Internal Link Building: Why You Need To Do It and How to Get Started
External links and backlinks are an important part of every website’s SEO strategy. They send signals to both search engines and visitors about the quality of content on your site. They also serve as proof of your breadth of knowledge on the subject matter and they help your site “borrow” authority from trusted external sources.
Internal links–that is, those that direct visitors to other pages within your domain–are arguably just as important.
While internal links may not require special design or development expertise in order to execute them, using them effectively does require some foresight and planning. So, today, let’s look at why you should use internal links on your site, how to develop a strategy for them, and which tools you can use to create a system of internal links for a stronger performance in search.
The Lowdown on Internal Link Building and Why You Must Do It
Here is an example of an internal link coded into a blog post on the WPMU DEV website:
And here is that same internal link presented on the WPMU DEV website:
All an internal link does is point visitors to other content on your website. It’s as simple as that.
Technically, your navigation is just a well-organized and cleanly-designed system of internal links:
Every CTA is an internal link, too:
But that’s not the only place where internal links can go. They can show up:
- In running text on the site.
- In the various widgets surrounding the blog, like the categories and tags, as well as related posts recommendations.
- In other sidebar and self-promotional content around the website.
In contact forms.
- In pop-ups, hello bars, and other conversion-generation tools.
- In the footer.
- As a table of contents which allows users to jump down to a pertinent section on that same page via an anchor.
Understanding the possibilities for internal linking on a WordPress site is important. But understanding the “why” behind using internal links and creating a fully-fledged link building plan is critical if you want to properly execute it.
Here are some of those reasons why:
- Internal links, first and foremost, get visitors off your home page and out to the content they really need to see.
- They give your page one more link pointing “back” to it (even if it’s still contained within your site). This helps with building credibility in search.
- Relevant links keep visitors exploring the website for longer than they would if left to their own devices. (Think of what that time-on-site does for SEO!)
- Internal links improve navigation by establishing a hierarchy of pages as well as a better understanding of how they each relate to one another.
- If you don’t want to stuff all your page links into the navigation, you can use internal links to promote “secondary” navigational pages within content instead. Or you can place those sub-navigational links in a sidebar.
- They’re also great for keeping content on your site succinct and easy to read. Rather than repeat the same topics over and over again, internal links can point readers to expanded explanations that already exist on your blog or elsewhere on the site.
- Anchor text (the words that hold the link in place within your content) gives you another chance to optimize content using keywords.
- Internal links within new content allow you to keep relevant and interesting content at the forefront of visitors’ minds, even as the original source is driven down deeper in your blog archives.
Now that you have a better sense of why you need to use internal links, let’s tackle the best practices for using them.
Best Practices for Creating an Internal Link Building Plan in WordPress
Using internal links effectively–i.e. if you want to reap the SEO and organizational benefits–requires more than dropping a link in every couple hundred of words. Here are some tips to help you create an internal link building plan that works:
Before you spend any serious energy adding internal links to your WordPress site’s content, take time to research individual page performance. You should be able to answer the following about…
Organic Search Traffic:
- Which pages and posts are doing well in organic search?
- Are there keywords commonly used in search that lead to these pages?
- Which pages and posts are doing well in terms of referral traffic?
- What is the anchor text that is used in those backlinks?
You can then use what you know about popular search phrases and commonly used anchor text from high-authority sites to shape your own internal link structure.
This is anchor text:
When writing this in your HTML, it’ll look like this:
In this case, “security best practices” holds the anchor text spot in your code.
As for creating your anchor text, always try to use descriptive keywords that give a sense of the topic or keywords the target page will aptly address. So, anchor text that says “security best practices” shouldn’t open to a blog post talking about SEO. It should deliver on its promise.
Also, don’t forget about how the anchor text is worded in your site’s navigation and CTAs. The clearer and simpler these are, the better.
Having done the research on organic search keywords and referral anchor text, you should have a good idea of what types of keywords you can associate with each page and post on your site. (At least the ones that have been linked to or searched for before.) That said, you have to be careful about how you apply anchor text to them. Here’s why:
Much like how it’s important to only have a few select focus keywords around which you write the content for your site, you’ll want to keep the number of keywords and anchor text phrases for any given page to a minimum. This is so as not to confuse search engines about the content of the page.
For example, let’s say you have a page for Dog Boots. Any time you create an internal link to the Dog Boots page on your website, you’ll want the anchor text to be same across the board.
Where you want to be careful, however, is if you have pages or posts that are similar. Say there’s a Dog Slippers page as well as a Dog Sneakers page. Even if you’re trying to rank your site for the term “dog shoes”, it would be a mistake to use the anchor “dog shoes” to link to various pages throughout your site. This is because you’d be creating competition for your website with your own website. In other words, always give each page its own unique anchor text.
This is similar to why you don’t put plain text pages on your website, or pages full of images without any verbal context. Basically, never leave any page on your site devoid of internal links. Pages that include internal links are a good way of demonstrating that you have a cohesive website in which everything fits into the larger whole. They’re also good for improving navigation.
Just be careful about overdoing it: choose links wisely and only use a handful, if possible. Too many links competing for Google’s attention could work against you.
While search engines will scan pages in their entirety, marketers have found that links that appear closer to the top of the page are ranked higher in search. This is likely because they’re perceived to be of greater importance and relevance in terms of the “hierarchy” of the page’s internal link structure.
Not only is it helpful to know what type of anchor text external sources use to link to your website, it’s also important to know which pages are most commonly linked to. Since you already know that those pages have high-authority links, you can more easily give them a boost in search if you, in turn, link to them within your own website more frequently.
The relevance and quality of the page being linked to needs to factor into the decision-making process. Even if you have a blog post from 2011 that is related to something you’re covering in a blog post set to publish next month, would you really want to direct traffic to something that’s likely outdated at this point?
Keep linking paths shallow. In other words, make it a general rule that visitors should never have to click more than three links in order to find the page they need. That means your structure should look something like this:
Home page link > Service page link > Contact form sign-up
Navigation link > Product page add-to-cart link > Purchase
Ideally, that third and final step should be conversion. If you want to know the path most often taken by your visitors as of now, study your sales funnels in Google Analytics. Then build your linking structure around that.
For external links, it’s ideal to have them open in a new tab. That way, visitors may eventually leave your site to explore what that link has to offer… but it doesn’t have to be right now. For internal links, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s beneficial to keep the current tab open or simply move them to the next page.
This will likely depend on what happens on that next page. If it’s purely informational, open in a new tab. If it’s part of the conversion process, move them to the next page.
10. Broken Links
You’re always on the lookout for anything that could potentially disrupt the user experience. A broken internal link might not seem like a big deal, but it could definitely add frustration where there was none before–especially if visitors continue to hit the same roadblock when attempting to click through links on your site.
So, make sure you have a WordPress plugin like Broken Link Checker installed on your site to automate the monitoring and repairing of these.
11. Content Generation
Never stop creating new content for your site, whether this comes in the form of new blog posts, new product pages, or more information about your company’s service. Frequent updates and new content are very helpful for a website’s SEO. They’re also helpful in giving you something worthwhile to share in your internal links.
12. More Research
Once you have your system of internal links in place, pay attention to what’s happening to them in Google Analytics. Ones that aren’t experiencing good click-through rates will need revising. Perhaps it’s the anchor text that isn’t descriptive enough or maybe it’s getting lost amongst a huge collection of links on that same page.
Assess, revise, and repeat.
13. Keyword Rankings
As I was doing research on the best Google keyword ranking tools for SEO, I noticed that quite a few of them included analyses on how many internal links existed on the website. And, not only that, they compared the quantity and quality of those links to what the competition was doing. With some tools even noting what the anchor text was, I think including one of these tools in your process post-implementation will be especially valuable.
Automation is always helpful for WordPress developers, especially when it comes to parts of your process that you might not actually be fluent in (like copywriting and link building). So, if you’re looking at this list of tips and wondering how you’re going to manage it all, just stop right there because the SmartCrawl SEO plugin will take much of the work out of it!
What it does is automatically link pages to specific keywords around your website–and this goes for both internal and external links!
Just remember not to overdo it. Internal link building isn’t about cheating search by stuffing each page (or your footer, navigation, etc.) with countless links to the rest of your site. The search engines are hip to this type of trickery and will penalize you in kind as Google clearly indicates here. Remember: everything you do on a WordPress website should add value to the experience, not be done for a superficial boost in search results.