Many website owners focus so much on building a backlink strategy, they fail to create an internal-link strategy. Link-building isn’t an either/or proposition. If you're looking to build a strong search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, it’s a "both/and situation."
Links add quality and value to your website by:
- Helping visitors navigate beyond the main menus
- Enabling the sharing of useful, relevant content that’s deeper in your site than top-level navigation
- Building paths to guide search engine spiders or bots so they find your content more easily.
And of course all this has SEO implications: The easier you make it for both humans and search engines to find and navigate your site, the better (and faster) it will rank in search results.
Internal links: Pathways to site content
Internal links form pathways to content within your own website. Like paths through a forest, they lead site visitors and search engines to a successful destination. Consider site visitors' movements: While we often imagine that these visitors land on sites from the home page, they can actually enter your website from anywhere: the "About" or "Services" page, a blog post or even your contact information via an online directory.
Providing links from these pages to logical locations within your site gives visitors a simple way to navigate through the forest of pages. These links might share additional details about a product, reference a detailed analysis found in a blog post or point people to an informative page hidden from the main navigation.
SEO and internal links
Perhaps even more important, internal links help engine spiders or bots find and index content. Internal links spread “link juice” throughout your site, providing a web upon which spiders crawl among your site's interlinking URLs. Once spiders or bots find the content, they can add it to the enormous database of information used to retrieve pages that match a searcher's query.
The easier you can make the bots' job, the better they like you. That’s a simplified explanation, but think of it this way: If a search engine has thousands of pages to crawl and it gets to the end of a page without finding another link, it’s going to move on to another site. You might have more pages, but it will take the search engine a long time to find them.
To get the most out of your internal-linking efforts, follow a few principles.
- Run your site through a free tool such as Open Site Explorer to understand your site’s current link structure and profile.
- Consider linking any "orphan" pages to at least one other page within your site.
- Include at least one relevant, contextual link within every blog post to another post on your site. This simple trick ensures your blog posts always link to other pages on your site.
- Create links from relevant anchor text. Keyword-rich anchor text also will improve your internal-link profile and enable the spiders to do their jobs with less work.
- Use a standard linking color convention on your site to avoid confusion. Most websites use blue to indicate a hyperlink. If you do use another color, use it consistently so readers begin to recognize links.
- Avoid padding a page with links. Padded sites look spammy to visitors, and search engines typically stop reading links around the 150 link-per-page mark. If you have too many links on a page, you risk your site being flagged as poor quality.
- Always make your links natural for human readers first, rather than prioritize search engines.
- Never add links merely for internal-linking purposes. Links must add value to the page itself and to the user experience.
Although it’s not a link-building strategy per se, fixing crawl errors found on your Google Search Console (the rebranded Google Webmaster tools) can keep the spiders happy, too. When spiders encounter blocks, they stop crawling. Correct these errors and increase your odds of indexing more pages within your site.
The net effect on your SEO
Tweaking your internal-links strategy isn't likely to produce an immediate impact on your search-engine results pages (SERPs) ranking. But incorporating an internal-link plan does have a cumulative effect on your overall SEO work. Adjusting keywords, internal links and other elements will help search engines discover and index your content. This is the real key to being found online.