The Definitive Guide to Internal Links for SEO
Backlinks are the backbone of ranking in Google. There’s an army of SEOs spending tens of thousands of dollars on acquiring backlinks every single month.
Everyone knows this but most SEOs overlook the power of strategic internal linking.
Internal links are just as important and best of all, they’re free.
What if I told you that instead of launching yet another guest posting campaign for a page that is stuck in the third position, you could use internal links to work your way to the top?
That’s exactly what you’re going to learn today.
How Links Work
Your website’s homepage is almost always going to be the strongest page.
It likely gets the most visitors and attracts the most backlinks.
Well, Google discovers the web through links and that’s why backlinks are valuable in the first place.
The same logic applies to internal links.
Let’s pretend the homepage is worth 100 points and has links to ten other pages on your site.
Assuming they have no external links to them and no other internal links, they would in theory carry a value of 10 points.
If you now link to another 10 pages from any of those, they would have a value of 1 point each.
The Value of Internal Links
Here are just a few reasons both Google and your users need internal links:
- Provide navigation options for both users and search spiders
- Via the anchor text, they tell them what a page is about (e.g. topic)
- Pass “link power” to other pages, indicating their importance
- Help understand which pages are related to each other
Internal links are critical for ranking. Look at any successful site and I can guarantee they’re heavily linking to their other content pages.
(Source: Author’s screenshot)
Internal links are also split into two categories. Contextual links are more powerful and are present in your main content (e.g. the majority of examples in the example above) and then there are navigational internal links (the box on the right side).
These strategies are best used to:
- Boost up pages that are close to the top 3
- Funnel link juice to pages that don’t attract many links (e.g. product pages)
- Help Google index new pages faster and give them a quick boost
Now let’s get into how to actually implement internal links on your own site for a nice ranking boost to your most important pages.
A word of warning: As with anything, you don’t want to go crazy with this. Just because these strategies work, doesn’t mean you’re going to want to link out with every single word in an article. Keep the user in mind and use common sense.
5 Internal Linking Strategies That You Can Use Today
1. Keep Valuable Pages Close to Your Homepage
With your homepage likely being the strongest page and passing the most value, you want to keep your most important pages as close to it as possible.
This means that whether you’re trying to rank a service page or a comprehensive guide on your blog, you’ll want to feature it either in your menu, sidebar, footer, or homepage.
Here are some of the most effective ways we’ve done it:
- Use comprehensive, layered dropdown menus
- Use your footer as a “mini sitemap”
- Have long-form pages – more words means more linking opportunities
2. Build Links From Your Top Pages
We get it. Sometimes a page is important but not necessarily a great fit for your homepage or your main menus.
In this case, you can make use of other high authority pages on your site.
You can use a tool such as Ahrefs to determine the highest value pages on your site by clicking on either “Top Pages” for highest traffic pages or “Best by Links” for the pages with the most backlinks.
(Source: Author’s screenshot)
Both of these will include super important pages on your site.
Go through all of the most notable pages in these categories and try to look for opportunities to link to the pages you’re trying to rank.
If there is no “natural way” there already, you can modify the content to make it work.
As a simple example, you could do something like:
“If you’ve enjoyed reading this guide, you can also check out our 7-chapter image SEO guide.”
Get creative and combine search engine optimization with providing value for your users.
3. Create Internal Links From Relevant Pages
Once you’ve been through the strongest pages on your site, the authority site is covered.
Now it’s time to focus on relevance.
Do a Google search with “site:yourdomain.com YOUR TARGET KEYWORD” to see what other pages Google deems most relevant to that topic.
Go through these pages and ensure they also link to your target page.
4. Use a Related Posts Plugin
For WordPress sites, there are plugins out there that show users “related posts” after each article. Not only will these help you decrease bounce rates and help users stay on your site longer, these also count as internal links and can help with rankings.
You’ll want to ensure these plugins are configured properly and only show posts that are actually related, not just a random shuffle.
Another thing to note here is that some of the more common plugins for this slow down your site massively, an example of this is the “Yet Another Related Posts Plugin”.
The plugin that we use and recommend is Related Posts for WordPress.
It’s fast and allows for great customization.
5. Do a Scan for Orphan Pages
Orphan pages are a common issue with bigger sites. These are pages that exist on your site but don’t have any internal links pointing to them. This means Google probably won’t find them and neither will your users.
You can find these pages on your site with most SEO auditing software.
We like to use Screaming Frog SEO Spider.
They have a free version that is more than enough for most people and it is also blazing fast.
Plug in your domain, have it scan your site, and then sort it by the number of “inlinks” to find pages with no internal links to them.
You can also use the tool to review your site structure and get an overview of how many pages have a click-depth (how many clicks it takes to get to a page from the homepage) of 3 or more and try to bring them closer using internal links.
Tools to Help Manage Internal Links
This FREE Excel Template
For smaller sites, we like to keep an Excel sheet with every single page on the site, where the internal links go to, and what anchor text they use.
This gives you a nice overview of where you might be erring on the side of over-optimization.
It also helps keep things future proof. One day you might delete a page and even though you’d redirect it after, you don’t want other pages to link to it anymore.
This keeps a nice and organized directory you can reference at any time.
Yoast SEO Premium Plugin
Yoast’s SEO plugin is one of the most common solutions for WordPress SEO and for a good reason. It’s simple to use and it covers most of your bases.
By upgrading to their premium version ($89 one time fee), you also get access to their internal linking tool.
This lists the most prominent words on a page and automatically gives you recommendations on pages on your site these could link to.
It’s semi-automated and provides highly relevant results.
Not only that, they also give you a nice and convenient overview of how many internal pages an article links to and how many they have coming in.
What Anchor Text Should I Use for Internal Links?
The anchor text is the clickable part of a link that your users can see.
It’s how users know what to expect from a link and it tells Google what the page is about.
Although over-optimization of anchor texts is something that can hurt your rankings with external links, they are a bit more lenient when it comes to internal links.
Still, you don’t want to overdo it. Make it easy for the readers and try to include a keyword or two when it makes sense.
Should I Ever Nofollow Internal Links?
The nofollow tag tells Google to not pass any “link value“ when it is present. You’ll often see people use this for either paid links or affiliate links.
Although it’s best practice to not use them on your own site, there are some instances where this is OK.
Warning: Do not mess around with nofollowing links unless you know what you’re doing and have some SEO experience. It’s easy to do some damage with them.
If you have pages such as a members area or login page, it’s best to nofollow links to these, especially from major places such as the header.
How Many Links Should You Have Per Page?
Okay, so internal links clearly have a ton of power and can help you rank.
When we’ve told our clients about this strategy, some of them have gone bonkers and started linking out with almost every other word on a page.
Google’s webmaster guidelines say that a page should have a “reasonable amount of links”
According to Google’s Matt Cutt’s, around 100 is a safe number. This is the total number of links on a page – internal, external, navigation, and the whole nine yards.
Now, keep in mind that this does (generally) not mean that if you have more than 100 links you’re going to lose rankings and traffic.
This simply means that beyond a hundred, each link carries less weight.