Internal Links for SEO
One of the most underrated tactics in an SEO expert’s arsenal is internal linking. They are crucial to getting the most out of your offsite efforts but often don’t get the attention that they deserve.
In case you’re wondering, internal links are simply a link from one page to another page on the same domain. All websites have internal links but did you know that if you use them in a certain way they can really boost your rankings in the SERPs?
Speaking of boosting rankings, that’s exactly what Ninja Outreach did in their case study that you can read about here. They were able to get a 40% increase in organic traffic just from optimizing their internal linking.
In this article, we aim to educate you about why internal linking is so important for SEO. We’ll also guide you through other stuff like:
- Fixing internal link redirects
- Fixing broken internal links
- Removing internal links to irrelevant pages
- Dealing with “orphan pages”
- Fixing deep link important pages
Before we get to that though, let’s run through the basics of internal linking.
Why Internal Links are Crucial for SEO
One of the ways that Google is able to find new content is through following internal links. For example, let’s pretend you published some new content on your site and forgot to link to it from an existing page. The page also doesn’t have any backlinks and isn’t part of the sitemap. If this is the case Google will not know about the page because it simply can’t be found.
According to Google, they are constantly looking for new pages to add to a list of existing pages. Known pages would be those that Google has already crawled, and pages are discovered when Google follows links from known pages to new ones.
Pages that have no internal linking whatsoever are known as “orphan pages”, which we will go over in more detail later.
Probably the most important reason that internal links are crucial for SEO is that they help PageRank to flow through the site. This is pretty important because there is a direct correlation between the number of internal links and PageRank.
However, we have to note that the quality of the links is important too and not just the quantity. In fact, judging links solely by their metrics like Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Trust Flow, etc is a common mistake. There are a couple of reasons for this.
One is that metrics can be easily manipulated with poor quality links. Domain sellers are often known to “juice up” domains with cheap hacked links in order to sell them for a much higher price.
Another reason is that even if the links appear to be on a quality site they could still get you penalized if the site is openly selling guest posts or has an author box in the post. At the end of the day, we have to remember that any type of link building is against Google’s guidelines.
Another thing that we should note is that Google got rid of page rank scores back in 2016, but they acknowledge that it’s still part of the algorithm.
They state that:
“The number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page.” Source
They also look at the anchor text of links to give some background information as to what it is all about.
To simplify this, for example, you have a page about “red jackets”. If you have links pointing to the page that use anchor text like “red jackets”, “jackets”, “buy red jackets” it helps Google understand that this page is about red jackets and might hence be relevant to rank for red jackets and other related keywords.
After reading this you might think that the best way to rank for your target keyword is to just use the keywords as many times as possible in the anchor text. While you do want to use keywords you also want to be cautious about overdoing it. Using keywords too often is unnatural so mix it up.
How to Set Up Internal Link Structure
When setting up your internal linking site structure, you want to visualize your websites like a triangle, with the most important content right at the top and the least important down at the bottom.
At the top of this triangle, you will have the homepage of the site. Underneath the homepage you will have pages that are next in priority. These are usually the services, products, blog. Then underneath those pages will be the individual blog posts, services, products and more.
Having said this, it’s important not to link all pages of one level to another, you also have to consider which pages are relevant to one another which can take some experience to recognize. We will go over how to pick your internal links wisely soon.
The term “siloing” means grouping together categorically relevant pages with strategic internal linking.
As an example, let’s pretend that we have a website targetting countries and cities in England. Off the homepage, we would link to the “hub pages” of the different major cities, and then those pages would link to the suburbs.
Here is an example:
Homepage > London > Fulham
So to clarify, the homepage links to the London page and the London page links to the Fulham page. The Fulham page links back to the London page and the London page links back to the homepage. This keeps the “link juice” flowing around the site so if a page receives a link then other related pages get some of the PageRank passed to them as well.
The benefits of doing this are:
- Search engine crawlers understand better what the site structure is
- Users will be able to get around your site easier.
- The link juice is passed around your site more efficiently.
There is another benefit to consider though. This silo structure also helps the search engines to better understand your content. Also because you’re linking together topically related pages it’s easy to find relevant anchor text to use.
How to Find Internal Link Problems
Hopefully, everything makes sense so far. The problem is only if you’re working on a brand new site it usually doesn’t go this smoothly. For example, if you take on a new client there are bound to be many issues with the internal links that need to be fixed. This is why you should audit the internal links before adding to them and making existing problems worse.
The first step in how to do this is to use the AhRefs site audit tool. Once it has crawled your site look for these 5 problems:
#1 Broken Links
Simply click on the internal pages tab, then click on 4XX to find the broken internal pages on your site.
The reason this is an issue is that it ruins the user experience as well as wastes the link juice.
It’s best to sort the number of internal links column from high to low so that you can prioritize the pages that have the most broken internal links pointing to them first.
Here is how you deal with these broken links:
- Redirect the broken page to another relevant URL and then update or remove all the internal links that point to it.
- Re-add the broken page at the same URL if it happened to be deleted.
If you use the latter click on the “no of inlinks” to see which pages link to the broken page. You can then see the referring page and anchor text so that it’s easy to take action on them.
If you don’t have the time to crawl your site then you can simply do this: site explorer > insert domain > toggle to internal links > sort by dofollow. Then you can just click on the number of internal links to see them all.
#2 Internal Links to Pages that Redirect
Do this: site audit > internal pages > 3XX redirect
This report will reveal all the redirected pages on your site. You can sort by # of internal links to show the pages that you should focus on first with lots of internal links.
We should note that some of these won’t necessarily be a problem. For example, if you have a redirect to SSL then it’s not really a big deal, although if you’re a stickler for detail you can change them up.
The main goal is to search for redirects that are not relevant or have changed the URL significantly.
#3 Internal Links to Unimportant Pages
Do this: Site audit > internal pages > 2XX
This will show you all the live pages on your website. You can sort by the number of links from high to low and start scanning through the list. Then when you spot pages with lots of internal links that aren’t important you can get rid of them. Sometimes deleting them is the best option.
You can also customize the columns. This enables you to sort by the amount of dofollow links which is good for removing pages that have a lot of irrelevant nofollow links. Also, it’s a good idea to look for non-indexable pages that have a lot of internal links pointing to them. You can do this with site explorer by using the filter feature and checking “non-indexable”, “internal”, “html”, OK (2xx) and with inlinks.
One last note is that if pages are set to “noindex, follow” it is the equivalent of Google seeing them as “noindex, nofollow” long term. This creates a blockage in the flow of link juice so you shouldn’t link to them with links that are dofollow.
#4 Deep Linked Important Pages
Do this: Site audit > internal pages > 2XX
This will show you all the pages on your site that are live. If you sort by “depth” you will see the pages that are the closest to your homepage by number of links away.
Our general recommendation is to keep all your important pages within 3 link clicks away from the homepage. These pages will include anything that makes you good money, gets lots of traffic, etc. If they are more than three clicks away we would recommend moving them closer to the homepage.
The reasons for this are:
- The most authoritative page on a site is the homepage, therefore if a page is closer to the homepage it will receive more link equity transfer.
- Google may consider pages that are deep within the site structure to be not very important.
#5 Orphan Pages
Do this: Site audit > internal pages > incoming links > orphan page (has no incoming internal links)
Doing this will show you all the pages that have no internal links, also known as “orphan pages”. It’s important to note that you need to either specify your sitemap URL or check the box that says “ Auto detect sitemaps”. Site Audit can only find your sitemap if it’s located at domain.com/sitemap.xml or in the robots.txt.
There are two reasons why you shouldn’t have important pages as orphan pages:
- No PageRank can be transferred via internal linking because there is none.
- Unless they have external links or you submit your sitemap Google won’t be able to find them.
You’ll want to go through the list carefully and make sure there aren’t any important pages in there.
If you’re working on a big site then you can sort the list by its organic traffic. If an orphan page happens to be getting traffic then it would definitely get more if it had some internal links pointing to it.
How to Use Internal Links Properly to Increase Rankings
You are probably aware that besides internal links, external backlinks are the best way to increase the authority of a page. Usually, the pages that have the highest URL rating have the most links pointing to them.
What this means is that it’s a good strategy to point links from your highest authority and relevant pages to ones that need a boost in power. There are many different ways to accomplish this so we will just focus on the most convenient ways.
Method 1: Use Site: Search
Let’s pretend that you have a new blog post about “Facebook advertising tips” and you want to link to it internally but aren’t sure which pages to link to it.
What you would do is simply go to Google and use this search operator: site:domain.com “Facebook advertising”.
This search will return all the pages on the site that are the most relevant for that specific keyword.
From there you can link some of the pages that aren’t already linking to your post using keyword containing anchor text to drive home the relevance.
You can also use other keywords that are not directly used, but still relevant to your topic to find more pages. The best way to do this is to use operators like:
Site:domain.com “social media”
Site:domain.com “instagram advertising”
We should note that this technique is best used for smaller sites. If you have a large site then there will be too many pages to sort through. This is where you’ll want to prioritize the pages with the most power for your internal linking.
To do this you can use ahrefs SEO toolbar and export the top 100 search results including all the ahrefs metrics. Then sort by UR to show the pages with the most power.
Another way to accomplish this is to use a chrome extension like “Link Klipper” to export the search results and then plug them into ahrefs batch analysis and sort by UR again.
Both of the methods will accomplish the same goal so it doesn’t matter which one you choose.
Method 2: Browse Pages With the Most Links
Pages that have the most backlinks will generally have the most power to them. You can find them easily using ahrefs site explorer.
Go: site explorer > enter domain > best by links
This list will give you the pages with power and you can just choose the ones that are most relevant to add internal links to.
This method is great for juicing up service and product pages that are usually neglected compared to other pages.
For example, if you had an ecommerce store selling multivitamins. You could link to that page from blog posts about vitamins or dieting. This will help to build up the authority of that category.
Internal linking does require some work if you want to do it right, but it doesn’t have to be hard. You can use a proven site structure and system for finding the right pages to link together.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are building your internal links:
- Keep your internal linking relevant: Don’t interlink pages just because one has a high amount of link juice.
- Don’t go crazy with internal linking: The aim is to look natural and fit in with the content.
- Switch up the anchor text. Don’t use the same target anchor text over and over again.
Overall internal linking is not as complicated as people think. If you would like some inspiration for your internal linking don’t forget to check out Wikipedia. They have a lot of internal linking to check out.