Internal links are important for SEO and UX alike. This comprehensive guide shows you what they are and how to optimize a website using inlinks. It is no longer enough to create a hierarchy, some breadcrumbs and navigation and say your internal links are optimized. You need an effective and scalable methodology to create contextually relevant internal connections within the body of your content. This guide shows you the principals behind internal linking and helps you develop a strong methodology for your own websites.

Internally link topics to anchors.

What are Internal Links?

Hyperlinks are the way we navigate on the Internet and are more nuanced than you might imagine. It is separate to link building.

Whenever you click on something on the web (or sometimes even just hover over an active area of text or picture) the hyperlink is the address of the item you are calling. If this address is on another site, we refer to it as an “external link”. If it is to a page on the same site, we refer to it as an “internal link”.

The reverse would be a “backlink” is generally a link to a page from another site, whilst an “inlink” is to a page from the same website. There are many other types of link as well: “homepage links” and “site-wide links” to name a few, but we will concentrate on the inlinks in this article.

Benefits of Internal Linking

Before learning how to develop an optimized strategy, let’s remind ourselves just how important this is for SEO. Whether you consider human interaction or a search engine’s, the benefits are considerable. 

Benefits of for search engines.

A good internal link structure leads to a better quality of organic web traffic over time and a better quality leads to higher rankings and more web traffic. Three signals given to search engines from links are:

  • Discovering a page in the first place
  • Authority of a page (PageRank)
  • Understanding the meaning or context of topics on a page.

Discovery:

Googlebot and other web crawlers still rely heavily on discovering content on the web by crawling pages they already know about and seeing links to new content.

Authority:

Links were originally important to search engines (particularly Google) because of the way PageRank, Google’s initial algorithm worked. In recent years this importance has started to take authority in context. Links into and out of web pages help to give the content meaning.

Context:

Associate mentions of a particular topic in the text to a cornerstone piece of content to definitively explain that topic. Search engines can then understand the content better. Links within the body of a piece of content carry more context and meaning than links in navigation menus

Links within the body of a piece of content carry more context and meaning than links in navigation menus.

Suggested Reading: https://patents.google.com/patent/US8117209B1/en

These links are surrounded by words that give context to that page’s meaning. Links in the body of an article will likely carry more weight than others on the page. 

A good internal linking structure benefits organic traffic over time.
In case-studies, we see Internal Linking increase organic traffic over time

At its core, a link graph represents a compelling way for a machine to see which pages are stronger than others. It also links tend to tie concepts or topics together, helping search engines to see what ideas are semantically close to each other.

Knowing this, search engines believe they can better interpret the content on your page.

Benefits of internal linking to a person.

Google uses algorithms that aim to act as proxies for human decision making. Humans also value links on web pages. The hyperlink is the only way that people navigate the internet. They are our Magellan.

Before humans click, they can make assumptions just by looking at the hyperlink in context. For example:

  • Timeliness: We make assumptions as to the timeliness of the content they will see. (Whether it will be evergreen content or news or changing data)
  • Passion: We may know whether the writer is making a positive or negative connection with the target article.
  • Relevance: We get annoyed if a click takes us to somewhere irrelevant (Don’t click this… you know you want to…).
  • Context: The best experience adds context for the person to better understand the article they are currently reading
  • Trust: Often the user can recognize the domain name the content links to and know whether the source is trustworthy.

There is so much latent meaning associated with hyperlinks. Google therefore often takes them as a proxy for human decision making.

Marketing benefits for you and your visitors

Even if you do not accept and of the algorithmic reasons for getting your internal graph right, consider the marketing benefits. Your business most likely boils down to a few main product or service offerings. The larger your site, the more chance that the visitors enter your ecosystem. Once there. the only way the will navigate your pages will be by clicking on links.

Strategic Approaches

There are three common approaches to Internal Links management. By far the most common is “Meh…”. That is to say, most people overlook its importance. This is not a strategy we’ll cover here except to say… why would you do that? Very few SEO tactics are as easy and safe to manipulate as this one. Just do something more intelligent than “Meh”. The other two strategies are a manual strategy and an automated (or semi-automated) approach. These are both covered in this article.

Optimizing Internal Links Manually

Modern CMS systems (like WordPress) do make it easy on a small scale to connect pages and concepts together. These systems usually come with a WYSIWYG text editor. The connection can, therefore, be made in the same way as you would in Word or Google Docs. The problem comes when you start to look at the scale of the challenge. If you have 100 web pages, each discussing 5 different topics, then you will need to manually curate 500 links.

On average, inLinks case studies show between 3-5 internal links within a body of content. Large pages will usually have more on each page. This would be because they have more content relating to the topics discussed on-page.

Here is a process for optimizing manually.

Step 1: Define your cornerstone content for a given keyword.

This is an important step. Often, webmasters think that by having lots of web content on or about the same topic, they will rise to the top of search engines. Nothing could be further from the truth if you do not give all that content hierarchy through internal links. Some SEOs call a lack of hierarchy “cannibalization”. The search engines see multiple pages on the site that COULD all rank for a given topic. If the MAIN page is not defined, no page has enough clarity or confidence to rank.

Actively decide which page should be the master page for a given phrase or topic.

From: How to associate target entities to web pages (suggested reading)

Actively decide which page should be the master page for a given phrase or topic. You also take the decision that the other pages should NOT rank for that topic. Link to the cornerstone content when the topic is mentioned elsewhere.

Step 2: Find opportunities

Use your site’s search functionality to find other mentions of those keywords. You can also use the popular Google hack to do this. Search in Google for “Your keyword site:yoursite.com”. (That is to say, the SITE: command within a Google search will limit Google’s search results to the site you specify).

This latter approach is not effective if Google has not yet properly indexed all the content on your website, so do use your site’s own search function if it has one.

Step 3: Link other mentions to the Cornerstone Content

Wherever you find your keyword mentioned on the site, link that keyword through to the cornerstone page. This is not quite as straightforward as it sounds. If your keyword is too specific, you may not find all the mentions in a search. Worse, you may use an increasingly unnatural “anchor text”. (Anchor text is the text that the reader sees when looking at the link on the web page.) Avoid this.

Try and make sense to humans. For example, you may have a cornerstone page about “The Ritz Hotel, London”. On the page about afternoon tea, you might have the text “Tea at the Ritz”. You need to decide whether to use the words “The Ritz” or the whole phrase “Tea at the Ritz” in the anchor text. This should depend on whether there is another page about the concept of “Tea” at “Tea at Hotels”. If not, then use the whole phrase.

You need to be seen to be adding context to the reader. e.g.: The key phrase itself is not being used on the page in a way that requires clarification. For example, if you talk about a “Ritzy looking ballroom”, a hyperlink to the Ritz page would be incorrect.

IYou need to be seen to be adding context to the reader.

See this video example: https://inlinks.net/p/help/writing-about-topics-not-keywords/

Step 4: Repeat with varying keywords and synonyms.

Google often understands variations on a theme. For example “Site, Website, and Domain” may (or may not) mean the same thing. It will depend on the context of their use.

Assuming you are not talking about construction sites and fiefdoms, let’s say you have a cornerstone page about “Websites”. You may also want to link mentions of “sites” and “Domains” to the same cornerstone content. Doing so should help Google see that these are similar concepts.

Generating Internal links automatically 

Benefits of automating Internal Linking

There are several challenges with managing internal linking manually. The first, as mentioned, is the sheer scale of the task.

It is very difficult to pick out link opportunities unless you are intimately aware of all the content on the site. Even if you wrote all the content yourself, our memories play tricks on us and we quickly forget.

Whenever new content is created, proper optimization involves re-reading the entire website to create new links to the new content. This is a challenge. Re-reading the entire website every time a new page is written is not scalable. This is where automation can help.

Risks of automating Internal Linking

Automating the process is not without risk. A tool like inLinks is very effective at finding topics within the content and linking it to your cornerstone pages. However, it can be “over-enthusiastic” at times and perhaps start linking a little aggressively. This can be mitigated, though, by ensuring a human review of the links created automatically.

Another risk is that SEOs tend to try and create “exact match” links.

Most internal link automation tools are keyword-based, rather than “concept” based. They, therefore, tend to create link patterns that do not look or feel like they are doing anything other than trying to manipulate the SERPs for that specific phrase. InLinks works differently, though. Inlinks first builds a knowledge graph of ideas that are mentioned in the website’s content. By then linking topics, rather than just keywords, the resulting link graphs tend to have less exact match links.

It is possible to review the links created by inLinks and modify the anchor text manually.

How to Automate Internal Linking Correctly

Here is the inLinks methodology for internal linking. Following this process will also you to scale the process rapidly and optimally. It is a powerful process for SEO when correctly applied.

1: Identify a Target Topic

InLinks builds a knowledge graph (database) of the topics discussed on your site, sentence by sentence. It is, therefore, easy to see which topics are most frequently mentioned.

Looking at the Topics, sorted in frequency order, shows which topics most need to be associated with cornerstone content.

2: Associate a Page to the Topic

The important topics need to be associated with cornerstone content.

You can either make these connections at the page level or (probably more efficient) use the Topic view.

At the page level, associate the page with one or more of the topics found in the knowledge graph.

How to associate a page to a topic using InLinks
Associating a Page to a Topic

In the Topic View, select one of the pages listed under each topic to be the cornerstone page associated with that topic.

Linkings a page to a Topic from the InLinks Knowledge Graph view

3: Creating Context and Silos

Adding Context:

When associating an entity to a page, it is possible to specify a context. The context will limit link creation to the page only when the source page contains a particular entity.

Adding Context to a Topc-page association using InLinks
Adding Context (In page view only)

Creating Silos

Inlinks offers two types of Internal automation:

Internal Wikipedia-type links (Flat architecture). This is the most common type. Like Wikipedia, any page can connect to another, as long as the target topic is present in the source page.

A Silo. a silo represents a group of thematic or subject-specific content on your site.

In a silo, the architecture of the network will be hierarchical, with 3 types of pages. The links inside each silo will be bounded. A page from one silo will not be able to connect to a page from another silo.

Let’s take the example of a travel site for which we want to create a silo on the destination Japan.

Internal Linking Silos
Nothing on the (Silo L3) Typhoon page will be associated with (L1) Beijing page
  • The landing (cornerstone) main page (Travel to Japan) will be the silo head (level 1). It should be associated with the topic “Japan”.
  • The silo will include several intermediate pages (level 2). These are associated with topics either specific to each silo (geographical pages) or found for each destination (Customs, useful addresses, weather …)
  • The silo will finally include the level 3 pages. These will not receive links but can connect out to the higher-level pages.
Internal linking - Silo example
Silo example of “Travel to Japan”. Diamond is level 1, circles with topics are level 2. Others are level3

With our software, the silo setup and the construction of the connections can be simplified considerably. This is done in 2 steps: 1: Associate the cornerstone page with its topic and choose “Silo” for the type of mesh. 2 Associate the intermediate pages with each topic that corresponds to it. We then automatically generates the entire internal mesh between the different pages in the silo.

Try it free here.

4: Building the Links

The system will now go through the pages on your site and will connect mentions of the topic to the cornerstone content. The system understands and also links synonyms and context. Links will appear within sentence fragments and will only be applied to text in paragraph blocks, not navigational areas of your site.

5: Checking (Pre-deployment)

If this is your first time deploying our system on your website, the links will not be live until the Javascript is added. There may also be a large number recommended, so this is an ideal opportunity to review them. At this phase, you have the opportunity to edit each one or removing it entirely. In particular, you should delete any which are not relevant. Links that do not make sense to the user are also likely to confuse search engines and have the opposite effect of diluting the contextual relevance of the target (cornerstone) content.

  • Delete unwanted links. This can easily be done with a single click on the “break url” icon
Deleting Unwanted links using InLinks
How to delete a link
  • Add extra. Click on the page and drag over a section of text to manually add links to the page
Manually Inserting Links using InLinks
Adding Internal Links
  • Modify Links. To modify any first, delete the link, then add a new one on the anchor text you want.
  • Check by Topic. On the Topic section of the Knowledge Graph.
Associating Topics to Pages
Check links by topic

5: Implement the Javascript

When you are confident that the proposed setup (or graph) will enhance your website for both users and search engines, add the JavaScript code to the footer section of your website. This will mean that all pages, now and in the future, can continue to be optimized as new content is created, without further need to modify the website.

Google Handles Javascript much better than in years gone by. This is a great opportunity for SEOs

Suggested Reading; https://inlinks.net/p/help/how-google-handles-javascript/

6: Post-deployment check

It is important to review the pages when new content is associated with new topics if the javascript was already deployed on the website. New links will automatically be generated as soon as any page gets associated with a new topic (or conversely, when a topic is assigned to a page on the site). You can easily review these a few minutes after the association is made, by clicking the merics on the dashboard of the page.

7: Internal reports

internal links metrics
Internal metrics

Search engines and humans alike can more easily understand your content after the graph is generated. They know where to find the authority content for and topic within your site. There are a number of tools within the system that allow you to further manage your internal linking.

  • Metrics

The dashboard provides quick metrics on the number of inlinks created into and out of any individual page and within the site as a whole. These metrics only count ones generated by the software, so will not include any that you may have manually created on the website. Navigational menus are not included. There is a search functionality to easily find a URL or page title on large sites.

  • Manually adding

There may be times when you want to connect text to a page on your website which is not picked up by the automated system. To enable this, we allow you to also manually add links from within the dashboard! This is extremely useful as you will not need to have editorial access to the content and will not need webmasters to modify HTML on your behalf.

  • Internal Updates

If you ever modify the content or change the topic associations, you should reanalyse the internal links, otherwise, the site will not stay optimized if the content changes significantly.

Risks and Bad Practices

Optimizing inlinks is much less risky for SEO than traditional link building, which is generally seen as using strategies that develop links INTO your site or online ecosystem from third parties. Google frowns on many of these techniques, even though the majority of SEOs believe that this is a necessary tactic for SEO.

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

Taken from Google’s link guidelines here.

Internal linking is not the same, however, as you are trying to make the best experience you can for your existing visitors. Even so, in the past, there were reports of penalties for excessive “Exact Match” anchors. These were usually patterns that were out of context or incongruous, but by using the entity-based approach described here, this risk should be eliminated, providing common sense is applied.

Case Studies

There are several studies backing up the benefits of internal linking for SEO.

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