Internal links are one of the most underutilized aspects of SEO which are in your control and easy to implement. But first we need a definition in case you haven’t heard the term before.
What is an Internal Link?
An internal link is a link off of specific keywords (or anchor text) from one page on your website to another. Google and other search engines use them as a way to tell what the topic of the page you are linking to is and they also pass authority and help the page they link to too rank better. Internal links are found in body copy, headers and menus, tags, breadcrumbs, footers, headers and anywhere else you link to a page on your own website from a page on your own website.
Because they can pass authority, they can help you to move up a couple of positions if used correctly, assuming you have pages with search engine trust. However, because they’re keyword rich (this is different than keyword rich backlinks) they can also cause damage if you link the same or closely related phrases to multiple pages. They also reduce in the amount of authority they can pass depending on how many internal links you have on the specific page.
Using Internal Links for Better Rankings
If you have pages that have numerous high quality and topically relevant backlinks like an infographic that got picked up by the media, a resource you created that has citations or a guide that solves a problem, this page should have authority. Other times it is your homepage since many people will link there as they reference you. These are your high value pages and where you want to begin evaluating your internal linking structure.
If your page has a guide to utilizing a blue widget to its full potential or an infographic about blue widgets, and you sell blue widgets, look for a natural mention of blue widgets and where linking to the page you would buy it on will benefit the reader, then link to that page off of the phrase “blue widgets”. The authority from the guide will pass through the internal link, and unlike a backlink which you need to be cautious of if it is keyword rich, internal links are supposed to be keyword rich as they also guide a user to find more specific information or where to take an action on a specific topic.
But be careful!!! If you stuff the keywords in or link to them when it will not benefit the end user, this could lead to a devaluation or over-optimization penalty. If you’re mentioning chocolate as a decorative element on a cake and it is about bulk chocolate and molds, but you link to a box of mixed chocolates because that is the product you sell, you have not provided a better user experience and under a manual review by a Googler, this probably will not work in your favor.
You can also do this with your homepage. You can link down off of a few keyword rich terms or phrases to your main categories. From those categories you can link horizontally through the content or down to a subcategory. You can also link upwards from products to categories and categories to the home page. It is part of your site’s architecture and can play a solid role in SEO. But there’s one more thing to keep in mind so you don’t do more damage then you do good.
If you have internal links off of the same keywords pointing to different pages, you’re now creating conflicting information about what the page should rank for. This can confuse Google and cause pages to compete. The reason why is you are saying two different pages are about the exact same topic. In some rare instances, Google will show both, but for many, both pages drop off the first page and rest in the 5 – 10 page area, or sometimes lower. That is why it’s important to make an internal link map of your site (instructions below).
Create an Internal Linking Plan to Recover Rankings, Boost SEO and Establish Page Relevance
When auditing sites I’ll find internal links off of the same keywords but to different pages. This can be confusing for the search engines since they use these as one of the ways to define what your site and the pages on it are about. If you have multiple pages ranking for the same or similar terms, not only do you need to fix the copy, titles and other on page items, but you also need to build a better site architecture including internal links.
Here’s how to do it.
How to Build an Internal Links Map and List:
- Start by mapping out your website page by page and assign which page should have which keywords, modified versions and topics. A good starting point is using a crawler that can pull a report with internal links and all pages. Most tools have this but call it by different names. I have some I can recommend if you contact me through one of the forms on this blog.
- Next crawl your website for internal links and make sure anchor text is part of the crawl.
- Now sort by anchor text or by URL (then double sort by the next) and see if you are sending mixed signals. (the same anchor text pointing to multiple URLs)
- Bonus – if you can pull the number of backlinks pointing to each URL, you can then see which ones may also have authority.
- The first thing to do is to begin re-assigning any keyword rich internal links that do not point to the right page and changing them out. (It’s time consuming but worth it.)
- Next look for opportunities from the pages with backlinks that are topically relevant and provide a few more internal links to the most important and content relevant pages.
- Now look for pages within your site that can link upwards and downwards naturally. By natural I mean the link will provide value for the visitor by helping them find a product, more information, etc…
By doing this you not only pass authority through your site the right way, but you help to prevent pages from competing in the search engines. Pages competing is a common reason why some don’t rank and this is a good way to start giving them unique topics so the search engines know the difference and know when to show which for each variation of a keyword phrase or topic.
A decent portion of SEO is in your control. The speed of your site, the content on it and the technical aspects from schema to rendering. Included in that is site architecture and internal links. By using them properly you may be able to help prevent pages from competing with each other and build authority for your most important ones to help move them up in position.
If you have questions about the topic above or want me to help audit your site for SEO, feel free to use the contact form to the right or contact me here.