Backlinks are a common topic in the SEO world, but internal links are much less discussed. This leads some to believe that internal links aren't important to SEO. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Internal links play a big role in how search crawlers view your page. They provide it with key contextual information it needs to crawl the page correctly and to determine the ranking of your pages. In this post, we'll examine exactly how website internal links help your SEO.
What are internal links?
An internal link is a link on one of the pages of your website that links visitors to another page on your website. These differ from external links, which are links on your web pages that link a user to another, third party, website. Internal links also differ from backlinks, which are links on another website that link users to a webpage on your site. Internal links are the primary navigation tool on your website.
Types of Internal link
Before we go any further, let's talk first about the different types of an internal links. This is important information because the type of internal link also plays a role in how a search engine views the page. As we examine the various types of internal link, we'll also take a look at how a search crawler will interpret that type of link, and why it behaves that way.
These are also called content links. They are the links inside the main body of your HTML file. For example, if you have a blog post that links to another blog post to further explain a topic, that would be a body link. Search engines love these types of links. Because they are unique to the page they are on, they can tell the search engine something about the content of the page, and that it relates to the page being linked to.
Not every website has or needs to have breadcrumbs. These are a type of navigational link, but they remain relatively specific to a given page. They are designed to make it easy for a user to navigate a hierarchy. A common example of breadcrumb links is the category links at the top of an e-commerce listed. Users can quickly click on the breadcrumbs to move up a category, or even all the way back to the root category. While they make for a great user experience, they also tell search engines a little about the page, and quite a bit about how it relates to other pages on the site.
These are the primary ways a user moves around your site. They are typically at the top of the page or in a sidebar. While they may change a little as customers move from section to section of the site, they tend to be more static than breadcrumbs, and are certainly more static than body links. For that reason, they tell the search engine very little about what's on the page. They do, however, serve an important role; they provide links for the web crawler to ensure it hits every page it's supposed to and tell it about what the main pages of the site are.
Links in the footer of the page link only to the most important pillar pages of a website. They are designed to help users very quickly navigate to the important pages of the site. Since they are often even more static than navigation links, they provide almost no context at all about what page is about. But, like navigation links, they are useful to search engines in the same way they are to humans; they provide a map of the important pages of a site.
How internal links help your SEO
Now that you have a general idea of how search engines view internal links, and the types of information it can glean from them, let's take a close look at exactly how that information is used and the benefit it provides to search engine optimisation. Below are the key elements that a search engine uses for ranking pages about which internal links can provide information.
This is the most important thing internal links can do for your website, both for humans and for search engines. A page that doesn't have any internal links is accessible only to those who know the URL. Nobody else can find it, including search engines. These so-called orphaned pages can provide none of the benefits that we'll discuss below.
We've already discussed a bit about how search engines use internal links to determine how your pages relate to one another. One the search engine's crawler has viewed all of your pages, it can use these links as a map of your site. It will begin to understand the hierarchy of your website, which pages relate to each other, how they relate, what information they have in common, and where they differ. These all provide valuable tools to the search engine as it attempts to find if any pages of your site are relevant to a user's search.
Keywords are important, but they don't tell the whole story. Imagine you have a page about tyres. On this page, you describe in deep detail what the different types of tyre are, and how their made. To the right person, this would be a fantastic resource. But for someone searching for places to buy tyres, it's all but useless. While there will certainly be context clues on the page itself that help the search engine determine this, internal links provide additional context that increases the accuracy.
Search engines are big on trustworthiness, or authority. They want to know that they're sending their users to a page that will provide accurate and meaningful information. You can't directly gain trust from internal links. That is built from things such as the number of backlinks and other factors. However, when pages on your site that have a high trustworthiness score link to another page on your site, a little of that trust ranking gets carried over.
A key indicator of how beneficial your site is to the search engine's users is its bounce rate. Bounce rate refers to the percentage of users that leave your page without going beyond the first page they visit. Internal links in blog posts and other content areas of the website encourage users to explore further. As they move through the site, your bounce rate will go down and the search engine will view that page as more valuable to its users.
This is a continuation of the last one. A page that gets more views is also considered to be more valuable by search engines. Internal links send users to other pages on the stile, increasing the traffic to those pages. When many people are visiting a page, search engines will assume that many more will want to and push it higher in the rankings.
While having high traffic tells the search engine which pages users find interesting, this doesn't paint the whole picture. When a page has a lot of internal links pointing to it, the search engine knows that you think the page is important. Assuming the pages doing the linking have a high enough trust rating, the search engine will use this information to prioritise which of your pages are pushed higher in the ranks.
Making the most of internal links
To further examine how search engines use the information discussed thus far, let's take a look at a few simple tips to maximise the effectiveness of internal links using what we've learned.
Create a logical hierarchy
We've seen more than a few examples of how search engines use the structure of your website to determine the relevance of a given page to a user's query. When a website is haphazardly thrown together, with little rhyme or reason to its structure, the job of the search engine becomes much harder. If it can't figure out how your pages relate to one another, the ranking of all of them will suffer.
Share the authority
Some of your pages will naturally have a higher trustworthiness score than others. These high authority sites are perfect places to put internal links. By linking from a high trust page to other relevant pages, you'll be spreading a little of that trustworthiness around and improving the chances of the linked page getting higher in the rankings.
Choose the anchor text carefully
Like human visitors, search engine crawlers use the anchor text of a link to figure out what is on the other side of the link. Generic text such as 'read more' or 'click here' may tell a human quite a bit about what's on the other side, provided there are enough context clues. Search engines are quite that smart though. Rather than make them rely on context clues, use more descriptive anchor text that spells out what is being linked to.
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