If I asked you to name one thing that every good website has, which you don’t notice, but you miss if it’s not on a site, what might you say? One of the top things that comes to mind for me is interlinking within the site. Interlinking is important for on-site navigation, yet it’s so standard that no one notices it until it’s gone. It’s more subtle than a site missing CSS, but it’s virtually more important. After all, Google pays attention to links, but not really to CSS.
Linking is Important
Links from outside sites are hugely important in determining your overall site SEO, but internal links are just as important for other reasons. For one thing, they help in keeping your site indexed. You should have a sitemap, of course, but internal links help in case you forget a page, and they help identify which pages you consider the most important, what with the number of links pointing to them.
Secondly, internal links help people spend more time on your site. People click links. That’s a fact, it’s why they exist, and it’s a habitual behavior of most web users. Links imply value on the other side of them, and people follow the train looking for that value. Imagine if you didn’t have any internal links; your bounce rate would skyrocket as people have no reason to stick around your site, or no way to find related content.
Speaking of bounce rate, while there are certainly good reasons for bounces, and you’ll never get a bounce rate close to zero, you can still strive to have a better one. If you don’t have internal links, people have two options; they can leave, or they can click your top or side navigation and hope it takes them somewhere they want to be. Chances are, it would be 3-5 clicks from one post to another they care about, and even then they might not find one. It’s much more likely that they’ll bounce.
The Perils of Overly Optimized Anchors
If you’ve spent any time looking at old SEO techniques, you might recognize something about anchor text from somewhere in there. The problem is overly optimized anchor text, and it applies to both internal and external links.
Anchor text is the text of the link. A couple paragraphs up, “bounce rate” is the anchor text to an internal link. It’s a keyword, and one that’s relevant to the destination of the article, but that’s not why I picked it. I picked it because it’s a logical part of the sentence to send people to an article about lowering bounce rates.
That alone is all fine. Overly optimized anchor text comes up, not with any individual link, but with all links taken together as a whole. When Google looks at your site and sees all of the links pointing at all of the pages, internal and external, it looks at the anchor text of those links.
What happens, then, if that article has 5,000 links pointing to it, from all sorts of different domains, and they all use the term “bounce rate” as the anchor text? Well, Google starts to wonder. Where did all those links come from? 5,000 different people didn’t all decide to link to our post with the same anchor text. There’s always going to be some variation.
No, there are two reasons why all the anchors would be the same. The first is that the links are paid, via sponsored links or guest posts, all written by us. The second is that all of the sites linking to our site were created by us, and had content thrown up that is more or less duplicated throughout all of them. Both of these are spam techniques – one contributed to Panda and one to the infamous “death of guest posting” fad – and both are indicated by too many anchors with the same keywords.
I bring this all up just so that you can keep it in mind as you move forward with internal linking. Try not to use the same anchors for links to the same posts over and over.
Don’t Shoehorn Links
My number one rule with including links is that they have to be natural. This goes for both links heading to other sites and links to other parts of my sites. The goal is simple; avoid any case where the link could be irrelevant.
For example, if I were to include a sentence right here about carpet cleaning with a link to a carpet cleaning company, that link is relevant to that sentence, but it is not relevant to the article as a whole. That would look like a spammy ad, a shady affiliate link, or even like something a particularly clever hacker added to my content when I wasn’t looking. It makes it look like I’m being paid to lend SEO value to that carpet cleaning company. That’s not something I want, it’s not something readers want, and it’s not something Google wants.
So there’s your first rule about linking internally; make sure the links are relevant. Thankfully, this shouldn’t be too hard. Your site is going to center around one general topic, and the sub-topics within that topic are all going to be at least somewhat related. By making sure your links are contextually related, you build a network of valuable information within your site.
Front-Load Important Links
Now, you shouldn’t cram five links into the first 200 words of your 1,000 word blog post. What you should do, however, is determine which of the links you want in your post is most important, and put that link closer to the top. You may have to rearrange your content a little to fit this in, but that’s fine, so long as the content still flows.
The idea here is pretty simple. Links near the top are seen more often and they are clicked more often. They are thus given a bit more power in terms of SEO than links further down on the page. This goes for pretty much every element of a site, by the way. The closer it is to the top, above the fold, the more value it has, because that’s where more people see it.
Honestly, though, you don’t generally have to worry about this. If you go back through blog posts on this site, you won’t often see us front-loading our own links, or really anything in particular. This is just a minor factor you should be aware of, and can use occasionally to get a tiny bit more value out of certain links.
Link to Expanded Sources
So what should you link to? Nine times out of ten, your internal links should fit one of three descriptions.
Option one is the call to action. These tend to be lower on the page and are designed for getting people to do something, like click through to a landing page and convert to a customer for your business.
Option two is to link to an older version of the same content, or to a newer version of the same content, if you like to keep ongoing series’ of posts alive. Someone doing a weekly roundup might have links to the previous and next weeks chronologically. Someone providing a yearly guide might link to the older guide so people can see how data has changed.
Option three is by far the most common, and it’s linking to expansions of your current text. For example, I could have linked to a post about writing a weekly roundup series in the previous paragraph. It’s a topic of value to some people, but it’s not worth including in detail in this post, so I would link to it. Interested people can check it out, uninterested people aren’t bogged down in details they don’t want to know.
Don’t Link More than Once to a Piece
There’s nothing that explicitly bans linking multiple times to the same post within the same post. In fact, it’s a pretty common thing to do on many blogs. However, the majority of the time, when people are linking 2-3 times to the same content, it’s something they’re very much pushing. It’s an exception, rather than the rule.
What kind of content might deserve multiple links? Generally, it will be some timely offer, like a temporary free download of an ebook. It might be a guide they are trying to promote around the web as much as possible. It might be a specific challenge they’re trying to get people to participate in.
More often, though, when I see multiple links to the same content in a post, it’s not internal links. It’s affiliate links, trying to hook every opportunity for someone to click. It’s not as valuable a technique with internal linking, since you don’t get as much direct value out of it.
In general, I just think about it this way: if you have space for another internal link, you can link to a different post and get more value out of it, rather than just linking to the same post more than once. The only times you should link internally to the same content more than once in a post is when it’s something you’re very strongly pushing.
Edit Older Posts to Include New Links
Old content on your site is not set in stone. Very often, you will find yourself mentioning topics you haven’t written about on your blog. For example, up there where I said I could link to a post about creating a weekly roundup series? There’s no such post on this site. However, if I were to write one six months down the line, it would be worth the time to go back to this post and edit in that link. I might have to edit this paragraph to reflect that I added a link, of course, but that’s a unique situation for this post. Most of the time, you won’t be calling attention to the lack of a link, so you’ll be able to add it seamlessly.
The most common way I see this used is on old popular guides that are out of date. Some webmasters, rather than keep the guide up to date, will publish a new version of the guide and link to it from the old guide. It’s a way to shuffle the value over to the new post without losing the value of the old post through a removal or a redirect.
I say that’s the most common way I see it, though, because the more organic method of adding links to old posts is never flagged and attention is not called to it. Unless you check archive.org, you have no way of knowing what links were added after the fact.
In case you’re skeptical about the value of adding links to old content, Moz published a whiteboard Friday about the topic.
Don’t Rely on Related Post Widgets
The related post widget is a great invention, but it has one massive drawback; it’s a script. That means in a lot of cases, it won’t load for indexing purposes. As far as Google is concerned, it’s not a real link. This is primarily because it’s dynamic, generating links on its own. They aren’t consistent and fixed, like real links in the content.
Of course, some widgets, such as Yet Another Related Posts Plugin, are indexed by Google just fine. It’s important to make sure that Google can see your links.
The other drawback is that there are a lot of native ad networks these days, like Taboola and Outbrain, that design their ads to look like related post widgets. People are slowly growing to distrust these. They still work for now, of course, but like all ads, they’re getting less effective the more widespread they become.
Implement Breadcrumbs for Additional Optimization
One final way you can implement internal links without having to thread them into your content is to use breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are the links at the top of the page that look something like this:
Home > Blog > Category: SEO > Post Title
Home > Books > Technology > Internet > Blogging > Book Title
Each term in the chain is a link to that category on your site. We’ve covered the topic in detail here. The idea is that they become consistent, valuable links for navigation throughout your site, based on categories and subcategories.
Between all of these – breadcrumbs, text links, widgets, and other forms of navigation, you should have a very networked and connected site.