1. What are Internal Links?
There are two kinds of links on web pages: internal links and external links.
1.1 Internal vs. External Links
External links are links to pages on other websites.
Internal links are links from one page on your website to another page on your website. An internal link can be from an image or from text.
External links pass on authority from one website to another. Internal links pass on authority within your own website. Internal links are a way of boosting the page authority of your own pages.
When the internal link is from text, the words contained within the link are called ‘anchor text’.
1.2 Navigational vs. Contextual Links
Internal links are of two kinds:
- Navigational links
- Contextual links
Navigational links are mainly found in menus. The text in a navigational link is often one word, such as ‘Contact’, ‘Home’, ‘About’, or ‘Blog’.
But you also find navigational links in a Table of Contents.
For example, this article has a table of contents with navigational links.
Contextual links are links that are surrounded by text. They are links located within the body of an article.
Contextual links tell the search engine what the context is for that link.
Google gives more weight to contextual links than navigational links. Why? Because contextual links say more about the meaning of the linked text.
So, what’s the deal with internal links? Why are they so important?
2. Why are Internal Links Important?
Internal links are important for your visitors and they are also important for the search engines.
2.1 Your Visitors
Internal links help your visitors navigate around your website.
Let’s say you have an article about backpacking in Europe. And let’s say you have another article about how to choose the right backpack.
In the first article, you could link the word ‘backpacking’ to the second article. That would be very helpful to your reader, as they probably need to buy a backpack.
When you create relevant internal links like this, your reader spends more time on your site.
And that leads us to the second reason internal links are important…
2.2 The Search Engines
2.2.1 Increasing Time on Page / Time on Site
Google measures how long a visitor spends on your website after clicking through from the search results.
The longer your visitor spends on your site, the more likely it is that your content answered their search query.
Google is going to move you up the search results.
In a nutshell, internal links keep your visitors on your website for longer. And that improves your search engine optimization (SEO).
2.2.2 Help Search Engines Index Your Content
But internal links also help the search engines find and index your content.
Search engines can only find web pages that are linked to from another web page.
So, the more internal links you create, the easier it is for the search engines to find and index your content.
2.2.3 Create Website Architecture
Here’s another reason internal links are important:
Internal links create your website architecture. And website architecture is a key factor in SEO.
The most SEO-friendly site architecture is a three-tier structure:
- Tier 1 is your home page
- Tier 2 are your category pages
- Tier 3 are your articles or blog posts
You should link to every Tier 2 page from the Home page. And you should link to every Tier 3 page from a Tier 2 page.
Here’s an example:
In the footer of this website you’ll see some ‘category’ pages.
If you click on the ‘SEO’ category page, it will take you to a page that lists all my SEO articles.
That’s a Tier 2 page. And it links to all the Tier 3 pages that belong to that category.
A lot of your internal links will be horizontal rather than vertical.
These horizontal links (from one article to another) are within your Tier 3. They tell Google how the pages on your site relate to each other.
Your internal links help Google understand how your pages group together in topic clusters (also known as ‘content silos’).
And that in turn allows Google to understand the topical authority of your website.
3. How to Make Internal Links in WordPress
Here’s how to create an internal link in the classic WordPress Editor:
Within the visual editor (not the text editor) highlight the word or phrase that will be the anchor text. And then click on the link tool.
In the field for the URL of the target page, type your keyword. If it’s more than one word, enclose it in quotes for more accurate matching:
The WordPress database then finds articles on your site containing that keyword.
The list is ordered by relevance. So, if you have articles with that keyword in the title, those items will be listed at the top.
When you click on one of the items in the list, WordPress inserts the URL for that item into the field:
To edit the link, click on the cog wheel:
A new window opens up. Here you can:
- Set the link to open in a new window
- Do a further search for the page you want to link to
At this point, you have to decide whether you want the internal link to pass link equity (‘link juice’) or not.
If the link is to a purely admin page like a contact form, then you probably wouldn’t want to pass on link juice.
In that case, make the link ‘nofollow’.
In the classic WordPress editor, you have to do this manually. Just add the rel="nofollow" code to the ahref snippet:
But if you use a third-party page editor, it will almost certainly do this for you.
This is what it looks like in Thrive Architect:
4. Internal Links and Anchor Text
Anchor text is the word, or words, contained within the link. In this example, the anchor text is ‘time on page’:
Anchor text is something that was badly abused by earlier generations of bloggers.
The result is that Google is a bit touchy about anchor text in external links.
But what about anchor text in internal links?
According to SE Roundtable, Google isn’t concerned about over-optimizing your internal links.
And that stands to reason. After all, what you do within the confines of your own site doesn’t affect anyone else.
Gary Illyes, Google
"you can abuse your internal links as much as you want AFAIK."
But it’s not as simple as that.
Back in November 2017, Google’s John Mueller was asked on Twitter “Does Google look at anchor text in internal links?”
This was his response:
John Mueller, Google
"Most links do provide a bit of additional context through their anchor text. At least they should, right?"
So, it appears that anchor text in internal links is a factor that Google looks at.
On that basis, it would be wise to be careful about the anchor text in your internal links.
As with external links, avoid over-optimizing the anchor text in your internal links.
If you have ten internal links on the same page and they all contain the same keyword, that would be over-optimization.
The best policy is to be natural in the way you link internally.
Let’s say you link to a page because it contains more information about backpacking in South America. In that case, your anchor text should be ‘backpacking in South America’.
Always use keywords in your anchor text, rather than generic instructions. Using a phrase like ‘click here’ as anchor text doesn’t help Google understand why you are linking to that page.
5. Internal Linking Strategies
There are various internal linking strategies that will pass page authority from pages that have a lot of it to pages that don’t.
5.1 Internal Linking Strategy #1
On most websites, the home page or index page usually has more page authority than any other page.
So it’s a good practice to have links from your home page brand new blog posts.
This happens by default in most WordPress themes, so you don’t need to do anything.
5.2 Internal Linking Strategy #2
Linking between related pages creates topic clusters. These topic clusters help Google understand topical authority on your website. And that should give you an SEO advantage.
One way to do this is to create a ‘Related Articles’ box at the end of each blog post.
The related articles links become a topic cluster. For more information on how to do this, see my article How to Create Content Clusters and Rank Higher in the Search Results.
5.3 Internal Linking Strategy #3
Another internal linking strategy is to link from each article to a category page. Half-way down your article, you can insert a Call To Action box with a link to the relevant category page:
Here’s one final internal linking strategy that many bloggers overlook.
5.4 Internal Linking Strategy #4
When you publish a new blog post, most people focus on linking from the new article to existing articles. And that’s certainly good practice.
But the new blog post has no page authority whatsoever. It needs links pointing to it more than any other article on your website.
So here’s the linking strategy: find three or four of your existing pages that deal with the same broad topic. And then link from them to the new page
To do this, go to Google and type in inurl:yourwebsite followed by the main keyword for your new article.
Let’s say you’ve written an article on the subject of ‘bounce rate’.
Type in this search expression:
Then create internal links from those three articles to the new blog post.
6. Internal Linking Plugins
There are internal linking plugins that automatically insert links between pages on your site.
Here are some of the things that internal linking plugins can do:
- Count the number of internal links plus number of visits generated by each internal link
- Calculate the flow of link juice for each internal link
- Make suggestions for links in new articles
- Automatically convert specific keywords or phrases into internal links
- Track all clicks made by your visitors on internal links
- Automatically link taxonomies (tags and categories)
- Set internal linking rules that are triggered by particular keywords or phrases
- Set which keywords link to which URLs - every time one of these keywords occurs in an article, the plugin automatically adds the relevant link
- Set how many internal links are created per phrase
add new internal links to older posts
- Automatically update internal links, so that when the URL of the linked page changes, so also does the link in the linking pages
This seems like a very useful set of functions to add to your internal linking.
My advice, however, is not to use an internal linking plugin.
Firstly, internal linking is too sensitive to be left to a plugin.
Linking should be natural. But when you leave it to an algorithm, it’s likely to become unnatural.
Once you allow a plugin to do your internal linking, you’ve lost control over a sensitive aspect of SEO.
You might have to undo hundreds, even thousands, of internal links that are damaging your SEO. That’s a scenario I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Secondly, internal linking plugins place a heavy burden on your server response time.
In another article, I talked about how important it is for SEO to get your website loading in less than one second. To achieve faster load times, you should be removing plugins, not adding them.
My recommendation - do your internal linking manually.
At the most, it will take you a few minutes per blog post. And you’ll know that your internal links are meaningful and not random or over-optimized.
7. How to Do an Internal Link Audit
“This is all very well”, you say. “But what about all the pages I’ve published that don’t have internal links?”
That’s why you need to do an internal link audit.
But how do you do that?
SEMrush ($99 p/month) has a site audit tool that will find pages without internal links. So does Ahrefs (also $99 p/month though they also have 7-day trial for $7).
But there’s another way to do an audit of your internal links. And it’s completely free.
Download and install the free Yoast SEO plugin (if you don’t already have it).
Then click on ‘All Posts’ in the main dashboard menu and look for the 2 Internal Link columns:
If the second Internal Link column is not showing, click on ‘Screen Options’ in the top right corner:
In the drop-down menu, check the box next to ‘Outgoing internal links’:
All you need to do now is scroll down through your list of blog posts, looking at the number of internal links in each post:
The left column shows the number of outgoing internal links. The right column shows the number of incoming internal links.
There’s no ideal number of internal links that a blog post should have (either incoming or outgoing).
Matt Cutts (formerly of Google) advised keeping internal links to a reasonable number. But he didn’t specify what a ‘reasonable number' is (except that it should be less than 100).
I aim to have about 5 to 10 outgoing links in each post.
"Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number (fewer than 100)"
8. Do’s and Don’ts of Internal Linking
Here are some do’s and don’ts for creating internal links:
- Do create 5 to 10 internal links in each new blog post
- Don’t over optimize anchor text (using the same word as anchor text)
- Don’t use generic instructions (e.g. “click here”) as anchor text
- Do be natural in your linking
- Do use linking strategies (see above)
- Do conduct an internal linking audit of previous posts
- Do make internal links ‘dofollow’ (except when linking to admin pages)
- Do use internal links to help your reader get more information on key topics
Internal links help your readers and the search engines to access and understand your content.
Internal links also allow you to distribute link juice from pages that have no page authority to pages that do.
When used strategically, internal links can keep your readers on your site for longer. And that, in turn, can boost your rankings in the search engines.