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Using internal links to optimize SEO (search engine optimization) on your website is a fundamental strategy that when implemented correctly can potentially generate massive results for your site and business.
If you search for any topic using Google or any other search engine, chances are the Wikipedia page dedicated to that topic will show up at the top of the first page of search results.
Why are Wikipedia pages so popular and authoritative to search engines?
Other factors such as writing quality and depth of research are in play, of course, but all things being equal, Wikipedia pages rank high because of those internal links that seem to dominate every section of a Wikipedia article.
The Wikipedia internal linking strategy didn’t come about by accident. Most SEO experts agree that internal links play a critically important role in optimization and ranking.
In this article, I will show you how to structure your website’s internal links properly and how to use internal links to optimize SEO. With a properly managed internal linking system, your website’s content will be much easier to navigate and will decidedly have improved rankings with the search engines.
Internal links are those clickable links (also called hyperlinks) within your website’s content that point to or directs the reader to another page or blog post on your site.
For example, your call to action at the end of a blog post might include an appeal for support for a specific project with a link to that project’s page within your website. That link is an internal link.
In contrast, if within your article you cite an expert or an authoritative source page from a different website, your link to that source is called an outbound or external link.
Using internal links is essential not just for navigation purposes but to also help distribute page authority and ranking among all pages within your website.
Improperly structuring your internal links can be perceived as unprofessional by web-savvy visitors and will diminish your authority or credibility as an expert in your industry or niche.
While most web page or blog post editing consoles have WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) functionality that makes it easier to create links, it pays to know the basic HTML code to create links.
Here’s how a link is structured using basic HTML:
As we can see from this example, the basic tag is called a href tag. The statement includes the destination URL or page on your website and the anchor text.
The anchor text is the term or phrase that the reader will actually click on to get to the target page or destination URL. Using an anchor text in your internal links is considered a good SEO practice because it helps signal the search engines what the destination page is all about.
Common mistake web publishers sometimes make is to put down a call to action at the end of an article linking to their homepage or the Contact Us page.
This practice is unnecessary because those top level pages are already linked from your main navigation menu.
The key here is to link instead to resource pages and blog posts that can provide further help to your reader about the subject. Link only to those pages that add value or information to the conversation by addressing the issues and concerns of your readers.
Creating internal links within your articles with the sincere intention of helping readers find answers to their questions can go a long way to enhance your reputation and credibility among your target audiences.
There was a time about ten years ago when SEO gurus were advising clients to add the rel=’nofollow’ attribute to their internal links. The objective is to use those nofollow internal links to optimize content for SEO by concentrating the flow of rank juice exclusively to the most important pages.
However, this shortsighted practice eventually backfired. Websites employing the strategy saw the uneven flow of rank juice to other relevant pages, which ultimately resulted in downgrading in their overall ranking and authority.
Matt Cutts, former head of the webspam team at Google, had this to say about the rel=’nofollow’ attribute:
“Rel=’nofollow’ means the PageRank won’t flow through that link as far as discovering the link, PageRank computation and all that sort of stuff. So for internal links, links within your site, I would try to leave the nofollow off.”
The rel=’nofollow’ practice of concentrating ranking authority is for the most part abandoned today. You’re better off having ranking and authority points flow freely between all the pages on your website. As Matt Cutts said, just “ leave the nofollow off.”
To be clear, I’m not advocating entirely not using the nofollow attribute. I still recommend using the rel=nofollow on advertisements and most external links as it makes no sense to have your link juice flow into those pages.
Over-optimization (yes, there is such a concept in SEO) is an issue as far as Google is concerned and can result in your pages or website being penalized and banished from the search results.
One glaring example of over-optimization is the use of targeted keywords as anchor text repeatedly in your links pointing to a specific article with the view of improving the target article’s search ranking for those keywords.
Naturally, you can still use targeted keywords as anchor text, but the operational word to keep in mind when creating this type of anchor text is sparing. Just don’t overdo it because that would send red flags to Google about your website and you seriously don’t want that to happen.
Mix targeted keywords with anchor texts using article titles, sentence fragments, or generic indicators like “click here”, “this page”, “for more information”, “find out more”, etc. This way, your internal links look more natural to search engines and will not appear as a deliberate attempt on your part to game the search engine results.
Automating internal link creation especially between posts can be of significant help in your initiative to use internal links to optimize for SEO.
For one, it can be a huge time saver when you don’t need to focus anymore on intentionally creating links within each article before you hit publish.
There’s also the question of tracking which older posts to link to within a new article. Most internal linking tools and plugins available will take care of this issue automatically by distributing links either randomly or if you prefer, to specific related pages and posts.
Finally, links created automatically using plugins in WordPress frequently use the entire title of the target article which is an accepted best practice by most search engines – another way to sneak in your target keywords without getting on the bad side of Google.
We already mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. Links to articles should be there primarily to provide more information and resources to the reader seeking answers to their questions and concerns.
This type of internal links should be logical and relevant within the context of the article and the content of the linked page. For example, if you link to an article using the anchor text “red umbrellas” that content better be about red umbrellas. Links that make no sense at all will only alienate your readers and drive them away from your site.
What is a reasonable number of internal links within a page or a post? The consensus seems to gravitate around the number 100, but truth be told, most articles don’t actually need that much number of links. However, if you’re publishing content that needs tons of references to supporting pages and resources, it would be a good idea to use that number as a guide and keep the number of links well below that limit.
Menu links that appear at the top of all of your website’s pages and posts can be a huge boost when you’re trying to use internal links to optimize content.
By using unobtrusive drop-down buttons or tabs, you can conveniently link to your most important pages from practically every page of the website.
If you’re familiar with the cornerstone content concept, the navigation menu is the best place for you to link to those critically important pages on your website. It’s a logical location for internal links that can give those pages a great assist, as far as rank and authority points are concerned.
It might also work best if you can ditch unnecessary blocks of links that appear on every page on your website. These grouped links usually appear in the footer or sidebar widgets and do not contribute at all to optimizing your site.
It’s a common practice with realtor websites and amateur bloggers, but it actually serves no purpose other than to dilute the authority and rank juice being passed from a page to the other pages on the website.
With a carefully conceptualized internal linking structure, your website will have consistent navigation and reference system that will be extremely helpful to both human visitors and search engine bots. Using internal links to optimize SEO on your website is a practical strategy that every website owner wanting to take their content marketing strategy to the next level should implement.
If you have questions or suggestions on how to use internal links to optimize content, please feel free to leave a comment below.