An internal link is one that points to another page on the same website, whereas an external link points to one on another website entirely. The internal link structure of your website is important for two reasons: it helps your visitors to better navigate your website to find the content that they’re looking for, and it helps the search engine crawlers to understand the structure and content of your website. Internal links are usually displayed as keywords rather than a link itself, since words are far more user-friendly, and they fit better with the rest of the content. The descriptive keywords used in place of the link are known as anchor text.
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Why Are Internal Links Important?
Internal links are important for three primary reasons:
- They help both your visitors and the search engine crawlers to more effectively navigate around your website.
- They help to more evenly spread ranking power around a website by telling the search engine crawlers which content is most important.
- They help to establish a content hierarchy for your website in the form of a pyramid with your homepage at the top.
Even before you start planning your external link building strategy, your internal linking helps to build up a foundation for your entire search engine optimization efforts. For example, the more internal links are pointing to a webpage, the more important it will look to the search engines. However, in most cases, your homepage will be the most important page, hence the reason why most websites have an internal link directly back to the homepage on every page of the website.
Perhaps one of the best examples of internal linking is Wikipedia, where you’ll notice that the vast majority of articles have numerous links in them pointing to other pages and citations that the reader might find interesting.
Best Practices for Internal Linking
Internal linking should primarily exist to help your visitors, with the SEO being of secondary importance. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the most important factors that you should consider when building an internal link structure for your website.
- Only add internal links that are likely to be useful to your readers, and make sure that they are user-friendly by accompanying them with suitable anchor text. Recent Google algorithm updates have started to penalise websites that make excessive use of keyword-rich anchor text. Instead, your anchor text should flow naturally with the content rather than focussing on keywords.
- Ensure that all of your links work, since broken links will annoy your visitors and harm your SEO efforts. There are countless free and paid tools online that can scan your website for any links that no longer work, including external links pointing to websites or webpages that don’t exist.
- In some cases, it is better to have the search engine crawlers ignore a link, and this is made possible by using the nofollow tag in your HTML. You should use the nofollow tag with internal links that link to less important pages and pages that you don’t want being ranked. The nofollow tag should also be used for links that point to pages that are not accessible to the search engines, such as those behind login pages.
- As a general rule, try to have more internal links pointing to the most important pages of your website, since the search engines partly use your internal link profile as a way to determine which pages of your website are the most important.
The search engine crawlers cannot scan over certain types of content, so keep this in mind when building up your internal linking structure. Links that will effectively be hidden from the search engines, regardless of whether or not they’re using the nofollow tag include the following:
- Links in content programmed using Java, Flash or other plugins.
- Links pointing to pages that have been blocked using robots.txt.
- Links that are only accessible through submission forms or search boxes.
- Links on pages that have more than around 150 links per page.
Likewise, when linking to pages such as those specified above, consider using the nofollow tag in order to avoid crawling problems.
While internal links are undoubtedly important for SEO as well as for your visitors, many people fail to use them correctly. Provided that you place the emphasis on user experience, while also taking into account the various limitations of the search engine crawlers, you should be able to set up a solid internal link structure for your website.