How (and Why) You Should Use Internal Link Optimization

If you’re working to improve your website’s structure and search engine optimization you’ve likely focused on publishing great content and building backlinks to that content. However, one aspect of SEO that is easily overlooked is optimizing your internal links as well. Internal link optimization can drive long-term wins for your organic rankings and site traffic. 

First of all, What Are Internal Links?

Internal links are links on your website that point to other pages on your site. These types of links are useful to both users navigating your site and search engines crawling the pages on your site.

The Different Types of Internal Links

  • Contextual Links: These are text links embedded within your content. You may add these to a blog post to link to another post on a specific topic that you think your readers will find valuable or interesting. For example, if we were discussing on-page vs. off-page SEO (← this is a contextual link) in a blog post we could include a link to another one of our blog posts on that topic.
  • Navigational Links: Navigational links are intended to make it easier for visitors to your site to find other pages on your site. These links could be in the header bar of your site, or included on longer pages to take users to specific points on the page.
  • Footer Links: Footer links are any links you add to the footer of your website. These links can be powerful SEO tools because they show up on every page on your website. Adding footer links to your most important pages can help give them an SEO boost by letting search engines know which pages are the most important on your site.
  • Calls To Action: Call to action (CTA) links are typically included on your site’s landing pages and within blog posts to encourage users to convert, which could be buying a product, signing up for your email list, or downloading a lead magnet.

What is the Purpose of Internal Linking?

Internal links can serve a number of purposes – from making your site more user-friendly to making it easier for search engines to crawl your content. Internal link optimization should also accomplish the following two things:  

Give your site structure.

When you add internal links to your existing content in new pages or posts on your site you improve your site’s structure. Adding internal links to your site helps reduce the crawl depth (or the number of clicks it takes to reach a URL) for your content. 

In addition to reducing crawl depth, internal links are another way of grouping related pages on your site. If you have a blog post on a certain topic, it makes sense to add internal links to that post to any other pages on your site that discuss that topic.

Improve User-Experiences

UX and SEO are actually closely related. Higher quality content is more likely to keep users on your site longer. This can be an indication to Google that your site is worthy of ranking for a given keyword. Adding internal links to your site can make it easy for users to visit multiple pages on your site, which will help increase the average time users spend on your site.

Internal Linking Strategy Works Together with Your Content Strategy 

To truly crush your internal link optimization strategy, you need to have a range of pages and blog posts on your site to add those links to. If your goal is to get more organic traffic to your site, you need to focus on content strategy first, and then focus on building internal links into that strategy.

Internal Links Work How People Assume Backlinks Work

Internal links tell Google which pages to prioritize and which to ignore. The more internal links a given page has, the easier it will be for you to rank. The opposite is also true. The fewer internal links a page has, the harder it will be for that page to rank.

Google confirms in its Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide that internal links are a ranking signal that Google uses when crawling and indexing your content. 

How To Improve Your Internal Linking

1. Use Natural Links and Anchor Text

When adding internal links to your pages, it’s important to optimize your anchor text so your links have the maximum impact. You shouldn’t over-optimize your anchor text to the point that it hurts user experiences.

The anchor text should align with the target keyword of the page you’re linking to – and should make it clear to users what the page is about. Having vague or nondescript anchor text will make users less likely to click on your links.

2. Link to Deeper Pages

You can use internal links to deeper pages on your site to make them easier for users to find. For example, if you have a high value blog post on your site but it’s buried deep on your site people may not be able to easily find it. Adding internal links can keep users visiting your old content, and can also make it easier for search engines to crawl your site.

Adding internal links that go to your homepage doesn’t provide much value, because people can already find that page easily. Your homepage is likely already linked from your header and footer, so adding additional links to your content isn’t necessary.

3. Make Links Useful

Including useful links that people will actually be interested in will help maximize the impact of your links. If you’re able to strategically include links within your blog posts, for example, rather than people bouncing off your site – they will continue reading the next article. This will keep users on your site for longer and will give them more opportunities to convert to become customers.

4. Use Follow Links

When adding links to external sites, sometimes it can make sense to add ‘nofollow’ tags to those links. For internal links though, you should use ‘follow’ links. This allows you to pass on the “link juice” to the pages you’re linking to, and allows search engines to crawl those links. 

5. Don’t Use An Unreasonable Amount of Internal Links

All this being said, more internal links doesn’t necessarily mean that your site will be more SEO friendly. A page that has tons of internal links stuffed in won’t provide much value. Too many links could be distracting for users, make it difficult for search engines to know which pages to prioritize, and can make your site look spammy.

Another thing to consider is that adding too many links in your footer can have negative effects. If every page on your site has hundreds of links in the footer, it can cause your site to look spammy, and can even lead to Google penalizing your site.

How We’ve Used Internal Linking To Improve Tuff’s Organic Results

Over the past couple years at Tuff, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on growing our organic traffic. Internal link optimization has played a strong role in contributing to our organic growth, as we’ve continued to publish new content on the site.

We’ve Implemented a Pillar and Cluster Content Strategy

As we develop content strategies for our website, and for our partners, we spend a lot of time on keyword research. If we find a keyword that is especially relevant and high-value to our business and organic goals, we will create a landing page that specifically targets that keyword. That landing page is a “pillar page” – which provides in-depth coverage of the page’s topic, and includes links to more specific pages or blog posts on our site. 

These specific pages targeting more specific keyword variations are known as “cluster pages”. In addition to targeting more long-tail keywords, cluster pages also provide internal links back to our pillar page.

We Implemented a Site-Wide Footer

Part of our internal linking strategy was adding a footer to our site with links back to our key pages. We included links to our key landing pages that are valuable from an organic search perspective, and that are valuable for visitors to our site looking for specific services.

Example of Site Footer Structure from Tuff Site

Footer links are especially powerful because they show up on all the pages on our website. So adding a page link to the footer is a quick way to build hundreds of internal links quickly.

All of Our Blog Posts Include Internal Links to Our Existing Pages

We consistently publish new posts on the Tuff website, and every one of those blog posts includes internal links back to other pages on our site. 

For example, if we’re writing a blog post about growth marketing strategies, we’ll likely include links back to our Growth Marketing Agency landing page. Not only does this improve our site structure and make it easy for Google to crawl our site, it also helps our pillar pages rank for their target keyword.

SEO Doesn’t Have to Be a Mystery

Whether it’s technical SEO improvements, a strong on-page strategy, or marrying a good user experience with traffic-driving content, you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re stuck in the weeds with your content strategy and SEO work, let’s talk!