Internal links are links from one page that point to other pages on the same website.
Internal linking sounds as interesting as washing your dishes, but it’s one of the most important on-page SEO strategies you can use to give your site an immediate boost.
Yet internal links are not given due respect in the SEO community.
They are almost an afterthought, often eclipsed by backlinks, a more rewarding SEO activity.
But here’s the truth: Without internal links, Google will find it difficult to index your site’s pages.
A poor internal link structure can impact your site’s search visibility.
In this post, you’ll learn the importance of internal links in the grand scheme of SEO tactics and how to create an optimized link structure for your website.
In this guide, I’ll cover:
- Why internal links are important for SEO
- Internal linking best practices to optimize your internal link structure
- How to audit your internal links for issues
By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to set up the perfect internal structure for your website.
Let’s get started.
Feel free to jump to any section of this article using the links in this TOC:
Why Internal Links are Important for SEO
Internal links are important. But just how important?
Internal links are used by search engines to discover new content on a site.
Google has a variety of ways to discover new content. One of them is internal links.
According to Google:
Some pages are known because Google has already visited them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.
Picture this scenario: You’ve published a new article. Your site currently doesn’t have an XML sitemap and as it’s a new article, it has no backlinks.
Now then, if you don’t link to this new post in any of your existing posts, Google bot (Google’s web crawler) won’t be able to crawl or index the page.
In other words, Google won’t know the page exists. It will be termed as an orphan page a web page that has no internal links pointing to it. (More on this in a bit)
On the other hand, pages that have a high number of internal links pointing to them provide a signal to Google that those pages are important for your site.
Google also evaluates the anchor text of your internal links to get a better understanding of the topics you cover on your site.
So always use descriptive anchor text for your internal links. For example, if I were to link to this post that you’re currently reading, my anchor text would be “here’s an in-depth guide on internal link” as opposed to “click here to learn more.”
Now that you know the importance of internal links for SEO, let’s examine the ways in which you can optimize your internal link structure by following internal linking best practices.
Internal links vs external links
Every website consists of internal and external links. Internal links connect pages and posts on your own website and external links connect your pages to other websites.
External links to your website are one of the biggest factors in the discovery and search engine ranking of your website
In this post, we focus on internal links and what they mean for SEO.
Internal Linking Best Practices to Optimize Your Internal Link Structure
An optimized internal site structure improves your site’s crawlability, establishes information hierarchy, and provides a better user experience to your readers.
The intent of this section is to provide you with a checklist for optimizing your internal link structure. Here are all the internal linking best practices you should follow:
1. Link from Top-Ranking Pages
When you link to another page on your site, you send link authority to that page.
The best way to transfer link value to a newly-published post is to link to it from a high-performing post on your site.
So how do you identify these pages?
The easiest method is to perform a “site:” search on Google.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say you’ve just published a post on technical SEO, and you’d like to boost it by adding a few internal link to it.
But how do you identify the posts within your blog that are most relevant to your technical SEO post?
You can start by typing this search operator into Google:
site:yourwebsite.com “topics or keywords related to your post”
The SERPs will feature pages on your site that mention the specific keywords you searched for.
Visit all these pages and add a link to your new post, starting with pages that are ranking right at the top for your target keywords.
But don’t just stop there.
Identify keyword variations for your target keywords and do additional “site:” searches to find more relevant posts from which to link to.
Add a link in one of these posts to your recently-published article. But make sure the post is relevant to the topic of your new post.
This will pass on some much-needed internal link juice to your new post.
Go through this process every time you publish new content on your site.
2. Use Keyword-Rich Anchor Text
Don’t use the same anchor text for two different pages
This confuses the heck out of Google.
Here are some other best practices you should follow for anchor text:
- Avoid using generic anchor text like “click here”, “check this out”, or “blog post.”
- Don’t use anchor text that has no relation to the page you are linking to.
- Avoid writing long anchor text.
- Make it easy for users to distinguish between regular text and the anchor text of your links.
3. Make Sure Your Internal Links Are Dofollow Links
If you want to send PageRank around your site via internal links, you’ll need to use normal dofollow links.
Yup, this is obvious. But it’s worth mentioning because I’ve seen people nofollow their internal links before.
It’s usually because they use some kind of plugin that automatically adds the no follow tag to external links. And a bug or setting makes their internal link no follow as well
“Dofollow” links are links that allow search crawlers like Google bot to follow the link. Any link, by default, is a dofollow link.
In other words, any link without the nofollow attribute is a dofollow link.
If you’d like your internal links to pass on link juice to other pages, then you need to make sure your internal link are dofollow links.
Deactivate any such plugin to confirm that all internal link on your site are dofollow links.
4. Perform a Basic Internal Link Audit with Google Search Console
The Google Search Console has an AWESOME feature called: “links”.
And you can use this feature to see how your site’s internal link are set up.
But you can perform a basic audit of your internal links with Google Search Console. If you have a small site, then Google Search Console is all you need.
With Google Search Console, you can examine how your internal link are set up.
You can also identify unimportant pages that have too many internal link pointing to them.
Here’s how you can do this:
Login to your Google Search Console account and navigate to:
Legacy tools and reports > Links > Top internally-linked pages
This section of the Links report will give you a fair idea of how your internal links are set up. The pages in your site’s navigation will understandably have more internal link pointing to them.
But you’ll also be able to identify pages that have way too many internal links than they ideally should.
Armed with this data, you can then reduce the number of internal links to these pages and point them to important pages on your site.
Google Search Console is a great tool for performing basic analysis of your internal links, so skim through the internal links report from time to time.
I recommend doing an internal link audit 1-2x per year. You’ll sometimes find that low-priority pages are getting a ton of internal link love
How to Audit Your Internal Links for Issues
If you’ve followed the above mentioned best practices for internal linking, you’ll have an internal link structure that’s optimized for SEO.
That said, you should audit your internal link from time to time to make sure there are no errors.
We have already covered performing a basic audit of your internal link with Google Search Console.
But to identify more serious issues with your internal links, you need to perform a deep audit.
You can do this by using an SEO tool like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz. I’d recommend SEMrush over other SEO tools because they have the best site audit features.
If you have an active Semrush account, here’s how you can audit your internal links:
Run a fresh site audit, and in the site audit overview report, navigate to “Internal Linking” under Thematic Reports. Click on the “View details” button.
This report will help you identify and fix critical internal linking issues on your website.
Focus on fixing the issues in the “Errors” column before moving on to issues under “Warnings” and “Notices.”
To view the pages with internal link issues, tap the issue box against each issue. If you need recommendations on how to fix these issues, click on the “Why and how to fix it” link.
Here are some of the most critical internal link errors you need to fix to restore your site’s SEO health:
- Broken internal links
- Too many internal link
- Nofollow attributes in internal links
- Too long link URLs
- Pages with only one internal link
- Links with no anchor text
Perform a deep audit of your internal links at least once a month to find and fix issues that may affect your site’s SEO performance.
Final Thoughts on Internal Links
Internal linking is not the most interesting aspect of SEO. That said, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to improve your site’s SEO.
When compared with more challenging aspects of SEO like keyword research and building backlinks, internal linking is like a walk in the park.
When all is said and done, internal linking is a remarkably effective SEO strategy and something you should aim towards improving to stay in Google’s good books.
Follow the internal linking strategy outlined in this article and take baby steps towards improving your site’s search visibility.