How Important Is Your Internal Linking Strategy for SEO?
In SEO, the two most important broad strategic realms are, arguably, on-site content development and link building. On-site content development gives you the opportunity to optimize the pages of your site for specific keywords and boost your relevance to your target audience. Building links, on the other hand, passes authority to your site so you’re perceived to be more trustworthy, ultimately resulting in higher rankings.
Of course, there are sub-strategies in each of these realms, and one of the most interesting is the strategy of internal linking, which you’ll use to connect your blog posts and internal pages of your site together. So just how important is this internal linking strategy for the success of your SEO campaign?
How Internal Linking Works
The idea behind internal linking is pretty simple. Each page of your site will contain links to other pages of your site; your goal in optimizing those internal links will be to include the right number of links on each page, pointing to the right destinations, with the right keywords.
Unlike inbound links on external sources, these links aren’t going to pass new authority to your pages (since they’ll all be coming from and pointing to the same domain), but they can, depending on how they’re built, have an impact on how your site is indexed and how it ranks.
The SEO Benefits
These are the three main SEO benefits you’re going to see from your internal linking strategy:
Anchor text and context. Just as your anchor text in external link building matters, your internal links’ anchor text can play a role in how your pages are categorized. Consistently linking to a specific internal page of your site with a specific phrase, like “custom made cabinets,” can help Google understand the relevance of that page, and feature it for appropriate keyword queries. But be aware that using such keyword-rich anchor text can be a spam trigger for Google when used in external links. In contrast, it’s generally acceptable to use keyword-rich anchor text in your internal links.
Page relationships. Internal linking also helps Google’s search crawlers understand the layout of your site, and the page relationships within it. For example, you can use your internal linking strategy to establish a hierarchy of category pages, main pages, and subpages.
Strategic authority re-distribution. Internal links can’t increase the overall authority of your site, but they can give some of their own authority to a new page. For example, if you have a blog post with high authority from dozens of inbound links pointing to it (let’s call that post A) and another blog post with almost no page authority (post B), you can boost post B’s authority by linking to it from post A, and post A’s authority will drop by a similar amount.
You’ll also enjoy these non-SEO benefits:
Visitor retention. When a visitor sees a link in a blog post they’re enjoying, they’ll be likely to click on it, rather than exiting the site entirely. They serve as miniature calls to action that keep users on your site for a longer time, which means more opportunities to sell your products and services and more brand exposure.
Site navigability. Internal links also help your customers navigate your site easier. If used thoughtfully, you can use internal links as a guide to let your users know what other content they may be interested in, giving them shortcuts to use immediately.
Reader direction and conversion possibilities. Finally, internal links give you the chance to direct your users in a specific direction; for example, you might guide them through the buying process by pointing them to content that increasingly moves forward in the buying cycle, or you might often point users to a final call to action to secure more conversions.
So what’s the best way to go about internal linking? What habits do you need to establish to get the most out of your strategy?
Build internal links to your money pages. First, spend time identifying which pages you want to rank highly in Google search results. Then, place internal links on the highest-authority pages of your site leading to those target pages.
Use a plugin to automatically include internal links. If you’re a WordPress user, there are a number of plugins available that will automatically hyperlink certain keywords to certain URLs on your site, such as SEO Auto Links. This is a fantastic way to set-it-and-forget-it with your internal linking strategy, which I highly recommend.
Avoid extensive keyword stuffing. Links with keyword-laden anchor text may be able to help you establish relevance for certain search queries, but you still need to take caution to avoid keyword stuffing. If you use the exact same phrasing every time you link to a specific page, it may raise some red flags.
Consider your placement. Links in the beginning of a page tend to count more than links at the end of a page, and links in the body of an article are more valuable than links in the footer. Consider your placement carefully.
Stay within 3 link “hops.” Moz recommends that no page on your site is ever more than three clicks away from another page. This should help you ensure all your pages have logical links to and from them at all times.
The Bottom Line
Internal linking is a highly valuable strategy, both for SEO and for your site’s bottom line. Pay careful attention to how your links relate your pages to one another, and try to keep your navigation as intuitive and convenient as possible.
Internal linking may not be as important or as powerful as external link building, but it’s well worth your investment of time and effort.