Imagine drinking water from a cup with a tiny hole at the bottom.
The hole isn’t quite big enough for the water to leak out too quickly, so you can still quench your thirst—for now.
But now think of it this way:
The cup is your site, and the water is the link juice (AKA link equity or weight) you get through backlinks.
And the hole? That’s poor internal linking on your site.
In this post, I’m going to show you how you can plug the leak and improve your SEO with a powerful internal linking strategy that makes the most of your strongest backlinks.
Why You Should Consider Both Backlinks and Internal Links
It’s no secret that links are the foundation of search engines algorithms. And when I say links, I mean all links in general—both external and internal.
Search engines (Google in particular) use links not only to find pages on the web, but also to determine their relevance, authority, priority and dozens of other things that ultimately affect rankings.
Keep in mind that PageRank still plays a vital role in Google’s algorithm.
DYK that after 18 years we're still using PageRank (and 100s of other signals) in ranking?
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) February 9, 2017
And if you check how PageRank works by following the link in Gary’s tweet, you’ll see that both backlinks and internal links have a part in the process.
Despite that, many SEOs and website owners focus solely on earning a massive number of backlinks and then wonder why their rankings don’t skyrocket. They usually end up saying something like “backlinks don’t work anymore.”
The thing is that when you get lots of backlinks to a certain page on your website, you power it up with link weight from other sites. The next step, which is usually neglected, is to spread it wisely.
Sure, you can build hundreds of backlinks to your homepage.
But if that homepage doesn’t link to other important pages on your site, or there are issues with your internal linking structure, then you won’t get all the benefits of those backlinks.
Internal Linking SEO: How to Boost Rankings by Combining Internal Links and Backlinks
Internal linking is a complex process that’s mainly based on your site structure. That’s why if you have a proper structure, you’re halfway done.
I’m not going to elaborate on how to create an efficient site structure (that’s a story in its own right), but what’s important here is that you fix all the holes in your site before you pour in more (link) juice.
Follow these six steps for an internal linking SEO strategy that works.
1. Find and Fix Orphans and Dead-Ends
First of all, let’s specify the meanings of these terms to avoid misunderstanding.
An orphan page is a page that doesn’t have any incoming internal links. Basically, neither search engines nor users can get to it from other pages of your website.
Even if search engines manage to find such pages through a sitemap or backlinks from other sites, they’ll still have difficulties defining their relevance and context. Thereby, orphan pages have much lower chances of getting high rankings.
A dead-end page is a page that doesn’t have any outgoing internal links. When users and search engines land on a dead-end page, they can only go back to the previous page or leave the site altogether.
Both of these types of pages cause major on-page optimization issues as they prevent efficient link distribution and worsen the user experience.
Dead-ends can be easily found using an SEO crawler. Orphans are more difficult to spot, and you may need to compare data from several sources like your SEO crawler, Search Console and Google Analytics.
Then, to fix these issues, just add internal links either from or to other pages on your site.
2. Fix Links to Broken Pages and Irrelevant Redirects
I hope everyone knows the danger of broken links. They undermine user experience, waste your crawl budget and burn link juice.
When you link to a broken page, other links from the donor page become less valuable and the target page doesn’t receive its link weight. This is a hole in your cup.
On the other hand, internal links to redirected pages is more of a tricky case.
At first glance, you may think it isn’t an issue—and you’d be almost right. If a redirect works well and takes users to the desired page, then it’s 100% okay.
But there are cases when a redirect may have been set to an irrelevant page, which is a mistake if it’s not a temporary redirect.
For instance, you might have a link in an old article pointing to a relevant page which, for some reason, now redirects to the homepage. In this case, a user following this link will be confused, and Google will not pass link juice.
Redirects can also lead to broken pages, or take users back to the page the link is located on.
Find and replace all broken links on your site and try to avoid internal links to redirects. Why make users and search bots take more steps (as well as increase page load time and waste crawl budget) when you can simply link straight to the final redirected page?
3. Link to the Most Important Pages from the Homepage
In 99% of cases, the homepage is the most linked-to page on a website.
Don’t believe me? You can check for yourself by firing up your Monitor Backlinks account and looking at your “Top Linked” report.
Moreover, all internal pages usually link to the homepage as well, through the navigation menu or logo. Such a combo makes the homepage the ultimate accumulator of link weight, thus outgoing links from it are the most powerful.
So, use homepage links thoughtfully.
Link only to your most important pages, like hub pages, landing pages where you sell your products or services, or your blog. Otherwise, you can easily devalue your homepage links if you over-use them.
Keep in mind that link weight is equally divided among all the links on a page. The more links you have on a page, the less weight each of them gets.
4. Sprinkle Contextual Links Throughout Your Site
Contextual backlinks are considered to be the most effective type of backlink for SEO. If they’re surrounded by relevant content, both users and search engines will highly appreciate such links.
The same goes with internal linking. But in this case, you have full control over link placement. If done correctly, such interlinking will increase the time users spend on your site and improve link weight distribution.
When creating a new post on your blog, get into a habit of adding relevant contextual links to other pages on your site.
We conducted an experiment over at Netpeak Software, adding relevant contextual links to our blog posts pointing to four other pages on our blog. The result wasn’t long in coming!
A couple of don’ts:
- Don’t use automation. It never looks natural. Just don’t do it unless you have a huge wiki-type website.
- Don’t over-use contextual links (relevance is important). Linking to an irrelevant page just because its title contains the keyword you want to use as an anchor is useless.
5. Use Descriptive Anchors
Anchor text plays a significant role in user experience and helps search engine robots navigate your site.
Google recommends paying attention to the anchor text of internal links just as much as you do to external links.
John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, has also proven its importance.
Most links do provide a bit of additional context through their anchor text. At least they should, right‽
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) November 23, 2017
Here are a few main tips for internal link anchor text optimization:
- Make it descriptive. Use more than one word.
- Make it unique. Don’t use the same anchor text linking to different pages.
- Use keywords relevant to the target page. But remember—no stuffing!
Here’s a great example of proper anchor text in internal links:
6. Extract Juice from Your Backlinks to the Fullest Extent
Now that your internal linking game is strong, you’ll be able to get the most weight from your backlinks.
Most of the previous steps can also be applied to backlinks to better optimize them (because remember that PageRank transferring works in a similar way for both internal and external links).
Here’s what else you can do to make the most of your backlinks:
a. Get backlinks from pages with fewer outgoing links
In general, backlinks from pages containing hundreds of links to other sites are less powerful.
For example, let’s assume a page has a PageRank of 1 and has 100 outgoing links. In this case, each link will get only 0.01 of the link weight (all other things being equal).
Consequently, the fewer outgoing links a page has, the more link weight you get from a backlink on that page.
Links from resource pages, directories and the like provide much less value than contextual links. When search engines find a link among dozens of other random links with no context, the chances that they’ll consider it are really low.
b. Get backlinks in prominent spots
Google representatives have stated several times that links placed in footers or sidebars have much less value than links in the main content area.
Moreover, it looks very unnatural if you have a backlink from another website’s footer or sidebar. Usually, these types of links are used by black hat SEOs—and search engines know it.
Since search engine robots crawl pages from top to bottom, the most powerful place for a backlink is in the upper half of the content area. A prominent location like this also increases the chances that users will see it and click on it.
If you’re building links not only for the sake of having more backlinks but also to drive traffic to your site, then pay attention to where you place them.
c. Don’t focus only on homepage backlinks
Having homepage backlinks with branded anchors is an essential part of building a brand in the eyes of search engines. But they’re not enough for a quality backlink profile.
Instead, strengthen your hub pages with more backlinks and they’ll transfer more link weight to deeper pages of your site.
For example, let’s take two blog categories: A and B. If you build backlinks to category A, it will transfer more weight to its blog posts, and they’ll be more likely to rank high than the blog posts in category B.
And, if interlinked correctly, these blog posts will also transfer link weight among themselves, creating a powerful entity powered by both internal links and backlinks.
d. Make sure your backlinks are followed
Due to constant manipulations of PageRank and backlink spam, the rel=”nofollow” attribute was created to tell Google not to follow the link. Essentially, link weight won’t be passed if a link is nofollowed.
To check whether a link has this attribute, right-click on the link in question and click “Inspect.” If you see something similar to <a href=”link” rel=”nofollow”>anchor</a>, then the link is not passing its weight.
Monitor Backlinks also makes it really easy to check the followed status of your backlinks.
In the “Your Links” section, filter your backlinks by status. Followed links will appear with a green F, and nofollowed links will appear with an orange NF.
Grab a free trial of Monitor Backlinks here to see this handy backlink monitoring and management tool in action.
When you’ve found your nofollow links, there’s unfortunately not much you can do to make them followed except to reach out to the webmaster who placed the link.
In most cases, website owners won’t budge on their decision. But you might be lucky if you’re ready to give them something in return—for instance, promote their site on social media, feature them in your newsletter, etc.
Internal Linking SEO Wrap-up
In order to get the most benefit from your backlinks, you need to prepare the ground first.
Now you know how to keep the link juice on your site, and get even more with your strongest backlinks.
What are you waiting for? Go for it!
Anton is a Content Marketer at Netpeak Software. Besides his interest in SEO and content marketing, he also loves cycling, reading and traveling. Feel free to drop him a line on Facebook (ant0n.yany) or LinkedIn (anton-yany).