SEO Internal Link Best Practices and SEO Ranking Impact

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When working with both large brands and local small businesses we often get asked, “What are the SEO best practices for internal linking?” or “Do internal links boost SEO rankings?”. Simply put, yes they can boost rankings, but there are caveats. Below you will find SEO best practices for internal links to help users and search engines discover content, as well as how internal links distribute ranking power throughout a website.

What are internal links?

An internal link is any link that resides on a website and links to another internal page on that same website. These links can reference other pages, CSS files, videos, images, or other types of documents.

For Users: When a user clicks on an internal link, it takes that user to another page on the same website.

For Search Engines: When a search engine bot finds a link, it reads that URL of the page being linked to, puts the read URL in a queue to be crawled, and when ready, crawls the URL – grabbing all the content and links on the new page. A few things to note about how search engines handle internal links:

  • A search engine spider will continue to discover new content on a website by finding internal links to additional content, and scanning, extracting, and indexing everything it finds. Usually, this is good, but it can also cause search engine spiders to get into pages on a website that shouldn’t be accessed and indexed.
  • Generally, the more links an internal web page has from other internal web pages, the more ranking value it gets. But, more is not alway better, because at some point adding an additional link does not add any additional ranking value – and if done excessively can have a negative impact.

Anatomy Of A Link

There are 3 primary parts to any website link – either internal or external. These parts include; the URL being linked to, the anchor text, and the HTML code.

URL

This is the website address of the page being linked to. There are two types of URLs:

Absolute URLs: This is a hyperlink containing a full URL, which includes all the information needed to find a particular site, page or document.

<a href="http://www.website.com/page-name/">Page Name</a>

Relative URL: This takes advantage of the fact that the server knows where the current document is. Thus, if we want to link to another page in the same directory, we don’t need to write out the full URL. All we need to use is the name of the page.

<a href="/page-name/">Page Name</a>

Anchor Text or Link Title

<a href="http://www.website.com/page-name/">Page Name</a>

The anchor text has different purposes – depending on who is using the link.

For A Website User: The anchor text is what the user will see and can click on, taking them to the page being linked to.

For A Search Engine: They use the anchor text to pass the contextual ranking value to the page being linked to.

Best practices for anchor text: Use a couple of descriptive keywords in the anchor text that gives a sense of the topic the user can expect to find on the page being linked to. When creating your anchor text, think less about SEO value, and more about usability and user expectation.

HTML Code:

<a href="http://www.website.com/page-name/">Page Name</a>

This is the HTML syntax that defines the link and allows it to be clickable for users, and crawlable by search engines.

Types of Links

There are many types of internal links; in theory, each has a different value towards influencing SEO rankings.

Link Type By Location

Primary Navigation

Primary navigation links are located in the top area of a web page.

  • These should represent your core pages you want a user to visit.
  • These are sitewide links, meaning they are on all pages of a website.
  • Primary navigation links pass an average amount of SEO ranking value.

primary-navigation

Footer Links and SEO

Footer links are located at the bottom of a web page in the footer area.

  • These usually include pages such as; terms and conditions, privacy policy, sitemap, recent blog posts, or a few of the primary navigation items.
  • These are sitewide links, meaning they are on all pages of a website.
  • Footer links pass little SEO ranking value.

footer-link

Sidebar Links and SEO

Sidebar links are links that reside in the sidebar of a website.

  • They are usually located in the blog section of a website.
  • These are sitewide links, meaning they are located on a majority of pages of a website.
  • Sidebar links pass a minimal amount of SEO ranking value.

sidebar-link

In Content Links and SEO

Contextual links reside in the main paragraph content of a web page.

  • These are not sitewide links, as they are unique to each page, based on the content set of the page.
  • These have the potential to pass a significant amount ranking value.

contextual-link

Breadcrumb Links and SEO

In web design, a breadcrumb is a navigation strategy that enables the user to follow a logical pattern, and to backtrack or move around freely within a page hierarchy.

  • Breadcrumbs provide the user with an alternate method of navigation so he is entirely reliant on coded menus and sub-menus. Breadcrumbs can be path or location based.
  • Implementing breadcrumbs enhances the usability of a site but most likely offers little ranking power for SEO

Link Type By Crawl Directive

Follow: Followed links (the default for all links) pass ranking power to the page being linked to.

Nofollow: Nofollowed links (need to be defined by the website owner) include a directive to the search engines, telling them not to pass ranking power to the page being linked to.

Goals of Internal Links

There are four main goals of internal links. If you’re wondering if you should create an internal link, see if it aligns with any of these goals. If it does, then creating it might be a good choice.

  1. They allow users to navigate a website.
  2. They help establish information hierarchy.
  3. They help spread ranking power around a website.
  4. They help search engines discover and organize the content on a website.

Do All Internal Links Have The Same SEO Value?

We believe, what we describe as a variable link value model. At its core, it is based on a sliding scale that defines a maximum value a link can pass. This value is based on link modifiers located within the Google algorithm – similar to the reasonable surfer model.

The variable link model means that every link does not pass the same amount of ranking value (link juice) as once described in the original Google Page Rank Paper. Links are subject to modifiers that are appended to give each link a maximum link juice value it can pass.

For example, one modifier may be that if a link is clicked on more often, and the page being linked to provides enough value to keep the bounce rate low, Google may pass more ranking power through that link – since in theory that link is providing better usability.

Another example, as alluded to above, navigational or sitewide links may receive a different treatment than in-content links.

In Conclusion

Internal links play a vital role in building a strong foundation for an SEO campaign. They may not always be as valuable as external links, but they are a necessity for any website who wants to help users and search engines discover additional information, as well as distribute link juice to help increase ranking power.

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