Internal linking is the most overlooked and undervalued tactic in all of search engine optimization (SEO). What many search marketers don't realize is that you can often get just as much "SEO value" from internal links placed on high-value pages on your own site as you can from inbound links.
Internal linking also promotes healthy link equity flow throughout a site, allows you to strategically channel link juice to target landing pages, lifts deep pages higher up in the site structure, and improves usability and overall crawlability making it easier for users and engines to find your content. It's also far easier to structure your desired anchor text and secure priority on-page placement for internal versus inbound links.
When you start working with a new client, one of the first things that will move the needle is to develop and implement an internal linking strategy. Here are nine tactics to get you started.
1. Tap the Most Linked-to Pages
For a new internal linking strategy, start by going to Open Site Explorer. Grab a list of the most linked to (and most authoritative) pages on a client site and drop links on those pages to my "SEO landing pages," (i.e., pages you're targeting specifically for organic traffic). Theoretically those pages are the biggest reservoirs of link equity, and your goal is to harness and effectively distribute the flow of link juice.
2. Interlink All Your Target SEO Landing Pages
It's a good idea to scale your link building efforts as much as possible. Interlinking all the target SEO landing pages on a website is a great way to scale because each time you build an inbound link to one SEO landing page, that link equity subsequently flows to your other SEO landing pages, thereby multiplying your efforts. The easiest way to interlink SEO landing pages is to add a list of "related links" at the end of a page or in a sidebar.
3. Drop Links on the Home Page
The home page is often the most linked to page on a website, so it should be a prime target for tapping equity. Also, anything linked to internally from the home page sends a pretty strong trust and authority signal to the engines that your organization places high value on those pages.
Politics within companies can make adding a home page link impossible at times. But if you run into resistance, you can often sell the concept by suggesting the links live below the fold in a discreet "resources" or "top searches" sidebar content block. Granted, that's not as strong a signal as above the fold, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.
4. Drop Links on Pages Higher in the Information Architecture
Pages that are high in the information architecture (IA) may or may not be the most linked to pages on a site, but they're only a click away from the home page. This means that a higher percentage of the link equity from the home page flows to these pages. What's more, adding links here helps move deeper pages of content higher up the IA ladder.
5. Look for Unconventional Places to Grab Links
6. Use the Footer
There's debate over whether Google devalues footer links. To me, footer links are inherently "less valuable" given their position on a page, which sends a signal to both engines and users that these pages or a lower priority.
That said, while links to "external sites" in the footer may be devalued, links to "internal pages" definitely pass value (how much is debatable and differs site to site). Implement dynamic footers across your site to make this region more interesting to engines.
7. Use Breadcrumbs
For most, breadcrumbs are a navigational tool, allowing users to return to a previous page without hitting the back button or truncating the URL. However, breadcrumbs are great for internal linking. Not only can you flow equity between pages, but you can use anchor text to send a relevance signal where it makes sense.
8. Don't Ignore the Blog!
Blogs and aged blog content are prime source of pooled link equity, so it's important that you don't overlook the blog in your internal linking strategy. To flow equity throughout the blog, you can use related post plugins, top post widgets in the sidebar, categories, breadcrumbs and better pagination.
You can also leverage the blog to push equity and PageRank over to your sales or services pages on your main site, since those "money pages" can often be "link poor" and need some added link juice and keyword relevance to goose them higher in the SERPs. Find aged blog content with links and authority and use Open Site Explorer to pull a report of top blog URLs to siphon link juice from.
9. Create an Internal Linking Dashboard
Keep a journal of all your internal linking activity. Having a record of your linking efforts comes in really handy if you want to revisit and revise preexisting link text on a site (say, for example, you decide to shift keyword targeting strategies for a group of pages, or we find that certain keywords convert better than others, etc).
The link log also helps you keep track of which pages have already been "linked up" and which ones are still "virgin ground." Some of the data points you can track in your internal link log include:
- Which pages on a site you've added internal links on.
- How many internal links I've added to a page - too many links on a page dilutes the amount of equity passed to each link and can look noisy/spammy to the user.
- Which anchor text and link text variations were used.
- Number of times each instance of link text was used.
In addition, track the dates the links were added, potential SERP position of the dates the links were added, and any subsequent ranking flux that occurs, which helps gauge the efficacy of internal linking on a page-by-page and even a site-by-site basis. Note: you can also import internal link data from the Webmaster Tools internal link dashboard to create a similar link log, but it can be a little messy, so you'll need scrub, organize and customize it based on your preferences and goals.