Internal linking for SEO is one of the most important steps towards increasing your search results visibility. Regularly engaging in more internal linking on your site improves your site’s topical relevance and enhances the experience for your readers, too.
This blog post offers a detailed look into what internal linking is, why it’s important, how to get better at it, and how to analyze the results of your internal linking. After reading it, you’ll have all the info you need to begin or strengthen internal linking efforts.
What Is Internal Linking?
Internal linking for SEO is the process of creating hyperlinks from one page on your website to another. Creating, tracking, and optimizing internal links is essential if you want your site to perform at its fullest SEO potential.
An internal link is one signal about the relationship between two or more pages. To a human, an internal link points to another page that’s pertinent to their interests or needs.
For example, an HVAC company’s blog post about indoor air quality for homeowners may link to a post about how often an air conditioning unit’s filter should be replaced. These two topics are related and the internal link accomplishes three things: improves the reader’s experience (most important), boosts the brand’s authority, and strengthens the page’s relevance in search results.
To search engine algorithms, internal links indicate that one page has some importance to another. Over the years, Google’s algorithm in particular has been developed to assess the relevance of pages linked to and from one another. The more topically related a group of links is, the more Google rewards those pages.
Search engines treat pages with lots of inbound links as highly relevant, authoritative, and often both. The larger, more relevant, and steadily growing a page’s inbound internal link count is, the better it performs in most cases.
Internal links are distinct from external links, which are links from your website to pages outside of your domain. Internal links are more important than external links, because they show search engines the most important pages on your site and keep people on your site longer.
Anchor text is also critical when it comes to internal links, because it’s another signal to humans and algorithms about the link’s relevance. Anchor text is the text that a hyperlink is created with, and it should be based on the topic of the page being linked to.
As an example, let’s say you run a pet supplies business. You’ve written a blog post about the best cat toys and want to link to your post about cat trees. Using a phrase like “best cat trees” or “cat tree” for the anchor text is ideal because it’s pertinent to the page.
Why Does Internal Linking Matter?
SEO internal linking is crucial because it shows search engine algorithms the relevance and topical authority of your pages. Without internal links, your pages rely on their content alone to rank high and attract readers. Pure content won’t get you far anymore; everyone creates content now and you need to pull all of the levers available to you.
Internal linking also provides a better experience for your readers by offering more intuitive navigation. Instead of returning to your blog homepage every time they’re ready for new content, they can click on the links included in your blog posts.
From a site performance and conversion perspective, internal links lower bounce rate and often increase session time. Bounce rate is the amount of people who land on one of your site’s pages and leave without taking any other actions, and session time is the amount of time people spend on one page.
Benefits of Internal Linking
By now it’s easy to see how powerful internal linking is. Done well, it’s a content relevance boosting system that works 24/7 across your entire website. Here are more benefits of internal linking for SEO you should be aware of:
- Improved site crawlability: Googlebot can only crawl a certain amount of pages on your site at a time. By increasing and improving the internal links on your site, Googlebot can crawl your site’s pages faster and easier, therefore reflecting changes sooner.
- Faster ranking: Internal links can be thought of as “backlinks” on your own domain, in a sense. By publishing a new piece of content and adding multiple internal links to it, you send a signal to Google that the page is important, useful, or both. This is exactly how backlinks work across the entire Internet. Google will rank your new page higher and faster than other pages that don’t have strong internal link counts.
- Reverse-engineering success on Google: Like it or not, Google has its own topical relevance score for every indexed domain online. As you publish content and optimize it, Google observes how relevant (or not) your site is for the topics you’re publishing on. By standardizing your site-wide internal link practices, you’ll soon see which topics Google thinks match your site best. Your best-ranking content signals what types of content you should continue investing in.
Best Practices for SEO Internal Linking
Creating internal links may sound complex, but it’s pretty simple at the end of the day.
Here are the best practices for internal linking any small business can use:
- Focus on link relevance. You should always prioritize internal link creation based on page relevance. If you’re a general contractor, don’t link a blog post about kitchen remodeling to deck repair. While some aspects might be related, they’re two different topics and speak to different audiences. Relevant links keep your readers engaged and encourage Google to rank your pages higher.
- Use targeted anchor texts. It’s best for the keywords you want to rank a page for and its internal anchor texts to be the same. This also shows Google that you understand clean site structure and experience. That said, vary your anchor texts for each page from time to time so it doesn’t look like a bot created all the links on your site.
- Place your most relevant links higher on the page. On-page link placement tells Google the hierarchy of your links’ relevance just like header tags in blog posts tell Google the hierarchy of your page’s content. The earlier a link is placed in a post, the higher its relevance in Google’s eyes.
- Update your links regularly. It’s essential to go through all of your existing content and update link count and relevance periodically. If a page is performing well, you don’t necessarily need to add several new links or change a bunch of placements. Simply be in the habit of updating your content so Google sees a constantly-growing network of more relevant pages.
Best Tools for Internal Linking
There are a number of tools you can use to help with internal linking. These tools help you track and update your internal links faster as well as offer insight on which pages need more or fewer links. Here are the best tools for SEO internal linking:
- SEMRush’s Internal LinkRank (ILR): Shows you how many inbound and outbound internal links are on each of your pages, making it easier to plan internal link sprints
- Ahrefs’ Internal Backlinks Report: Great for discovering the traffic, URL rating, anchor texts, and sources of your internal links
- RankMath plugin: Great all-around SEO plugin for page link count, automated link placement, and canonical tag updates
- Yoast plugin: Good general SEO tool; similar to RankMath and All-in-One SEO plugin
- Screaming Frog: Great site crawling tool to determine internal and external link counts, valid and broken links, and other link-related page insights
Techniques to Optimize Internal Linking
Taking your internal link efforts from good to great grows your traffic, authority, and reader engagement. There are several techniques that you can use to optimize your internal linking, including:
- Prioritize links to your most authoritative pages. Create a list of content topics you want to succeed with and prioritize linking to those pages. People will notice because that page will have a lot of inbound links and Google will adjust its ranking of that page accordingly.
- Use the pillar-cluster model. This is an SEO method that involves creating several “cluster” blog posts that all link to and from a summary-style “pillar” page. The idea is to offer Google an easy way to understand all of the content you’ve created in given categories.
- Set aside time exclusively for internal linking. On-page link building is time-consuming, especially if you want each page to be as unique as possible. The more time you invest in SEO, the more internal links there are to add and reposition. Reserve at least a few hours once per month to update the internal links in the top 80% of your content.
- Keep your internal link ratios balanced. Ensure you’re neither overdoing nor underdoing your internal link creation. If a recent blog post has 24 outbound internal links but only 5 inbound internal links, Google won’t regard that page as very authoritative. Improving its inbound internal link count shows algorithms it’s a “must-read” page within your site structure.
Testing and Analyzing Internal Links
Once you’ve created your internal links, it’s important to analyze the results to ensure they’re effective. Here’s another instance where tools can come in handy. For example, SEMRush’s Crawlability tool shows whether or not recent changes have made your site more search engine-friendly, and the Internal Linking section will show how much your Internal LinkRank (ILR) metrics have changed.
Proper internal linking is a pivotal element of any serious SEO strategy. Linking pages to provide greater contextual relevance and crawlability gives both humans and robots the best possible experience on your site.
Remember to prioritize time for internal linking. SEO should always be conducted with a human touch and the more content you create, the greater need there is for internal link updates.