The complete guide to using internal links for SEO
Internal linking is one of the most underrated concepts in search engine optimization. But all successful and famous SEO professionals use that to boost the SEO of their client’s websites. In this article, you will learn why internal linking is the power of search optimization.
What are internal links?
The definition of an internal link is simple: an internal link is a hyperlink between two pages on the same website.
SEOs define several types of internal links. I specify the types of internal links in this way:
- Website main menu
- Footer links
- Sidebar links
- Internal links with anchor text
- Internal links with no anchor text
- Logistic links (internal links with anchor text like “learn more,” “contact us,” etc.).
In fact, search engines do not specify internal link types. Knowing how to use internal links helps an SEO to achieve website business and SEO goals.
Why are internal links important?
Why are internal links important for SEO and business?
The answer is simple. Links are the backbone of the web. Internal links guide search engines and users to the necessary pages and pages that make money. That is why no SEO method could replace internal linking.
Well, let’s dig deeper into the SEO concept of internal linking.
Internal links help search engines to discover new pages
As we all know from Google’s guide, search engine bots use links to discover new pages. These bots constantly scan the Internet to find new content. Because search engines have to satisfy all searchers by providing relevant and valuable information for any target audience or segment of the target audience so new content can be the source of new concepts, ideas, views, products, services, and trending search terms. In this way, search engines improve their search result pages (SERP) and attract more users because providing relevant and valuable content.
Is it enough to link to pages via the website menu? Sometimes it can be enough, but in most cases, it is not.
Internal links improve the indexing process and website ranking
There are several ways in which internal links can help website pages be indexed.
First, using the anchor text helps search engines understand the context of the linked page better because the anchor text provides a bit of context.
For example, you can read about protecting your website from proxy mirrors (a ‘negative’ SEO tactic affecting a website’s traffic and ranking).
In this case, the anchor text “protecting your website from proxy mirrors” inform search engines what the article is about. It is an example of content links. But it is a good idea to use informative anchor text for the navigational internal links.
In fact, search engines have allowed spamming their algorithms with anchor text for many years. It seems search engines still allow using this practice now. Experienced SEOs know how to do that in the best way. Three things make sense: anchor text (it should be informative and descriptive), content around the link, and website quality. Sometimes, a naked URL (where you display the entire URL) may work well for SEO and business goals.
Second, internal links pass some value (PageRank, search signals, ‘link juice,’ etc.) from one page to another. Links are links, and they do their job. In this way, search engines understand which pages are/may be important for users.
Third, it is all about trust. There are no unique “trust” algorithms. But when you link to the page, it means you trust this page. If you don’t link to the pages of your own site, how will search engines trust these pages?
The listed factors affect the indexing process of the website pages. Search engines are more likely to add to their index the pages that were pointed from other pages because the content of these pages may be valuable for searchers. These factors also improve the website’s ranking.
As you can see, internal links are vital for website SEO, but that’s not all.
Internal links improve website user experience
Most people really do not find out much about the importance of the website user experience for ranking and conversion rate today. But if an SEO creates a good website informational architecture, it will boost traffic and conversions.
The problem is search engines do not know which pages are important for your visitors and business. A website’s clear information architecture and hierarchy help search engines understand which pages are important so they can be added to the index and ranked well.
Also, an excellent informational architecture means this site has a good user experience. Now modern search engines are primarily focused on the UX design of websites, not content only. That is why they add many additional points to websites with good UX during ranking.
On the other hand, a well-built informational architecture means a visitor can find the necessary information quickly. It means more conversions or other actions on the website. In other words, a clear, informational website structure allows for achieving the business goals.
What about the rule of three clicks?
Creating a flat website architecture is a weird UX design practice that hurts a website’s SEO and reduces the conversion rate. First, when creating a website architecture and URL structure, you should think about users’ behavior (search engine bots behave similarly). In many cases, users do not start visiting your site from the home page. It can be the service, product, or subcategory page from any tier of your website architecture. Second, think about website scalability. Many e-commerce sites start with several categories and dozens of products. Then, new categories and subcategories should be added because the number of products is increasing. As you guessed, a website owner should rewrite URLs to change their structure, add redirects, and hope things will be good.
Also, do not mix a website structure with website navigation. Proper internal linking allows users and search engine bots to visit any page of your site.
Internal linking myths
Unfortunately, many website owners and SEOs believe in myths that have no confirmation in practice, Google’s patents, or any academic paper.
Using multiple links that point to the same location
Myth: If there are multiple links on the same page that point to the same location, Google will only count the first link on the page.
Nobody can explain what does it mean “the first link.” Could it be a link in the main menu or the first paragraph? In fact, it is a bad practice to repeat links to the same location heavily.
The specific placement of links is important
Myth: Links higher up the page are much more likely to be clicked.
In fact, it depends on many factors. For example, many users read the Term & Conditions page, but few want to see the link at the top of the page. Usually, web designers place the links to such pages in the website footer. Also, moving a visitor from the first paragraph of one page to another can be a bad idea. It makes sense to point internal links in the right paragraph where they can be valuable for visitors.
Internal links reduce your website bounce rate
Myth: Internal links usually help users stay on the site longer, which tells Google that content is relevant to users, which can also help website rankings.
Again, it depends on some factors. For example, users want to find information quickly, and internal links help them do that. In fact, it decreases site time but increases the website visitors’ satisfaction.
In other words, the bounce rate and time on the website depending on the user experience you need to provide.
The right number of internal links
Myth: The right number of internal links depends on the length of the content on the page.
There is no ‘the right number’ of internal links on the page. Use internal links where website users need them.
Use the “nofollow” attribute to save Page Rank
Myth: Use the “nofollow” attribute for some internal links of a website to manipulate Page Rank (Page Rank sculpting).
It is a ridiculous SEO technique that can hurt your website’s SEO. Why? The “nofollow” attribute means search engine bots can’t follow this link, pass the page value, discover content, etc. Even if it is an unimportant page, allow search engine bots to crawl your site to gather more information and check on the website’s overall quality. Using the “nofollow” attribute means that a webmaster doesn’t trust the content of these pages or this content is sponsored.
Remove internal links to unimportant pages
Myth: It is good to delete internal links to unimportant pages (old blog posts, pages that attract low search traffic, etc.).
Many people and SEOs like to talk about the critical importance of content, but the same people can recommend not linking to content. Even if it is an outdated blog post, its content affects the overall assessment of a website by search engines. Deleting these internal links to ‘unimportant’ pages means search engines can’t trust their content and this site because a website owner doesn’t trust this content.
Benefits of internal links compared to external links
When website owners ask about website ranking on SEO forums or social media communities, they receive plenty of answers like “Use external links.”
But no academic paper states that external links are better than internal links. Links are links, and search engines process them as links.
In opposite to external links, internal links have benefits.
First, internal links are free. Website owners do not need to pay for pointing internal links.
Second, website owners can use internal links where they need them and when they want. Also, website owners can change internal links and anchor texts as soon as they need.
Third, search engines use specific algorithms to evaluate external links that some SEOs call filters for external links. Using these algorithms, search engines can pass less value (search signals) to the linked pages or even ignore these pages, which affects the indexing and ranking of the linked pages. The problem is you do not know which external link passes the value to the page. In practice, a linkbuilder may add dozens of external links that search engines will totally ignore.
But search engines do not use specific algorithms for internal links. It means each internal link can pass some value to the linked page.
In some cases, internal links can’t replace external links, for example, drive referral traffic. But internal links work better for the website’s SEO and conversion rate.
As you can see, internal links can boost a business website’s SEO and conversion rate. The effectiveness of internal linking depends on the website’s informational architecture, the number of pages, and the SEO specialist’s skills.
Using internal linking for SEO and business goals requires skills and knowledge in User Experience design. Still, it is better to depend on your own links than a website’s success will rely on backlinks from other sites.
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