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A beginner’s guide to internal linking7 min read

7 min read

Have you ever wondered how Google decides which pages are important on your site? One critical element is how you link between your pages. Getting this right can lead to both improved user experience and increased understanding of your content by search engines – key aspects to ranking well.

What is internal linking?

Internal linking is the term used to describe a link between pages that exist within the same domain. For example, www.fashionwebsite.com/jeans and www.fashionwebsite.com/skinny-jeans are on the same domain. Not only do they help users navigate through a website, but internal links are a critical way for Google and other search engines to discover your content and understand the relationship between pages.

Why is internal linking important?

Internal linking is crucial in order to distribute authority throughout your site. Google uses many signals to determine the authority of a page but its original authority metric, PageRank, is still at the core of its ranking algorithm. For ranking purposes, PageRank determines how valuable a page is by looking at the external links to the page, and then assigning a value to it based on the quantity and quality of those links.

When one page is internally linked to another page, it passes a portion of its PageRank to it. It does this in order to increase the authority of your pages, so it’s important to consider how you’re linking within your domain. There are countless internal linking strategies, but the following are the basics for how to implement basic internal linking on your site.

Link logic

Before you link one page to another page on your site, you need to ask yourself: does the content connect?

Content counts

When you link one page to another in order to pass authority, you need to think about what and why you’re linking from one page to another. It should make logical sense for why one page links to another based on the content of both pages. For example, if you have a blog post on your page about fall fashion, it makes sense to link to boots that are in style during this season – it wouldn’t make sense to link to a popular swimsuit, as it wouldn’t relate to fall fashion.

Linking logically is important for both user experience and search engine crawlability. If your links on a page make sense to a user, they’re more likely to click on the link and continue browsing through your site. If they’re not logical, users will leave your site because your credibility is lost.

In terms of search engine crawlability, search engines will have more difficulty understanding the content on your page if your links do not match up to your content. This means you will be less likely to rank for your targeted keywords.

Hub pages

Hub pages house all of the important links on one page about a particular topic. For example, if you have a site about animals, you can create a hub page about reptiles. On your page about reptiles, you can have internal links to different kinds of reptiles, like turtles, frogs, lizards, crocodiles, etc.

All of the outgoing links to specific reptiles will be relevant to your hub page topic: types of reptiles. The contextual nature of these internal links will help search engines better understand the content as a whole and of the individual pages, while enabling the flow of PageRank between pages. This is why hub pages are a great way to boost authority of your site.

URLs

In addition to linking logically based on content, you need to think about the structure of your Uniform Resource Locators, better known as URLs. The format provides both search engines and crawlers with the information they need about the web page they discover, making it critical when creating your linking strategy.

URL structure

The way a URL is structured is crucial to establishing trust with your audience. For example, a poor URL to a blog post could be:

www.example.com/blog/s3d32-post_2020!dfa%#9 

This link gives you no context as to where the link will take you, and users are also less likely to click on a link with many symbols and numbers. On the other hand, a clear URL with words and hyphens helps the user and search engine understand the content that will appear on the page. A better URL is:

www.example.com/blog/internal-linking-guide 

This URL gives both Google and the user more context about the content on this page. Users are more likely to trust and click on this page, because the topic of the page is clear. Additionally, search engines are more likely to understand what the context of the page is from a clear URL.

Anchor text

In addition to the URL itself, the text displaying the URL is important in Google’s understanding of the content on the page. Within a page’s HTML, anchor text will look like this:

<a href= “www.example.com/blog/internal-linking-guide”> Internal Linking Guide</a>

The text in between the attribute, “Internal Linking Guide,” is the anchor text. The anchor text is what users will see instead of a link. If the anchor text is vague, the user is less likely to click on it if it doesn’t pertain to what they’re searching for.

A common mistake web developers and SEOs make is to have the anchor text be “here.” Although it makes sense within the context of a page, “here” gives the crawler no indication of the content of the page.

Keys to crawlability

The design of your linking structure is also important to consider when optimizing your page for search engines.

Crawl depth

Crawl depth is the amount of clicks it takes you to get from the homepage to another page on your site. The farther away a page is from the homepage, the more likely Google is to deem this page as less important than pages closer to the homepage. The homepage will always have a crawl depth of 0, because it takes no clicks. If your category page is one click away, it will have a crawl depth of 1; if your product page is two clicks away, it will have a crawl depth of 2, and so on and so forth.

From a user perspective, users are less likely to find the page if it’s hidden deep within a site. When taking the user experience and search engine perspective into account, it’s important to remember that your pages should be easy to find. This is why the design of your linking structure is critical. If important pages, like a category page with products, has a crawl depth of 8, users will have difficulty finding and purchasing your products. In addition, it will be harder for search engines to find these pages and rank them.

Orphan pages

Pages that are not linked to any other pages within your site are called orphan pages. Orphan pages are typically the result of pages that become inactive. For example, you place a category page with products on sale for a major holiday in the main navigation, and once the sale is over, the link is removed from the navigation – this leaves no way to find this page while browsing the site even though it still exists. This can be detrimental to SEO, because both the user and search engine can’t find the page while browsing the site. If Google can’t find your page while crawling, then the page can’t show up in search results.

Yearly holiday sales pages aren’t the only pages that can be orphaned. Important evergreen pages can also be orphaned, so you need to pay attention to your internal linking strategy to ensure crawlability, a spot within search results and the best user experience.

Key takeaways

Here are some key points you should take away from this guide:

  • Internal links pass authority between pages on your site.
  • Content matters: the pages being linked to and from should make logical sense.
  • Aim to create hub pages in order to increase the value of your internal links.
  • Your URL structure should make sense. URLs with too many symbols and numbers are less likely to be seen as trustworthy and authoritative.
  • Anchor text should be specific to the content of the page.
  • Important pages that users need to see (category pages, PDP, blog posts, etc.) should have a lower crawl depth and be easily accessible from the homepage.
  • Your internal linking strategy should include a plan for what to do with orphan pages and how to minimize them on your site as much as possible.

If you’d like to learn more about internal linking and best practices, get in touch with our team.