Every business on the planet wants their website to rank number one for every keyword that relates to their business.
And why not? Billions of users turn to Google on a daily basis to answer their questions or find what they’re looking for.
A problem, however, lies in the simple fact that the internet is a huge place. Even Google only remains the top search engine worldwide because it quickly and consistently provides value to users. If Google didn’t efficiently serve users content highly relevant to their search queries, people just wouldn’t use it.
Though Google’s algorithm continues to be opaque, we know that clear, consistent web design matters more than ever. The foundation of your website is the content, but the connective tissue is the internal link.
What is an internal link?
An internal link is created when a link is added from one page on a website to another page on the same website.
Say you own a sporting goods ecommerce site that points you to the company blog. On that blog, there is a post compiling the top 10 basketball shoes. Since each shoe is available for purchase on the site, you post a direct link to each individual product page in an effort to turn readers into potential customers.
These are all internal links because they share the same root domain.
Basically, any link on a page that takes a user to a different page on the same website is considered an internal link.
Why are internal links important?
Internal links are usually much easier to create and manage than external backlinks, which are created when another website links out from their domain to anywhere else on the web.
Because of their simplicity, they are often overlooked. But internal links can have a huge impact on your site’s rankings and performance in organic search.
Do internal links help SEO?
Not only can a defined internal link structure contribute to a positive, intuitive user experience, but Google can also better understand the content on a site with clear, ordered internal links.
Once Google has a greater understanding of the relevance of the content on your site, it can rank your content higher.
It’s no coincidence that Search Console has a report specifically dedicated to internal links.
The internet is gigantic and is growing every day. The service that Google provides is a simplified way to navigate this seemingly infinite space by providing pages that are relevant to user searches. Before search engines like Google, the best way to navigate the web was to use directory services that categorized websites by content type (think Yellow Pages). A few of these directories still exist, but they are simply too large to be useful.
How many internal links is best?
Conventional wisdom among SEOs is that the optimum number follows this easy guide: every long form piece of content should have around 3-4 internal links, with an additional link per 300 words or so. These are loose guidelines and more or fewer links might make sense depending on the content itself. If you ever have a question about what to do with your SEO content, ask yourself if it’s improving the user experience. If it’s not useful, don’t do it. Having said that, there’s another way to ask the question of how many links.
What’s the difference between outgoing and incoming internal links?
Every link on a page that goes to a different page, no matter whether that page is internal or external, is called an “outgoing” link. If this sounds like every link on a given page, you’d be right! Every hypertext link we make is considered an “outgoing” link.
An incoming internal link refers to links that come from elsewhere to a given page. Therefore, the subject of our next section is these “incoming” links.
How many incoming internal links should my page have?
For most websites, and for most pages on those websites, the optimum number of links that point back to your content should be around 20. As with everything else related to SEO, this number will get slightly smaller or larger depending on the size of your site.
The tool we use on our travels through the valleys of SEO, SEMRush, has a bunch of tools we can use to see the entire link architecture of a website (some of which also include external links). You can get a succinct internal linking score that gives you an overall target to aim for, while also including a series of suggestions for how you can improve your website’s score. A high score equals a good link profile, and any SEO tool with its price will have something similar.
As you see in the above example screenshot, the example website has an internal linking score of 71% overall, with a whole bunch of major issues presented for us, the stewards of the web, to fix. And that’s not even the whole list!
Another tool we use is Yoast SEO‘s integration with WordPress. It’s a handy way to do a lot of different SEO operations, often allowing us to see the parts of our pages that have the most impact on our organic rankings. If you don’t believe us about how important internal links are, you can believe Yoast–you can see, at a glance, exactly how many outgoing and incoming internal links each of your blog posts currently has, like so:
Those two icons on the right? Those are internal links. You can even sort your pages by the information in those columns so you know which blogs have the most (or least) internal links flowing into them and flowing out.
As you get to know what your link setup looks like, you will start to see a pattern emerge. This pattern of links is called the hierarchy.
The hierarchy of a website is important because it lets a user understand where they are on your site. Most websites are not single-page sites and therefore require some sort of directory-like structure for their content. Information is best understood when categorized into groups of similar pages. If your website does not have a logical grouping of content, Google’s site crawlers may not be able to properly discover and index all your web pages. More importantly, users will likely struggle to navigate your site and quickly bounce.
Websites tend to fall under one of two hierarchical content grouping formations: flat and deep hierarchies.
A flat hierarchy is a website that has a larger number of categories than sub-categories. This type of web site is said to be “wider than it is tall,” in terms of graphical link structure.
A deep website hierarchy is a website that is organized into many sub-levels of information. Content is said to be more discoverable when it’s not hidden under multiple hierarchical layers. Deep hierarchy website structures are considered more difficult to use. This is likely due to how the human brain stores information and processes location.
Both types of websites can utilize a home page, which acts as a high-level information hub. In a flat hierarchy, a larger portion of the website’s content is understood when examining links from the home page. This is not only because there are more links from the home page, but also because those links do not lead to multiple sub-levels of information. This is compared to a deep hierarchy structure where the index page links to high-level categories of information that then link to more high-level categories of information.
Your website’s internal links and anchor text are essential to search engine optimization (SEO). Especially when a website is newly developed, these links will be the only links to your website’s pages and are pivotal to Google’s understanding of your website content. Within the Google Search Console, there is even a tool that analyzes your internal links to show you which of your pages you link to the most. In general, every page of a website has the same header menu, top menu, and sidebar if there is one. Therefore, the number of links to each page of a website is typically approximately even. The hypertext that links from each menu to a category page should be descriptive of that category. Google uses this hypertext as an indication of what type of information is contained in the linked page (this is of course not the only method they use to determine page content, but it is a factor).
So spamming tons of internal links is the answer, right? Not exactly. I recommend only linking pages when it seems natural. Performing historical SEO by going through old pages and blog posts and looking for internal link opportunities is highly recommended here. It is also important to try to diversify the hyperlink text leading to each page. As it pertains to link spam, in technical terms, Google is advanced enough to cross-check page relevancy by comparing the semantic distance between linked entities within the semantic web. In layman’s terms, don’t spam links.
Google ranks pages, not web sites. While it is important to remember that domain rank is a dated metric, its core ideology is still in use and highly relevant today. This is easy to prove. In my 8-year experience in the SEO realm, I have never seen a website that ranks highly for a highly trafficked query and doesn’t rank for any other queries. Clearly domain authority has some effect here.
Although PageRank often cannot fully explain a website’s keyword rankings, it is a very good indication of where a website has the potential to rank. Since the original PageRank algorithm was largely released to the public by Google, it is possible to determine a numerical approximation for if the potential of each domain and page to appear in search results. The most popular tool for determining page rank today is the Mozbar and is one of many important tools in our SEO arsenal. Other commonly used web browser extensions for determining domain rank or domain authority include Ubersuggest, SEOquake, and the Ahrefs SEO toolbar.
Other Questions About Internal Links
Let’s sum up some of what we covered, and maybe address some other concerns that don’t fit neatly into the above categories.
If I wasn’t clear about this before, let me address it more directly here: yes! Internal links help SEO in a big way.
This video provides an overview of why expertise, authority, and trustworthiness matter for SEO. Plus, Justin provides actionable tips to handle the contact info your site and the author info on your blog.
Internal Links are Important
Google organizes the web in an automated fashion. To do this, it must use factors pulled directly from your website, internal links being one of the more important of those factors. If you are seeing a large drop-off of site visitors, a high percent exit on certain pages, or low goal completion rates, you should consider re-evaluating and optimizing your internal link structure.
Interested in discovering more ways to improve the search optimization of your site? Contact us for an SEO audit or check out any of these helpful resources written by our team below: