Prioritize internal link building to guide search crawlers, drive link equity and impact user experience for your search engine optimization strategy.
In nearly every article on internal linking, the author bemoans how complicated yet how essential the practice is for successful SEO. While internal linking is an inherently simple concept that should be universally accepted with its external linking counterpart, its process and best practices can become highly complex. It’s both convoluted and straightforward. But without question, it is strategically important, as a Google employee has said in simple terms.
Prospective clients and site owners often focus optimization efforts on generating quality content and subsequently nabbing the most relevant external links to those pages — a reasonable SEO strategy.
However, external link building should “bring up the rear,” taking a backseat to the technical and onpage SEO elements like internal linking that provide site owners with some measure of control over the links accessed and prioritized by both search crawlers and users.
What Is An Internal Link?
An internal link simply connects one page of a website to a different page on the same website. The basic theory of internal linking is this:
- Provide paths for search crawlers
- Drive link equity to less diverse pages
- Ensure a high quality user experience
They’re essential purpose is to help both search engines and users better understand and navigate your site, so let’s look more closely at it works.
Internal Links Guide Search Engines
External links are like votes from an independent source that provide credibility and evidence of your relevance in the internet world. But internal links help search engines gather information and formulate their own understanding of your content and pages, ranking which pages are most important in the process.
Simple common sense suggests that the specific page(s) with the most internal links signal the page(s) that should be spewed out in their search results. This is why anchor text is so essential to balance out the uneven advantage that broader category pages have over niche product pages, for example.
How to Use Keyword-Rich Anchor Text
Unlike external links where manipulative anchor text is often confused with spam and penalized for its overly-optimized tendencies, keyword-rich anchor text can ensure that Google pulls product pages for highly-qualified searches.
For example, a sports shoe company will likely see their “shoes” category page rank above their “trail running shoes” page for the query [women’s running shoes]. Linking internally to commercially important, relevant product pages will bring these to Google’s attention.
Google’s Internal Links Report will spell out how Google identifies your pages and internal links to look something like this with the number of internal links in the left-hand column.
Obviously, a streamlined user experience with naturally occurring opportunities for anchor text to benefit readers is the ideal, while too many stuffed internal links will negatively affect your efforts.
Driving Link Equity to Category Pages
This case study from Moz on ranking high-volume keywords demonstrated how significant internal linking can be to tell Google that a particular page is “important” on your site. And since some types of pages are not as attractive for securing external links (i.e. product pages), a more strategic internal linking strategy is essential.
Ask yourself a few questions. What are the pages that you wish would rank that are not yet ranking for their terms and phrases they’re targeting?
You could begin by using Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs to determine the pages that have earned the most links and the most link equity. Then you might ask, “Okay, can I relate these two pages or imagine a natural user scenario where someone lands on this page and needs something over here, meaning I can create a link to and from there?” Find (or create) connections that allow a natural flow from successful pages to your more niche links.
Perform Internal Link Audits for Usability
For eCommerce sites, it’s normal to have products or category pages that have become unavailable or new products and category pages added to the site. For sites with thousands of pages, site audits will often reveal broken internal links that impact SEO and result in a poor customer experience.
Internal 301/302 redirects from link removal may indicate that your deeper pages are likely not receiving their link equity potential.
Rundown: Why Internal Links Matter
While external links drive your site’s visibility via rankings, internal links work to directly control the relevance of specific pages. They guide search crawlers to your most important pages, drive link equity to both your high-converting and niche pages, and fix broken links to improve your SEO.
For site audits and ways to improve your optimization efforts, reach out to our digital marketing team at RLC Media.