As an art and science that intersects both data analysis and creative interpretation, internal linking is a powerful tool that supports many functions and purposes.
Not only are internal links an effective way to improve SEO and crawlability, they're also unsung heroes in crafting better user experiences and conversion funnels. And unlike other SEO dynamics and uncontrollables, internal linking is one thing that you do have complete control over (I’m looking at you, link building! 👀).
From toolkit creation and how-to’s to link placement and anchor text, we discuss many tools of the trade to effectively level up your internal linking game for stronger SEO, enhanced usability, and more conversions.
Before diving into strategies and tactics, let’s cover some fundamentals. Throughout this post are tangible examples of strategic internal linking at work, so... wink-wink. This post is long, so non-beginners can jump to more advanced content, like:
An internal link, in simple terms, is a link from one page to another that exists on the same domain. Unlike external links that point to content on different domains, internal links guide users to related pages on the same site they're browsing.
In an editorial context, external links are often used to support the credibility and validity of a page by linking out to related resources, such as a scientific study to support a claim or a persuasive article written by a subject matter expert. Internal links, on the other hand, point to related resources on the same domain.
Not to be confused with "inbound" links (which are essentially backlinks from other domains referring users back to yours), internal linking refers to all link activity that occurs internally within a site, never pointing to a different domain.
Despite it sounding like a dry topic, internal linking can be a creative, fun, and purposeful exercise. Think of internal linking as the act of building links to a website from that website itself. It’s a way of saying “hey, here’s something similar you might like on our site.”
Similarly, you can think of internal links as a connecting path along the journey of both:
Internal links can take the shape of in-copy text hyperlinks, banner graphics/image links, product listings, sliders/carousels, and other creative ways to link users to targeted pages. The destination also ranges from linking to related blog posts, supportive case studies, targeted landing pages, relevant product pages, bookmarks/anchors, and so on.
Would this post even exist if it didn’t? 😉 Yes, internal link optimization can most definitely helps with SEO in a number of ways, including:
The process you use to audit and analyze internal linking will depend on your use case. In some instances, you may be looking to build links to or from a specific page (or a collection of high-priority/high-potential pages). In other cases, you’ll be conducting a comprehensive internal link audit to identify broken links, orphan pages, or new opportunities.
We explore these specific scenarios in greater detail below. This next section is intended to help sharpen your perspective and toolkit on how to execute a proper audit and analysis.
There are many overlapping and related objectives involved in any internal link analysis. Here are some universal tips to keep in mind when using your toolkit and exploring different scenarios.
These practices are all facilitated by the right set of tools and knowing where to focus your attention.
Getting your toolkit down is crucial. Along with data from Google Analytics and Search Console, paid platforms like Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider (crawler tool) and Ahrefs are essential to have throughout these processes and scenarios.
Screaming Frog's SEO Spider software is a robust crawler tool that compiles the complete picture behind a website in a data-dense but easy-to-use dashboard. More specifically, SEO Spider provides a clear view into a site's internal link structure (including useful bits like anchor text, link count, among many other features.)
The general idea is to collect meaningful crawl data based on a site’s indexable pages. Tools like SEO Spider allow you to pull crawl reports to contain precise data points that provide tangible insights into a page’s internal link profile.
In addition to anchor text (as shown in the figure above), other metrics to include when reviewing and exporting crawl data are:
SEO Spider makes it easy to identify orphan pages, low-link pages, or outliers with far too many/too few links, thereby pointing to potential issues. It can also be configured to perform a host of other duties.
Lastly, be sure your settings are correct so you don’t, say, not crawl external links (or the external link count will be artificially zero). We’ll get more specific with each scenario discussed below.
Ahrefs is one of our favorite tools that enables you to get down to brass tacks with how a site is performing through an SEO lens, especially when it comes to links.
The tool is equipped with many reporting features designed to help you pinpoint your best, most authoritative pages, including helpful metrics you can bake into your dashboard. These reports can be found in the sidebar navigation of Ahrefs.
With filtering abilities to tab between external and internal links (note that exported data will match that qualifier), this report allows you to see which pages of a site are receiving the most link equity.
Pages are ranked according to URL rating, which is simply a strength score, along with details about total referring domains, external dofollow links, internal dofollow links, and internal redirects/canonicals by page.
"Best by Links" is your go-to report to understand which existing pages can pass the most PageRank to other pages.
We say “could” because the tool doesn't indicate if a page is already over-linked (you’ll have to review the page itself to confirm this), or if it's a contextually relevant page that you'd want to use to build links from (based on the subject matter and user interest).
So while some manual review is required to qualify which pages are in fact "best" and most applicable for internal linking purposes, this tool is incredibly helpful in guiding the process and assembling your dashboard.
This handy report points to potentially new or trending pages that may be “up and coming” powerhouses, or pages that may currently lack authority now on the overall “Best by Links” report above but indicate growing potential.
The report shows pages ranked by links built from the total number of referring domains in the last 1/7/30 days. As a supplement to the latter report, here you can export top pages by link's growth and cross-reference data against the main report for potential new pages of interest.
Combine both link equity (by referring domain/RD count only) and social shares (specifically across Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest) to see a site's top content by way of “Social Power” or SP.
This report is also a good supplement to bring social sharing into the mix, allowing you to see what’s getting Tweeted, Pinned, and Shared the most, as well as what’s earning inbound links from external sources.
Similar to the "Best by Links" report mentioned above but even more detailed is the “Top Pages” report found under Organic Search. This tool, which has evolved lately with more visual data, brings together several SEO-specific metrics that are useful in determining a site's strongest pages.
What’s particularly useful about this report is the ability to dive into keyword data that’s driving each pages’ SEO performance. The numeric value under “Keywords” indicates approximately how many keywords that a page ranks for in the top 100 organic results (the link provides a deeper look into those keywords).
Additionally, Ahrefs assigns each page with a “Traffic” metric (an estimate of monthly organic search visits) based on performance across corresponding keyword ranking/position and search volume.
For internal link analysis, this report adds value to your dashboard by helping you identify a site’s top SEO performers worth building links to and from. It can help you evaluate pages based on context/topical relevance, as well as determine what anchor text can be used.
These four reports are just the tip of the iceberg in what capabilities Ahrefs has to offer. For analyzing internal linking, the data you can derive from these reports alone is most pertinent.
With most 3rd party SEO crawlers, you typically export crawl data into spreadsheets in order to complete your analysis. Not so with Sitebulb’s new Link Explorer tool.
Here you can filter and sort through all your site’s internal links to your heart’s content:
Upon hovering over the menu dropdowns, you'll see various filter options along with how many links are associated with each filter. Link Explorer enables you to seamlessly view both Internal or External link data and Anchor text data on the fly, making it particularly useful for identifying:
Coming soon: Our Favorite Under-Utilized SEO Auditing Features in Sitebulb
Google Search Console, or GSC, provides general page-level performance data based on how a site appears in Google's search results.
Performance on Search Results
Reporting on impressions, clicks, CTR, and average position, "Performance on Search results" data is useful in identifying top-performing organic pages.
By clicking on certain URLs of interest, you can view more granular data about individual pages. The “Queries” tab provides keyword insights that can be useful in tailoring link anchor text or expanding on content in new ways.
At the very least, this data can be a launching pad to help you get started creating a dashboard, especially if you don’t have access to the latter tools.
Google Analytics and other analytics tool suites bridge the gap in providing page-level behavioral & business value metrics that other tools can’t touch. In short order, GA tracks how users engage with your content, providing food for thought on how to improve UX and drive more conversions.
By using the latter tools - Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, and GSC - to pinpoint and collect data around your target pages, you can add greater depth to your data by folding in key behavioral insights.
Parallel with the data available from GSC, accessing Site Content data (e.g. reports like Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages), you’ll see most of the same top-performing URLs but with acquisition and behavioral metrics instead of solely keywords and click metrics.
You might immediately notice (as shown in the figures) that bounce rate is enormously high and/or dwell rates and pages per session are sorely lacking. Including this data in a master dashboard (along with previous data points) can help you fill major holes in how well you’re engaging visitors and bridging their next steps.
Another fine tool is the Behavior Flow report that highlights where users are dropping off the most. Especially when certain pages are big traffic drivers, it’s critical to correct these weaknesses by focusing on where improvements can be made, like better UX, internal linking, copy, and CRO/conversion funneling.
In summary, Google’s platforms along with Ahrefs, Sitebulb and Screaming Frog are the bee’s knees in helping guide your auditing and strategic decision-making. They’ll also inspire a manual review of pages that need attention. This is where creativity comes into play, combining data and explorative findings with an actionable plan on how to improve, whether that’s through better internal linking or a more extensive overhaul.
With toolkit and analysis fundamentals out of the way, now it’s time to expand into various internal linking use cares (scenarios) and strategies.
Each presents a different way to approach link building based on your goals & objectives for that work. Here we aim to bridge the divide between different internal link building guides that give vastly different advice - how & why should you choose one method vs another? What tools do you need for those different use cases, and how do you evaluate success?
Each different scenario uses practical insights and/or steps to help you organize data and make informed improvements for SEO, UX, or Conversion/CRO (or a combination of the three).
Without further ado:
In cases of small sites or projects you’re deeply familiar with, you’ll likely already know what your priority pages are. This checklist will help ensure you don’t leave any important pages on the table, as well as facilitate how to go about building internal links to those priority pages.
Note that if you want opportunistic link building recommendations made to you, Ahrefs built a tool for that. If you are on WordPress, there are plugins available that do automatic hyperlinking.
Pages on a site that have more authority (e.g. are earning more backlinks or traffic, and thus act as “authority pages”) are valuable assets to build links from, thereby sending users and sharing link equity to other targeted pages of interest. This is is particularly useful for one-off pages that are highly successful for link building purposes... but lacking in conversion value. Share that “love” via internal linking and watch your other pages start to perform better!
This process uses a very similar workflow as the steps outlined above, so we’ve shortened the repetitive bits. Refer back up top for more detail as needed!
Using a “silo” structure with your content is a logical approach to improve both usability and crawlability, helping search engines find and understand what your content is all about - and how it all relates to each other.
Siloing is a concept that gets tossed around like it’s some sort of advanced, multi-pronged SEO strategy. But in reality, it's nothing short of serving up an intuitive site structure. It simply refers to the way pages are organized and internally linked throughout a website. And it’s largely inspired by a site’s Information Architecture (IA), or the manner in which content is best structured and made accessible for users.
The problem with silos is that they can isolate content and don’t always make pages easy to find. In turn, it’s better to drop the idea of creating “SEO silos” and start thinking in terms of how IA, user flow, and contextual navigation fit into the equation. (After all, search engines use machine learning to only take into consideration the internal links... that users are actually clicking.)
The relationship between IA and SEO is a beautiful one, as most IA best practices directly coincide with SEO best practices. These parallels naturally instruct a “silo” strategy that supports both ranking and engagement. Deviating from the step-by-step how-to’s above, this exercise is more about understanding the fundamentals and big picture perspective.
Identify information relationships. High-performing sites utilize information architecture that prioritizes users. The structure of a site's navigation and individual pages should align with the mindset of target visitors. In addition to investing in research, using practices like mind mapping and card sorting can help you better understand how content and information should be organized. These insights can help you identify information relationships that connect users with the content they’re looking for, all while instructing internal linking strategies.
Create a data model for content. SEO elements like page titles, meta descriptions, target keywords, copy, and media content (e.g. ALT text, descriptions) can be useful in guiding a site's information architecture. In short order, using SEO attributes and search data can be valuable tools in addressing both SEO and IA best practices, particularly in using internal linking to connect related pages. (An SEO Keyword Matrix is a great document to use and reference here.)
Define roles of individual pages. Generally speaking, there are three major types of pages: Consumption (informative articles, blog content), Navigation (category pages, homepages, sitemaps), and Interaction (landing pages, checkout pages, contact forms). Defining the key roles of your core pages can facilitate the appropriate silo structure that supports both UX and SEO.
Pinpoint priority pages. To reiterate the first scenario in building links to priority pages, make sure you’re giving the right amount of emphasis to the right pages. For smaller sites or projects you're very familiar with, these pages might be a given. But in other cases, use Analytics to better understand which pages are most engaging to your visitors and/or driving the most organic traffic.
Use a broad-to-narrow IA/silo - In creating an information architecture (or content silo) that's both user-friendly and SEO-friendly, ideally, you want to structure your content to start with the broadest at the top of the hierarchy, to more narrow, to even more narrow. Not only does this make logical sense, but linking back and forth from each level can benefit SEO, which is the basis of what we’re getting after here.
Create new sub-pages (if user intent is unique enough) - Layering your information architecture with new pages can help expand your search visibility... but only when user intent is unique enough to warrant a new page. Creating redundant or too similar content can have the opposite, cannibalization effect. Whether new ideas for content are inspired by the inventory you're selling or by keyword research/search interest, take time to reflect on the user intent behind the situation. If it's unique enough to warrant creating a new page, then great. Let’s do it. If not, combine your ideas by adding to existing content (or be prepared for some canonicalization exercises.)
Build internal links with meaningful anchor text. As you're well aware by now, linking between pages that offer related material can be powerful for both UX and SEO. Maximize this power by getting creative with your anchor text. In doing so, stray away from generic text like "click here" or "learn more" and balance more descriptive, keyword-relevant anchor text where it makes sense.
Lastly, remember that content siloing can naturally become so SEO-driven that pages can become isolated in ways that users can't actually find them. Put usability on the forefront when blueprinting your SEO roadmap and rethink siloing through the lens of an information architect, as IA and SEO are so intrinsically connected.
This one is pretty straightforward. It's about making SEO an afterthought (yes, you don't always have to prioritize SEO! Who knew?!) and using internal links to guide visitors to either high converting pages or pages that encourage a natural user flow to the ‘next step.’
Use Google Analytics to first identify pages of your site that see the most traffic. Click into Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages and select a sufficient date range of 3 to 6+ months. The report is automatically sorted in order of pages that have been viewed the most. These pages are your big traffic generators and will serve as powerful assets to build links from.
Next, pinpoint pages that drive the most action. So long as you’ve set up goals in Google Analytics, you'll be able to view conversion rates on the right side of the Landing Pages report. These pages are your conversion champions to which you’ll build links to.
The specific details behind how you approach this internal link strategy will largely hinge on the context of the pages and what sort of informational relationship they share. For instance, if you have a high-traffic blog post that explains the fundamentals of triathlon training, then linking to your high-converting page that promotes triathlon coaching services is naturally a good fit.
Again, this practice should feel intuitive and purposeful, focusing on enhancing the experience for your visitors. Additionally, this effort will add further guidance and direction on otherwise consumption-type content by pointing users to resources that might accommodate their needs.
Just be sure to keep it natural and unforced, and also keep in mind the anchor text that you use. Be thoughtful and intentional with your effort to encourage action (compared to being boring and generic with anchor text like “learn more,” “buy now,” or “sign up.”)
An orphan page is simply defined as a page that cannot be accessed by way of a site's internal linking structure, thereby making it nearly impossible for users and search engines to discover them. It's merely floating in the periphery of your site with no real way to get to it.
Orphan pages are pretty common. In small quantities, they’re usually no big deal, and for low-value pages, they may not be problematic. But in larger quantities, they can cause issues, like adding bloat to a site, containing outdated/inaccurate information, or conflicting with other more important pages.
In rare situations, an orphan page might actually be very important; something just got dropped along the way. In any case, it's worthwhile to scan for any orphan pages lounging around your website (usually when doing any normal crawl) and take necessary action. Here’s how to find orphan pages in a Sitebulb crawl.
Bookmark links, which are virtually synonymous with anchor links or “jump links” (but use slightly different tagging attributes), are wonderful in helping users navigate very long pages that are deep with content. This article is a good example, as the table of contents near the introduction uses bookmark links to drop users down further to specific pieces of content.
In addition to improving usability and guiding users to the content that interests them most, bookmark links can also enhance how a page appears in Google Search with some of the links displaying just below the description. Using a silo approach with sub-pages can also create this effect. Note the difference between the two organic listings below for the search query “triathlon distances.”
Creating anchor links is very simple, even if you have very limited HTML coding experience. You simply create the bookmark destination or anchor, then add a link to it. When a user clicks the link, they will jump to the part of the page with the bookmark. Use the link at the beginning of this paragraph for more detailed “how to” instructions.
Dovetailing on the previous figure, this is a very simple bullet list of anchor links that jump readers to the specific distances of triathlon they’re interested in.
Utilizing bookmark links offers a creative way to improve the UX and SEO of deep content. Here are a few tips to help you get the most of anchor linking:
Bookmark links are rarely discussed when talking about internal linking, largely because they focus on single page/on-page UX versus the relationship between multiple pages. But if you are producing content with depth, they’re a great tool to help support better usability and perhaps a more eye-popping appearance in the search results.
There are, frankly, many more use cases for how you might want to approach internal linking - for keyword clustering, a hub-and-spoke strategy, building an amazing HTML sitemap for deep craw paths, or perhaps to generally improve product cross-linking (e.g. eCommerce "Related Products").
But - big picture - hopefully you now understand a little more about the tools & the processes, and therefore you are better positioned to develop a process of your very own!
Want to equip your internal linking arsenal with more advanced perspective and know-how? We got you. Here are a handful of questions that are slightly more advanced and technically inclined, including our take on each topic.
Internal linking is not a direct ranking factor as directly disclosed by Google, but it is a generally accepted SEO best practice that does consequently support several behavior ranking factors (e.g. dwell times, average pages visited, return/direct visits, etc.) It’s also generally accepted by the SEO community as worthwhile work to improve search optimization efforts.
It’s debated whether or not building internal links higher up in a page’s content is better for SEO and passing link equity. Here are some points of interest:
Generally, we refrain from using the NoFollow attribute for internal links. The idea of using NoFollow links for PageRank sculpting, for instance, is an effort that’s both hard to measure and - frankly - really easy to screw up.
It’s also an attribute that communicates your trust (or lack thereof) in a certain URL, so it’d be weird to tell Google that you don't trust yourself... right?
Again, this is another case of letting UX do the talking versus defining a “magical number.” In the context of using in-copy text links, you shouldn't be jamming more than one or two links in a given paragraph (unless it's a really long paragraph). Links should be natural derivatives of the page’s content and how it supports the user experience - never forced for SEO.
Yes, internal link anchor text 100% does matter for both SEO and UX. For the latter, it's a navigational guide and a prompt for users to take action. For SEO, anchor text helps shape a page's relevance for target and supporting keywords.
Here are some resources about internal link building that we really enjoyed:
By now, you’ve probably come to realize that internal linking is indeed a multifaceted exercise of right and left brain activity. It's a craft that can be sharpened and a strategy that can be continuously refined.
Hopefully, you’ve acquired a few fresh ideas to inspire future projects or sites you’re currently working on. If you have specific questions or problems you’re trying to overcome, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and let us know!