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Internal linking is a basic, yet often underrated form of SEO — especially in a world where marketers are busy getting their strategy right for niche hacks like image SEO.

However to stay competitive you have to return to the basics in order to get a leg up on your competitors. 

Understanding Internal Linking 

It seems pretty obvious and for the most part it is. Any link that points to an internal location within your domain is an internal link. "As opposed to the more popularized and familiar external hyperlinks," explains Chris Long, architectural SEO manager at Go Fish Digital, "internal hyperlinks are links that point from one web page to another within the same domain." 

Long says internal links help establish the structure of a website and mostly appear within the main navigation, sidebar and footer. The most vital internal links for Google, however, are contextual; Links within content that have relevant anchor text.

Related Article: How to Outrank Your Competition With a Smart Image SEO Strategy

Why Are Internal Links Important for SEO?

While internal links make site navigation user-friendly, they also have SEO benefits. "From an SEO perspective, [internal links] give a webmaster the ability to make it clear to Google which pages offer information and which pages are more transactionally led," said Simon Ensor, managing director of Yellowball. Internal links allow Google to understand the structure of your website and which pages have the most value.

According to Yoast, internal links help search engines, such as Google, understand:

  • The relevance of pages.
  • The relationship between pages.
  • The value of pages.

5 Ways to Kickstart an Internal Linking Strategy

Experts share several suggestions on how to improve your site's internal links, while enhancing the user experience and increasing SEO ranking.

1. Improve the Site Hierarchy

When setting up an internal link strategy, Long says "the first step would be to perform a simulated crawl of a website." You need to get an understanding of how the site is currently structured.

Then you want to adjust the site structure to push readers towards deeper, more relevant pages. "When visiting a site," Long explained, "internal linking should be intuitive from a hierarchical standpoint so that users are able to easily funnel down into a site's 'core' pages." He said you should distribute the links in a cascading manner so that there are more unique links on essential pages and the page authority is shared throughout your site.

2. Fix Your Links

You should audit your website links occasionally to fix broken links and amend links that have been 301 redirected to other pages. "Unless you have a considerable amount of broken links, or a complete lack of internal links, you are unlikely to see a significant impact on rankings as a result of auditing (and fixing) them," Ensor said. However, he added that you'll have a better user experience and flow that could lead to more conversions. 

The anchor text of your internal links is also essential. "Your anchor text should be logical and it shouldn't be the same each time you link to that page," said Laura English, copy & content lead at Sonder. You want to avoid using generic call-to-actions and should choose anchor text that's both interesting to the reader and has relevant keywords as well.

3. Point to Relevant Pages

"In the case of internal links," suggests Ensor, "you should always be asking yourself if the link is useful to the user." You want the internal links within content to point towards pages that are a natural progression to view next. 

You don't want to include as many links as possible on each page to bolster SEO rankings. "If an excessive number of internal links point to an unimportant, low ranking and low trafficked page,” says Long, “a crawler might slow its crawl down of the remainder of the site."

4. Help Search Crawlers

Make sure your content follows basic SEO techniques. English explains that your content "should be focused on scattering extra keywords, strategically getting at least two internal links in, and potentially gaining backlinks to that piece of content."

You also want your website to avoid a complex structure. Long suggests you "try to keep the 'crawl depth' of a site's hierarchy to 3/4 layers deep." If the search engine bots have to move down too many levels, they could be more likely to end their crawl of the site. "Internal hyperlinks directly influence a search engine bot's crawl budget, i.e. how long and how many pages a search engine bot will crawl a given website," Long said.

5. Keep it Natural

"Always keep it natural and contextual," English said. While you're hoping for higher page rankings when publishing content, you should make sure the content is relevant for your site visitors. 

While an internal linking strategy is crucial for SEO, English stressed that, "everything should be for humans before Google — if you don't have human interaction you won't have Google's either."

6. Consider a Company Blog

Having a regularly updated blog is another authentic way to build internal links, as sites that have a blog, for example, on average have 434% more search engine-indexed pages than those that don't.