As SEO has progressed towards user experience, many website owners/businesses are considering design updates, website refreshes, new content & embarking on new link campaigns, however, many SEO’s and site owners tend to neglect internal link structure by insufficient linking between related pages.

Using a Solid Internal Link Structure for SEO

Internal links help create the infrastructure of your website, there are generally 3 types of links on a website, these are:

  • Main Menu Navigation Links
  • Content or Body Links
  • Footer Links

Whilst main menu navigation and footer links usually get the most attention, very few actually implement strategic internal linking throughout a website. If you do not adopt an internal linkin strategy, you are likely missing out on additional ranking opportunities.Now I’ve reminded you of the importance, don’t be too hasty in your implementation, there are lots of things to consider, namely are the links you place going to direct users to relevant content? is there synergy between the page you are linking from and too? are you balancing your links or skewing them? how are you using your anchors?. Best practice dictates that one core element behind your linking rationale should be user experience, if the link fits then go ahead, if the link goes off on a tangent not relevant to the article then avoid. Remember to think from the users perspective and not from your own SEO perspective.

You can factor in the distribution of link equity, link value and link flow once you’ve addressed relevancy first.

Linking for User Experience

Look after your visitors, don’t bombard them with content strewn with links, often links are styled differently to their surrounding text, adding in lots of AHREF hyperlinks will litter your content and make it less “readable”. Spacing your links out between paragraphs is good practice. Typically 3-5 hyperlinks per 500 words is what we’d refer to as a “safe” saturation. Packing more than 10-20 links in every 500 words becomes spam territory (from an over-optimisation point of view).The key factors for good user experience when it comes to content and linking include:

  • Break your content up into bitesize paragraphs
  • Lightly integrate links 3-5 per 500 words or 1-2 links per paragraph
  • Don’t over-optimise the use of links by using exact match anchor text over and over again
  • Only link internally to a page once (twice at the most), don’t saturate your content with the same link over-and-over again

Passing Link Equity Internally

Link equity is fundamental externally and is equally important internally. Back in the days of PageRank it was easy to see how link equity was spread throughout pages on a website, with the discontinuation of Google’s PageRank SEO’s and site owners are almost blind to how link equity is passed between pages.

Fast forward to 2017, managing internal link equity can be done through a suite of 3rd party tools such as Majestic, AHREFS, SEMRUSH and MOZ OSE, although these tools can produce different data so it’s worth consolidating the data you get. Ideally, you’d create more links internally to focal pages but keep your internal linking diverse. You’ll want the most natural looking internal and external link profile as possible, do this by balancing out internal links between different page types (products, categories, blogs, services etc.). Link equity mathmetics can get a tad complicated, so rather than trying to quantify everything why not keep a basic record of pages with the number of outbound links per page and a record of the outbound link locations, you can do this simply using Excel or Google Sheets.

A good strategy is to introduce internal linking bit by bit, monitor the rankings as you go. If you find pages that rank well but could do with an improvement (i.e. position 7 on page 1 in Google) then increase the internal links to that page contextually and monitor what happens (obviously make sure your other on site and off site factors are in check).

Managing Navigation Links

It’s becoming more commonplace to see websites with simplified navigation. A simple navigation will allow you to structure the distribution of link equity whilst simplifying the journey for your end users. You have to find a balancing point here, navigation should be simple but should be laid out in a way that end users can find what you have to offer quickly and easily without having to click too far into the website, on the otherside overely complicated navigations with excessive links can have a negative effect.

Streamline your websites header and footer navigation. Balance out links based on a hierachy that makes sense, whether you offer products / services / information you should make everything structured using a “SILO” structure. Plan out your SILO structure and factor it into your header and footer navigation.

Contextual Linking, Anchors & Long-tail

I’ll touch on each of these separately. So contextual linking is basically the process of linking from your pages body content. Contextual linking should be done in a way to keep things natural but also helpful to the end user whilst passing sufficient link equity throughout the website. Link anchors are the actual text being used for the link. Now, there is a debate amongst SEO’s to the utilisation of anchor text, but the general rule of thumb is that:

  • Use anchors with the right intent where applicable
  • Keep your anchor text “fairly” consistent but add some diversity
  • Don’t use unnatural anchor text combinations in contextual links
  • Don’t use the same anchors for links pointing to varying URL’s (creates canonical issues)
  • Don’t over-use generic anchors such as more information, click here or use too many stop words

When we say anchor text diversity, let’s say hypothetically you were linking internally to a page for Cheap Adidas Trainers, you could mix the anchor text up with variants “Buy Adidas Trainers”, “Learn More About Adidas Trainers” etc. Make sure the anchor you use has synergy with the pages intent i.e. do not use the term “BUY” if your destination page does not offer the option to buy. Keep these things in mind to make sure your anchor profiles are optimal. Diversity keeps things looking more natural. Just keep it at the front of your mind, make sure your anchors match the INTENT of the landing page, this is key, get this wrong and you’ll do more harm than good.As for long-tail, your anchors will help spur on long-tail opportunities for pages that are available lower down in your websites infrastructure or “SILO”. Long-tail pages will likely have longer anchor texts, there is no harm in linking part of a sentence as the anchor title, in fact, in some studies using the page title as the anchor was incredibly effective. Use longer anchors more sparingly within content to avoid litering articles too much.

Nifty Tools You Can Use

There are loads of really great tools you can use for your link endeavours. Starting with the most obvious Google Search Console offers internal linking information which you can access simply by logging into your Google Search Console, selecting Search Traffic > Internal Links which will appear like this:

Google Search Console Internal Links

From Google Search Console you can export data into Excel where you can categorise the data when formulating your internal linking strategy. Other tools include:

You can also use SEOTools for excel to count internal links which is probably more suited to those who have mastered SEOTools / macro’s.

Internal Linking for the future

Internal linking for SEO in 2017 is of greater importance as user experience and Google’s utilisation of AI are factored into various algorithm revisions. Internal linking for SEO in 2018 is not likely to change in importance, however any refinements in over-optimisation penalties may impact on how internal links are perceived. If you stick to the golden rule of keeping your internal linking profile relevant, clean and natural you’ll have nothing to worry about. Internal linking will ALWAYS be of importance as it is a fundamental part of how everything on the web is connected.

What is an Internal Link?

An internal link is simply a link that goes from one page on a websites domain to another page on the same domain. Internal links make up the main website navigation as well as contextual navigation (linking from body content).

How many Internal Links Should I Have?

There is no right answer or wrong answer. As a general rule an entire page should have less than 100-150 internal hyperlinks. The volume of required hyperlinks will depend on the type of website you are working with, for example an eCommerce website with a lot of product categories is likely to have a more link heavy navigation. Generally a page should have no more than 20-30 contextual links (long-form content) or 3-5 links per 500 words.

What is an Anchor Text?

An anchor text is the clickable text used in a hyperlink. Anchor text should be relevant to the destination page for best practice. Relevant anchor text improves user experience and contributes towards better SEO performance for a website.

A Summary

Keep your links internally looking natural, make sure the pages linked to and from have synergy/relevance, do not over-use anchor texts and try and diversify the anchor text you use. Try to keep intent and saturation in mind seperate from the websites header and footer navigation.

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Daniel Carter

Director at Assertive
A driven entrepreneur providing the fearless counsel to clients who need to maximise their investments in Digital Marketing, Advertising, Business Development and End User Strategies. Twenty years of SEO experience – and still learning.