A Jam-Packed Guide on Internal Linking for SEO
Inbound link building strategies tend to get a lot of attention in SEO. But your internal link strategy — the way you link between webpages in your own site — can greatly impact SEO and the user experience.
In this guide, I explain why internal linking is important and how to build a good internal link strategy for your website. I also give examples of effective internal links and best practices to keep in mind.
In this guide:
- What are internal links?
- Examples of Internal links
- The benefits of internal links
- How to do internal linking for SEO and user experience
- Internal linking best practices
What Are Internal Links?
An internal link is a link that takes a user from one page on a website to another page on the same website. Internal links are different from external links, which point to a page on another website. Internal links are also different from inbound links, which point to a page on your website but come from another website.
Examples of Internal Links
Examples of internal links include:
- Main navigation
- Footer links
- Contextual links
- Related content links
Main navigational links are the primary way that visitors navigate a website. These links can be found horizontally or vertically as part of the website’s main menus.
Main navigation links point to the most important webpages on a website. They are usually implemented across the entire site, so they’re available from every page.
Navigation menus can be lengthy lists of links to primary and secondary section main pages. The examples below show how this might look on an ecommerce website and a retail website.
Footer links, like main navigational links, help a person navigate through a website. Links in the footer usually represent webpages that people may find important, but less important than the main navigation links. Footer links are usually implemented across the entire site.
Contextual links are links embedded within the main content on a webpage. These links point to another webpage using anchor text (which is the hyperlinked words) so that the link appears in context within a page.
For example, this link to our guide on SEO siloing (which I’ll discuss more later in this article) is a contextual link using the anchor text “SEO siloing.” And, you can find contextual links within that guide, too:
Related Content Links
Internal related content links often show up at the bottom of an article. They suggest to visitors what content they might be interested in reading next.
The Benefits of Internal Links
Internal links serve important functions for both website visitors and search engines. Internal links:
- Help people find other content on your website
- Communicate to search engines what your website is about
- Enable search engines to discover more pages on your website
- Pass link equity from one webpage to another within your site
Help Users Find Content
Internal links help you direct your website visitors to important webpages on your site, whether they are main navigational links, contextual links or something else. Ideally, interested readers can also follow links to dive deeper into any topic that your site covers, moving logically from page to page.
Help Search Engines Figure Out Your Website
When internal linking is done well, it helps to communicate to the search engines what your website is about. Organizing content through links helps your site to be a relevant authority on a topic (more on that later).
Help Search Engines Discover More Webpages
Search engine crawlers use the links they find to discover and crawl more webpages on your website. The more webpages they discover, crawl and index, the better. From Google:
Some pages are known because Google has already visited them before.
Pass Link Equity from One Page to Another
Google’s PageRank algorithm assesses the authority of a webpage. If one webpage is considered high authority (usually due to quality external links pointing to it) and that webpage links to another webpage internally, it passes some of its authority to the page it is linking to.
How To Do Internal Linking for SEO and User Experience
When you get your internal linking structure right, you have not only a well-organized website that visitors can easily navigate but also a site that is primed for SEO.
SEO siloing is a practice we invented in 2000. SEO siloing is a way to organize your website content through links based on the way people search for your site’s topics. Its goal is to make a site more relevant for a search query, which gives the page a better chance of ranking.
As an example, say you have a website that sells power tools. You can organize the content on that website through its linking structure so that it is like a well-kept file cabinet.
In the graphic above, the “cordless power tools” category of content consists of a landing page and several supporting webpages on the website, all of which are linked to one another to create a “silo” of information.
Google states this is a good practice:
The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the website owner thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.
Google reinforces that in its SEO Starter Guide, too:
Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal “search” functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.
SEO siloing is done through interlinking between pages, and it can be reinforced via the physical directory structure. I’ll explain more about that next.
Physical siloing is the practice of interlinking webpages by the URL structure into directories. An example I often use in our SEO training course is on a fictional website about peanut butter. You could create a silo on creamy peanut butter through the physical directory of a website like so:
When done right, the main navigation of a website will point to these physical silos.
Here’s a sample of physical siloing on our site under the “what we do” navigation:
… and so on.
To strengthen your silos, be sure to have the primary page of each silo link down to its next-level main pages. Also have each subpage within the directory link up to the directory’s main landing page.
As a general rule, you need a minimum of five content pages to establish the theme of the directory/silo. Sometimes, one of those five pages (or more) may serve as the landing page for a new subsection.
Virtual siloing is the practice of creating an informational silo through contextual links and related webpages. The pages that are linked together are not necessarily in the same directory but are relevant to one another. Virtual siloing is useful for a website in times where a physical directory is not a good option.
Let’s say you have two different physical silos, each with five subpages of supporting content. If you wanted to link to a page in another silo, you would link to the other silo’s main landing page, not a subpage.
The reason for this is to not dilute the theme of the silo. One reason for internal linking is to group similar subjects together and help search engines understand what each section is about. If a lot of subpages link to a lot of other subpages, it can get confusing.
Our SEO siloing guide explains this further:
Sticking with the simple peanut butter example, say your site sells a flavor of jelly that is particularly complementary to creamy peanut butter. It may be fitting to link from your peanut butter page to the flavored jelly page. Since the jelly page would be a supporting page in the jelly silo, you would want to link your creamy peanut butter page to the landing page of the jelly silo instead of to the particular flavored jelly page.
Internal Linking Best Practices
Aside from siloing, there are many other internal linking best practices that will enhance user experience and SEO. Here a list that I’ll explain in detail below:
- Audit existing link structure.
- Establish click depth.
- Only link to important pages from your homepage.
- Use breadcrumb links.
- Use anchor text wisely.
- Use nofollow attributes as needed.
- Go ahead and use multiple links to the same target.
- Have an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap.
- Manage 404s.
- Manage internal links regularly.
Audit Existing Link Structure
If your website is not brand new, you likely already have an internal link structure. To get a better picture of what it looks like, you can use SEO tools such as:
Using tools, audit your internal links to find things like:
- Broken links (e.g., linking to a page that no longer exists)
- Links to pages that are 301 redirected
- Links to pages that may not be important
- Click depth is too deep (more on that in the next section)
- Pages without any links
- Too many links on a page
- Nofollow issues
- Pages passing the most PageRank
If you are an SEOToolSetⓇ subscriber, you can use our Link Graph tool to get started analyzing your internal links as an interactive visual map. But, there are other tools, too, as mentioned in this guide.
Establish Click Depth
Traditional wisdom says that the number of clicks it takes to get to important pages on the site from the homepage should be no more than three. Google has confirmed that it is important to make sure it’s easy to get to these important pages easily, but makes no mention of actual click depth.
In that video, Google’s John Mueller says:
…What does matter for us a little bit is how easy it is to actually find the content there. So especially if your home page is generally the strongest page on your website, and from the home page it takes multiple clicks to actually get to one of these stores, then that makes it a lot harder for us to understand that these stores are actually pretty important.
So in other words, you do want to keep click depth in mind as you are establishing your silos, and we usually recommend that, if possible, the site’s click depth not be more than two or three jumps from the homepage.
Only Link to Important Pages from Your Homepage
Your website’s homepage is typically the page with the most authority. So choose the links wisely that you put on your homepage. Only point to the most important pages (usually the main landing pages of your silos).
Here’s an example on HomeDepot.com’s homepage:
Use Breadcrumb Links
Breadcrumb links help to orient website visitors as to where they are in the site. It can help them navigate back and forth easily. Google recommends this as a best practice, too:
A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page. Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (usually the root page) as the first, leftmost link and list the more specific sections out to the right. We recommend using breadcrumb structured data markup28 when showing breadcrumbs.
Here at BCI, we recommend using breadcrumb links at the top of your pages.
Use Anchor Text Wisely
An important factor in determining the quality of a link is its anchor text. You want anchor text to be meaningful and relevant for internal links to your site.
Yes, keyword-rich anchor text should be used within your own website. There’s no spam penalties on internal linking. So make those internal links reinforce what each page is about. Typically, you’ll want to use one of the destination page’s main keywords as anchor text.
Links on your page may be internal—pointing to other pages on your site—or external—leading to content on other sites. In either of these cases, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you’re linking to is about.
Use Nofollow Attributes as Needed
Links to influencers, affiliates and some others must include an attribute like nofollow to prevent the transfer of link equity. Google expanded the list with sponsored and user-generated content designations. (This applies mostly to external links.)
Go Ahead: Use Multiple Links to the Same Source
It has been debated whether you should link out to another internal webpage more than once on the same webpage. Some argue it could dilute the PageRank (link equity).
In 2019, Google’s Mueller said this:
No, feel free to link naturally within your site!
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) January 4, 2019
We have not observed this to be a significant issue. So go ahead and link to the same webpage more than once on a page when it’s natural and necessary. Remember that Google may only count the first one that it encounters on the page.
Have an HTML Sitemap and an XML Sitemap
An HTML sitemap is a central location of all the important links on your website. It can help visitors more easily find what they are looking for. You can view an example of a sitemap for users by checking out our sitemap.
On this topic, Google says:
Include a simple navigational page for your entire site (or the most important pages, if you have hundreds or thousands) for users. Create an XML sitemap file to ensure that search engines discover the new and updated pages on your site, listing all relevant URLs together with their primary content’s last modified dates.
An XML sitemap, on the other hand, is just for search engines, and helps ensure more thorough crawling and indexing. It should contain all the indexable pages on your website.
By the way, according to Sitemaps.org, your XML file should not exceed 50MB. If necessary, you can chain several XML sitemap files together.
The same is true for HTML sitemaps, which should not exceed about 100 links. If you need to, you can create multiple sitemaps following your silo structure (one per silo) and then chain them together using a link.
- What Is an XML Sitemap and How Do I Make One?
- How to Create a Sitemap (information on both site maps for users and XML Sitemaps for search engines)
Make it a habit to run SEO tools and view your Search Console reports on a regular basis to identify any broken links on your website. Then, redirect those pages (with a 301 redirect) to the next most relevant page.
As a best practice, your site should have a custom 404 page that can help website visitors when they encounter a broken link on your site before you find it.
On this, Google says:
Users will occasionally come to a page that doesn’t exist on your site, either by following a broken link or typing in the wrong URL. Having a custom 404 page that kindly guides users back to a working page on your site can greatly improve a user’s experience. Your 404 page should probably have a link back to your root page and could also provide links to popular or related content on your site. You can use Google Search Console to find the sources of URLs causing “not found” errors.
See more on how to design a custom 404 error page.
Manage Internal Links Regularly
Make sure you check on your silos regularly. As new content is added (or taken away) on the site, make sure that it is not compromising the theme of your silos.
There are, of course, other things you can do as well:
- After you publish a new piece of content, link to the new page from existing site pages on the same topic. To find likely candidates, you can use a site: search on Google using the topic keyword (for example: site:bruceclay.com seo siloing).
- Using a site: search, you could also identify all the pages you’ve written on a topic. Then decide if you want to link them together to form a subsilo or possibly combine some of them into one long webpage article and then redirect other pages to that new source.
You should now have a good understanding of an internal link strategy and why it’s important. The next best step is to do an audit of your strategy to get a picture of what linking you do have in place, and where you can improve.
Need help with your SEO strategy? Contact us for a free quote and consultation today.