Internal linking for SEO: Why and how?

Before your content can rank, it needs links. Google finds your posts and pages best when they’re linked to from somewhere on the web. Internal links also connect your content and give Google an idea of the structure of your website. They can establish a hierarchy on your site, allowing you to give the most important pages and posts more link value than other, less valuable, pages. So using the right internal linking strategy can boost your SEO!

Did you know our Site structure training can help you figure out how to build the best possible structure for your site? You’ll learn all about cornerstone content, taxonomies, internal linking and much more. Try it out, you’ll love it!

Why are links important to Google?

Google uses links to find out what content on your site is related and the value of that content.

Relationships between content

Google crawls websites by following links, internal and external, using a bot called Google bot. This bot arrives at the homepage of a website, starts to render the page and follows the first link. By following links Google can work out the relationship between the various pages, posts and other content. This way Google finds out which pages on your site cover similar subject matter.

On top of this post, for example, you’ll see links to the ‘Content SEO’, ‘Internal linking’ and ‘Site structure’ tags. We make sure Google understands that the content on those pages is related to the content of this post by adding these links.

Link value

In addition to understanding the relationship between content, Google divides link value between all links on a web page. Often, the homepage of a website has the greatest link value because it has the most backlinks. That link value will be shared between all the links found on that homepage. The link value passed to the following page will be divided between the links on that page, and so on.

Therefore, your newest blog posts will get more link value if you link to them from the homepage, instead of only on the category page. And Google will find new posts quicker if they’re linked to from the homepage.

When you get the concept that links pass their link value on, you’ll understand that more links to a post mean more value. Because Google deems a page that gets lots of valuable links as more important, you’ll increase the chance of that page ranking. 

Setting up an internal linking strategy

Internal links vs external links

Every website consists of internal and external links. Internal links connect pages and posts on your own website and external links connect your pages to other websites. In this post, we’ve focus on internal links and what they mean for SEO. If you want to get more external links pointing to your site, see our posts on link building.

It’s crucial for your site’s SEO to evaluate and improve internal linking strategy on a regular basis. By adding the right internal links you make sure Google understands:

  • the relevance of pages;
  • the relationship between pages;
  • and the value of pages.

First: the ideal structure for your site

We always advise website owners to imagine their website to be a pyramid. On top of it is your homepage, below that there are some sections or categories, and further down there are individual posts and pages (possibly with subcategories in between).

ideal site structure pyramid

If you do it well, your website’s menu should reflect this structure. In our Ultimate guide to site structure you can read how to create the best site structure for your site.

What is your most important content?

Then, you should determine what your most important content is. If you’re not sure, please read our article on cornerstone content. In short, it’s your best and most complete content; it’s about the core of your business. It’s the content you want people to find when they’re searching for a topics or products that you specialize in.

Because you want to let Google know that this is your most essential content, you need to add many links to it. There are various spots from where you can link to your cornerstone content. Here, we’ll give the most common options, from your post’s copy to your navigation.

Add contextual links

When you’ve written various articles about a certain topic you should link them with each other. This will show Google – and users! – that those articles are topically related. You can link directly from sentences in your copy or add links at the end of your post.

Moreover, you want to show Google which of those articles is your cornerstone: your most complete article on this topic. To do so, you have to add a link to the cornerstone in all of the articles on this topic. And don’t forget to link back from the cornerstone to the individual posts.

Contextual linking: an example

On our blog, there’s a cornerstone content article called ‘The ultimate guide to keyword research’. We want this post to rank for all related search queries about [keyword research] in Google search results.

So we’ve added links from other relevant articles, such as ‘7 keyword research mistakes to avoid‘, ‘ What is keyword research‘ or ‘Focus on long tail keywords‘ to the main article. And we link back from the main article to these posts. In doing so, Google will understand that the ultimate guide contains most information about [keyword research]. So in the end, Google will rank the ultimate guide above the other, shorter posts about keyword research.

Add a related post section?

There are many plugins and modules that add complete related posts sections to your posts. If you use one, we recommend testing whether the related posts actually are related posts. If you’re not sure, linking to posts manually is probably best. That’s what we do on Yoast.com – we select a related post manually (or with a little help from our internal linking tool – more on that later) and place a link to that post at the bottom of the article.

Michiel explains this in detail in this post about linking to related posts.

Add navigational links

Besides linking from topically-related posts and pages, it’s possible to make your cornerstone content more authoritative by adding links to it from the homepage or the top navigation. You should do this with the posts and pages that are most important to your business. This will give these posts or pages a lot of link value and makes them stronger in Google’s eyes.

Add links to your taxonomies

Taxonomies, like categories and tags, help you organize your site and help users and Google to understand what your content is about. If you have a blog it could be beneficial to add internal links to the taxonomies the post belongs to. Adding links to the category and tags helps Google to understand the structure of your blog and helps visitors to more easily navigate to related posts.

Add links to popular or recent posts

The last option to mention is creating internal links to the most popular or newest posts on your website. Preferably create these sections in the sidebar or the footer of your website to have them appear on all pages and posts.

As link value passes to these most popular/recent posts from many different pages and posts they really get a boost. Besides that, the posts will be easier for visitors to access, which will increase traffic – and more traffic is a positive sign to Google.

More on internal links

No-follow links

You also probably have links that aren’t important for SEO on your website. If you have a login link for your clients on the homepage, for example, you don’t want to leak link value to your login page – that page doesn’t need to rank high in the search results.

You used to be able to prevent losing link value to unimportant links by giving them a ‘no-follow’ tag. A ‘no-follow’ tag asks Google not to follow the link: so no link value is lost. Now you might think: “I’m going to ‘no-follow’ less important links to give the most important links more link value.” While this worked in the past, Google has become smarter. Now it seems that the link value for those no-follow links doesn’t automatically flow to the other links on the page. The no-follow link will be counted as a link and the link value for that link will be lost. Therefore it makes more sense to have fewer links on a page instead of ‘no-following’ some of the links.

Note that adding a ‘no-follow’ tag doesn’t mean that those target pages can’t be found in Google’s search results. If you don’t want pages or posts to show up in the search results you should give them a ‘no-index’ tag as well. The ‘no-index’ tag means that Google shouldn’t render the page and shouldn’t give the content a place in the Google index to show up in the search results.

Anchor texts

Once you have decided which links should be on a page and which pages should get link value, it’s important to use the right anchor text. The anchor text is the clickable text that visitors see. For example, the anchor text of the two internal links in the example below are ‘link schemes’ and ‘paid links’:

Anchor texts
You can see the anchor text containing the link in this image.

If you over-optimize anchor text you might hurt your website. And by over-optimizing, we mean keyword stuffing. Previously, you could give all anchor texts the same keyword and Google made your website rank higher for that keyword. Nowadays, Google is smart enough to understand that the content around the anchor text says more about the relevancy of a keyword than the anchor text itself. So make sure the anchor text looks natural in your copy: it’s fine to use keywords but don’t add the exact same keywords to every link’s anchor text. 

Read more: The context of internal links »

Easy internal linking with Yoast SEO Premium

Our Yoast SEO Premium plugin helps improve your internal link structure with its internal linking suggestion tool, which helps you to find related posts to link to. When you’re writing a post, you can immediately link to a related post by dragging the link into the editor.

The plugin also includes an option to mark your most important articles as cornerstone content, which tells the suggestion tool to show those cornerstone content articles at the top of the list, so you’ll never forget to link to them! Read more about using the Yoast SEO internal linking tool.

In the free version of Yoast SEO, you’ll also find a handy tool called the text link counter. This tool counts the internal links in a post and the internal links pointing to a post. This visualizes which posts could use a few more links or which ones should receive more links. This will all help you work purposely on your site structure.

To make it even easier to find posts that aren’t linked to, Yoast SEO Premium has the orphaned content filter. This feature allows you to see which posts and pages aren’t linked to at all, by other posts and pages on your website. Using the filter, finding important posts that need more inbound internal links is a piece of cake!

Did you know you can get a monthly or yearly subscription to all Yoast SEO plugins and courses? This way you can get the internal linking tool and access to the site structure training, for as long as you need. Learn more about the best deal for Yoast fans.

Go link your content

Without links, your content can’t rank! With a solid internal linking strategy, you can show which content is related and which of your articles are most informative and valuable. If you follow the guidelines in this post both Google and your users will understand your site better, which will, in turn, increase your chance of ranking.

Keep reading: Site structure: the ultimate guide »


27 Responses to Internal linking for SEO: Why and how?

  1. Mike
    Mike  • 4 months ago

    What I find hard to do is find pages/articles where I should add links to my new page. Your internal linking tool is great for the reverse though, ie linking out.

    That would be a great feature for down the line.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  2. Urvashee
    Urvashee  • 4 months ago

    Is it ok to link to the same page BOTH contextually and at the end of the post in a “related post” section? I like to use images in the related post section because I think my images help convince people to click. Would there be a penalty for linking twice to the same URL?

  3. Pikey Pete
    Pikey Pete  • 4 months ago

    Is there reason to suggest that an internal link in content counts as better/additional to links in the site wide navigation? Where is the line drawn to consider multiple links on a page to the same target?

    Navigation = ??
    Navigation + text link to target a = ??
    Navigation + text link to target a + slightly differtent text link to target a + image link to target a + repeated text links to target a ??

  4. Suanlun Tonsing
    Suanlun Tonsing  • 4 months ago

    I want to know basically how to “do-follow” my internal links such as category or tag links. I want the specific tip on that. Can anyone help please?

  5. Sally
    Sally  • 4 months ago

    Thanks for the read.
    I was wondering about how “No-Follow” affiliate or sponsorship links affect your internal DoFollow linking structure?

  6. shannon41
    shannon41  • 4 months ago

    Does this include external no-follow links?
    “Now it seems that the link value for the whole page completely disappears when you add a ‘no-follow’ tag to a link on it.”

  7. Inioluwa
    Inioluwa  • 4 months ago

    Sometimes I wonder if adding a link to a page on my header would make a good impact on SEO, will it really?

  8. Muskan Khan
    Muskan Khan  • 4 months ago

    Really a piece of much-need information for all SEO, especially for the beginner. Thanks for sharing!

  9. dee
    dee  • 4 months ago

    very confusing, I think you made it so confusing so I have to signup for your courses now. is that your mission? consider it achieved.

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 4 months ago

      Hello Dee,

      We try to make our posts understandable for everyone. If you have any questions or if something is unclear, you can always ask us and we would love to help you!

      Hanneke – Yoast

  10. Yolanda
    Yolanda  • 4 months ago

    I wasn’t convinced of efficiency of internal linking. However I used this method and I see some results

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 4 months ago

      Good to hear that you gave it a try and are seeing results!
      Good luck!

      Hanneke

  11. Geert
    Geert  • 4 months ago

    How does Google recognise a cornerstone article when you link all the contextual articles back and forth and you link to the cornerstone article back and forth? The number of links to each page in this context (including the cornerstone article) are equal.
    Or is it because cornerstone-articles also link in between and get more internal links?

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 months ago

      Hi Geert, Thanks for your question! In fact, you should definitely link from the individual posts to your cornerstone and from the cornerstone back to those individual ones. From the individual posts you can just link to the posts which are most related, but you won’t have to link to all of them from each and every post. If you handle it this way, the cornerstone article will still get the most links :-)

  12. Veronica
    Veronica  • 4 months ago

    We are a small print shop; we use a blog structure to sell our products, which are all linked to directly from the home page; they can be filtered into categories. Creating a cornerstone article for each category, however, would be like creating a page “Women’s blouses” for all blouses in a clothes shop. Customers want to get to the final product ASAP; they go from our front page directly to the product and probably wouldn’t want to read about blouses. Could you recommend a way to deal with this issue? At this point I have similar products linking to eachother, but I don’t have them all linking to a category page as is recommended in your article. Thank you!

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 4 months ago

      Hi Veronica, internal linking in your shop works a bit differently, but I think linking to the category page will help that page to rank! Here you can read a bit about internal linking for shops: https://yoast.com/site-structure-the-ultimate-guide/#shops We’ll write a more in-depth article about it soon!

  13. EmperorGodstime
    EmperorGodstime  • 4 months ago

    I still don’t get it, I mean this “inbound link, outbound link and orphaned pages/posts”.
    Am using Yoast Seo Premium, My site have many orphaned pages and I really don’t know how to fix them, It’s too frustrating.

  14. Neeraj Sharma
    Neeraj Sharma  • 4 months ago

    Internal link building strategy depends on the what kind of website i have. Same strategy doesn’t work for all niche sites.
    Another thing, I think internal link building like Wikipedia is suitable for other site because Wikipedia is a non profitable site but others are not.

    Best example of internal link is the Contextual linking . This link shape works for long term and effectively.

    Thanks a lot.

  15. Will Sanio
    Will Sanio  • 4 months ago

    When we change the site structure to follow some of these recommendations, will we have to re-direct some categories or pages / blog articles? …………….For example, if we decide some of our categories should be split into 3 Categories instead of 1 large Category – Delete Pasta category and instead have Lasagna, Ravioli, and Angel Hair, what should we do with the previous “Pasta” bloated Category? 301 redirect the entire Category page?
    What about all the pages / posts below that old category?
    ………Also if we change individual pages or posts from 1 category to another, will there be a 404 page for the old category that we need to re-direct? Thank you

  16. Rick Samara
    Rick Samara  • 4 months ago

    Meike,
    Outstanding article on internal linking; the best and easiest tutorial I’ve read. I believe we do a good job manually linking our posts, but we need to reexamine our websites and pay more attention to “categories.”

    Thanks so much!

  17. Victor Miller, Sr.
    Victor Miller, Sr.  • 4 months ago

    I thought too many internal links was a bad thing and could hurt your ranking.

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 4 months ago

      Hello Victor,
      If you want to learn more about how many (internal) links you should use on a page: https://yoast.com/ask-yoast-internal-links/

      But as long as your links are useful for your users, you’re fine.

      Hanneke – Yoast

    • Kimi Phan
      Kimi Phan  • 4 months ago

      Agree, anything too many also hurt not only internal linking. But if we use it properly will make a huge improvement on ranking internal pages.

  18. Thrive Qatar
    Thrive Qatar  • 4 months ago

    Thank you for the article, all of your work is super helpful. Can you tell me if using an internal text link and adding an “if you like this post you will also like..” link to related posts is the same thing? Is one better to use than the other? Could you link to the same post twice? Hope this makes sense!
    Thanks for any help!

    • Hanneke
      Hanneke  • 4 months ago

      Hello,

      based on your questions I think this post is useful for you to read: https://yoast.com/what-is-anchor-text/

      There are several ways to use your links as anchor texts, but make sure that your readers know what it is about. Also, make sure that your links are relevant and don’t come across spammy!

      Hanneke – Yoast

  19. Jeanne Melanson
    Jeanne Melanson  • 4 months ago

    This is true? “The link value for the whole page completely disappears when you add a ‘no-follow’ tag to a link on it. Therefore it makes more sense to have fewer links on a page instead of ‘no-following’ some of the links.”

    • Ken J.
      Ken J.  • 4 months ago

      I was surprised to read that too. I hope someone clarifies this.

      For example, if I link to an Amazon product within an article (I always give it a nofollow), then my entire article page loses it’s ranking juice? Or maybe I’m misunderstanding what was said?