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2022

How Internal Linking Strategies Work

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If certain content on your site gets lots and lots of internal links, search engine bots know it must be important in the context of your site, so it’ll make crawling that content often a priority.

Conversely, if a piece of content gets only one or two internal links—especially if they’re just sidebar or footer links, though navigational links can certainly be powerful if used the right way—the bots will logically decide that the content must not be that important.

So there’s less of a need for them to crawl it, right?

Fortunately, you have control over this.

That’s why when you organize the structure of your website, the way you internally link pages to one another is extremely important.

By being strategic with your internal links (and having an overall plan for how it will be done—something most websites lack) you can control how search engines perceive:

  1. The relevance of individual pieces of content;
  2. How pages on your site are related to each other;
  3. Ultimately, the relative “value” of various content on your site.

Coming up with the optimal internal linking strategy for your site involves a lot of factors, but you can get started by deciding what the most important content on your site is.

In other words, what do you most want people to find when they’re searching?

(Hint: It’s probably not your Privacy Policy, but you’d be surprised how many of these are ranked higher than supposed “landing pages” on business sites—simply because there’s zero internal link strategy at work.)

However, you likely have more than one page that is “the most important,” especially if your business sells several types of products or provides several different kinds of services. In this case, you may want to decide on several important pieces of “hub” content, rather than thinking of the entire site structure as a pyramid leading to a single page.

In either situation, as you probably guessed, the most important content needs to have the lion’s share(s) of internal links.

Unfortunately, that’s not all there is to it—but it’s a starting point for coming up with an overarching internal link strategy.

Just like incoming external links pass authority to your site’s content, internal links can pass juice across different pages within your own site.

The authority from the referring page isn’t lost in the “transaction” of the link, so in a way, you’re able to create more authority simply by linking across your own related content.

It’s a small amount compared to being linked to from a highly authoritative outside page but still cool nonetheless.

You can see how you could, for example, reflect some authority from a less important blog post that got linked to by quality outside sources to a different page by having the blog post link to the more “important” content that you really want to rank higher.

There are lots of ways to think of this—you can think of your important hub content as being at the center of a cluster diagram, with less “important” content all linking to the center like spokes on a tire, and even less important content linking to those.

You can also think of these clusters as separate “content silos” with different levels of importance based on whether they’re located in the top, middle, or bottom of the silo instead—it doesn’t change the structure at all, these are just two of the more common ways the same idealized internal link structure can be described or visualized.

I say idealized because, in general, you don’t want a ton of linkage across these content silos or clusters—but some thoughtful cross-linking is perfectly okay.

I’m going to break with some others in the SEO field here and say that it’s honestly ideal—not to be avoided like the plague, as some self-proclaimed gurus might over-react.

I mean, it’s unlikely that your company offers products or services that are fundamentally and wholly unrelated to one another—without having multiple, separate websites. So go ahead and link between silos, as long as you’re doing it naturally and thoughtfully.

Organizing site content with content silos/clusters doesn’t always look like this literally—it’s not always organized into directories and subdirectories like this, but it can be:

  • pets.dotcom/dogs/
  • pets.dotcom/dogs/sporting-dogs/
  • pets.dotcom/dogs/sporting-dogs/labrador-retriever/

This is basically the kind of structure you want your site’s content to be organized within.

Whether it’s physically organized in directories like the example above, or especially if you’re just using virtual silos, internal linking is key to actually building that structure; letting search engines, as well as your visitors, understand what’s important, and how to get to it.

There are two basic types of internal links that you can use strategically for SEO purposes:

Navigational Links – These make up your site’s main navigational structure, and as such they’re usually implemented site-wide. Think header links, footer links, and—with increasing rarity due to most web traffic being mobile these days—sidebars.

Contextual Internal Links – links contained within the main body text, the “meat” of your content—aren’t just good for helping visitors on your site easily click (or tap) between related content. Done right, they’re also excellent for indicating to search engines that the content being linked to has some importance.

Linking using contextual links can be overdone, however—quite easily.

Like all things Google, there are no specific guidelines given for how much is too much.

But chances are if your content looks unnaturally overloaded with links to your visitors, to the point where it affects readability and usability, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

Bad internal link strategies are enough to get your site silently flagged by Google, and that’s not ideal from a business perspective.

So don’t just rush into your CMS and start linking everything to everything else thinking you’re creating a bunch of authority. That would be bad.

An in-depth understanding of the different types of links and how they work can help you get the best results from your internal linking and overall search engine optimization strategy.

In addition, understanding what content is truly the most important to direct visitors to is key to any of this working for your business. Much like it’s hard for a filmmaker to edit their own film, it’s far too easy for business owners to fall into the trap of choosing too many separate “hub” pages they want to rank, especially when they love all of their company’s content.

If you do fall into that trap, the bots that regularly crawl your site will struggle to figure out where the search engines should be directing your traffic. Without a clearly defined link structure, your content won’t rank. Still, it pays to be mindful—or to hire someone mindful—when you’re devising internal linking strategies to rank your content. With the right data, tools, and insight, you can roll out a strategy for maximum impact in your company’s search engine rankings.

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