When considering links for SEO, it’s important to think about both external and internal sources. Links from external authoritative sites are an important part of the SEO mix, but so too is a good internal linking structure.
An internal link is, quite simply, is a link from one page to another within a site on the same domain. When created with purpose and care, links help the search engines to index more of your pages. This is important because your internal links will, in effect, tell Google what you want to rank for.
Once a search engine has identified your site, it will send out ‘spiders’ to crawl your pages, but these pages will need to be linked for the spider to know that they exist and are relevant to a particular search query.
If your pathway is short, or if your pages exist but are not linked, the spiders won’t make the necessary leaps – they’re clever, but not that clever. In effect, you need to tell the spiders where to go by joining the relevant pages with links. It’s a bit light a hierarchy graph from our old friend, Powerpoint, where one block (web page) leads to another and the viewer can go up, down or sideways in their journey to the information they seek, like this:
Good internal linking is rarely a happy accident. However, the good news is that all this effort will serve more than one purpose. As well as helping the spiders to index more pages, your internal linking will help you signpost people to more relevant content, keeping them on your site for longer and increasing the number of pages visited. Not only do these factors improve your chances of conversion, they also send positive signals to Google so are good for your overall SEO efforts.
Relevant, well-written content enables you to build strong internal links within your site.
Internal linking and the creation of great content are interdependent. Certainly, good internal links can bridge a gap between link-worthy pages and profitable content such as key landing pages. For example, if you run a website to rent holiday gites in Montpellier, it would make sense to create a link from an article about Montpellier to your landing page featuring gites in that location. Of course, to create links around your site, you first need to create high quality landing pages and supplementary content to link from and to.
The more well-written, quality content you add to your site, the more opportunities you have to create internal links which are useful to your overall SEO strategy. However, the fact remains that it doesn’t matter how great your content is, how keyword optimised it is or how well promoted, without effective internal linking the search engines will have difficulty ranking it.
When creating links within your site, there are a number of common pitfalls to be aware of.
Perhaps first and foremost is the problem of high level linking, and by this we mean the creation of links to high level pages such as your home page or your contact us page.
Linking back to your home page or contact us page will do little to help your visitors or the spiders. What you need to do is take your visitors deeper into your site, using links to help them get to the specific information or insight they’re searching for. The value of a deep internal linking strategy is that it keeps people on your site for longer, encourages them to visit more pages and gives you more opportunity to influence their next step in the conversion process.
This is a healthy approach to online marketing and will mean your site positive signals to Google when determining whether to rank your pages. The main challenge is developing a sound content marketing plan so that you produce quality content which your visitors want to spend time with – if a link is going to encourage them to leave a page, you had better make it worth their while!
Another common problem surrounds the actual text used to act as the link, known as ‘anchor text’. In the early days of search engine marketing, anchor text could be quite crude in that it would be effective if written with an exact keyword match.
Now that Google rates a more natural approach to online copywriting, the most effective internal links are those which flow naturally into the text and are part of the overall sentence. If your content is relevant to the page you’re linking to, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Most of the time, you won’t need to worry about the number of links you create on a page, though from a readability point of view it’s worth making them proportional to the length of your text.
The key point is that the links should take the visitor to relevant content, usually a deeper level of information on a given subject matter (like a blog post) or to a key SEO landing page from which a customer can buy or enquire. This is another reason why a pre-planned internal linking strategy always works best. Through in-depth analysis it’s possible to determine which pages are important from an SEO and/or conversion point of view, and this can help you prioritise where your links should lead.
This information can guide your content creation plan, so that you focus on creating content that your visitors want to read and which gives you plenty of scope for linking around your site. It also helps you to maximise your return on ‘evergreen’ content – having invested time in creating helpful articles you can still link back to them from newer articles or landing pages, as long as they remain relevant and helpful to visitors this will add to your overall ‘link juice’.
Of course, internal link building is just one aspect of a healthy SEO strategy. You may also find it useful to read our article on keyword research or this piece on the value of content marketing. Alternatively, please get in touch to discuss any aspect of SEO and digital marketing for your business.