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 hierarchy on your site, which enables 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!
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 page to other websites. In this post, we’ll 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.
Why are links important to Google?
Googles uses links to find out what content on your site is related and what the value of that content is.
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 determines the relationship between the various pages, posts and other content. This way Google finds out which pages on your site cover similar subject matter.
In the sidebar of this post, for example, you’ll see links to the category ‘Content SEO’ and to the ‘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.
In addition to understanding the relationship between content, Google divides link value between all links on a website. Often, the homepage of a website has the greatest link value because it has the most backlinks. This link value will be shared between all the links found on that homepage. Link value passed to a 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.
If you understand that links pass 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
It’s crucial for your 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.
The ideal structure
We always advise website owners to imagine their website to be a pyramid with the most important content on top. We call those articles cornerstone content. There should be lots of links to that most essential content from topically-related pages in the pyramid, which passes most link value on to those pages. However, you should also link from those top pages to subpages about related topics. Linking internally to related content shows Google what pages hold information about similar topics.
Linking your cornerstone content: an example
On our website we have 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. By adding internal links from other relevant articles, such as ‘How to start with keyword research’ and ‘7 keyword research mistakes to avoid‘ to the main article, Google will understand that the cornerstone content article contains most information about this particular keyword. So ultimately, Google will rank the cornerstone content above other, smaller posts about keyword research.
Don’t forget to link from the top too
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. This will give the most important posts or pages a lot of link value and makes them stronger in Google’s eyes.
Linking to taxonomies
If you run 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. At Yoast we always link to the matching categories and tags in the sidebar of each post:
Linking to related posts
We’ve already seen that linking to related posts helps Google to understand your site structure, but it also helps to link to one or more related posts at the end of your article. There are many available plugins and modules that add complete related posts sections to your posts. If you use one we recommend testing whether the related posts are actually the best related posts. If you’re not sure, linking to posts manually (or using our internal linking tool – more on that later) is probably best. That’s what we do on Yoast.com – we select a related post manually (with a little help from Yoast SEO Premium) and place a link to that post at the bottom of the article:
Michiel explains this fully in this post about linking to related posts.
Linking to popular or recent posts
The last option to mention is creating internal links to the most popular or newest posts on your website. This section could be added to the sidebar of your blog or the footer of your website to show it on all pages and posts.
Creating a popular or recent posts section benefits you because link value passes to the linked posts from many different pages and posts. Also, the posts will be easier for visitors to access, which will increase traffic – and more traffic is a positive sign to Google too.
More on internal 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 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.
Please 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.
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’:
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 each and every one of your anchor texts.
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 allows the suggestion tool to show those cornerstone content articles at the top of the list, so you’ll never forget to link to them!
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.
Too 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 incoming internal links is a piece of cake!
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.