Internal linking is a great and safe way to boost your SEO. A website with a good linking structure is more user friendly and performs better in organic search. Best practices for using internal links.
Internal linking is my favourite SEO technique for a number of reasons:
#1 – Its a white hat technique recommended by Google (read below).
#2 – It works. Internal linking can boost your Google rankings.
#3 – It makes a website look more professional.
#4 – It makes content more useful to users.
#5 – It helps me (as a webmaster) to understand my website better.
What is Internal linking?
When you add a link to your website this can either point to a page that is not part of your domain (external link) or to a page that is part of your domain i.e. (internal links).
The process of adding links pointing to other pages within your website is called internal linking.
Why you should use internal linking?
I already mentioned some of the reasons why internal linking is a must for all types of websites but I will try below to make my points stronger.
#1 – Internal linking helps indexing – When the Google crawler is reading a web page, they can also identify links within the page content and follow them to find out more pages to include in their index.
When you don’t have any internal links to your page, the crawler will read the page and leave but if you have links it will also crawl the linking pages.
#2 – Helps you define what a page is about – one of the most difficult tasks in SEO is to convince search engines what a page is about. You can do so through your page titles and descriptions and through careful on-page SEO but sometimes this is not enough.
When a search engine will crawl this link, it knows that the target page has something to do with ‘SEO checklist’. The more information search engines can understand about a page and the more links pointing to that page (either internal or external), the better.
#3 – Helps users find what they want – besides search engines, when users see the above link, they known exactly what the linking page is about. They know that if they click the link they can get to a page about ‘SEO checklist’.
#4 – It’s a way to promote the most important pages of your website – It’s normal and expected that the most important pages of a website will have more links pointing to them.
Since it is very difficult and more dangerous (higher risk of getting penalised) to control external links, you can help search engines identify your most important pages by adding more internal links pointing to them.
#5 – It’s a professional practice – Some people may disagree about this but a page with properly inserted internal links looks more professional than a page with plain text. It is an indication that some work was done on the content and that the page is relevant with the rest of the website.
#6 – It’s a great way to reduce your bounce rate – Good internal links will keep the user on a site longer and will help reduce your bounce rate. This means that users will visit more than one page from the same site before leaving.
Does Google likes internal links?
Before getting into best practices for using internal links and because of the word ‘links’ (that has a bad reputation these days), it is better if we take a quick look at what Google says about the use of internal links and especially keyword targeted links.
A few years ago Google released a 30 page document with the name search engine optimization starter guide. In that guide among many other useful guidelines they also discuss internal links.
First they suggest that you use better anchor text when creating both internal and external links. They say that anchor text helps them understand more about the target page.
Second, they do suggest using internal links for helping Google and users with the site navigation.
In addition to the above guide, let’s take a look at any of the pages from the official Google Webmasters blog. You can choose any page you want or look at the example below.
Take a closer look and see how they use links with keywords in the anchor text and the frequency of internal links. In the above example, they have 10 internal links with 380 words of text.
If you are still not convinced that the use of internal links is something that not only is not bad but it’s a must do for good SEO, have a look at wikipedia. They are by far the winners of internal linking but they are doing it for pretty good reasons. It makes their content more relevant and it helps users find out exactly what they want.
Best practices for using internal links
Now that you know that internal links are not ‘bad’ as external links, let’s see how to use them more effectively.
#1 – Use keyword anchor text when necessary but not always – Don’t overdo it with keyword anchor internal links. It may be a good practice to do it but a better practice is to avoid exaggerations so having a mixture of both keyword anchor internal links and non-keyword links is better.
#2 – Make links that help users not search engines – I know that this something that you have read 1000 times before but thinking of the user first and then Google is the way to go. This does not mean though that you can not satisfy both. If you think carefully about what you are writing you can easily find a way to add an internal link that is useful for the user but will also keep Google happy.
#3 – There is no recommended number of links – Many people ask me how many internal links to create per page and there is no really straight forward answer to this. You saw in the example above that Google added 10 links in just 400 words, wikipedia may have even more.
In one of my previous articles, I did mention using 4-5 links per page and will keep that recommendation. If your text is long (more than 2000 words) then maybe you can use more links if they fit the purpose. The bottom line is to avoid exaggerations.
#4 – Add internal links in the main content of a page – Good internal links are those that are found in the main content of a page and not in the sidebar or below the article (as related articles).
Sidebar links or links outside the <body> are not taken seriously into account so by having your recent posts in the sidebar, breadcrumb or as related articles, you are not doing internal linking using best practices.
This may be more difficult to do but the harder the work, the higher the benefit.
#5 – Cloud tags are not internal links – Cloud tags should be avoided anyway, this is Google’s recommendation so they don’t count as good internal links. If you are still using them in your website, take a five minute break from reading this article and remove them.
#6 – Link to your important pages but don’t forget the rest – The more pages of your website have internal links pointing to them, the better. Your most important pages will naturally have more links than the rest but for better indexing it’s good to add links to as many pages of your website you can.
#7 – Do follow your internal links – There was some discussion in the past if you should ‘no-follow’ your internal links and the clear answer is that you shouldn’t. Keep your internal links dofollow and add the ‘no follow’ tag to your external links to avoid getting penalised by Google for selling links.
#8 – Add links when it matters – In other words, make your links relevant and not just try to squeeze links because it’s a good SEO practice. If the text on a particular page does not have good candidates for internal linking then it’s ok, not all your pages should have internal links.
#9 – Use the page title as the anchor text if necessary – Sometimes it’s too difficult to find the right words to link to a page and this is where a handy technique comes in place. Instead of thinking which words to use and if they are good match, use the title of the target page.
For example: if I wanted to link to my evergreen content article but could not find the right words to use, I could just write: ‘ Read my previous article: How to use evergreen content to increase your organic traffic’ and link to it without any problems.
#10 – Check for broken links – Adding internal links manually has the risk of making mistakes and this will lead to unwanted broken links. It happens a lot so when adding an internal link make sure that it works and on a regular basis using a broken link checker to ensure that all your internal links work.
Internal linking is one of the things you can do today to your website or blog to improve your SEO and rankings. It is not only a safe method but is also one of the recommended ways to make your website more accessible to Google and other search engines.
Use proper anchor text for internal links and don’t be too skeptical about using keyword anchor text. As with all other SEO practices avoiding exaggerations is the best approach.
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