The Five Dos & Don’ts of Internal Linking
Sarah Danks | January 23, 2017
Build Your Site’s Link Profile
Back when spring was in the air, the grass was green and we had the whole summer ahead of us to look forward to, I wrote about how important it is to have a strong link profile for SEO purposes.
Within a link profile world there are two kinds of links:
- Inbound links from 3rd-party websites, and
- internal links from within your own site.
Both types of links are important for building your website’s link profile, but inbound links are — arguably — the pièce de résistance of online marketing. That said, acquiring credible backlinks is not only a never-ending endeavor, it’s really time-consuming…
…and hard. Plus, if you do it wrong, you run the risk of being penalized by Google Penguin.
Incoming Links are Oh-So-Important…
Also known as backlinks, incoming links, inlinks (and a plethora of other terms), incoming links from outside sources give your website an online “vote” of credibility.
Plus, let’s not forget that hyperlinks — links from one piece of data to another — lead web users to related content across domains. That’s the whole premise of the Internet right there.
So we know backlinks are important in general, but they’re also a determining factor in how your site performs in search engines.
In the SEO world everyone knows that the most important types of links are those that are relevant — and credible — to your content.
…As Are Internal Links!
Here’s the thing: it doesn’t get much more relevant than linking to related content on your own website. Think that internal links don’t matter? Think again.
Internal links perform a variety of functions:
- help website visitors easily find/access related content
- build a hierarchy of page importance
- aid search engines in assessing the relationship of your site’s internal pages
- pass along “link juice love” throughout a website
Implementing a strong internal link structure is the easiest link building you’ll ever do, so hop to it. Plus, because you can write your own links, you can strengthen your site’s credibility easily. It’s one more thing to check off your on-page SEO list.
Implement a Good Internal Link Strategy
Yes, I mentioned internal links are a portion of your link profile, but that’s not their entire purpose. First and foremost, you have to remember your site visitors: what do they want to do?
Well, hopefully they want to consume your awesome content — but if they like this content, would they also like this other related content? Most likely.
More so than just “do it if you think it makes sense,” you should adhere to some best practices when thinking about internal links.
To that end, I’ve compiled a list of “dos and don’ts” to get you started:
That is, links should lead web visitors to related content. Ask yourself, “does it make sense to link out to this similar page here?” If the answer is yes, then add a link!
Internal linking should make it easy for your visitors to traverse your website and find related content.
Link repeatedly within all your content to that ONE page on your website you think is most important because you’re trying to game the system for SEO. Sure, if that page is related to the one you want to link from, go for it.
But don’t force content just to get that link in there.
I.e., do not link everywhere you possibly can and/or write content solely for the purpose of making it uber-easy to link ANYWHERE within your site. That looks spammy to everyone (web visitors and search engine spiders alike).
For example, once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away I worked for a big box web company and there was a writer there who believed that every couple of sentences he had to put in a “contact us” link. Well, on a web page of 300+ words that got to be a LOT of links, all screaming CONTACT US!
His reasoning? “Well, in India you’re only ever a couple of blocks from a mosque. I figure it’s the same with a marketing web page — you shouldn’t have to travel very far to get to a Contact link.”
Yeah. If your marketing strategy is inspired by anyone wearing a black hat or a tourist visit to a faraway country, I say don’t.
Make sure you consistently link to the same URL for each page of your website. Of course, you’d think an easy way to do that is copy/paste each link. But, if you’ve got two versions of your home page (i.e., mysite.com/ and mysite.com/index.html) and you’re arbitrarily copying from both versions, that’s no good.
Better yet — if you use WordPress, you can link to internal content right within the link view (no need to navigate to the web page, copy and past the URL):
First, select the text you want to link, then click the link button (paper clip thingy) in WYSIWYG view. The Insert/edit link box will open up.
In the Search box, type in the keyword that will bring up the web page you wish to link to; click it.
The URL will populate in the top box, then you click Add Link and voilà! You’ve just added a correct internal link.
(Side note: notice we’ve set up WordPress to be able to implement our own URLs for all content, instead of using the default structure, which is hideous and not user- or search engine spider-friendly.)
Don’t link to multiple versions of web pages. As in the example above, if your home page renders as both mysite.com/ and mysite.com/index.html, don’t link to both versions — pick one version (I highly recommend the clean version) and stick with it throughout (this is a while other discussion about canonical URLs, by the way).
Also, do not type in each and every internal URL you link to — you could randomly type in capital letters or change the URL in some way. For example, if I were linking to our main blog page thinksem.com/blog/, I’d not link to thinksem.com/Blog or thinksem.com/BLOG/.
Why? Because they’re different pages. Yes, to humans it’s all the same page, but technically to search engines they’re separate pages. If you acquire enough internal — and external! — links to separate versions of a page, pretty soon you’ve got a duplicate — or triplicate — content issue.
(Is “triplicate” a word?)
To make all content easy to find within one or two clicks from the homepage, link to “deep” pages within the site. This brings all site pages closer to the root domain, which makes it easier for search engine spiders to realize the context — and importance — of your content.
I.e., if a page is “buried” deep in the blog (it was written a long time ago) but it’s well linked to, it’ll be easy to find. Even on the website proper, a visitor should never have to hunt for any content — or not be able to find it at all — because it’s not well linked.
Having a website and blog with good navigation and links to all content results in less of a “deep” architecture in the first place.
To that end, please don’t bury pages deep within your website’s architecture by not linking to them…
If visitors have to click on a navigational link, then find the sub-navigation and click on something else, then peruse that content, etc. etc. etc. all in order to find one link to a page of content, you’re doing internal linking wrong.
(PS: This is often the problem with blogs. Many people believe just by having a blog they’ll increase their SEO performance by writing posts.
This is false — only if you inter-link blog posts and promote them will you benefit from any search optimization, since — as mentioned earlier — the older a post is, the farther it gets buried within the blog structure. A strong link profile is important not only for business websites, but blogs as well.)
This goes for all linking, but please do use descriptive anchor text when linking. (But, beware the overuse of the SAME EXACT anchor text to link to the same page externally over and over.)
Instead of linking “read about it here,” tell your visitors the context of the link.
Your readers shouldn’t have to to read the text surrounding a link to know where it points. Don’t use “click here” or “read about it” or other boring, non-descriptive words for links. I mean, every once in a while if you can’t figure out a way to colloquially (isn’t that word fun?) talk about where you’re sending the visitor, go ahead…
…but it’s annoying because without context the reader might be confused where they’re going to land. Especially since the Internet is a world of scroll-reading.
Sure, there are times when you don’t want search engine spiders to crawl your content. But within your website isn’t one of them. Ensure all your internal links can be crawled by search engine spiders.
If you have parts of your website you’re linking to but you don’t want them to be crawled/indexed/seen by search engines…
…what’s the deal? Don’t use “rel=nofollow” on internal links.
There’s no need to worry about “leaking link juice” on your own site.
Go Forth and Link It Up
In summary — when worrying about internal links for your website, pay attention to these two key things:
- your users: what they want to read, how they find/access content, etc.
- search engines: how they access your content, how they’ll view the organization, etc.
- your users AND search engines: how easy is it to find all relevant content on your site?
Keep in mind that internal links are the easiest-to-acquire links…
…along with the easiest aspect of link building you’ll ever do. So what’re you waiting for?
Go forth and DO internal links!