When it comes to links, answers to questions such as, Who should I link to? How many links should I allow on a page? What anchor text should I use? Will the links cause a penalty?, and so on, often create dilemmas for webmasters.
These are valid questions to ask yourself before building external links on your home page and building external links on inner pages of your site. This is because there are quite a number of risks associated with linking to a third-party site. When you plan for internal linking, however, you can relax; you are free from any risk. Matt Cutts (previously a senior engineer at Google) stated this in a video about internal linking having no negative effects on site rankings back in 2013.
So first, let's clarify the difference between external and internal links:
The Basics: Internal and External Links
External links are those links where your site links to a third-party website on a different domain.
There are two sub-types of these links, inbound and outbound links. Inbound links represent links coming in from other websites, and outbound links which are those linking out to other websites.
Inbound links are the most difficult to achieve, while outbound links are completely under your control.
Internal links are also completely under your control – this is where you link pages within your own domain or sub-domain. There are inbound and outbound sub-types in internal linking too, but since it is all within the same domain there is no point in classifying them.
You can check your internal and external link percentage along with the percentage of links that use the nofollow attribute using WooRank's Website Review tool, as shown in the screenshot below:
Examples of internal links can be found at the top of this blog post where I have linked the following anchor texts internally: building external links on your home page and building external links on inner pages. Meanwhile, the anchor text internal linking having no negative effects on site rankings links externally.
The Benefits and Roles of Internal Linking
Do not underestimate the power of internal linking. Your site acquires link juice from internal linking in the same manner that you receive link juice from external sites via linking. For instance, generally the home page of a site is the one that has maximum link juice and page authority. When you point a link from the home page to an inner page, a part of the home page's link juice flows into the inner page, giving it greater authority, and making it more likely to show in SERPs.
You can read more about the flow of link juice in our SEO Guide to Link Juice. You can also learn more about the mathematical side in this article by SearchEngineWatch.com entitled Internal Linking to Promote Keyword Clusters.
This may be the single most important role of internal linking, because it is user-oriented.
If you watch the Matt Cutts video I've linked to above and read between the lines where he comments on whether too many internal links can harm the site's ranking: "_typically not, but it's not a hard no", _we can gather that the goal is to keep your pages and links relevant to the user. As long as your aim of internal linking is to properly guide your site visitor on the website, you are risk free.
Navigation is necessity on a website, and it is done via internal linking.
There are different kinds of internal links that you can have on your website, including:
- Links in the body text
- Menu bar links
- Footer links
- Sidebar links
- Miscellaneous links (links in the form of breadcrumb navigation, related posts/products on the same domain, images on the same domain)
Among all these internal linking opportunities, great importance should be placed on links found in the body text. These links are good for navigation, and they are seen as more significant than other types of links in the eyes of search engine crawlers because they are typically placed there for the interest of the reader. The other types of links are primarily for navigation and must be structured properly. If there is disconnect within the internal linking structure (broken links, duplicate links or error pages) the flow of link juice is interrupted. It can also affect the indexing of internal pages on the site, as pages with no links pointing in (known as orphaned pages) may not be found by crawlers.
For further reading, I recommend this post that explains how to plan your internal linking structure for on-site optimization.
Better Keyword Targeting:
Since internal linking is 100 percent under your control, it is easier to manage the anchor-text keywords you target. Link to pages with long-tail keywords, like I have done throughout most of this post.
Track popular keywords that bring traffic to your website via Google Analytics and Google Search Console, and use these keywords as anchor text for internal links to further optimize the pages for your targeted keywords.
There may be several causes for high bounce rates on any given site. A good internal linking structure is one way of reducing the bounce rate on your site. If you have engaged your audience with great content on your page, they will likely also follow the links you recommend for further reading. This will increase the length of stay on your site (when the links are internal). A lower bounce rate sends a positive signal to search robots about the quality and user-friendliness of your site.
Proper Indexing of Inner Pages:
If you do not provide internal linking between pages of your sites, there is no way for search engines to crawl and index your site, except through an XML Sitemap. You must make sure that all your interlinked pages are accessible to search engines. There are a few things that can cause inaccessibility of inner pages on your site, even if you have linked them internally. Some of these are as follows:
- Broken links
- Blocked pages (in robots.txt or using a noindex tag)
- All links pointing in using nofollow tags
- Links to pages only accessible by submission of a form
- Links to pages only accessible via an internal site search
- Linking to a page that has been disallowed in your robots.txt file or containing a noindex tag
Getting the Most Out of Your Internal Linking
- Don't Use rel="nofollow":
There is no reason to nofollow your internal links as the link juice is being shared within your own domain.
Watch this Matt Cutts video for more information on not using rel="nofollow" on internal links.
Even though the risks with respect to search engine penalties are almost nil when it comes to internal linking, you cannot afford to automate your internal linking due to the role it plays with user-experience. There are online software companies out there that promise to make the job of internal linking easier for you with automation; like the one below
I do not know how well these work. They may indeed make things easier but automation will never give you the high-quality navigation that you can achieve manually. For this reason I would not recommend them.
If you are not able to link some of your inner pages via your content's body text you can use related-post linking or popular-post linking sections on every page of your site.
If your site is on WordPress, here is a useful article listing Related-Post WordPress Plugins for Beginners.
Make sure that all the links within your site point to pages that are relevant to the topic on the parent page (where your internal link initiates). Relevancy is important both from SEO and usability points of view when it comes to internal linking.
- Check Google Search Console:
There is a wealth of information about your internal links on Google Search Console. You can see the number of internal links on a particular page by going to Google Search Console> Search Traffic> Internal Links. _You can also determine what the most linked-to web pages are on your site and link these to newer, relevant pages that need some link juice. To access this information go to _Google Search Console> Search Traffic> Links to Your Site.
Build Better Backlinks
There are lots of quick and dirty link building techniques out there that can help your site rank very quickly. Unfortunately, those gains probably won't last and could even cause a manual penalty from Google. The exact opposite of what you want when you're running a legitimate business.
Learn how to protect your SEO by building future-proof links in this guide.