A key factor in on-page SEO is internal linking. Internal linking helps to bring context to the online experience and provides signposts to help users find what they are looking for. When done correctly, internal linking can help to drive up the time spent on your website. And when this happens, Google typically takes note.
What are internal links?
Internal linking is the internal structure of a site, or how pages are linked to one another. Users and search engines will benefit from a well-executed internal linking strategy. Users need internal links to find the content they are looking for. And search engines need internal links to make sense of your website. If there are no links to a page on your website, there's a good chance it won't rank.
There are two different types of internal links. Navigational links are found on your home page, in your site menu, in the site footer, and on your post feed. A good website will also have contextual links. Contextual links are placed in the content to help point users to more information.
Links also head to spread link equity through your website. If you've got a stellar piece of content that you link to from more pages, this information is passed on to search engine crawlers. But remember that overdoing it with the links can have a negative impact on SEO. If every other word on your website is a link, don't expect search engine crawlers to take note.
What is the difference between internal and external links?
Internal links are links between pages on the same domain, while external links come from other domains. You will have complete control over the internal links on your website. External links are more difficult to acquire.
Internal linking is also called internal navigation or internal deep-linking, the practice of using internal hyperlinks within a website to link together related pages that may not be obvious to users on an initial visit.
This makes it possible for visitors and search engines alike to discover content in your site by following these inline links from page to page without having to return their browser as they would have had to do with outbound external links alone.
The main advantage of internal linking for SEO purposes has been found at least partly because Google can crawl all the pages linked internally much faster than if they were only acquiring information through your sitemap.
Think of the internal linking strategy as flatpack furniture instructions. Your sitemap is the section of the instructions that shows you all of the parts you need. Internal linking is the part of the instructions that shows you how it all fits together.
Does internal linking help SEO?
Internal linking for SEO is one of the most important aspects of your on-page strategy. It’s no secret that internal links help Google crawl your website more thoroughly, but you'll also benefit from:
- Higher click rates on internal pages due to better visibility within the site
- Lower bounce rate because people are staying on your site longer (internal search results)
- More time spent per session when users find what they’re looking for without having to leave their current page or open another tab
- Spread link equity throughout your website
When Google and other search engines understand your website and the context of the content, you'll have a greater chance of appearing in search results for relevant keywords.
This is a very simplified example, but bear with us:
Imagine you create a single-page website and the content is all about "apple". At this stage, it isn't clear to search engine crawlers if your content is about the technology company or the fruit. You add another page called "Golden Delicious" and link to this from the home page, and things start to get a little clearer. Your website is about the fruit, but in what context? Do you offer fruit recipes? Fruit cider? Fruit farming?
You add a third page called "our farms" and link to this from the home page and then add a link to the golden delicious page.
Now search crawlers know your website is for an apple farm growing golden delicious.
Finally, you add a contact page and link this in the footer of your website. Your Somerset address is listed on this page. So now, when a user writes "golden delicious apple farm in Somerset", Google knows it should be displaying your content.
What is deep linking in SEO?
Deep linking is the process of internal linking to content on a website that has not been linked from another page. Some pages might never see the light of day without a deep linking strategy.
The term comes from when developers had to link web pages together deep in their code, usually by hand-coding HTML links and anchor text. Today, programmers rely more heavily on server-side tools and scripts for this function.
The major benefit of internal linking is that it can "spread equity" between sections within a site without any additional investment to secure external links. Internal links also provide SEO value because they help search engines discover new pages through automated crawlers that index them into their database.
How to find pages with low internal links using SEO Scout
Now we know the importance of internal linking for SEO, it's time to weed out the pages on your site that aren't getting the attention they deserve. SEO Scout offers an internal link explorer tool that is located in the "Sites" tab.
Understanding the Internal Links tool in SEO Scout
This tool analyses your internal link strategy and provides some pretty useful insight:
- Avg Int. Links – This is your average internal links score. This looks at all pages on your site and gives you the average number of internal links between pages.
- Avg Ext. Links – This is your average external link score. This looks at all pages on your site and gives you the average number of external links on your pages.
- Avg Int-Ext. Ratio – This shows you how many external links to every internal link.
- Int. Links in Content – This shows the percentage of internal links that appear in your content, also known as contextual links. If your main source of links comes from your site navigation, this number will be lower.
- Avg Unique Anchors – This shows variation in your use of anchor text. A higher number of unique anchors will provide extra context.
The table will show the number of pages by the number of incoming links. See a lot of pages in the 0-10 section? You likely have a bit of work to do...
Next, you will see the Clicks, Impressions, Average CTR and Average Position of these pages. Keep an eye on this section as you make changes as this will show any improvement in your search engine standings.
And finally, you should see a list of pages with various metrics which we will outline below.
- IBL – Inbound Backlinks are internal navigational links.
- IBL In Content – Inbound Backlinks in Content are internal contextual links within the content.
- Unique Anchors – This refers to the variation in anchor link text. More variation in anchor link text will help to add additional context.
- Internal Out – Number of internal links out from this page.
- External Out – Number of external links out from the page.
- Clicks – How many clicks the page earned in the past XX days.
- Impressions – How many search impressions the pages earning in the past XX days.
- Position – The average position across all keywords in the past XX days.
- Keywords – Number of current ranking keywords.
Use the Advanced Filters to identify pages with low internal linking.
Try "Incoming Internal Links" "Less than" "10" to identify pages with low or no links.
How to increase internal links
Before you start adding more internal links, you need to think about your website structure. All websites should have a hierarchy of information.
For an eCommerce website, you would have the home page at the top, followed by category pages under this and then product pages within the categories.
For a lead generation website, you typically have the home page at the top, followed by service categories and then individual services.
Your blog will have a standalone hierarchy, with the blog home page, blog categories and then blog posts.
Your website structure should make it easy to automatically create navigational links between the hierarchy levels. You will then need to consider how to cross-link between content on your site. This could mean linking related products or blog posts. Adding contextual links will help to explain key concepts and provide the website user with more information.