Internal Linking Best Practices for Small Businesses: A Comprehensive Guide

 
By mark. Published December 28, 2023  

If you're a small business owner looking to improve your website's SEO performance, you've likely heard about internal linking best practices. However, it's often an overlooked exercise—either many small business owners don't see the value in it, or the developers of the site are inexperienced in internal linking. While much of the SEO focus tends to revolve around keyword optimization and backlinks from external sites, neglecting internal linking could be a costly mistake. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into practical tips and strategies for analyzing your website and implementing effective internal linking to provide full context to all your content.

Why Is Internal Linking Important?

Improved User Experience

Good internal linking doesn't just have SEO benefits; it significantly enhances the user experience on your website.

Below are some key ways how:

  1. 1
    Easier Navigation: Internal links act as a road map, helping users easily navigate your site. They guide users from general content to more specific information they might be interested in. A well-structured internal linking strategy makes your site more user-friendly, thereby encouraging users to spend more time exploring.
  2. 2
    Contextual Information: Internal links can provide context to the content you’re displaying. For example, if you mention a complex term or topic, linking to a detailed post about it can help users gain a deeper understanding without having to leave your site. This adds value to the user, making your site a resourceful hub of information.
  3. 3
    Reduced Bounce Rate: When users find what they're looking for easily or are guided to related content through internal links, they're less likely to 'bounce' back to search results. Lower bounce rates signal to search engines that your site is valuable, which can, in turn, positively affect your rankings.
  4. 4
    Encourages Content Exploration: Strategic internal linking can lead users to older but still relevant posts, or to less visible pages that you want to highlight. By introducing readers to additional valuable content, you encourage them to explore more of your website. This increased engagement can lead to higher conversion rates, whether it’s making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or taking some other action.

By enhancing user experience through smart internal linking, you’re not just keeping your readers happy; you're also sending positive signals to search engines about your site’s relevance and quality. Thus, a good internal linking strategy serves dual purposes: it’s good for both your users and your SEO.

SEO Benefits

While internal linking is often thought of for its role in enhancing user experience, its direct impact on SEO cannot be overstated.

Here's why internal linking matters for your site's SEO:

  1. 1
    Enhanced Crawling and Indexing: Search engines use bots to crawl web pages, and internal links facilitate this process. Effective internal linking makes it easier for search engine bots to find new pages and index them. The faster and more efficiently these bots can crawl and index your pages, the quicker your new content will appear in search engine results.
  2. 2
    Improved Page Authority and Distribution of 'Link Juice': The concept of "link juice" refers to the value or authority that is passed from one page to another through links. High-authority pages can share their "link juice" with lower-authority pages through internal linking, thereby improving the latter's chances of ranking higher in search engine results.
  3. 3
    Keyword Ranking and Relevance: Using descriptive anchor text for internal links helps search engines understand the content and context of the linked page. This can boost the linked page’s relevance for the keywords in that anchor text, potentially improving its search rankings.
  4. 4
    Reduced Bounce Rate: Just like in improving user experience, a lower bounce rate has SEO benefits as well. Search engines consider a high bounce rate as a signal that a website may not offer value, which could adversely affect its rankings. Well-placed, relevant internal links can keep users engaged longer, thus lowering the bounce rate.
  5. 5
    Strengthening Website Architecture: A well-thought-out internal linking strategy can create a strong website architecture, making it easier for search engines to understand the hierarchical relationship between different pages on your site. This clear architecture can benefit your site’s SEO as search engines can better understand what content is most important and relevant.
  6. 6
    Better Control Over Crawling Budget: Search engines allocate a specific crawling budget to each website, representing the number of pages they will crawl in a given timeframe. Efficient internal linking ensures that critical pages get crawled and indexed, making the most of your allocated crawling budget.

The benefits of internal linking for SEO are multi-faceted. They help in easier and faster crawling and indexing, improved page authority, and better rankings for keywords. When executed effectively, internal linking can significantly enhance your site's search engine performance.

Analyzing Your Website for Internal Linking Opportunities

Perform a Site Audit

Before diving into internal linking, perform a site audit to identify your website's current internal linking structure. It helps you understand the current state of your website's internal linking structure and identify areas for improvement.

Here's how to go about it:

  1. 1
    Choose the Right Tools: There are various tools available that can help you perform a detailed site audit. Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, and Google Search Console are popular options. Choose one that aligns with your needs and budget.
  2. 2
    Crawl Your Website: Start by crawling your entire website to collect data on your existing internal links, broken links, redirect chains, and orphan pages. Most audit tools will allow you to do this with ease. The information gathered will serve as the basis for your internal linking strategy.
  3. 3
    Analyze the Data: After crawling your website, you'll have a lot of data to sift through. Key things to look for include broken links that lead to non-existent pages, as these can harm both user experience and SEO. Also, check for redirect chains — sequences of multiple redirects — which can slow down your site and dilute link equity. Finally, identify orphan pages, which are pages that have no internal links pointing to them. These are hard to find for both users and search engines, making them a priority for improvement. This analysis will help you understand the current state of your internal linking and guide you in making data-driven decisions for improvements.
  4. 4
    Identify Key Metrics: Use the audit to identify key metrics like page authority, inbound and outbound links, click depth, and content quality. This data will help you prioritize which pages require immediate attention for internal linking.
  5. 5
    Document Your Findings: Create a spreadsheet or use project management software to document your findings. Organize the data in a way that makes it easy to refer back to during the internal linking process. This documentation will serve as a roadmap, helping you plan and implement your internal linking strategy effectively.
  6. 6
    Consult with Team Members: If you have a team working on your website or SEO, make sure to consult with them. Share your findings and discuss the best approach for implementing changes. The more eyes on the data, the more robust your strategy will be.

By performing a thorough site audit, you set the stage for an effective internal linking strategy. It allows you to pinpoint weaknesses and opportunities, helping you make data-driven decisions that can have a significant impact on your website's SEO performance.

Identify High-Authority Pages

High-authority pages are essentially the powerhouses of your website. These are the pages that have already gained traction in terms of SEO and are often the ones that attract the most traffic. Leveraging these pages can help you distribute 'link juice' more effectively across your site.

Here’s how to identify them:

  1. 1
    Use Analytics Tools: Google Analytics or similar analytics tools can show you which pages on your site are receiving the most traffic, have the longest dwell time, or are otherwise performing well. This is a good starting point for identifying high-authority pages.
  2. 2
    Check Backlink Profile: Another indicator of a page's authority is the number of quality external backlinks pointing to it. You can use tools like Ahrefs or Moz to check the backlink profile of different pages on your website.
  3. 3
    Evaluate On-Page Metrics: Consider other on-page metrics like social shares, comments, and conversion rates. High engagement levels are often a good indicator that a page is considered valuable by your audience, which in turn suggests it's a high-authority page.
  4. 4
    Examine Keyword Rankings: Look for pages that are already ranking well for important keywords relevant to your business. These pages have demonstrated that they have what search engines are looking for and can be considered high-authority from an SEO perspective.
  5. 5
    Prioritize for Internal Linking: Once you've identified these high-authority pages, prioritize them in your internal linking strategy. Use these pages to link to lower-authority or newer pages to distribute authority. Remember, the goal is to use these powerful pages as anchors that can pull up other content on your site.

By identifying and leveraging your high-authority pages, you’re not only making effective use of their existing SEO strength but also helping to boost the authority of other, less prominent pages on your site. It’s an efficient way to make your internal linking strategy work harder for you.

Locate Orphan Pages

Orphan pages are those that don't have any internal links pointing to them, making them difficult to discover for both users and search engines. These pages are essentially isolated from the rest of your website, which means they often go unnoticed and unindexed. Addressing orphan pages should be a priority in your internal linking strategy.

Here's how to locate and deal with them:

  1. 1
    Use Site Audit Tools: Specialized site audit tools like Screaming Frog or Ahrefs can crawl your website and identify orphan pages. These tools will give you a comprehensive list of pages that are not linked to from other parts of your website.
  2. 2
    Check Google Analytics: Another method is to check Google Analytics for pages that are receiving little to no traffic. These might be orphan pages, although it’s not a definitive indication.
  3. 3
    Manual Review: A manual review involves going through your website and checking if all important pages are accessible through the navigation menu or through links on other pages. This process can be time-consuming but is sometimes necessary for smaller websites or for double-checking.
  4. 4
    Implement Internal Links: Once you’ve identified orphan pages, the next step is to link to them from other relevant pages within your site. Make sure that these links are contextual and provide value to the user.
  5. 5
    Re-crawl and Monitor: After implementing internal links to orphan pages, re-crawl your website using your audit tool of choice to ensure that the changes have been effective. Continue to monitor these pages to see if they start receiving more traffic or improve in search rankings.

By locating and properly linking orphan pages, you integrate them into your site's structure, making them accessible to both users and search engines. This can significantly improve the page's chances of ranking well in search engine results and enhance the overall effectiveness of your internal linking strategy.

Implementing Effective Internal Linking

Use Descriptive Anchor Text

Anchor text, the technical term for the clickable text in a hyperlink, plays an important role in internal linking. Search engines use anchor text to understand the content and context of the linked page, which influences how the page is indexed and ranked. Thus, it's important to use descriptive and relevant anchor text.

Here's how to optimize your anchor text:

  1. 1
    Avoid Generic Text: Using generic phrases like "click here" or "read more" doesn't give search engines (or users) any information about what the linked page contains. Instead, aim for specific, descriptive phrases that clearly indicate the subject of the linked page.
  2. 2
    Use Relevant Keywords: Where applicable, include relevant keywords in your anchor text, but don't force it. The anchor text should naturally fit into the sentence or paragraph it's part of. Forcing keywords can make the text read unnaturally and could be seen as keyword stuffing, which search engines frown upon.
  3. 3
    Vary Your Anchor Text: Using the exact same anchor text for multiple links can look spammy to search engines and may diminish the value of those links. Try to diversify your anchor text while still keeping it descriptive and relevant. For example, instead of repeatedly using "SEO tips," you could use variations like "guidelines for better SEO" or "strategies for SEO optimization."
  4. 4
    Be Concise: While you want your anchor text to be descriptive, it's also important to keep it concise. Long anchor texts can be distracting and may look unnatural, which can be off-putting to readers.
  5. 5
    Don’t Over-Optimize: Over-optimizing your anchor text by stuffing it with keywords or making it overly complex can trigger search engines to view it as manipulative. This can result in penalties that negatively affect your site's search ranking.
  6. 6
    Test and Revise: As with any SEO strategy, it's important to test the effectiveness of your anchor text choices. Monitor how changes in anchor text affect user behavior and search rankings, and be prepared to make adjustments as needed.

By carefully choosing your anchor text, you can enhance both the user experience and the SEO effectiveness of your internal links. Descriptive and varied anchor text helps guide both users and search engines to the most relevant and authoritative content on your site.

Link Deep

The principle behind "linking deep" is straightforward: instead of just linking to your homepage or main category pages, link to pages that are buried deep within your site's structure. These are often specific blog posts, product pages, or other content that isn't easily accessible through your main navigation.

Deep linking helps distribute the "link juice" or page authority more evenly throughout your website, which can lead to an overall improvement in your site's SEO. It also aids in better crawling and indexing of your site’s deep pages, making them more likely to appear in search engine results.

Here's how to effectively implement deep linking:

  1. 1
    Context Matters: When adding deep links, it's crucial that they are contextually relevant to the content on the page where they are placed. For instance, if you have a blog post about "Tips for First-Time Homebuyers," you could deep link to a specific property listing that’s ideal for first-time buyers, or to an article that explains mortgage options for first-time buyers in more depth. This adds value to the reader and makes the internal link more effective. By ensuring the context is relevant, you're making the link more useful to your visitors, which can lead to better engagement and potential conversion.
  2. 2
    Use Descriptive Anchor Text: As mentioned earlier, the anchor text you use should be descriptive and relevant to the page you're linking to. This enhances user experience and provides search engines with context for better indexing.
  3. 3
    Check Load Times: Deep pages with heavy images, videos, or scripts can have longer load times, which can negatively impact user experience and SEO. Before linking to them, ensure they are well-optimized for speed.
  4. 4
    Monitor and Adjust: After you've added your deep links, it's important to monitor their performance using analytics tools. Check metrics like click-through rate, time spent on the linked page, and how it affects the page’s search ranking. Be prepared to make adjustments if the deep links aren’t performing as expected.

By implementing a strategy that includes deep linking, you’re effectively extending the reach of your high-authority pages to boost the authority and visibility of deeper, less-accessible content. This can lead to a more balanced and effective internal linking structure that benefits your entire website.

Follow a Hierarchical Structure

A well-thought-out hierarchical structure is key to effective internal linking. This structure makes it easier for search engines to crawl your site and for users to navigate it. Essentially, you want to create a clear, tree-like structure that starts with your homepage at the top and branches out to category pages, sub-category pages, and finally individual content pages.

Here is how to do it:

  1. 1
    Start with a Site Map: Before you even begin with internal linking, create a site map that outlines how different pages are connected within your site. This visual aid will help you understand the current structure and identify opportunities for internal linking.
  2. 2
    Main Categories: Your main categories should be the first level of branching out from the home page. These are typically the pages that are accessible directly from your main navigation menu. They serve as a gateway to more specific content and should be high-authority pages that cover broad topics relevant to your site.
  3. 3
    Sub-Categories and Individual Pages: Under each main category, you'll have sub-categories and individual content pages. These should be linked in a way that makes logical sense and enhances the user experience. For example, in a real estate website, a main category could be "Residential Properties," with sub-categories like "Apartments," "Houses," and "Condos," and individual listings or articles under each.
  4. 4
    Use Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs are navigational aids that show users their path from the homepage to the page they’re currently viewing. They not only help users navigate your site but also provide additional internal linking opportunities and help search engines understand your site structure.
  5. 5
    Consistent Navigation: Consistent navigation menus and footer links can support your hierarchical structure. However, these shouldn't be the only internal links on your site. Contextual, in-content links often carry more weight and are more engaging for users.
  6. 6
    Test and Revise: After you've implemented your hierarchical structure, it's crucial to test its effectiveness. Use analytics to monitor user behavior and make adjustments as necessary. Look at metrics like bounce rate, time on page, and conversion rates to gauge the impact of your internal linking on user engagement.

A well-planned hierarchical structure simplifies the task of effective internal linking. It helps guide both your users and search engines through your site in a way that is intuitive and contributes positively to your SEO efforts.

Use Dofollow Links

In the context of internal linking, you'll encounter the terms "dofollow" and "nofollow" to describe the types of links you can use. "nofollow" links tell search engines not to follow a link or pass any 'link juice'. "dofollow" links allow search engines to follow them, leading to the linked page. This helps in spreading the link juice or authority from one page to another, thereby improving the SEO value of the linked page. For internal linking, this is usually what you want.

You can check whether a link is "dofollow" or "nofollow" by inspecting the HTML of the page. A "dofollow" link will not have any rel attribute specifying "nofollow." It would look like this in HTML:

<a href="your-linked-page.html">Linked Page</a>

while a "nofollow" link will look like this in HTML:

<a href="your-linked-page.html" rel="nofollow">Linked Page</a>

Here are some guidelines on these linking styles:

  1. 1
    When to Use Nofollow: There are specific cases where you might want to use "nofollow" links internally, such as for login pages or private policy pages, which you may not want to rank. However, these are exceptions rather than the rule for internal linking.
  2. 2
    Audit Existing Links: If you've been using "nofollow" links for internal linking, consider auditing your existing links to switch them to "dofollow," unless there's a good reason not to. Tools like Screaming Frog can help you quickly identify the types of links on your site.
  3. 3
    Monitoring Impact: After making the switch to "dofollow" links, monitor how this affects your SEO performance. Check for changes in page authority, how well linked pages are ranking, and other relevant metrics.

By using "dofollow" links for your internal linking, you’re allowing search engines to freely crawl and pass authority through your site, which is crucial for a well-executed SEO strategy. This straightforward adjustment can make a significant difference in how well your content performs in search engine rankings.

Be Mindful of Link Quantity

The number of internal links you place on a page is a critical factor that requires careful consideration. While internal linking is beneficial, overdoing it can have negative effects. Search engines consider the number of internal links pointing to a page when determining its importance relative to other pages on your site. However, stuffing a page with too many links can dilute this effect and could make the page look spammy to both search engines and users.

Here is some guidance on how to strike the right balance:

  1. 1
    Establish a Baseline: There's no strict rule for the 'correct' number of internal links to include on a page, but a good baseline might be to aim for 3-5 internal links for every 500 words of content. The focus should be on providing value to the reader rather than on hitting a specific number.
  2. 2
    Quality Over Quantity: The quality of your internal links is far more important than quantity. Each link should be contextually relevant and offer real value to your readers. If a link doesn’t meet these criteria, it's probably better to leave it out.
  3. 3
    Text-to-Link Ratio: Another useful metric is the text-to-link ratio, which is the amount of text in comparison to the number of links on a page. A low text-to-link ratio (i.e., too many links compared to the amount of text) can raise red flags for search engines and may negatively impact SEO.
  4. 4
    Review and Revise: After you've implemented your internal links, it’s important to review their impact. Use analytics tools to examine metrics like bounce rates, average session duration, and user engagement levels. If you find that pages with a high number of internal links are performing poorly, you may need to reassess your strategy.
  5. 5
    Test Different Approaches: Don't hesitate to experiment with different numbers of internal links to find what works best for your specific content and audience. A/B testing can provide insights into how minor changes in link quantity can affect user behavior and SEO metrics.

By being mindful of link quantity, you can avoid the pitfalls of over-linking while still making the most of the SEO benefits that a well-executed internal linking strategy can provide.

Update Old Content

Regularly updating old content is a significant but often overlooked aspect of internal linking best practices. By revisiting and refreshing past content, you can make sure that all internal links are up-to-date, relevant, and functional. Why is this important? Search engines value fresh, updated content. Old blog posts or articles with new links and information can get a boost in search rankings. Additionally, it improves the user experience, as all links will lead to relevant and current information.

Here are some tips on how to do this effectively:

  1. 1
    Perform a Content Audit: Before you start updating, conduct a content audit to identify old articles or posts that have potential for improvement and could benefit from new internal links. Tools like Google Analytics can help you pinpoint high-performing old posts that still receive decent traffic.
  2. 2
    Choose Relevant Links: When adding new internal links to old content, make sure they are relevant to the subject matter. For example, if you've written a new post about "Mortgage Rates for 2024," you might want to link to it from older posts about real estate financing options.
  3. 3
    Remove or Replace Broken Links: Over time, some of your internal links may have become broken due to page deletions or URL changes. Use tools like Broken Link Checker to identify these links and replace them with active, relevant ones.
  4. 4
    Re-Evaluate Anchor Text: Old content might have internal links with outdated anchor text that could be optimized for better SEO performance. Review and update the anchor text to make it more descriptive and in line with current SEO best practices.
  5. 5
    Monitor Impact: After you've updated old content, track how these changes affect your website's performance. Look at metrics such as page views, bounce rate, and time spent on the page to gauge the effectiveness of your updated internal linking.
  6. 6
    Periodic Updates: Consider making this an ongoing activity. Every quarter or semi-annually, review old content to ensure it still aligns well with your internal linking strategy and make necessary adjustments.

By regularly updating old content with new, relevant internal links, you not only extend the lifespan of that content but also improve its SEO value and utility for your audience. This can lead to better rankings, more traffic, and ultimately, more conversions.

Internal linking is an underutilized yet crucial aspect of SEO that small businesses can't afford to ignore. Many small business owners and inexperienced developers often overlook its value, leaving untapped potential for improved SEO and user experience. By following these internal linking best practices, you'll improve user experience, make it easier for search engines to crawl your site, and distribute page authority more effectively across your site. Start by analyzing your existing website structure, identifying opportunities, and implementing changes methodically. Your SEO will thank you.

If all of this sounds a little too complicated to tackle on your own, we'd like to encourage you to reach out to us for a free consultation and high-level evaluation. We specialize in helping businesses like yours with this type of service and can offer tailored recommendations to improve your website's SEO through effective internal linking.

By getting professional guidance, you can ensure that your internal linking strategy is up to par, allowing you to reap the full benefits of improved SEO and user experience.

About mark

Mark Lowe is a seasoned technology leader of over 20 years at Strategic Advantage with a diverse background including digital marketing, e-commerce and driving tech innovations. He has held significant roles at Cap Gemini and Unisys Corp. An honors graduate in Computer Science from Wolverhampton University. Mark is also a published thought leader, speaker at conferences and has appeared on TV multiple times.


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