You probably know that links are very important for SEO, right? Right. Well there two main types – external links and internal links. Most people focus on the external links, which are also called backlinks. But don’t forget the internal links! They’re really important too. This article will explain everything I know about internal links for SEO purposes. You’ll learn what they are, why you need them and how to do them right. Let’s get to it!
It’s pretty simple. Internal links are links from one part of your website to another. What counts as “your website”? Well, for any page on a domain example.com, then a link from any resource that is also hosted on example.com (or any subdomain of example.com) will count as coming from the same website, i.e. an internal link.
The other main type of links are external links, or backlinks. These are links that come from other websites. Now, in theory, you don’t own those websites. They’re supposed to be a “vote” for your website from some other third party.
But sometimes people do own those websites, of course. Google hates this and thinks it is cheating.
If you build up a whole bunch of these websites and start linking all over the place, this is known as a Private Blog Network or PBN and is one of the most controversial concepts in SEO. But that’s a story for another day.
Internal links are important for a bunch of reasons. I’ll go through them one by one.
Don’t forget that links aren’t just for Google spiders, they are for people too – they’re actually supposed to be clicked on! So internal links are very important from a user experience perspective. And user experience isn’t a direct ranking signal, but it is an indirect ranking signal. Google looks at how quickly people leave your website and takes that into account when ranking your site (via the RankBrain algorithm).
The more pages people view on your website, the longer they spend on your website. This means a higher dwell time, which Google likes to see. I wrote in a lot more detail about dwell time here.
Google sees a higher dwell time as a positive ranking signal.
You want all (or almost all) of the pages on your blog or website to be crawled and indexed by Google. Those concepts aren’t quite the same – crawl means Google has sent a bot that has inspected and analysed your page. Indexed means Google has decided to rank it in the search results for one or more keywords.
Google isn’t a mind-reader and doesn’t know by default all of the content on your site. Submitting a sitemap.xml will definitely help it know what is there, but internal links are very useful for letting Google dig into all the dark corners of your website.
This is the most important reason to have internal links: they help Google (or other search engines) understand the importance of and relationship between pieces of content on your site. That’s what I’ll be mainly talking about in this article since it is a misunderstood topic.
While internal links don’t carry as much weight as an external link in passing authority or “link juice” to your pages, they are still very important. A lot of people don’t do them properly and don’t realise how many SEO benefits they are leaving on the table.
Let’s go through some best practices for getting SEO value from internal links.
Site structure or architecture is extremely important for internal links and SEO. Most websites get the best value from having a “silo” structure. That means they is a homepage, and then several deep silos or subtopics for that website.
For example, the silos on my website are blogging, SEO, email marketing, affiliate marketing, product reviews, and internet marketing.
In each topic, you want to have a main or head article, and then supporting pages underneath it. The main silo articles are often called Inner Pages, and the supporting silo pages underneath them are called Child Pages.
The generally accepted best practice is to have links from your homepage to the Inner Pages, and links from the Inner Pages to the Child Pages and vice versa. That way, the homepage (which should be receiving lots of external links) will pass link juice to the Inner Pages, which will pass juice to the supporting pages (and vice versa).
The important thing to remember is to keep the silos separate. Google gets unhappy and confused if you link unrelated pages together. So try to minimise the number of internal links you have going from one entire silo to another different one.
Anchor text is super important in SEO – not just for backlinks, but for internal links too. So pay attention to them! It’s hard to know what the exact best ratios are. One possible strategy is to look at the internal link anchor text distributions for your competitors, and model that.
Doing that manually would be a big pain in the bum, so you could use a tool like Screaming Frog to automate the process.
Another option is to just use a roughly equal mix of keyword / exact anchor text, brand/website name anchor text, and generic (“click here”) type anchor text.
Google is getting smarter and understands not just the words and the target of a link, but the location too. It can tell whether the link is in a menu, a header, a footer, an author bio, or the actual body of an article.
Links in the body of an article carry greater authority than links in other places, such as navigation or footer items. So try and make sure the important links to your authority or money pages are in the right place.
Remember that each page only has a finite amount of link juice to pass around. And it shares it amongst all the (dofollow) links that it has. So use it wisely! Especially if that page has quite a bit of it.
For example, your home page will attract more links than probably any other page on your website, by a long way. So think carefully about where the links on that page are going.
This is a great idea. Those pages are required as part of your basic user experience (plus a lot of ad services won’t allow you to do ads to websites that don’t have those pages). But you don’t want or care about them ranking in Google.
So putting a nofollow in the link means that the link will appear and work, but Google will consider them to be dead from its perspective, and will not assign any of the precious link juice to those pages.
I hope you found this article helpful! A lot of people don’t understand internal links and how important they are. So know you know more than a lot of people! Do you still have any questions about internal links? Please leave them in the comments!