Links are vital to search engine optimisation. A 2015 analysis of search engine ranking factors by Moz identifies link-related factors as the single most important source of a site’s ranking power.
SEO strategists invest plenty of time and energy into building backlinks – links from external sites to theirs. Backlinks are an excellent means of communicating to search engines that the site in question is valued and trusted by third parties and visibility can also improve via backlinks.
What is internal linking?
Internal linking is the practice of creating a link from one page on a site to another page on the same site. When you link from your homepage to a service page or blog post on your website, or to and from any other pages, these are all classified as internal links.
Linking within your own site can also boost your rankings.
Why are internal links important to SEO?
Internal links are important to SEO for three reasons:
- They help search engines to crawl your site
- They control and distribute link equity
- They improve usability
Why are internal links important for crawlers?
Search engines use crawlers – bots that systematically browse the web – to help them understand the structure and hierarchy of websites and determine which to return in response to a search query.
Crawlers identify how all a site’s web pages relate to each other and which are the most important to the user and they do this in part thanks to internal links.
If a specific page has a great deal of internal links pointed at it, this signals to the crawler that it is important, increasing the likelihood that the page will appear in search results.
Here’s an example of why this is helpful for SEO.
Placing an internal link on the category page to the service page tells the search engine that it should view the sub-page more favourably and if many pages do the same you can begin to sculpt what pages rank above others for different terms.
Why are internal links important for controlling link equity?
When you’re building external links to your site, some web pages are more difficult to link to than others. An informative, well-written guide on a topic related to the product or service is invariably easier to build links to than the product or service page itself.
Internal links are a means of capitalising on the high traffic of highly linkable content like power pages and redirecting it to product or service pages.
The best strategy is to build external links to linkable content which also contains internal links to product or services pages relevant to the search query. This then funnels any link ‘juice’ (equity) to the pages you wish to rank highly.
Why are internal links important for usability?
Creating internal links helps users find their way around your site, while providing them with more informative content related to what they are already reading.
The positive effects this increased navigability has on user experience are reflected by tangible ranking factors such as increased session duration and decreased bounce rate.
When creating internal links, make sure that the anchor text (the text that contains the hyperlink, which is usually blue) is keyword-rich.
Keyword-rich anchor text not only helps users to find relevant product or service pages, it can also have a positive effect on keyword performance in the SERPs.
How to make sure internal links don’t harm your site
Internal links can be a real force for good, but they can also damage your user experience and SEO. How?
Imagine that you’re happily browsing a site. You see an interesting-looking link and you click, waiting to be transported to another piece of relevant content. Instead, you see a 404 error message stating that the page cannot be found.
You’ve encountered a broken link. These damage both user experience and SEO and should be avoided at all costs.
In order to prevent a broken link, make sure that you update all relevant internal links whenever you make changes to a site.
If you delete a page, make sure that you go through and remove or redirect any links that were pointed at it. Site migrations are a very common way of creating lots of broken links on a website because you are changing the structure of the URLs.
If you migrate from a non-secure domain (HTTP) to a secure domain (HTTPs), each internal link will need to be updated to reflect this change.