SEO is mission-critical in digital marketing. We know you already know that, of course. But the techniques surrounding quality SEO are too often more mysterious than they ought to be. One high-octane tactic for driving SEO results is using internal linking. Read on to learn what internal linking is and why it’s important. Then stick around to learn both how to stay on top of internal linking and how to win with it.
What is Internal Linking?
Simply put, internal linking is the practice of linking your content to itself. Internal links are links that live in your navigation and content that lead to other pages on your website.
Internal Links in Navigation
The navigation aspect is straightforward. This is your site’s menu structure, or its site map. Ideally, all pages of any significance should be accessible through an understandable navigation structure. You want your website to have a clear hierarchy in its navigation, not look like a scatterplot. Here's an example from Moz:
Internal Links in Content
Your site’s content, the running text on every page, is the other place where internal linking comes into play. For example, say we work the term “search engine optimization” into a blog post like this one. Simply having the term in the post helps our SEO for that term a little bit. But using the term search engine optimization and providing an internal link (see what we did there?) does more. We could keep doing this by talking about on-site SEO, off-site SEO, local SEO, and content for SEO—each of the specific SEO services (and, conveniently, pages) that we offer.
Each of the links in the previous sentence is an internal link. Of course, this is just an example. Best practices include using them in natural contexts and not clustering them all together.
Why is Internal Linking Important?
Here are just a few of the reasons that internal linking is important for driving SEO results.
Helps with Structure and Navigation
Smart internal linking helps build your website’s structure and helps users with navigation. People access the web in differing ways. Some will immediately start clicking on your menus without reading anything. Others will start reading whatever body text they see. If you link intelligently to your main service areas in the text on your main page, those users can find what they need.
Helps Users Find Your Content
However users arrive at one of your pages, internal linking helps them find more of your content. This is important, because you want them to stay in your ecosystem. If they find clear internal links on your pages and in your written content, they have another avenue to find the content that you’ve linked to.
Internal linking is especially effective for “Google-able” terms—terms that are unfamiliar or technical. These are terms your users are likely to Google for a definition, leaving your site. But if they see a term that’s unfamiliar that is itself an internal link, they’ll click. It’s easier than leaving, and it keeps them on your site.
Helps Search Engine Crawls Find Pages on Your Website
Search engine crawlers search your website, following the links they find. This is how they build a matrix of the pages on your domain. Pages on your site that are not internally linked are usually invisible to these crawlers. This means they won’t populate in search engine results no matter how stellar the content.
If many of your pages are accessible only through an internal search box on your site, that’s a problem. You need to internally link to those pages so the crawlers can find them.
Helps Build Authority and Ranking Power All Around
It’s important for search engine crawlers to find the pages on your website, but that’s not enough on its own. If you’re showing up on page 20 of Google’s search results for your target keywords, you’re in trouble. No one’s clicking to page 20 of Google results. Yes, the crawlers found you, but few humans will.
If that’s you (and we hope it’s not!), you need to boost your organic and search equity. People use a variety of terms to describe these concepts. Neil Patel describes this as page authority and ranking power. Internal linking boosts your page rank by building these up all across your site.
Whatever terms you use to describe these concepts, here’s the bottom line. The better you do in these areas, the higher a search engine will place your site for the relevant keywords. And, of course, the higher you rank, the more clicks you get.
Staying on Top of Your Internal Linking
We’ve established how important internal linking is. But staying on top of it is a challenge. Here are some great tips to do so.
Regularly Crawl Your Website
We can’t know with certainty exactly how to satisfy Google’s crawlers. But we can use similar tools to get a pretty solid idea how well we’re doing. Use a tool like ScreamingFrog or Moz Pro to regularly perform your own crawl. Do you see any important pages missing? If so, go implement internal linking to those pages.
Fix Broken Internal Links On Pages and In Navigation
Broken internal links don’t make the robots happy. But worse, they infuriate your human users. Stay on top of these by following best linking practices. This means that once you’ve created a page, don’t change its URL unless absolutely necessary. And it’s almost never absolutely necessary. Even if you notice a typo in a URL, leave the “wrong” URL in place. You can make it redirect to the right one, but don’t break the link.
Even if you’re trying to follow best practices, broken links happen. ScreamingFrog’s SEO spider can check for them, as can several other tools.
Update Internal Links to Avoid Redirects if URLs Change
You’ve seen redirects before: You click a link, and you get an ugly message informing you that you’ll be automatically redirected in 5, 4, 3, 2… And then, if all goes well, the page loads its new location. This is better than having a broken link, but the crawlers don’t always play nicely with these. They don’t look terribly professional, either. Regularly test the links on your site to be sure they’re not redirecting. If they are, update them.
Quick Internal Linking Wins
We’ve covered the basics of using internal linking to drive SEO results. Before you go, check out these quick internal linking wins. Add these to your basic strategies to drive SEO results even further.
- Include internal links in blog posts to key service and product pages. Don’t get spammy with it, though. Use them naturally, where human readers would benefit from them.
- Create lots of content and continue to place internal links in it. Google punishes dead sites. Keep yours alive with fresh, quality content.
- Use relevant anchor texts. Place your internal links on relevant keywords and phrases, but do so naturally. Please the people more than the robots.
- Make sure links are all follow or dofollow. (Here’s a tutorial if you need one.)
- Make sure your canonical tags are correct and match the URL. (Again, here’s a tutorial.)
- Think of internal linking in terms of a marketing funnel: Your goal is to keep users moving through the website toward an action or goal. This may be a sale or a sign-up, for example.
By now you should have a good handle on internal linking. It’s time to go forth and do it! For more help with SEO and setting up a solid structure to your website through internal linking, give us a shout - we're happy to help where we can!
About the author
Joe knows what it takes to drive SEO results. He is an experienced SEO specialist who currently leads the SEO department and strategy at Marcel Digital.