What are internal links?
An internal link is a link that points from one page to another page on the same domain. Having a good structure of internal links on a website is important both from an SEO and UX point of view.
Mainly because they:
- improve the crawlability of your website
- improve the user experience by making the navigation of your website easier
- help to spread the link equity across your website
Internal vs. external links
From the technical point of view, there’s no difference between an external link and an internal link – the HTML code of both looks the same. The only difference is in the target of the hyperlink.
Why are internal links important?
Internal linking is something you’ll find that most SEO experts recommend.
By creating an easy-to-follow structure of links, you’ll achieve the following:
1. Improved crawlability of your site
In order for your web pages to rank in search, search engines need to be able to find your pages.
Both the quantity and context of internal links can tell search engines a lot about your website, including which pages are the most important to index. So, your strategy should reflect this.
2. Enhanced user experience
Internal links enable you to be proactive and helpful, providing information at the right time and the most convenient spot for your visitors.
For instance: The things you write about on your blog may relate to the services advertised elsewhere. So it may be a good idea to link the services from the blog.
If visitors have a positive experience moving around your site, they’re going to visit more pages.
3. Increased page authority and ranking
Internal links pass link equity. This means, that by linking to a page within your site, you may improve the rankings of the page and tell the search engine other important information, such as:
- How do different parts of your site (and business) connect to this one?
- What kinds of topics are related to the one covered on this page?
- Which pages are the most important based on how frequently they’re linked to?
It works the other way round too. Your highest priority pages (like Home, Services, or Shop) hold a lot of value for you and your visitors, which increases the authority of these pages. When you link to other pages from these valuable pages, that authority gets passed onto the linked pages.
How to make internal links
There’s no technical difference between an internal and an external link. The HTML code of a hyperlink looks the same in both of them:
<a href="target URL">anchor text</a>
You can create an internal link in many ways. The two most common types of internal links are:
- Navigational links (e.g. menu, breadcrumbs, category links) – they are part of the site structure and help to navigate the website
- Contextual links (e.g. a post linking to another post with a similar topic) – they are created manually to help users discover new relevant pages on your website
Let’s have a look at some specific examples of internal links usage:
Use these links to aid visitors as they move around the site.
Here’s an example of internal links in the main menu on the Mangools homepage:
Each link is carefully selected to serve a certain use case a visitor might have – whether it is navigating through the tools, looking at the pricing, exploring the knowledge base or blog, signing in or creating a new trial account.
Now, the header isn’t the only place where navigational links live. On many websites, the footer contains its own set of links:
Depending on the size of the website, some of your internal pages may need additional navigational links.
You commonly see this on ecommerce sites where breadcrumbs links help visitors backtrack through high-level categories. Or in any kind of pages that are nested deeply in the structure of the website, like the very post you’re reading right now on Mangools’ SEOpedia:
The purpose of contextual internal links is to provide visitors with additional information while they’re reading through the content of a page. Here’s another example from SEOpedia:
In some cases, these links elaborate on a concept or term. In other cases, they link out to a product, service, or study being promoted. And sometimes they’re there to call visitors to action.
Anchor links (not to be confused with anchor text) are a hybrid of navigational and contextual internal links. While they appear within the content of a page, their purpose is to aid in navigation.
Mangools, for instance, uses these types of internal links to help people find very specific content within longer posts. Here’s an example from the SEO guide:
Now, these links don’t go to different pages on the site. They go to different parts of the same page.
You can find them easily – if there’s a hashtag with an element name (e.g. #techical-seo-chapter) in the target URL, it indicates that the internal link points to an anchor element by the same name somewhere on this page.
When a visitor clicks it, they’re immediately dropped down to the anchored element or section.
Coding anchor links
Coding anchor links is similar to coding regular internal links. Here’s the template for an anchor link:
<a href="#object-name">anchor text</a>
Instead of placing a URL between the “”, you have to create a custom object name. You’ll then place an anchor element with that same name lower on the page.
The HTML anchor looks like this:
The <X> depends on what the anchored element is. For instance, if it’s a header tag you want the link to take visitors to, the anchor would look like this:
<h2 id="object-name">header title</h2>
Internal linking strategy tips
Now let’s take a look at some tips on how to implement a working internal linking strategy to your website.
Make any page at most 3 clicks away from the homepage
A user of your website should be able to find any information with no more than three mouse clicks from the homepage.
Following this useful rule will help you create structured navigation and a well-interlinked website.
Link to your most important pages heavily
A good way to signal to search engines that pages are important (meaning the most valuable to you and your visitors) is by making sure they have the most internal links pointing towards them.
Link to relevant pages
As we mentioned before, pages pass authority to other pages by way of internal links, but that shouldn’t be the only thing that determines where you link to.
You want to make sure that each internal link is:
- Related to that linking page,
- Relevant to the content surrounding it,
- Going to improve the visitor’s experience when they click on it.
Write descriptive anchor texts
When creating your anchor text, you want it to be descriptive. So, something like “how to get backlinks” would be much better than “click here”.
The latter tells us nothing about the link or the content on the subsequent page while the descriptive anchor text carries important information about the content of the linked page.
With internal links, you don’t have to worry about exact-match anchor text too much.
In one of the Google Webmasters hangouts, someone asked whether too many internal links with the same anchor text can result in a ranking downgrade.
Matt Cutts from Google answered: “Typically, internal website links will not cause you any sort of trouble.”
Watch the whole video:
Make internal linking part of your publishing routine
While the steps above focus mostly on internal linking within your existing content, this SEO strategy shouldn’t be an afterthought.
Every time you create a new page on your website, add a new product to your store or write a new blog post, make sure internal linking is accounted for.
Here are some things to add to your on-page SEO checklist:
- Include at least two internal links when you create a new page.
- Find older, related content and link back to the new page you created.
This is also a good practice as it will force you to revisit older content and keep it updated (even if it’s just by adding links).
Create content hubs
In addition to creating a strong infrastructure for your site, content hubs can help you to interlink your content topically.
A content hub is a collection of well-interlinked pages that are all related to a certain topic. There are two types of content:
- Pillar page – provides a general overview of the broad topic, usually targeting a broad keyword
- Cluster pages – related posts that cover sub-topics within the theme in detail
Here’s a depiction of what the structure of a website that uses a content hub model may look like:
Not only does this help people explore content on the same topic (and gain a deeper understanding of it), but it also strengthens the entire hub’s topical authority.
Perform an internal link audit at least once a year
Last but not least, schedule some time for an internal link audit annually or quarterly. The more content you create, the more frequently you should do this.
Your audit should include the following tasks:
- Fix broken internal links.
- Take links that point to redirected URLs and point them at the new source.
- Fix orphan pages so that they have at least one link to the site architecture.
- Make sure that any page is three clicks away from the homepage or less.
- Review older content and see if new internal links can be weaved in.
- Review all anchor text used and update accordingly.
- Structure related content into a content hub for easier navigation.
Tip: If you have a big website with hundreds of pages and thousands of internal links, you may want to use a website crawler tool (e.g. Screaming Frog) to audit your internal links and do the needed fixes and adjustments.