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SEO Basics: Internal Linking

There are two main types of linking in search engine optimization (SEO): internal and external. This time around, we’re going to focus on internal links.

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What is internal linking?

Internal links are links to and from content within your own website, on the same domain.

For example, if I link to another blog post that I wrote, like this: 6 Creative Ways to Repurpose Your SEO Content, that’s an internal link.  

Internal links keep users on the same domain and website.

How do internal links help SEO?

Internal links offer a lot of great benefits.

User experience-wise, they help your readers to find other content that they may want to read, like related articles and blog posts. They can also be used to explain terms, link to products, and take users to more in-depth articles.

SEO-wise, internal links help to show Google your most important pages, in a similar way to link building. Both external and internal links can help to show that a certain page is important and of high value.

Internal links also help crawlers to navigate through your site. A Google bot lands on your home page and maps out your website by following all of your links, both internal and external. By mapping out your links and determining which pages have the highest number of backlinks, Google can begin to understand which of your pages and posts are the most important.

The pages that have the most links (both internal and external) will have higher authority, meaning they’re more likely to show up in search results.

Internal linking best practices

Not all internal links are good links. If you want to get the most out of them, you should try to follow these best practices:

1. Use appropriate anchor text.

Anchor text is the word, term, or phrase you use to link to another page. As in, the text you click that takes you to another piece of content.

Back in the day, common anchor text was made up of things like click here, view post, and see more. While these aren’t horrible, they aren’t great. You want your anchor text to clearly explain the destination. It should be descriptive, obvious, and concise.

Often, you can use the product name or post title as the anchor text, or you can use a term, like keyword cannibalization or duplicate content.

2. Don’t go overboard with links.

Only link to other content if and when it makes sense. A good rule of thumb is to link to each term once, the first time it’s mentioned. For example, in the intro to this post, the first mention of SEO is a link, but all other mentions are plain text.

Don’t force links into your content and don’t overdo them. Links are sort of like keywords: they should feel natural and make sense.  

3. Make your links obvious.

Don’t be sneaky about your links. Make sure that links are differentiated from your other text with a different color and an underline. Users won’t be able to navigate to another page if they don’t know it exists and links shouldn’t only be for Google.

Make your links useful to both users and bots, not just one or the other.

4. Customize how links are handled.

There are three ways to handle links. They can:

  • Open in a new browser tab
  • Open in a new window
  • Open in an existing tab

Most people choose to use either a new or existing tab. Opening a link in a new window tends to be reserved for things like customer service chats and popups.

A good way to decide how to handle your links is to determine whether the page you are linking to is a product or not.

If you are linking to a product, and you want to herd users into your content marketing sales funnel, have your link open in the existing tab.

If it’s another resource, like an article or blog post, and it’s meant to help a user to learn or conduct research, have it open in a new tab.

If you aren’t sure what to do, try to put yourself in the user’s shoes. Would it be more useful to you, as a user, to have the link open in a new tab, or for your current tab to change?

Experiment with different options to see which you prefer and try to customize each one so that you really optimize your internal linking strategy.

5. Make sure your links work.

Broken links are annoying, and they can make your content seem like it’s low-quality. Make sure that if you make any URL changes, you consider whether your internal links will be affected and update them as needed.

Run through your links at least once a year using a backlink checking tool like Ahrefs backlink checker or Google Analytics to look for broken and dead links and update them as needed.

6. Use permanent redirects for URL changes.

If you do need to change a URL, put a permanent (301) redirect in place so that any internal or external links don’t break when someone tries to use them. This will also help to ensure that any link equity you had through the old URL is transferred to the new one.