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 provide the most important pages and posts with more link value than other, less valuable pages. So using the right internal linking strategy can boost your SEO! In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of internal linking, how to approach it and how Yoast SEO can help you with internal linking.
Did you get a red bullet for internal links in Yoast SEO? Jump straight ahead and read how this assessment works in Yoast SEO and how to improve your internal linking.
What are internal links?
An internal link is any link from one page on your website to another page on your website. Both your users and search engines use links to find content on your website. Your users use links to navigate through your site and to find the content they want to find. Search engines also use links to navigate your site. They won’t see a page if there are no links to it.
There are several types of internal links. In addition to links on your homepage, menu, post feed, etc, you can also add links within your content. We call those contextual links. Contextual links point your users to interesting and related content. Moreover, they allow search engines to find out what content on your site is related and determine its value. The more links a significant page receives, the more important it will seem to search engines. Therefore, good internal links are crucial to your SEO.
Internal links vs external links
Every website — even online stores — consists of internal and external links. Internal links connect pages and posts on your website, and external links connect your pages to other websites. In this post, we focus on internal links and what they mean for SEO. See our posts on link building if you want to get more external links pointing to your site.
Why are links important to Google?
Internal linking is an essential factor for Google and other search engines. But why? And where do you start?
As Marieke explains in the video, Google follows links to discover content on websites and to rank this content in the search results. If a post or page gets a lot of links, this is a signal to Google that it’s an essential or high-value article. This counts for internal as well as external links.
Internal linking is something you control as a site owner. With the correct internal links, you’ll guide your visitors and Google to your most important pages. Our internal linking tool (not available yet in Yoast SEO for Shopify) can help you suggest related posts to link to!
Internal links establish relationships between content
Google crawls websites by following links, internal and external, using a bot called Googlebot. This bot arrives at the website’s homepage, renders 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 a similar subject matter.
For example, you’ll see links to the ‘Content SEO’, ‘Internal linking’, and ‘Site structure’ tags on top of this post. We make sure Google understands that the content on those pages is related to the content of this post by adding these links.
Internal links help search engines better find your content
As websites nowadays grow in size and complexity, orphaned content becomes an issue for a lot of them. Orphaned content refers to pages on your website that have no internal links pointing to them. This is an issue because, without any internal link to lead the Googlebot to these pages, search engines can’t find and index them.
Even though websites nowadays have sitemaps that list the URL of (most of the) pages on your site, search engines may take a long time to eventually reach these pages. This is especially true for very big websites that take a lot of resources to crawl, or newly created sites that don’t get visited often by Google. By adding internal links to your newly published pages, you provide search engines with more ways to reach those content.
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 most significant 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 recent 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. That’s 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 site’s SEO to evaluate and improve your internal linking strategy regularly. It’s one of the ways to improve the fitness of your website. By adding the right internal links, you make sure Google understands:
- the relevance of pages;
- the relationship between pages;
- and the value of pages.
To set up your internal linking strategy, there are several things to take into account. How you go about it exactly, of course, depends on your site and your goals, but the following steps are a good rule of thumb.
1. Determine the ideal structure for your site
We always advise website owners to imagine their website as 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).
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.
2. Decide what your most important content is
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 searching for topics or products you specialize in.
Because you want to let Google know that this is your most important 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.
3. 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 your 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 articles are your cornerstone: your most complete article on this topic. You have to add a link to the cornerstone in all of the articles on this topic to do so. 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’. This post will 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 the most information about [keyword research]. So, in the end, Google will rank the ultimate guide above the other, shorter posts about keyword research.
4. Link hierarchical pages
If you have hierarchical pages on your website, link parent pages to their child pages and vice versa. Also, don’t forget to link sibling pages to each other. These pages should be related to each other on a well-organized site, and connecting them like this make perfect sense.
Read all about linking parent and child pages for SEO.
5. Consider adding a related post section
There are many plugins and modules that add complete related posts sections to your posts. This is a good way to show your posts to more visitors. 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.
Willemien explains this in detail in this post about linking to related posts.
6. Try adding 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 menu. 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.
7. 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 that the post belongs to. Adding links to the category and tags helps Google understand your blog’s structure and helps visitors to navigate to related posts more easily.
For instance, on the first page of our SEO blog, we link to several tag pages, including technical SEO and SEO basics.
8. Add links to your most recent posts
A good practice to do after you publish a post or page is to link to that newly published post from other content on your site. Of course, the posts or pages that link to the recently published post must be of a similar topic. You shouldn’t just link to this new post from a random post or page on your site
Now, this might sound like a daunting task, especially if you regularly publish content. But it’s worth the hassle, as you won’t end up with a bunch of orphaned content that needs fixing. Besides, adding internal links to your most recent posts ensure that search engine crawlers can crawl and index them when they land on other pages on your site.
9. Consider adding links to popular posts
The last option to mention is creating internal links to your website’s most popular posts or pages. 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 posts from many different pages, they 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
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 nofollow tag. A nofollow tag asks Google not to follow the link, so no link value is passed on. Now you might think: “I’m going to nofollow less important links to give the most important links more link value.” While this worked in the past, Google has become more competent. Now it seems that the link value for those nofollow links doesn’t automatically flow to the other links on the page. The nofollow 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 nofollowing some of the links.
Note that adding a nofollow 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 also give them a ‘noindex’ tag. The noindex 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.
Read more: Why noindex a page or nofollow a link? »
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. By over-optimizing, we mean keyword stuffing. Previously, you could give all anchor texts the same keyword and Google would rank your site 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.
Keep reading: The context of internal links »
Internal linking in Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO includes several checks and features to help you improve your internal linking.
On a post level, the Yoast SEO plugin helps make sure you give internal links some thought. In the plugin meta box — or in the sidebar, as shown below –, the internal link assessment of Yoast SEO checks whether you’ve created links to other pages on your website in your text. It also checks if these links are followed or nofollowed.
For Yoast SEO for Shopify, this check only works on posts or pages. The reason for not having internal links on your product pages or in your product descriptions is that you want to keep customers there — not send them to another part of your site. You need your customer to convert as quickly as possible. An important part of Shopify SEO, right?
To get a green bullet for this check, add contextual internal links to relevant content on your site.
Text link counter
If you have Yoast SEO for WordPress installed, you’ll also get a handy tool in your post overview, 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 should receive more links. This will all help you work purposely on your site structure.
Easy internal linking with Yoast SEO Premium
The internal linking suggestion
By now you are probably aware of the importance of internal linking for SEO. But handpicking articles – and relevant articles – to link to isn’t always easy. Even if you have a small website, you might not remember every piece of content you’ve published. And if you’re managing a medium to large website, especially one where various people can write and publish content, it’s really difficult to know all the content you have on a given topic. When this happens, internal linking can take much more of your time than it should.
That’s exactly why in Yoast SEO Premium, we’ve built a dedicated feature for internal linking – the internal linking suggestion. It’s incredibly easy to use and you only need to set up for this feature once. Yoast SEO will first scan, analyze and try to make sense of all your content in WordPress. Then when you write a post, you can immediately link to a related post by copying or dragging the link directly into the editor. You’ll see the suggestions in the Yoast SEO sidebar on the right-hand side of your screen. For instance, the screenshot below shows the internal linking suggestions for this post you’re reading! The green tick indicates that we’re linking to the suggested post from this one.
This feature makes internal linking much more intuitive. And that’s thanks to Yoast SEO content analysis running in real-time in the background. It analyses and compares your text to existing content on your site to pick out articles that best fit your new post, all while you’re writing! Even if the articles are written a while ago or by someone else in your team, Yoast SEO won’t miss them. This way, it will help you set up a great structure by connecting related content to each other without overlooking articles you might not think of right away.
The cornerstone approach internal linking workout
Getting your internal links back in shape is important because that helps you rank with the content you want to rank. That’s why we’ve introduced the cornerstone content internal linking workout in Yoast SEO Premium. You can use this workout to improve your internal linking based on the cornerstone approach we discussed earlier. In six easy steps, you can improve your site structure by learning where to find your cornerstones, how many links they have at the moment, and how to add links pointing to these important posts.
The orphaned content internal linking workout
Orphaned content are your pages and posts that don’t have any internal links pointing to them. That makes them hard for users to find, and also hard for search engines to crawl. In the orphaned content workout, we identify your orphaned content for you and give you all the options and tools you need to deal with it! Maybe you don’t want those pages to be found. Maybe you want to delete them. Or maybe you want these pages to rank in Google and be found by your visitors. Whatever you decide for each page, the steps in this SEO workout make it easy for your to clean up your content.
When you have our Premium plugin, you can find these internal linking workouts in the backend of your WordPress website. Just go to SEO in your left side menu, and select the menu item ‘Workouts’. This will take you to a page where you can find our workouts. Of course, we’ll add other SEO workouts as we go along, which you’ll also find here when they’re released!
Go Premium and unlock this feature!
Unlock our internal linking features and get free access to all of our SEO courses with Yoast SEO Premium:
Child and sibling block
In the WordPress block editor, you can also easily link child and sibling pages with Yoast SEO premium. If you want to make sure you link all child and sibling pages, just select the sibling or subpages block, add it to your post, and you’re done. Of course, this only works for hierarchical post types.
Orphaned content filter
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!
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.
Read on: Site structure: the ultimate guide »
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