engines on what the new destination page is about.
- Use dofollow links – Including nofollow links means that Page Rank won’t pass through to the destination page nor get redistributed to other links on the page.
- Don’t overdo it – If you include too many internal links, you are in danger of presenting your content as spammy and diluting your Page Rank. It is important to find balance.
- Don’t waste your link equity – It is important to check your top linked pages at least quarterly to see which pages earned links naturally. This way, you’ll have a chance to capture that value and direct it throughout your domain.
Having a strategic approach to internal linking will help you create a premium user experience and make sure Google recognizes the value of your website as much as your visitors do. Internal links connect isolated web pages and make them part of the larger content infrastructure. They improve user engagement and can go a long way in converting website visitors into customers. Furthermore, They help in directing your link equity for highly relevant websites resulting in greater website visibility and a higher ranking spot on Google’s search results page. That’s the magic of SEO.