Internal Linking: A How-To Guide

May 22, 2020

What is internal linking

In the eternal quest to climb the search engine rankings, internal linking is key.

Internal links are links that point to pages on the same domain, and they can give your website a serious power boost.

They’re different from the links that point from your website to other external sites, but they’re just as important in helping the search engines recognize and rank your content.

Internal linking is the glue that binds your website together

How to make the most of your internal linking

So far, so good. Internal linking sounds simple, right?

And it is simple!

But as with everything in life, the devil is in the detail. You need to use internal links in the right way if you want to maximize their power.

We know it can be painful wading through pages of technical advice when it comes to this kind of thing. That’s why we’ve put together a simple, easy to read How-To Guide full of actionable tips that will help you make the most of the internal linking potential on your website.

Why use internal linking?

Internal links are useful because they help people move around your website quickly and easily, and they boost the ranking power of individual pages on your site.

Let’s get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Google itself says:

(Google, 2020)

So, you want a user to land on your website either already on the page that they’re interested in, or be able to travel there by clicking on a link rather than slogging through search results.

Makes sense!

Search engines use ‘web crawler’ robots to automatically scan, analyze, and index your website. Having a tight internal linking structure makes this crawling process easier, meaning that the search engines understand your pages better and rank them higher in their results (Thornton, 2020).  

Web crawlers are more technological than your average bug

The crucial point is this:

When you link to a page, you transfer some of the authority, or ranking power, from the originator page.

This ranking power is dynamite when it comes to moving your whole website up the Google rankings.

So, what are the steps you should take to tighten up your internal linking game?

1. Map out your internal linking structure

Before you start adding links here, there and everywhere, you need to understand the content that you have on your website.

If you’ve already got your site structure mapped out, then this should be quite simple. If you don’t yet have a site structure map, then now’s the time to make one! Make sure you take account of things like best practice cornerstone structures and easy-to-understand menus, to help your readers to navigate around the website.

Moz.com gives a useful example of what a traditional site structure might look like:

Image by Moz.com, 2020

The focus is on a clean, logical structure which has the dual benefit of making a website easy to navigate while making sure that the ranking power flows around the whole site (Moz.com, 2020).  

Once you’ve mapped your site structure, then you can start looking for natural links between pages. Here are a few examples of different linking opportunities:

·   A general review page on an e-commerce site could have internal links to individual product pages

·   A blog article could include a link to one or more other blog posts

·   A homepage could have links embedded in the text leading to landing pages for the major areas of the site (as part of a wider linking strategy)

However, don’t go crazy adding links all over the place. Google is very clear that you should avoid:

(Google, 2020)

In other words, you want to use links in a controlled fashion, and not make every other word a hyperlink!

It’s worth noting that a good website linking structure is not necessarily linear, but can be cyclical and look organic.

Links should flow around your site intuitively, and they don’t just have to go up and down the menu hierarchy. If specific articles naturally link to each other, then go for it! The better the flow around your website, the more the web crawlers will enjoy it. A rich linking structure flows in all directions!

Internal links can go in all directions

Top tip: don’t put all your internal links into your menu structure. You want to link from the text within articles rather than just embedding links in your menu bar or footer.

2. Create high-quality content to fill any gaps

You might find that mapping out your ideal links structure highlights some gaps in your website content, or perhaps you’ve just decided to add more pages to your site.

Do you lack a landing page about each of your services? Or maybe you want some more product pages, or a reviews page?

If so, then it’s time to get writing. You can’t link to content that doesn’t exist!

Photo by Florian Klauer via Unsplash

Putting the effort in upfront with some well-written, properly optimized content means that you’ll have plenty to link to, and the search engines will give you extra credit further down the line. If time is a problem then consider whether outsourcing your content is the right way to go. There are some great ways to get high quality content written with little effort at your end; at Sparklite we’re proud that it’s our specialty!

if you’re writing your content yourself then check out which keywords rank highly using a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush, and be smart with where you target your effort (an outsourced agency will normally go through this step for you).

Once you’ve expanded your site, you need to update your internal links map to make sure you add links to and from all this lovely new content.

3. Make sure that your links go ‘deep’

While it can be tempting to just build links between your main pages, you’ll get the most benefit if you build links to and from the deepest, darkest recesses of your site.

Check that your link structure includes pages from all levels of your website hierarchy. The individual pages down the ‘bottom’ of your structure are often the pages that hold the specific information that readers might be looking for, and they’re often the pages that the search engines might need a hand to find.

Don’t just link down to these ‘deep’ pages from your homepage. Building links between your individual content pages is more powerful and gives you more benefit.

4. Make sure that your links are relevant

Before you start inserting links between every single page on your website, let’s return to the point we made right at the start of this how-to guide- sometimes less is more, and you need to make sure that your links are relevant.

In other words, Google looks at the content of a page when they crawl it, so your links have to make sense!

If you link a page about car tires to a page about hairstyles, then Google will smell a rat, and you’ll be punished accordingly. That doesn’t seem like an intuitive or logical connection to make, so the link will at best be pointless, and at worst, may harm your ranking potential.

Look for smart ways to link your content together. If you did happen to run an (eclectic!) website dealing with both cars and hairstyles, then maybe you could write about the best hairstyles for an open-top car. There would be a logical link between the two subjects, and you could then link from that article to a broader hairstyles article, for example.

Photo by Roberto Nickson via Unsplash
Look for smart ways to link different subject matter together

The exact subject matter of your articles isn’t the point. The point is that whatever you link together has to make sense to the reader.   

5. Get clued up on anchor text

‘Anchor text’ is a technical way of describing the words that make up the link, or to put it another way, the hyperlinked words that you click on to jump elsewhere.

The choice of words that you use is really important. This is because Google wants to know that you’re providing value for the reader. This means avoiding looking ‘spammy’ at all costs, including not using the exact same phrasing again and again across your website.

The Do’s of anchor text:

·   Make sure the anchor text gives a basic idea of what the page you’re linking to is about

·   Make sure you use a variety of different phrases for different links across your site

·   Make sure the text is descriptive, user-friendly and natural

The Don’ts of anchor text:

·   Don’t use generic words for the link like ‘Click here’

·   Don’t use a random phrase that has no relevance to the destination at the end of the link

·   Don’t use long or convoluted sentences as part of the link

As an example, a car website might want to build several links to a page reviewing the best sports utility vehicles.

In this case, the anchor text for various links could be:

·   Best sports utility vehicles

·   Best vehicles for sports fans

·   Sports utility vehicles reviewed

·   Vehicles for sports utility use

Mix it up, keep it natural and make sure the text sits well within a normal, useful sentence.

Top tip: Don’t use the same anchor text for two different pages! If the car website in our example started using ‘best car review’ as the anchor text to link to more than one page, then it would confuse Google, and likely lose the benefit of the internal link.

The old adage applies here: keep it simple!

6. Make sure your links are ‘dofollow’

In the world of search engine optimization, not all links are created equal.

Hidden in the background, invisible to the naked eye, are two different types of link: ‘dofollow’ and ‘nofollow.’

What’s the difference?

Well, nothing if you’re the website user! This is a behind-the-scenes technicality. If you click on either type of link, then you would be taken to the new page hassle-free, so it’s not pertinent to the user experience.

Where the real difference comes is in how Google and the other search engines treat the two. The key thing to know is that the search engines prioritize the ‘dofollow’ links when they’re analyzing your site.

Put simply: a ‘dofollow’ link tells the search engines that you want to confer some of the originating page’s ‘SEO juice’ to the new page. A ‘nofollow’ link has a particular tag applied that tells the search engines to ignore that link; hence it doesn’t bring the same benefits.

Photo by Jan Alexander via Unsplash
Harness the signposting power of dofollow links

Backlinko has an excellent explanation in their article about nofollow links, including a guide on how to tell the difference between the two types of link.

7. Don’t forget what’s gone before

Don’t worry; you’re nearly there! We’ve only got one more step to work through before you can sit back and reap the rewards of your awesome new internal linking strategy.

Tempting as it is just to work through these steps as you write new content, you’ll get maximum benefit if you go back through everything on your site and apply these principles retrospectively.

Is that a pain in the backside if you have a large website with lots of content? Yes.

Is it worth it for the benefits it will bring? Absolutely!

Congratulations! You have great internal links; now all you need is patience

The time you spend sharpening up your internal links will be time well spent!

You will be rewarded with better page rankings for both your individual web pages and your overall website, but you need to have the patience to wait for those improvements to become apparent.

As with everything in search engine optimization, you’re playing the long game here. It’s perfectly possible that you could follow all the steps we’ve talked about today and yet not see any change in rankings for several months.

Photo by Bastian Wiedenhaupt via Unsplash

Be patient, and the results will follow

This doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you’ve done anything wrong. It just means that the search engines take time to find your site, crawl your site, index your site, and trust your site.

Believe in the process and give it time, maybe 5 or 6 months. The results will be worth the wait!

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