Everyone knows that backlinks are the key to better ranking. (You didn’t know that? Read our article on domain authority and backlink building). And because everyone knows their value, quality backlinks (the only ones that matter) are also damnably hard to achieve.
Internal linking, on the other hand, is easy to implement, completely flexible and described by Kissmetrics as an “SEO Power Technique”. So why do so many websites get it wrong? And what do you do to get it right? We’ve got you covered: read on and learn how to master internal linking for SEO.
Definition of an internal link
First things first. What is an internal link? Not be confused with an inbound link, which is a link from another site to yours also known as a backlink, an internal link is a link from one page of a website to another page on the same website. It can include links within content, but also links in menus and footers.
Why does Google like them?
To understand the importance of internal links, you need to think like a spider, crawling the internet for flies (web content) to put in its creepy web (the internet). Internet spiders (also known as ‘bots’ or ‘crawlers’) don’t care about the fancy graphic design elements of your site, or the colour of your menu bar. This is what they see:
Nice huh? As it’s something of a personal bugbear, I’ll just add here that this is why you should always make sure your image alt text isn’t left blank: if explaining your images to users of screen-reader software isn’t enough of a reason, then maybe the fact that spiders (despite having all those eyes) can’t see images will help convince you. All they have to help them understand what the image is about is the alt text and file name.
Internal linking gives spiders an overview of your website, showing them how the pages relate to one another and enabling accurate indexing. They also give them an indication of the hierarchy – when spiders find a higher than average number of links to a particular page or piece of content, they deem that page more important (page authority is discussed more below).
Aside from being appealing to spiders, a good internal linking structure brings other, less direct SEO benefits in the shape of increased dwell time.
On its mission to create a better, more useful web, Google is always on the look-out for evidence of good, engaging sites. In the golden (easy) era of SEO, this meant ‘updating your site’ and ‘publishing blogs regularly’. Now, with a million blogs being posted every day and every webmaster and their dog having a grasp of rudimentary SEO, the definition of ‘good’ has become more sophisticated. Google wants to see that your site is:
a) engaging and
b) provides users with the information they were looking for in the first place.
To measure this, Google looks at key metrics and puts them together to calculate ‘dwell time’. They are characteristically cloak-and-dagger about exactly which metrics are used, but it’s widely accepted as including:
- the % of visitors who leave your site after only viewing one page (“bounce rate”)
- the amount of time people spend on your site
Internal linking can have a significant effect on both these metrics, helping guide visitors naturally through pages on your site and increasing the time they spend there. As far as SEO strategies go, it’s uncommonly easy to implement and should therefore be a no-brainer.
Best practice for internal linking
So now I’ve got you convinced of the benefits of internal linking, you’ll be wanting to add them everywhere, right? Here’s how to do it properly:
1. Memorise this diagram.
Got it? Good. The lovely folk at Moz created this to show the optimal structure for a website. They explain:
“This structure has the minimum amount of links possible between the homepage and any given page. This is helpful because it allows link equity (ranking power) to flow throughout the entire site, thus increasing the ranking potential for each page”
2. Use Google Search Console to get an internal links report. From here, you can see which of your pages have the highest number of internal links and which ones may need a boost. Look out for a disproportionately high number of internal links to your main pages (those that are navigable to from your menu) – strategic internal link building should take visitors deeper into the site, not send them to places that they’ve a) probably already been or b) can get to easily at any time.
3. Check and repair broken internal links. There’s a broken link checker plugin for WordPress, or you can use the Search Console ‘Crawl Errors’ report to look for pages returning a 404 error (not found). Click on the page url to see which internal pages are linking to the broken page, then either:
– go to the page/s and correct it
– redirect the broken page to a working, related page.
4. Find pages with poor dwell time. Information on bounce rate and time-on-site are available for free in the Google Analytics dashboard, providing an idea of how Google may rate dwell time for particular pages. Just go to Behaviour – Site Content – All Pages and click on the Avg. Time on Page and Bounce Rate columns to sort by those metrics. Look for the pages with a higher than average bounce rate, or a lower than average time on page: these should be your priority for adding internal links.
How many internal links should I have?
In a nutshell: as many as are genuinely useful and relevant to your readers. Want a figure? Google’s Matt Cutts recommends “keeping to under a hundred links or so” per page. For the average website, this can sound like a lot, but remember this includes all links on a page, including menus and footers, as well as outbound links (to other website). Content marketing guru Neil Patel is a bit more specific:
“When it comes to internal linking, I suggest around three to four, depending on the length of your post”
Above all, keep it natural and only use an internal link where it’s useful. If inserting a link spoils the flow of your content, chances are it’s not relevant. Leave it out, or re-work your content to accommodate it naturally. If you’re struggling to find relevant content to link to then it may be a sign that you need a content marketing strategy (we can help with that).
Questions about content marketing? Talk to us or leave a comment below!