What Impact Do Internal Links Have On Your Rankings

Text: Internal linking strategy that works

Before your content can rank on search engines, it needs links. Google, as well as users need to find your pages and posts on the web—and that’s where internal linking comes in!

If SEO is a house, strategic internal linking is the framework of that house. It provides flow of traffic, facilitates improved navigation and makes content more rich and intuitive. In fact, internal linking is critical to link building success, yet it is often overlooked.

What Are Internal Links?

Before we dive into using internal linking as an SEO power technique, let’s begin by quickly going over the basics.

Internal links are hyperlinks that lead to other resources on your website. This resource is usually a different web page, but you can also link to media files, downloads and more.

Even if you’re not using internal links consciously in your written content, your website is already using them. Any website that allows you to navigate to other areas on your site via the homepage is already using internal linking.

Why Are Links Important To Search Engines?

It’s no secret that links are one of Google’s top 3 search ranking factors—factors that help you rank high on Google. And by links, we mean both internal and external links.

Internal links direct users to another resource on your website, whereas external links direct the users to a trustworthy resource on another website.

Internal Links Help Google Understand Site Architecture

Internal linking keeps your website connected; it’s simply a matter of logical architecture and design that search engines expect.

Here’s what your internal linking structure should look like:

Internal linking establishes your site’s hierarchy, which in turn acts as a guide for Google. It gives clues to Google as to where to look for the most essential content, which brings us to another benefit of internal linking:

Internal Linking Helps Search Crawlers Discover More Content

Google uses crawlers called Googlebots to navigate through websites, sift through its content, and understand what your site is about. Making their way through your web pages, the bots index your content accordingly.

Without a good internal linking structure, crawlers take a lot longer to index pages. This means that you’re making it harder for Google to discover your posts, consequently hurting your overall SEO efforts.

Moreover, Google works out how your content is related to one another by following the link path, allowing it to discover pages that cover similar subjects, in addition to new content that you publish and link to.

Internal Links Spreads Link Equity across Web Pages

A good internal linking structure also helps distribute ‘link juice,’ that is the link authority or link value that’s passed from one page to another throughout your website.  

The more links your webpage has, the more ‘link juice’ it contains; and when you disperse link juice throughout the site—rather than consolidating all of it on the home page—your internal pages will become as strong as your home page.

This way, when your website receives a link to the homepage, some of the value from that link is passed on to your internal pages since they’re internally connected.

Therefore, a tightly-knit website structure performs better in SERPs.

Using internal links in pages

Internal Linking Facilitates User Navigation

Here are two main considerations you need to take into account when dealing with your site’s internal linking structure:

  1. Search engines: Focus on how search engines find your website, index it and understand it.
  2. Users: When placing links on your web pages, think about where to place the link, and what they should lead to. Focus on where the users are, and where they want to go (or where you want them to go) as easily and quickly as possible.  

A decent and well-thought-out internal structure has a significant impact on user experience (UX).

Your website structure should reflect the navigation of your site, facilitating users to easily find their way around. And Google loves sites with good user experience too!

For instance, when researching a topic, users are always looking for content that reinforces that topic. So by adding internal links to additional content on your site, you increase the value of each piece of content.

While internal linking may not drive conversions directly, its fits within the marketing funnel—directing people to a target destination.

Plus, the more your audience stays on your site, the better your site’s page views, average time on site, pages per session and session duration.

So, by simply adopting strategic internal linking, you can watch your engagement metrics hit the roof!

What’s more, a tiered internal linking case study by Ninja Outreach explains how the company used internal links to boost organic traffic by 40%!

Setting Up A Winning Internal Linking Strategy

Whether you’re launching a new site, refreshing an existing one, or restructuring your content, your intent linking strategy will be essential to your SEO success.

Let’s look at what makes a good internal linking strategy:

1. Establish Ideal Site Structure

The best internal links are those that connect an article to another. This gives way to a strong linking structure, with deep links within the site.

Google’s Take On The Best Site Structure

In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller touched on the importance of strategic and meaningful site architecture as a powerful technique to tell Google what the site is about.

John talked about the crawlability issues associated with a ‘flat site structure’ and how a ‘conventional site structure’ facilitates indexing and crawling.

‘Conventional site’ refers to the Theme Pyramid structure which we typically see in modern websites. In this site structure, the home page is at the top of the pyramid while the second row consists of sub topics that are linked from the main homepage. Essentially, the structure goes from general subject to specific subtopics, finally resembling a pyramid.

When a website lacks this conventional pyramid theme stricture, it’s referred to as a flat site structure in which all pages are just one click away from the home page, thereby appearing ‘flat’  in terms of the site’s navigational depth.

John exclaimed that the lack of organization associated with flat site architecture makes it difficult for Google to clearly understand your website.

A hierarchical site structure, on the other hand provides key indicators on the context of your web pages, and how they relate to each other.

So, ideally, this is what your site structure should look like:

  1. Homepage
  2. Categories
  3. Subcategories
  4. Individual pages or posts

What’s Your Cornerstone Content?

After figuring out your site’s architecture, you need to determine what your cornerstone content is—your best, detailed and most complete content that talks about the core of your business. Cornerstone content is what you want your target audience to find when they’re looking for products/services you specialize in.

If you don’t have cornerstone content yet, create one, and then add the most links to it—preferably from top-level pages—to let Google know that it’s your most essential content.

After you’ve established your cornerstone content, create smaller, less detailed pieces to link to the main subject. Finally, create content based on long-tail keywords to further link to these posts and pages.

content creation strategy that works

2. Linking To Home Page

As discussed earlier, your website’s home page is probably the most linked page on your site, which means it has the highest link authority. Many webmasters take advantage of this and add links to their cornerstone content from the homepage in order to channel the link juice to their inner pages.

However, it’s important to mention here that too many home page backlinks can be bad for SEO!

The rule of thumb is to avoid links to pages that the main navigation already has links for.

If you have a strong internal linking structure, you can instead boost link juice by creating clear indexation and click paths throughout the website. Basically, link content-heavy pages to other content-heavy pages.

Moreover, creating links in long form articles spreads your linking authority naturally. In fact, the best links are deep with the site structure. The deeper your internal links go, the better.

3. Contextual Linking: The Art Of Siloing

Siloing is the process of grouping together topically related web pages using internal links. This creates a topic cluster, showing Google—and users!—that you have additional resources that reinforce your main content.

Don’t forget to add a link to your cornerstone article in all these less detailed posts. Plus, add links back from the cornerstone to these individual posts.

Example of contextual navigation is a “read more” link, or a hyperlink to a product page.

The benefits of contextual linking are:

  • Crawlers will better understand your site structure
  • It improves the users’ time-on-site
  • It enables more link authority to be transferred to your important pages

4. Add A Related Post Section

There are tons of modules and plugins that help you add related posts sections at the bottom of your post.

Adding related posts improve content engagement, helps you improve time-on-site by providing the next exciting thing to read, and finally boosts SEO.  Plus, adding related posts is a great way to get your older, high-quality content viewed by your target audience.

However, it’s important to mention here that when adding related posts, make sure the posts are truly relevant.

5. Add Links To Taxonomies

Taxonomies like tags and categories give structure to your content. These are typically visible in the form of clickable links in a website’s sidebar. If you’re creating written content, it’s always beneficial to add links to the taxonomies your post belongs to.

Adding internal link to categories helps Google understand the site structure, in addition to helping visitors navigate to related posts.

These links also have a significant impact on your rankings in search engines. In fact, studies have shown that when webmasters changed the organization of their site structure, for instance, when they removed links to categories from the home page, they observed a drop in their rankings for categories.

6. Add Navigational Links

Navigation plays a significant role in findability, usability, internal link optimization and search indexing; needless to say, it contributes to both search and user-friendliness.

When building an efficient navigational structure, there are two types of navigational links you need to take into account:

  • Customer-focused
  • Company-focused

Customer-Focused Navigation

The navigation bar on your website should give a complete overview of your products/services to the users.

Take a look at the two navigation examples below. Which one gives you a complete picture of what the company offers?

Example # 1:

Example # 2:

While both are examples of manufacturing companies, only one makes their products clear through their navigation—in a way that the user doesn’t have to search, guess, or read content to end up at your conversion page.

But what about the About Us and Contact Us links?

They’re important too, but they only interest the visitors once they get further into the buying process.

Company-Focused Navigation

This consists of navigation links that provide target audience information about your company. Although important, these navigations are secondary to customer-focused navigation items.

Make sure the following universal navigation links are visible to the user in the top navigation:

  • Logo link
  • Contact Link
  • About Us
  • Search bar
  • Phone number
  • Checkout cart

7. Use Reasonable Amount Of Internal Links

So how many links should you add in your internal content?

According to Google’s instructions, keep the number of links on a page to a reasonable number.

And what’s this reasonable number?

There isn’t a definitive figure; it’s a long-standing debate in SEO. In fact, even Matt Cutts gave us a vague statement. He wrote, “Keep the number of links under 100, but in some cases, it can make sense to have over a hundred links.”

Keep in mind, the 100-total links refer to all the links on a web page—headers, footers, navigation bars, ad, everything.

Internal linking isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy and there isn’t a magic number to the total number of internal links you should abide by; it depends on the length of your post. For instance, if you write an article that exceeds 1500 words without a link-heavy navigation bar, you’re good to include 10 to 20 internal links if needed.

However, there is one thing that’s all-important: the user. You’re free to add as many links as you deem would be helpful to the user.

8. Link To High Converting Pages

Did you know that internal linking strategy has more than just SEO value? It can offer revenue value, too! The more organic traffic you drive to your high-converting page, the greater the number of your conversions.

Some pages attract a lot of visitors probably because they are highly shared or they rank high in SERPs. These pages are called your traffic champions.

On the other hand, some pages attract visitors to take action. These pages have a high probability of converting visitors to subscribers and are called conversion champions.

Your goal during internal linking should be to link the traffic champions to conversion champions!

Pages with high conversion

Which Of Your Web Pages Attract The Most Traffic?

You can check this easily through Google Analytics. Just go to the All Pages Report and sort it based on 3 to 6 months range. The report automatically displays the pages based on the number of views.

Note: when going through the list of pages, keep in mind that the pages that received traffic spikes during an email or PR campaign will probably not receive that kind of traffic again.

Which Pages Get The Most Conversions?

You can also track your conversions from Google Analytics. For this, you’ll need to set your Google Analytics goal, for instance, a “newsletter subscriber” goal. Dividing the conversions on the page by the page views will give you the required conversion rate from visitor to subscriber.

Finally, link the traffic champions to your conversion champions by placing natural links in-between text. The more your users click on these links, the faster your email list will likely grow.

9. Create Impactful Internal Links Using Anchor Texts

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text of a link. For example the words ‘clickable text’ in the previous sentence is the anchor text for an external link.

The anchor text combined with a contextual link tells Google that the two linked pages share a common subject, and consequently, the link gets more value.

Moreover, anchor text helps the users understand the additional information they can get by clicking on the link.

Best Practices

Using anchor text, however, opens a can of worms. Just about any anchor text won’t do; we recommend using phrases that are relevant to the target link.

  • Don’t try to continuously create an exact match between the link target and the anchor text. This “exact match anchor text” technique has even been associated with SEO penalties following the Penguin update.

The search engines catch these exact matches, because they’re unnatural and aren’t likely to occur frequently in regular content.

  • Using phrases like “click here” doesn’t add any value. Make sure to relate your anchor text to the destination article in some way.
  • Hyperlinking entire paragraphs in bad for user experience; it simply appears clunky. When using anchor texts for internal links, just stick to a phrase or few words.
  • It’s okay to use keywords in anchor texts, but just don’t add exact keywords to every anchor text

10. Adding Internal Links Using A “Site:” Search

Let’s say you’ve published a new article and you’re now looking to add few internal links to the page to give it a boost.

How do you determine where to link from, and link to?

Go to Google and enter site: yourdomain.com + “keyword or phrase that’s related to the page. This operator shows you a list of indexed pages on your site that mention the targeted keyword.

The result returns pages in Google’s index (and on your site) that use the specific phrase or keyword. This gives you the perfect opportunity to figure out relevant internal pages with super-relevant anchor texts.

Concluding thought

The main purpose of internal linking SEO strategies to tell search engines about:

  • The relevance of your web pages
  • The relationship between web pages
  • The overall value/ link authority of each page

Without a comprehensive internal linking strategy, you’re likely missing out on several valuable opportunities to boost your SEO, in addition to creating user-friendly experience for your target audience.

It’s even worth to go back and audit your old content and site structure for broken links and orphan pages to make sure you’re making the most of the underrated powerhouse of SEO—internal links.

Internal linking throughout website

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