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Internal linking strategies for SEO success



August 23, 2022

Updated: December 6, 2022


With the right internal linking strategies, you can get as much as five times more traffic per page. In this webinar, SEO consultant Cyrus Shepard delves into insights like this one from his case study on 23 million internal links and discusses effective strategies and best practices so you can improve crawlability and increase traffic to your pages.


Table of contents




Internal links: What and why


Creating a robust network of internal links can take time and discipline. To help you decide whether it’s a worthwhile tactic (and it almost always is), you must first understand what internal links are, how they’re different from external links, and why they’re important for both SEO and user experience.


What are internal links?

An internal link is a link from a page on your site to another page on your site. Shepard mentioned three elements of an internal link:


a screenshot of a slide from Cyrus Shepard’s presentation, showing the HTML code for an internal link as “<a href=“https://my-website.com/”>my website</a>.

01. Href element, which identifies the link for browsers.

02. URL, which tells the browser where you’re linking to.

03. Anchor text, or the clickable part of the link.


Internal links are different from external links in that they point to another page on the same domain (as where external links point to a different domain). While this may be obvious to some, this distinction is important when discussing links for SEO.


Images can also be used to add links (internal or external). While images don’t provide you with the opportunity to add anchor text, the alt text (which is first and foremost used for accessibility reasons), can be used to describe the image so that search engines can get an idea of what the image depicts.


Why are internal links so important?

Links are an official Google ranking factor and one of the most important parts of the search engine’s algorithm (or any search engine’s algorithm, for that matter).


a screenshot of a slide from Cyrus Shepard’s presentation, showing five reasons why internal links are beneficial: they are an official Google ranking factor, they pass PageRank (or link equity), they pass anchor text signals for relevance, they help search engines crawl your site, and they can help improve user engagement.

As a ranking factor, internal links can influence rankings in Google search results. However, remember that there are potentially hundreds of ranking factors, and a fixation on any single factor is unlikely to significantly improve your rankings.


Internal links also pass PageRank throughout your site. In a nutshell, Google uses PageRank to understand the importance of a page by measuring the number of links (external and internal) pointing to it. When Page A has a link to Page B, some of Page A’s importance gets transferred to Page B.


In addition, the anchor text applied to a link gives users an idea of where the link will take them and signals relevance for search engines.


Another important benefit is that internal links can help Google (and other search engines) crawl your website. If you create links to your important pages, Google can use that link to discover the page, which can help get it into search results more quickly. Internal links also signal to Google which pages on your site are the most important.


Beyond the search-related benefits, internal links also give visitors a path to follow to browse more of your content, products, etc. This helps keep visitors on your site, giving you more opportunities to familiarize them with your brand or market.


Prioritize diverse anchor text over internal link quantity


Implementing an internal link is easy compared to earning backlinks from external sites. Even so, there are considerations to keep in mind, including anchor text and frequency.


More internal links don’t necessarily mean more clicks from search

A screenshot of a slide from Cyrus Shepard’s presentation, showing a chart in which clicks from Google search rose as number of incoming internal links to a URL also rose, but after 40-44 links, clicks begin to decrease.

“As you added internal links to a page . . . . traffic tended to rise, but only up until a certain point,” Shepard said, referring to the results of a study conducted by his company Zyppy. “After about 40 or 45 internal links to those pages, traffic actually started to decline after that.”


“Then we looked at the anchor text,” he said. Zyppy’s study found that as the anchor text variety increased, the traffic also increased. “This seemed to be the driving factor with traffic,” he said.


A screenshot of a slide from Cyrus Shepard’s presentation, showing a chart in which clicks rise as a correlation to the number of anchor text variations for a URL.

"And if there’s one key I want you to walk away with from this webinar, it’s that we should be increasing not necessarily the number of internal links, but increasing our anchor text variations." —Cyrus Shepard

Based on this observed correlation, site owners and SEOs should prioritize anchor text variations instead of simply ensuring that the links are on the page.


A screenshot of a slide from Cyrus Shepard’s presentation, showing variations for the anchor text “Recipes,” including “tasty dishes,” “top rated recipes,” “our favorite dishes,” “read more,” etc.
Anchor text variations for a recipe blog.

Why aren’t more internal links always better?

“We found when you have anything more than 40-50 internal links, those tended to be sitewide navigation links,” Shepard explained.


“Because it’s in your navigation, everybody can see it. But, how many anchor text variations do you have? Well, you have one, because every page has the same link [and anchor text].” —Cyrus Shepard

For larger, established sites, this may be less of an issue because they may have a robust external backlink profile for search engines to factor in.


Small- to medium-sized businesses that haven’t established authority in their niches “tended to do better if they didn't link their important pages in their navigation and linked throughout the text [instead],” Shepard said.


“My best advice is do what's best for the user and use navigation links for navigation when you want people to find your page. But, don't do it for SEO reasons because the data isn't so clear that those navigation links are going to help your SEO—but, if they help the user, go ahead,” he clarified.


5 tactical tips to improve your internal linking


In addition to the guidance above, Cyrus also shared the following tactics to help you get more value from the internal links you’re adding anyway.


01. Audit your anchor text

Use a variety of anchor text for your internal links, as pages with more variations tend to rank better and drive more traffic, according to Shepard’s findings.


Look for a tool that allows you to export your anchor text (such as Screaming Frog) for easier analysis and organization. “Make sure you know, for every page of your site that’s important, your internal anchor text variations going to that page,” Shepard recommended.


02. Remember your alt text

“People forget to fill in their alt text on the image link, but you have to because that counts as the anchor text when you use that image to link,” Shepard said.


Alt text also serves as crucial information for screen readers, enabling you to optimize for both search and visually impaired audiences.


03. Use Internal links to help both pages rank better

Internal links can help increase traffic for both the page being linked to and the one being linked from, according to a study by SearchPilot.


A screenshot of the related posts section from an article on the Wix SEO Learning Hub. There are three articles with featured images about keyword research.

Related content sections offer one way to easily add internal links, Shepard highlighted. Since this does not affect the main content of the page, this tactic may be particularly useful if you’re just looking to add links (and not update the entire page while you’re at it).


04. Link high and tight

“If you’re giving people something to click on and you’re telling them something important, put it front and center so that they know where to click,” Shepard said.


To that end, add your most important links higher up on the page and avoid burying them in your footer. After all, there’s no guarantee that a user will make it to the bottom of the page before they leave your site.


05. Leverage automation

Automation (Shepard recommends tools like inLinks, Twylu, or SiteSeer) can help you find relevant pages to link from at scale, which may be tough to do using manual methods.


Automation can be a real timesaver in this regard because it can help you identify internal linking opportunities on older content, which (if not updated) won’t have links to anything that was published after it.


 

Transcript: Internal linking strategies for SEO success


 

Meet your webinar hosts


Cyrus Shepard, Co-Founder, Zyppy

Cyrus’ SEO research and insights have made him one of the most trusted voices in search today. Having started in SEO in 2009, he formerly led SEO and Audience Development at Moz and currently serves as Co-Founder of the US-based SEO consultancy Zyppy. Twitter | Linkedin


Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Branding, Wix

In addition to leading SEO Branding at Wix, Mordy also serves as a communications advisor for Semrush. Dedicated to SEO education, Mordy is one of the organizers of SEOchat and a popular industry author and speaker. He also hosts the SEO Rant Podcast and Edge of the Web’s news podcast.

George Nguyen, Director of SEO Editorial, Wix

As Director of SEO Editorial at Wix, George creates content to help users and marketers better understand how search works. Formerly a search news journalist, he has spoken at industry events and endeavors to improve the general public’s knowledge of search engines. Twitter | Linkedin





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