Internal linking is an important topic that is particularly relevant in the field of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This blog post will give you a basic understanding of the topic, an overview of different internal linking types and a look at the technical side. You will also find methods and tools to identify and visualize your internal linking.
What is “Internal Linking”?
Internal linking describes the interlinking of different inner pages inside a domain. It determines the network of a page and thus also its information structure. In addition, internal linking is an important method for user guidance and a technical support for search engines in the exploration of the content.
The subject area of internal linking is particularly attractive to webmasters due to its flexibility, making it one of the most powerful SEO approaches. Internal links are always found on the webmasters own domain. Thus, the webmaster has high control over his own links – what they are called, where they are located and where they point to.
The implementation speed is up to the webmaster himself and can therefore be very high. Already after the next crawl the search engines, necessarily, follow the new paths. How fast results can be expected, can not be said in general. This depends, as with other SEO areas, on a variety of different factors.
This topic is important for three parties: the user, the search engines and the website owner.
In terms of internal linking, you should prioritize actions as much as possible for the person who will be interacting with the site. Internal linking should help the user navigate and provide guidance. Clear internal linking supports him during his journey by showing the different pathways in a meaningful way. A user will not be interested in the color of a product if he has not yet identified said product. Internal linking is therefore also interesting from a “usability” and “conversion” perspective.
Users will visit a domain through different landing pages. Brand traffic usually comes through the home page – but many other requests originate on a different landing page, such as performance pages, blog posts, or product pages. So you should set up the internal linking in such a way that a meaningful navigation from other pages is possible. Finally, you want to guide crawlers that come to the site via external links to the relevant topics as well as possible.
A good website structure picks up the user where he comes from to lead him to where he wants to go. More on this later in the “SEO strategies” paragraph.
The search engines
Search engines need to understand content in order to identify, attribute and evaluate it.
For a search engine – beyond the context – two types of information are carried in the case of a link. On the one hand, links can be placed with an anchor text. Through the anchor text, see paragraph “Technical“, the link is given a name. This also contains important information about the target page – namely what the search engine or the user expects there.
I will talk about the anchor text in the section “What are anchor texts“. Other information that is passed on to the search engines is the information structure. On the one hand, the structure tells the search engine how the content is related and, on the other hand, what value or position a topic has on our website.
Google says the following in its “Starting Guide to Search Engine Optimization“: […] “The better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you’re linking to is about.”
For the website owner
Clear internal linking is of particular importance for the user and search engines. Therefore, it should also be prioritized for the website owner. However, serving the interests of those 3 parties is not the only thing that makes this topic attractive. Internal linking is particularly interesting for SEO because the website owner has full control over it.
The sovereignty of the interpretation remains with the search engines, but you can immediately implement valuable information with information from keyword research, tools and the Google Search Console.
The already mentioned anchor texts shall be understood in analogy to street signs, whereas links represent streets. They connect elements and can form entire road networks. The overarching theme that deals with this is graph theory, where visualization methods can be used to represent content in different ways.
There are three categories of links, which are briefly introduced here: internal links, external inbound links and outbound links.
In this article, I’m essentially concerned with internal linking. However, I would like to describe them in distinction to the other categories. Internal links help the user to get from one place to another. Another feature is that internal links also pass on the so-called link power – or link juice. More about this in the “Strategy” section.
External incoming links
These are known to carry domain popularity and link juice. With these links, your own website is linked from another domain and URL. This topic is very extensive and is rather to be assigned to the topic Linkbuilding. I will not deal with it further here. It is important to know that external links pass on the “Domain Popularity” and the link juice.
So-called outgoing links point to another domain, these are to be understood in the same way as external inbound links.
Here I would like to give an overview of the most common link types. Surely there are further subdivisions according to the purpose of the page.
Links for navigation
The navigation not only helps the user to orientate, but also helps the Google bot to crawl the pages, identify the content and understand the relationship of the content. So the structure of the navigation is particularly important. The structure of the navigation can significantly influence the implementation of a silo solution. More on the topic of SEO silos in the “Strategy” section.
The navigation is also to be understood as a prominent HTML sitemap. All elements from the navigation are very closely related to each other. Usually category pages are entangled with each other like this. For smaller sites, links to product detail pages can be inserted there. For larger content, so-called megadropdowns and subcategories are also a good idea.
Navigation is a logical product of a clearly structured domain.
Links in the footer
Users and search engines always assign less importance to the footer than to the content above it, because the click likelihood on links in the footer is not particularly high. Even if its relevance should be less than that of the “main content”, we must keep in mind that the footer can be seen on every page. Thus, it gains relevance in the masses, which is why you should definitely pay attention to it.
To give a few examples of what links we find there:
- HTML Sitemap
- Legal (AGB, Privacy, Imprint)
- About us
You can also use the footer for less common solutions. Here is a list of a few ideas:
- Product Categories & Brands
- Payment information
Links from the main content
Links from the main content are important to connect areas from within the content. Such links can support the user in their (customer) experience, but can also inhibit or mislead if not placed appropriately.
Images can also be linked and are therefore considered as links. For image links, search engines treat the alt tag in the same way as the anchor text.
The technical structure of a link looks like this:
<a href=”URL”>anchor text</a>
URL = URL of the page
Anchor text = The anchor text to the URL
You can also add a so-called robots meta tag to each link. This additional information is for the search engine crawler and tells it to follow the link or not. Strictly speaking, the information that the link should be followed is unnecessary, because search engines generally follow all links, unless they are not allowed to do so. If you want a link not to be followed by a search engine, you can add a nofollow meta tag there. The whole thing would look like this:
<a href=”URL” rel=”Robots-Meta-Tag”>anchor text</a>.
Robots meta tag = example: “nofollow”
The use of a nofollow meta tag makes sense only in the rarest cases. It was conceived as self-protection against spam.
Wrongly, there is sometimes still the assumption that linkjuice can be led along a chosen path by means of cleverly placed nofollows. Like the idea of diverting a stream or river by blocking the path. What works in nature has not worked in SEO for quite some time. When using a nofollow, the link power attributed to that link evaporates.
I would also like to add that links with a nofollow do not pass on the anchor text and this also becomes invalid.
What are anchor texts?
If links are to be understood as representative for the streets of our network, anchor texts correspond to the street signs.
At this point, it is important to understand that links always lead to the URL behind them – more or less apart from special cases with a redirect. Anchor texts, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to describe what is behind the link. If you have internalized this, you will also realize that anchor texts must be optimized in order to point to the content that is to be expected.
Difference between hard and soft anchor texts
Hard anchor texts describe very precisely what the user can expect on the linked page. Soft anchor texts, on the other hand, are descriptive in nature and are thus more likely to be identified by Google as organic.
Hard anchor text: “Buy shoes”.
Soft anchor text: “My new shoes”
Originally, Google did not differentiate between soft and hard anchor texts. One measure taken by the search engine to combat manual linkbuilding is to interpret “hard anchor texts” in backlinks as an indication of potential link building. This in turn is against Google’s guidelines and could be punished. This is the principle behind the Penguin algorithm, which Google uses to automatically penalize pages that contain too many hard anchor texts.
Internally, you may still use hard anchor texts, it is even explicitly desired by Google, because this makes content easier to identify.
Good internal anchor texts should describe the content of a page as briefly and accurately as possible. The URL of the target page, on the other hand, should be avoided as anchor text in most cases. In the best case, anchor texts should also be recognizable to the user. Usually, links are highlighted in color, formatted differently and/or underlined.
As with the street sign example, it is important to consider the distance from which you are pointing to a destination. If you are in the beautiful city of San Fransisco and want to go to New York, you don’t expect street signs with the inscription “New York” for the time being. In the same way, a sensible navigation should be set up. Anchor texts should therefore be direct.
How should good anchor texts be:
- Readable: The user should be able to recognize it
- Integer: Appropriate to the content
- Accurate and as short as possible
A common problem is that anchor texts lack consistency. That is, the same anchor texts point to different pages.
Anchor text: “Buy delicious donuts”.
- URL 1 = product page for donuts
- URL 2 = news section about the store
- URL 3 = product detail page of a particular donut
There are several reasons for this problem. Often links are set by hand and the structure of the page is not taken into account. This happens, for example, on news pages or in blog posts. The extent of such errors is usually not so great, because it is a matter of a few links. However, it is not the correct way.
The cause can also be in the content management system itself. In such cases, a large number of anchor texts can point to different pages. For the search engine these are confusing signals, which you should avoid at all costs. Identical anchor texts should lead to identical pages.
On the other hand, different anchor texts can point to the same page. The following anchor texts could all point to the page “San Fransisco”:
Anchor text 1 like “City with the Golden Gate Bridge”.
Anchor text 2 like “San Fransisco”
Anchor text 3 like “City with the Golden Gate Bridge”.
You will not be able to handle the problem completely. It will be difficult to do without the anchor text “Here we go further” or “Previous post”. Whereas in both cases the anchor text doesn’t describe exactly what the user should expect to find there.
You can also link images – they behave like conventional links in this respect.
To insert an image in HTML, use the following method, where the anchor text is called alt tag:
img src=”filename” alt=”anchor text”>
Multiple anchor texts to the same target page
Sooner or later, you’ll ask yourself the question “What happens when a URL has multiple links and anchor texts pointing to the same page?”. The question will remain open at this point. However, research results give an indication of how Google has dealt with this point.
So which SEO strategy is the best? The answer is the same as to the question “Which hammer is the best?”: It depends. Internal linking and the use of anchor texts are a means to an end. You should consider both from the overall SEO strategy and not stand alone.
Basically, when linking content, you need to ask yourself if you want individual silos – a vertical linking structure. If you want to create silos, you will not link the content horizontally between the silos. You should also adjust the navigation in this case, so that each silo has its own navigation.
A silo is its own thematic world and can be better tailored to the needs of a user. Also the link power from external pages is spread on the relevant pages instead of watering down on the complete domain. However, a silo makes it more difficult to move from one silo to another. If you choose silos incorrectly, you deny users access to relevant content. Siloing is more appropriate for highly selective topics.
You need to consider siloing carefully – it can also be very costly. Often domains are completely linked to each other by navigation.
Methods and tools
At this point, I would like to talk briefly about the methods and tools for identifying and visualizing internal linking.
The team behind Screaming Frog has added many new features to the latest version – including the ability to visually display graphs. The overview offers little room for customization. On the other hand, the visualization is only a click away and really very fast to implement.
Sitebulb is a desktop website crawler that is so much more than a crawler. It audits your website and creates implementable suggestions and lovely visualizations. It takes your technical SEO audits up to the next level and saves you time while doing so.
Google fusion tables
Using the Google Fusion tables, you can also create graphs relatively quickly, analogous to the graphs from Screaming Frog. There are no customization options here.
Without plugins Excel does not offer you any visualization possibilities of graphs, a visualization of paths is not conceivable in table form. NodeXL is a free plugin for Excel, which should enable you to visualize graphs.
However, Excel offers the possibility to find anchor texts with different targets quickly and easily via pivot tables. Therefore, it is an elementary tool in identifying faulty internal linking.
My final thoughts
The topic of internal linking is exciting, important and of great significance for SEO, usability and thus the customer experience. Everyone who deals with a website should have an eye for internal linking and critically question it every now and then.
If you want to learn more about internal linking, siloing and building a strong website structure, sign up to our newsletter now. We have lot’s of nice examples and case studies which show how powerful internal links can become – even when you are on a low budget because by this you will save time and money, while generating better rankings in the SERPs.
All the best,