SEO is a complicated field that covers a lot of specific techniques, but many people fall into the habit of only using the most famous. One of the biggest is external links and link building, a process that can be great for boosting your page equity and your overall page rankings.
However, external links are so popular as a technique that they often overshadow internal links entirely – something that can be even more important in the long run.
While internal links may not be as exciting, they offer a huge range of SEO possibilities and a lot of ways to make Google rank you higher.
Like many of Google’s algorithms and systems, nobody knows exactly how the SEO algorithm works. However, good internal linking has been proven as an important part of getting relevant pages higher in search engine results.
But what does internal linking actually do for SEO, and how are internal and external links different when it comes to the way that Google ranks pages on your site?
Table of Contents
First things first, internal links are exactly what the name implies. There are two types of links that can target a web page: external links from another domain or internal links from the same domain.
In other words, an internal link is any link that comes from other pages within the same website.
These could be product page links in a blog post or navigational links in the top navigation bar to help users reach all of the pages on your site.
Overall, there are generally considered to be four different kinds of internal links, each of which plays an important role in how users are meant to explore your site:
- Navigational links, which are any internal link used primarily for navigation. A navigation bar is basically a collection of these, but they do not necessarily have to be in a top bar to count.
- Sidebar links, which are a variation of navigational links that point to relevant pages. For example, a list of relevant blog posts at the side of a blog page or links to a specific category page of products or articles.
- Footer links, which are basically a version of navigational links that are mostly used for more “serious” purposes. These are generally placed in the page footer and link to things like Terms & Conditions pages or FAQ breakdowns.
- Contextual links, which are used contextually (as the name suggests) in pieces of content. For example, this might be links to each of the projects mentioned in a top-10 list or a link from one blog post to another that it mentions by name.
In other words, links are either used for direct navigation through the site or as a way to connect relevant pages together. These are a major part of the user experience but are also important for many different SEO reasons as well.
Are Internal Links Important for Sites?
An internal link is a lot easier to create than an external link since you have complete control of both the sending and receiving pages.
This makes them invaluable for a lot of reasons, with navigation being the most obvious – without internal linking, users would have no way to go to other pages easily.
However, an internal link is not just meant as a way to move through the site. If used correctly, good internal linking can also provide some invaluable SEO benefits and help your site rank higher for a range of search engine keywords while also making individual pages much more valuable.
Google handles all SEO and rankings checks based on links, context, and relevance.
Search engine crawlers – the bots that check through sites – need to follow the site architecture itself to find pages that they can index. Once a page is indexed, it can appear in search engines.
However, a crawler can only index so many pages at once, and it needs to actually be able to reach the pages on your site if you want to have them indexed and visible to search traffic.
Beyond that, contextual links with relevance to both the source and target pages are an important part of how search engines know which pages are which and what every page is meant to be.
Internal Linking Helps Crawlers
If crawlers are not able to find certain pages on your site, then those pages will never appear in search results. Search engines can only list pages that they can actually find and index, which makes internal linking invaluable for this exact reason.
While search crawlers will always start on landing pages (usually meaning the main page of your site), they can only find other pages to index by following the site structure you have created.
This means that they follow links exclusively, hunting around for new pages by using every internal link they can to map out your website and identify how pages should be indexed and ranked.
This means that a good, well-thought-out internal link structure can directly contribute to getting more pages indexed faster or even getting certain pages indexed at all.
If an important page is only accessible through ads or links on another site, Google will not necessarily be able to find it.
Internal Linking Carries Context
Google also notices contextual links and takes context and anchor text into account. Anchor text is the actual text that the link is attached to and tells users (and crawlers) what kind of page they are going to.
A page does not need to have exact match anchor text compared to its page title or header, but it should be contextually relevant.
If a user clicks on a link with anchor text about a top-10 list of furniture brands, they want to go to relevant content – in this example, an article about that exact topic.
Since Google prioritizes helpful and reliable sites as often as it can, having bad anchor text on internal links can hurt your ranking chances.
Crawlers will notice if an internal link pointing to a product page has anchor text about something irrelevant, like customer support or tutorial articles.
In basic terms, the better your anchor text is, the easier Google understands your site and the higher it is willing to value that link. Ideally, anchor text should make sense entirely on its own – it should not be written in a way that requires the surrounding text to understand it.
Internal Linking Prevents Dead Ends
By having at least one or two constant internal links on every page, it becomes easier for both users and crawlers to avoid getting stuck in places where they can only escape by using the back button.
It sometimes also helps to have regular text-based internal links as a backup, just in case that site feature breaks or a user’s browser cannot display that custom element.
While this might not matter as much for SEO, it does sometimes help crawlers continue sweeping through your site rather than getting stuck
If a crawler gets stuck somewhere where it has no more links to follow, it might simply give up and stop crawling your site. This can cut things short before it has even indexed the majority of your website.
Internal Links Prevent Missed Content
A brand new page is not worth much if it does not rank on search engines, and sometimes site owners forget to include an internal link to a brand new piece of content. Keeping your internal linking up to date ensures that everything important gets crawled.
While this might not matter for a blog or product category, where new entries can be added automatically, it does matter for important pages that might not be in your navigation bar yet.
If there are no suitable internal links to a new page, crawlers are not going to find it. This could mean that your brand-new promotional landing page gets absolutely no traction or search engine value because it does not exist as far as Google is concerned.
Web pages will only rank if they are indexed, so a good internal linking strategy can be vital to making sure that you are linking pages right after they are created. This ensures consistent indexing as soon as possible.
One of the other major benefits that good internal links provide is related to equity, which is a measurement of how valuable links are to search engines.
While most people with SEO experience know that externally earned links carry equity from one site to another, internal links are also good for transferring equity from one page to another on the same site.
This often gets overlooked, but it is an important way of making internal pages stronger as a ranking option.
Most internal links will be able to transfer a small amount of equity really well, which can bolster the SEO value of your entire site structure if done well.
What is Link Equity?
Link equity, or “link juice,” is a measurement of how much authority a page has. This serves as a general overall metric of how “powerful” your site would be in terms of ranking, even though equity itself is not a measurement created or used by Google.
In general, link juice is basically shorthand for how much SEO value a specific page offers.
It can be transferred through links, which forms the basis of how link building works: being linked to by other sites gives the linked page greater equity, meaning stronger SEO rankings for its relevant topics.
Internal links can also pass equity along. This means that internal links can be used to distribute equity across your own site, meaning that you are funneling more authority towards important pages even if they do not have many direct external incoming links.
How Do Internal Links Help with Equity?
Internal links can’t generate equity and authority from nowhere, but they can spread it around.
Having internal links pointing from high-authority pages to low-authority ones helps the lower-equity page gain a little more.
Doing this means that you can boost the equity of multiple site pages through carefully placed internal links.
Strategically adding internal links that funnel equity towards important pages can make a huge difference, especially if they are “pillar pages” that are meant as high-authority content that supports a range of other articles and pages.
However, the same factors in the success of internal links apply here, too. You want to add internal links that point to and from relevant content and have descriptive anchor text that fits with the destination page.
Why Does This Matter?
Using this strategy allows you to turn internal links into a way of pushing your most important pages higher in search rankings.
This can provide small but noticeable boosts to things like major product pages, promotional landing pages, or any other page that needs to rank well to succeed.
This also has the side benefit of adding a lot of internal links towards the same page throughout your site, meaning that users are more likely to end up there while browsing anyway.
While internal links might sound simple, they can be just as complex as external ones.
You can’t just throw together internal links pointing at any random pages on your site structure and consider them “done.” It takes effort to create internal links that actually work well.
Creating good internal linking opportunities (and knowing how to take advantage of them) is key to finding an internal linking strategy that works well for your site.
Of course, there is not a single perfect internal linking strategy that works for all websites and businesses.
It is important to come up with something that suits your domain specifically, especially if you exist in a very small niche or focus on very specific kinds of content.
Create Good Content
Solid content with a clear structure behind it is the best way to make your links even stronger.
The most popular technique is “pillar content,” where you create major central pieces of content that cover a broad subject and shoot off links to more specific articles for different sub-topics.
Pillar pages are meant to be quite a flexible idea and can work with basically any content niche.
While pillar content is not the only example of a good content strategy, it does allow you to capture a range of audiences and have a lot of articles all linking to one another through very relevant keywords and contexts.
Remember that Google values helpful, well-structured, and relevant content first and foremost. Create good content that has actual value behind it, and use that as the basis of your site structure.
You can also go back and tweak older content if you need to. If a piece of content is not doing its job, try changing how it is written or even the keywords it targets and the audience it is trying to reach. Sometimes, you will stumble across a winning combination by pure accident.
Understand Internal Linking in SEO
SEO – and, more specifically, building links – can be a daunting thing to learn at first. Thankfully, internal links are generally quite easy.
However, it is important to understand the basics of SEO if you do not already, such as choosing the right internal link anchor text and knowing where to add links for maximum relevance.
A solid internal linking strategy demands more than just focusing on how many internal links you gather. You want to understand how to boost link and page quality overall, whether that means technical SEO or larger-scale link-builder techniques.
Make sure you know at least the basics of how links work in SEO, and familiarize yourself with tools like Google Search Console if you have not already.
Even understanding the basics of contextual internal links can be important if you are trying to create high-quality links from scratch, as opposed to simply spamming links at one page and hoping that it works.
Know What Makes an Internal Link High-Quality
Internal link quality is more important than how many internal links you have pointing at your site. But what does “quality” actually mean in the context of a link?
A good-quality link generally comes from three core factors: being highly relevant to both the linking and linked content, coming from sites that have high authority behind them, and making sense with your website structure.
Relevance focuses on how relevant the link actually is to the content that contains it and the content that it targets.
You want links to match up in a way that feels natural and that includes internal links.
If you add internal links that are completely mismatched with the content they are placed in or do not have anything to do with the linked page, then search engines may actually penalize them instead of using them as a ranking factor.
The “link juice” that boosts pages only transfers if Google allows it, and it is common for irrelevant links to get completely blocked if they are obviously unrelated.
This means that you can’t just slam any links you want into an article or other site page. You need to actually construct something that feels organic and has a clear connection to both the sending and receiving pages.
Authority, as mentioned earlier, is basically a ranking of how much value search engines will generally assign to a page.
While authority is made up of a range of other factors, and not all of those factors will be judged by all search engines in the same way, a page with higher authority generally ranks more often.
Authority can come from many places, from creating good and high-quality content to building backlinks that point equity and authority from other sites back at your own.
Either way, internal links have the biggest impact if you are connecting a high-authority page to a low-authority one. These create important internal links that transfer authority to pages that need it most.
While you obviously do not want to focus on this exclusively (since internal links are also used for navigation and benefit SEO in general), finding ways to link these high-authority pages to your intended ranking pages can provide them with a noticeable boost.
Structural Link Layout
A strong internal linking structure is vital for making sure that your authority is being spread throughout the site. A site with a lot of higher-authority pages will rank better than a site with just one high-authority main page.
Not only do good structural links provide better quality for users (since they can actually get around your site), but they also provide better SEO benefits overall.
Beyond that, it ensures that crawlers can easily search the entire site without getting caught in dead ends or loops and that the incoming internal links are able to transfer more equity.
There is no point in trying to build up fantastic internal links if you are not actually placing them in a way that is usable. While all pages may be on the same root domain, users (and crawlers) will not find them if there are no links pointing at them.
Adding more links to build a clear, tiered website structure is the best option. You want your internal linking to make sense and always send customers where they want to be.
Find Good Keywords and Anchor Text
Keywords can matter with incoming internal links just as much as they can with external ones. When a user clicks on a link, the anchor text should match the content they are going to.
This is not just a convenience factor for human users but also helps crawlers understand the layout of your site and can even boost the power of a link if it uses an incredibly relevant anchor phrase.
Your anchor text should ideally be keywords that are relevant to both the linking and linked page, and you should avoid using the same anchor text for two pages whenever possible.
Google finds it easiest to crawl a site when the entire domain is full of excellent internal links that have unique anchor texts and destinations.
Even if you are only focusing on links within the same website, having two links with identical anchors can confuse crawlers and may even lead to both pages being ranked lower overall as a result.
Perform an Internal Link Audit
It is a good idea to look over each incoming internal link on your site to get an idea of where the whole structure currently stands.
If you already have many internal links (which most sites will, unless they have literally a single page), it is important to check and see what already exists.
This stops you from linking to internal pages that are already being linked to in the same way or accidentally creating duplicate links pointing to one page.
Basically, make sure that you have a solid overview of the many internal links already on your site.
Tweak Existing Links
Sometimes, getting the right internal linking strategy means trying to tweak links rather than just add links.
If your most important internal links have already been made, see if they can be improved. Part of internal linking for SEO is knowing when to optimize what already exists.
Not all existing internal links pointing at major pages will be perfect, and sometimes it is better to optimize them rather than to add links that would supplement or replace them.
Fix Broken Links
Broken internal links are quite common after you make a change to the site.
Broken links are any link that used to point to a valid page but now does not. This could be because the page was deleted or because the URL of that target page was changed.
Broken internal links transfer no equity, annoy users who try to rely on them for navigation, and can weaken your internal linking quality if Google notices.
You want to avoid having broken links pointing at non-existent pages as often as possible. Thankfully, there are various tools that can automatically scan for broken site links, making it easy to identify them and either fix or remove them.
Fix Orphaned Pages
Orphaned pages are any pages that get no links from elsewhere on your site.
These may have previously been linked to, only for their original links to be deleted. This can mean that they rank on search engines but are not actually in your website structure.
Always create internal links pointing to your orphaned pages if possible. This ensures that they are not left out of your site’s indexing whenever a crawler checks through it.
Create a Sitemap
A sitemap file tells Google which pages are important to your site and also informs it of details about specific files hosted on the website itself.
This makes crawling much more efficient since it tells Google how many links actually exist within your main site structure.
Sitemaps are just a recommendation to the algorithm and do not lead to guaranteed change, but they can help push the right pages into search results faster.
Avoid The Wrong Types of Internal Links
There are two types of internal links: nofollow and dofollow internal links.
Nofollow links do not transfer any equity or value, and crawlers avoid them, meaning no change to your internal linking score.
This can be good for links to behind-the-scenes technical pages or smaller resources on your site but not for ones that actually need to appear in search results.
Dofollow links are standard links that do transfer equity but also have an impact on your rankings – whether that is positive or negative.
While these are more prominent with external links from other websites, they can also influence the internal links you create. Nofollow links are not bad but are just another tool that needs to be used carefully.
Place Links Intelligently And in Accessible Places
Sidebar links and footer links are often reserved for specific uses, and users expect that.
While Google’s crawlers are not humans, they also want your website structure to make sense and like it when the links fit with what most sites would naturally do.
If a user or crawler cannot actually find the links, or they are not visible to them in the first place, then the links may as well not exist.
Use The Right Tools
From Google Search Console to various keyword research tools, it is important to have the right software on hand when managing your links.
Even just being able to produce a links report based on your own site’s structure can provide a huge amount of benefits, and unusually only takes a few clicks at most.
Like any project, you want to bring the right tools to the table when trying to manage your internal links. You never know when one might speed up an incredibly difficult step of the process.
Don’t Be Afraid to Remove Internal and External Links
Sometimes, a link just is not worth keeping. While aiming for fewer links might seem counterproductive, not all links are good.
If a link (internal or external) is actively hurting your SEO, then removing it might be better for your site health in the long run.
Alternatively, you can set it up so that search engines never crawl that link or that it has a more fitting target page.
Whether you are running a small online business or a major information and editorial website, internal links are practically the core of how your whole site fits together.
However, they can also be invaluable for boosting your SEO and getting noticed in search results, something that basically every site should be chasing.
While the topics discussed here are just the tip of the iceberg, how you approach your linking structure is up to you. No two sites will use the exact same techniques and linking options, so you need to figure out which option works for your situation best.
Searcharoo is a Link Building & Content Marketing company run by SEO’s based in the UK.
Our goal from the start has been to provide premium links and content services, at fair and affordable prices.