This SEO internal linking guide will cover all aspects of internal linking, whether you are at SEO beginner, intermediate or advanced level. We’ll cover topics from, types of internal linking, internal linking tools, how to identify opportunities, internal linking strategies and the application of human behaviour. 

Beginner/Intermediate: 

  • What is internal linking?
  • Why is internal linking important?
  • Types of internal linking
  • How to find internal linking opportunities
  • Choosing the right anchor text
  • How to fix internal linking problems
  • Fixing links on HTTPS pages which lead to HTTP pages
  • Fixing internal broken links 
  • Fixing deep-linked important pages
  • Fixing orphan page issues

Advanced:

  • Strategic internal linking tips
  • Applying human behaviour to your internal linking strategy 

What is internal linking?

Internal links are hyperlinks between two pages that are on the same website domain, connecting relevant pages to help the reader find relevant content.
Every website uses internal links in some way, shape or form. However, when internal links are used strategically and effectively for SEO, they can significantly boost the UX for users and search engines. In turn, internal links can positively impact your organic visibility as they help Google understand the content on pages and the relationship that different pages on your site have.

Why is internal linking important?

Internal linking helps Google understand which pages on your website are the most valuable and important; helping rank your website better and informing Google about your website architecture. Alongside this, internal links are helpful for the user, guiding the reader to relevant information that will increase the likelihood of conversion whilst increasing user experience and engagement.

When you use internal links, it can pass value and authority from one page to another, this is called link equity. When links pass equity to each other it can help pages rank higher, the value that is passed through links depends on the page authority of the linked page, HTTP status, topical page relevance and more. Search engines consider link equity when determining page ranking on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Types of internal linking

There are various types of internal linking which help both your users and search engines understand your site, including:

  • Navigational - navigational links are those links that are included within your header, footer and internal navigation bars to help users navigate from page to page within your website. Navigational links also help to create your website architecture and inform search engines of the hierarchy of your pages. 
  • Contextual - contextual links appear within your pages’ content and are naturally included where relevant to do so. For example, contextual links help both users and search engines understand how content on your site is related as well as the value of each page.
  • Filters - filters are also ways in which you can include internal links. Filters, which are commonly found on eCommerce sites, enable you to filter products on main category pages.
  • Images - images can also act as internal links. There is an argument to suggest image links hold less value than text links, however, if it is relevant and useful to the user, then it is always worth including. Remember, user experience is extremely important.

How to find internal linking opportunities

There are several ways to look for internal linking opportunities, either manually or with the use of automated tools. 
First, we’ll take a look at advanced search operators, these are pretty quick and simple to use. Let’s look at Google’s search engine as an example, by entering the following:

Site:[website] keyword

We’ve added an example using our own site below: 

Google will then show you pages related to your word or phrase giving you ideas on where you can internally link to or from. You can also utilise your own search engine on your website using a word or phrase to identify new linking opportunities too. 

Another option would be to use an automated tool to do the work for you, scoping out opportunities that you may not have found using the previous steps. A tool can provide you with further insight than you would potentially get from looking for opportunities yourself. The internet is inundated with tools, some of which you may have already used or heard of, depending on how familiar you are with internal linking. Many tools will offer free trials so you can try a few before committing to anything. 

Here are just a few suggestions of internal linking tools:

Choosing the right anchor text

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text of a hyperlink. Generally speaking, anchor text is easily identifiable as it usually appears in a different colour than other text, is underlined or changes colour when your mouse hovers over the text. 

Anchor text should be used to describe the page or article that is being linked to. This will help both the user and search engine what the linked page is about and why it is relevant to the current page in question.

As a rule of thumb, ensure your anchor text is “useful, descriptive, and relevant” (source: Google).

As there are various types of internal links, there are also various types of anchor text. Including:

  • Exact-match - Exact-match anchor text is text which includes the keyword or keyword phrase which reflects the page it is linking to. For example, ‘Garden Sheds’ linking to a page about Garden sheds. 
  • Partial-match - Partial-match anchor text is text which includes a variation of the keyword which reflects the page it is linking to. Using our garden shed example, ‘Garden Outbuilding’ links to a page about Garden Sheds.
  • Branded - Branded anchor text is text which uses a brand name.
  • Naked - Naked anchor text is when a URL is used in place on ordinary text. For example, ‘www.reflectdigital.co.uk’ would be a type of naked anchor text.
  • Generic - Generic anchor text is when a generic word or phrase is used. For example, ‘click here’, ‘read more’, ‘see more’. We advise avoiding using generic anchor text as it is not useful, descriptive or relevant to the page it is linking to.
  • Images - When an image is used as an internal link, Google will use the images alt text as the anchor text. This is why it is important to ensure your image alt text is aligned with a keyword strategy or at the very least, descriptive, useful and relevant to the page linked.

How to fix internal linking problems

Internal links can break on your page, this can happen when: a typo is made in the link,  when an image/file/web page is deleted, when a page is renamed or moved without internal links being updated, when content that you have linked to has been deleted or moved, or when domain names have changed and a site has moved to a new URL. 

An internal link breaking may not seem like a big issue however it damages user experience, reputation and your ranking as a broken link has a low SEO value and damages crawls. These internal linking problems can be fixed by either removing the internal link or by updating the link to a different page on your site that is similar and relevant.

Fixing links on HTTPS pages which lead to HTTP pages

One internal linking problem could be that you have links on HTTPS pages that point to HTTP pages. Internal links which mistakenly point to HTTPS pages can cause unnecessary redirects and can easily be fixed.
To fix, simply update any internal links pointing to the HTTP page or resource with the HTTPS version. This can be done relatively quickly when on a small scale, however, if it is a site-wide problem, for example, following a migration, ask your developer for help.

Fixing internal broken links (including redirect chains/loops)

The issue with broken links and redirect chains is that it makes it difficult for search engines to crawl your website, whilst creating a poor UX experience. To resolve these, you’ll first need to identify where broken links and redirect chains are occurring. Tools such as Screaming Frog are great for this, however, there are many other tools on the market that are simpler to use for someone who might be less savvy with technical tools. 
 
Once you have a list of pages where broken links and redirect chains are occurring, the next step will be resolving these. With broken links, these can simply be updated if there is an alternate page to point to, or the link could be completely removed. With redirect chains, these will currently be going through a loop to get to the final page, creating a chain, as seen in the below image.

Instead, you will want links to point directly to the end URL as shown below. 
 

Tip: Good practice when removing pages is to identify all the internal links that are pointing to the page in question, for these to be updated as and when pages are removed or redirected.

Fixing deep-linked important pages

The first step here is to define a couple of assumptions:

What is an important page?

There are a myriad of ways to determine this. However, in the interests of making this more actionable than delving into the different methods, we will make some assumptions, that you have already completed some keyword research, keyword mapping and understand which pages are gaining the most impressions and clicks across your site. We are also going to assume that you have conversion data to cross-reference which pages are maybe not as visible but still have an associated conversion, this data is available from Google Search Console and through your own analytics package. 

We know that the data in GSC is only the top 1,000 results but this would be a good place to start. There are complex uses of Python scripts on the Google Search Console API that will give you accurate data for large sites. 

By cross-referencing your keyword mapped pages to your converting pages you should be able to identify which are your top-performing ‘important’ pages.

What is considered a deep link?

Fundamentally you don’t want to be more than 3 clicks away from the home page, this rule will ensure that your content can be found easily by both the search engines and by your users.

If you have deeper pages that are important then we need to identify ways of linking these to higher valued pages that can pass on authority to the deeper pages.

Fixing orphan page issues

Orphan pages are pages that exist but cannot be found by crawling from the start folder. By definition, these pages are hard to find and so some detective work needs to be undertaken to unearth them.

We are interested in finding these pages for several reasons. Firstly are they important pages that have value to the website and should be linked to. Orphan pages can also be found by users and if they are not up to date or have incorrect information on them then this can be something we want to correct. 

Finally, orphan pages can cause crawl bloat and wasted crawl budget, meaning the crawler might be wasting time on pages that are not important to our business objectives.

How to identify orphan pages?

The short answer is you cross-reference several data sources and look for the URLs that are not appearing in all sources.

The way to do this is to take the list of pages you have in your sitemap and cross-reference that with the crawled pages from a crawler such as Screaming Frog, add in the pages from GA and GSC and see what pages you are left with. Undoubtedly there will be some pages that you don’t want to be indexed like parameterized pages, pages behind a login and so on, there will be some filtering needed at this point, but 
eventually, you will find a list of pages that are not in your sitemap that either shouldn’t be or should be.

Once you have the pages that are Orphaned you can then decide what you want to do with them, they might have link value and still be of use, in which case you can link them into your main site or they might be redundant pages that need to be redirected. 

It should be noted that some SEO tools will have an Orphan page function such as Screaming Frog that does the above process for you, this can save time on larger sites, so explore that first.

Strategic internal linking tips

By now you understand that internal linking is important, it helps your pages rank, it helps the user find what they need to convert quicker and it helps you build authority across a subject area. Let’s look at some strategic ways we can use internal links to achieve all of these attributes.

Pillar or hub content

Most content you produce for a site is based on the products and services that a company provides. If you sell men’s jackets you might have content or products around ski jackets or leather jackets, you would expect all of this content to be linked to the main hub page which would be ‘Men’s Jackets’. 

Through building this ‘hub and spoke’, set up of organising your content it is possible to increase your SEO visibility. Some people call these ‘pillar’ content pages, which are essentially the same as hub and spoke content. You have a pillar page that contains the most important content with content clusters around the pillar that link to the main page through internal links.

How are you going to implement this for your SEO campaign? Well, you need to pick your Pillar content subject first. Don’t pick a subject that is too broad like ‘Tax’, it's too broad and too vague. Drill down a level and pick something that you are an expert in, for instance ‘Personal tax returns’. This way you will be able to build a complete guide to personal tax returns with all the information anyone could ever need on the subject. You would then build links to all the other mentions of ‘Personal tax returns’. you can also build out cluster or spoke content that will be relevant to the main subject, ‘What the government is changing in 2021 on personal tax returns’ for instance.

As your web of content expands it is worth reviewing how all aspects of your content are ranking and being found by search engines. This is your content roadmap for the subject and it will continually evolve and need improving. But by knowing a subject as the expert you will be always looking at all of your content and looking at ways to link subjects together and build out your pillars and associated cluster content. 

One simple way to see what pages are currently your pillars is to do a site search, type into Google site:wwwyoursite.com “search term” this will quickly bring back the pages that Google has found on your site with your term. From this, you will be able to see if your most important pages are on that list or not. You can cross-reference this data with what you have in Google Search console, within GSC you can navigate to all the internal links tab and download that. Once you have that you can add in your Google analytics data and before you know it you will know what pages are internally linked well and which aren’t, as well as knowing which are getting traffic and which are not. With this in hand, you can then look at your rankings, this is the final piece of the puzzle are your pillar pages ranking well for the key terms? If not then revisit the internal links and see where you can make improvements.

Applying human behaviour to your internal linking strategy 

An internal linking strategy is crucial for SEO, but everything should be for humans before Google. If you have plenty of internal links but these are not often used or useful to your site users then this will reflect poorly on your website.
Internal links above everything, need to be natural and contextual. Otherwise, they will not be helpful to the people using your site. A behavioural science concept that can help improve your internal links is nudge theory. Nudge theory proposes that indirect suggestions and positive reinforcement can influence user behaviour.

By creating internal links which have positive anchor text that guides the user on what to expect, human interaction with the link will increase, and the user will have a more positive experience on your site. Creating positive experiences on your site is crucial for building a positive reputation, through increased trust and relations.

Key takeaways

There are many elements to take into consideration when building an internal linking strategy, we have summarised these below in order to help you set out a plan of action to help achieve real results. 

  • Utilise internal linking to help users and Google understand the hierarchy of your website, the context of your pages as well as the value and correlation between the pages of your website.
  • Ensure your anchor text is “useful, descriptive and relevant”.
  • Avoid using generic anchor text where possible. This could be a missed opportunity to include keyword targeted, descriptive and useful anchor text.
  • Internal links help to distribute ‘link equity’ which could help to pass value, topical relevance and more from one page to another. In turn, this could see your web page improve its ranking position within the SERPs.
  • Use advanced search operators to help identify internal linking opportunities such as ‘Site:[insert domain address] [insert keyword]
  • You can also utilise your own website's search functionality to find internal linking opportunities by inputting a keyword or phrase.
  • Fix internal linking problems (e.g. HTTPS to HTTP, redirect chains, broken links) to improve user experience. 
  • Ensure important pages are not more than 3 or 4 clicks from your home page.
  • Identify whether orphaned pages are actually important and should be linked to, or can they be removed from the index or redirected.
  • Strategically create pillar and/or hub content to boost internal linking opportunities
  • Apply the human element to your anchor text and internal link placement. They should be natural and contextually, but also used where relevant and meaningful to do so. 

If you're excited about the idea of building your own link building strategy, but not sure how to start please get in contact, we'd love to help!

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