Whether you’re launching a new website, redesigning an existing one, or simply looking to improve search engine optimization and usability, you’ll want to take your internal link structure into consideration. Internal links are hyperlinks that point to another page on the same website, allowing both users and search engines to find content on your website. (External links, by contrast, are links that point to other websites.)
There are two main types of internal links:
- Navigational links: These links are typically located in the main navigation menu or footer of a website.
- Contextual links: These are hyperlinks within your content that point users to related content within the copy.
A good internal linking strategy will include both types of internal links. Below, we explain the importance of internal links, as well as a few considerations for building your internal linking strategy.
Why Internal Linking Matters
Internal links are important for improving both usability and SEO. As previously mentioned, both users and search engines use internal links to find content and navigate your website. A good internal linking strategy will also help establish information hierarchy, as well as spread a link’s ranking power throughout the site.
How Internal Linking Improves the User Experience
Proper hyperlinks improve the user experience. If links are clear, easy-to-follow, and lead to helpful and relevant information, a user gets more value out of their visit. This can equate to a lower bounce rate since they're finding the information they’re looking for and engaging with your content.
Similarly, orphan pages, or pages that are not linked from any other page on your site, won’t be found by Google nor by visitors to your site. These pages likely won’t do much to drive traffic to your site, generate leads, or help you reach any other business goals.
Internal links can also guide users to the next step in their journey. After reading a blog post, for example, where do you want to direct readers next? To schedule a consultation? To download a guide? To sign up for your email newsletter? Internal links help point people in the direction you want them to take.
How Internal Linking Helps SEO
As alluded to, internal links are an important facet of SEO for a number of reasons. For one, a solid internal linking structure can help search engines find and index the pages on your site. Google plainly says, “Some pages are known because Google has already crawled them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.” In other words, linking between pages on your site helps Google find and crawl that page.
Internal linking also helps demonstrate your expertise on a subject. Essentially, when you use internal links correctly, it sends a signal that this page is related to that page. It’s a great way to tell Google (and your users!) how your content is connected. Internal links can also help pass any authority or ranking power that one page has to any other page that it links to.
Internal Linking Considerations
Creating an internal linking strategy may seem as simple as clicking a button to create a hyperlink or using the HTML <a> tag in your code. But to truly optimize your internal linking strategy, there are some things you’ll want to consider along the way.
It can be hard for users and search engines to determine the flow of your site and how all of your pages are connected without proper information architecture. To create a hierarchy among your site content, try envisioning a pyramid. At the top of your pyramid is your homepage. Below, are your parent pages. These are the main sections of your site where like-topics are grouped together (think: service pages, product pages, industry pages, about pages, etc.). Further down are child pages of those main parent pages (or “hub” pages), which could be focused on individual services, products, or industries.
For example, when looking at Aztek’s homepage, the main navigation groups all of our digital marketing service pages under one digital marketing page. Digital marketing is our primary service, but included in that is social media, paid digital advertising, content marketing, etc. From there, you might have internal links on each of those pages pointing to pages, blog posts, or case studies that are specific to that individual service or even linking sibling pages to each other.
Page Crawl Depth
Along with information architecture, you’ll also want to consider page depth, or the number of clicks you need to reach a specific page from a landing page (like the homepage). As a general rule of thumb, your most important pages should be reachable within three clicks of the homepage. It’s perfectly fine if a page needs more than three clicks to be reached, so long as it makes sense in your user journey. Just keep in mind that search engines may be less likely to crawl a page the more clicks it needs to be reached.
As previously mentioned, orphan pages aren’t indexed and cannot be found by users or search engines. Developing your information architecture should, ideally, eliminate any orphan pages. However, if you find that you still have orphan pages that don’t have a place to link from other internal pages on your site, then you may want to consider archiving the page if it is no longer needed, unless it is serving a need that doesn’t require internal linking to that page.
Once you have decided which links should be on which page, you’ll need to write anchor text, which is the visible text that visitors see when clicking on a link.
Don’t overlook or get lazy with this important aspect of internal linking. Simply using “click here” or any other similarly nondescript phrase for link text is a poor practice for a couple of reasons:
- “Click Here” doesn't tell a user why they should click here. Why would you want to click a link that says, “click here,” but offers no clue what you're clicking or where it would take you?
- “Click Here” are wasted words. More descriptive text that uses keywords can help support overarching SEO efforts.
If a link shouldn't say “click here,” what should it say? The words that are used as the anchor text should be descriptive and specific. They should tell a user what they are getting and why should they want it. Here are some examples:
Rather than: Click here to review the annual report.
Go with: This year’s annual report presents the year's accomplishments.
Rather than: Click here for directions.
Go with: Enjoy driving the scenic route from the church to the reception.
Rather than: Click here for products.
Go with: Our camping catalog includes all of our products.
Design also plays a big part in a successful link strategy. In order for links to be easily identified, your anchor text will need to stand out.
One of the most popular ways of designing links is by using a different color for the anchor text than is used for the rest of the text. Choosing the correct color for anchor text is imperative. Blue is the universal link color, but other colors can work as well. Just make sure that your anchor text color is significantly different than the rest of your text. Graphic additions, such as a button or small icon, can also be useful to draw users to click on your link.
Number of Internal Links Per Page
When optimizing an internal linking strategy, many often wonder how many internal links to include per page. This is a bit of a gray area when it comes to internal linking best practices. Several years ago, former Googler Matt Cutts recommended aiming for 100 internal links per page, including the links in the main menu navigation and footer, which has since been disproved. Moz recommends limiting the number of links to 150. Digital marketing expert Neil Patel suggests using three or four internal links, depending on the length of your content. Even some internal link analysis tools will flag a page if it contains more than 3,000 internal links.
The truth is, however, there is no specific rule on what Google considers too many or too few links on a page.
Does this mean go crazy and add as many internal links as you want? No.
Be strategic in where you create internal links throughout your site. We recommend only hyperlinking to internal content if it is related to the subject matter. Even just a handful of well-placed internal links can make a big difference.
Internal Linking Help
If a link is designed properly, it should be obvious that it's a link. If a link contains the right words, it should be clear where the link will take you. If the link provides value, you may just turn a user into a repeat visitor or a customer.
Need help developing an internal linking strategy as part of your website redesign or to improve your SEO efforts? Our team of web design and digital marketing experts can help! Contact us today to start a conversation.