This guide has been updated with additional information based on testing and implementation over the last 6 months and will continue to be updated as new changes are required.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will probably see me talking about internal links… A lot! I get many requests from site owners asking questions about how to set an internal linking campaign up or how do you decide which keywords to use, and as a freelance SEO consultant, I offer this as a service.
But for those that would like to do this themselves, I have put everything that I do, into this one post that follows all internal linking best practices.
I hope you find it useful.
Table of Contents
- How to audit your Internal Links
- The process for creating Internal Links
- Tools to use when building Internal Links
- Which are your Hub Pages
- Which are your Power / Source Pages
- Which keywords to use and how often
About this Internal Linking guide
I have spent the last couple of years testing & fine-tuning different ways to see how best to make these work for Google, and for you. Google tells us in the Webmaster Guidelines how important internal links are to them for working out which are the most important site pages.
However, there is an additional benefit, because Google also uses internal links to deliver the most important pages in your site links.
These are two very important reasons to be doing this, and getting it right.
What is Internal Linking and why it is so important to SEO
The idea, at a very high level, is that you create hub pages, and then give Google the signals it needs in order to see those pages as more important.
Keep in mind that internal links should remain topical. You wouldn’t want to link from a page about football boots to one about skiing jackets. This is especially important for e-commerce websites where they can carry multiple topics.
It is also worthwhile looking at your website and seeing if you can create strong content silos to further enhance your efforts. In doing this, you would only want to create internal links from within the same content silo.
What does a silo look like?
Fundamentally, you are keeping your topics grouped. Generally, this is seen as good for the users, SEO and sometimes enhances the internal linking campaign.
Of course, that isn’t all there is to it.
The image below is a recent example of the results when this is done right. Nothing else was done other than:
- Identify strong content pages
- Define the hub pages
- ‘SEO’ the hub pages
- Add internal links from content pages
Perhaps this is a very simplistic approach, but I will go into more detail of the various ways to do this.
Very recently, I appeared on a SEMrush webinar where I spoke about internal links and the ways these can work for you. If you’re interested, here it is (sorry for the video stuttering):
I also gave a talk over at Optimisey on this very subject – the video from this even is below:
How do I audit my internal links?
Why will you want to audit your internal links?
- You can see if anchors have been overused
- You can see if anchor opportunities are missing
- You can see if incorrect anchors are being used
The first step is to crawl the website. You should really audit your site on a page-by-page basis as this will let you see exactly which internal links (and how many) are coming in. Yes, it’s a bit of a laborious task, but necessary. After all, you will want to know the incoming links for your primary pages – the ones you really want to rank well.
However, it is unlikely that you are going to want to audit every page – remember, this is just for your hub pages – the ones you want to rank for your big money terms.
For this step, I would suggest using Screaming Frog. It does exactly what you want, really easily, but you can use each of the tools mentioned below to also gather data.
What you need to keep in mind while doing this is that the Inbound Links tab in Screaming Frog shows you all inbound links – including the menu and crumb trail. What you’re looking for are the anchors that are coming in from the content.
If you’re interested, you can actually get creative with Screaming Frog and just crawl the content areas of the site using custom extractors. Well worth it if you think it will help your campaign.
But this isn’t always a necessary step so go ahead and fire SF up, run a crawl and the select a page to review. Choose the “Inlinks” tab and then order it by Anchor Text. Just copy and paste this into a spreadsheet.
Now you have the URL’s that link to your chosen page along with the anchors. Continue this step until you have all of the anchors for each of your hub pages.
You will probably use this data a number of times during the whole process. Knowing what is already in place
The process I use when creating internal links
There are a number of ways you can build internal links and the process below is just the one that works best for me at this time. It looks at the number of pages you have to power your hub pages and how you decide which keywords to use and how often.
I have used this with a lot of clients now and always get good results – hopefully, you will get something useful from this as well.
Tools to use when building internal links
It isn’t just a case of adding text links to every possible page and hoping for the best – you need to know which pages you are going to use, the best keywords to use and setting your hub pages up.
To help with this, there are a number of tools that will help you gather this information.
1 – Ahrefs
A very useful feature called Best by Links is a great place to start and gather information about which are some of the strongest pages on your site.
If you find that none of your content / internal pages have links coming into them, don’t worry because you can use the ‘UR’ (URL Rating) to help gauge the ones you can use.
Tip: Also look at the Top Content report to gather information on the number of referring domains, social shares and social power score.
2 – Links Flow in OnCrawl
This incredibly useful report gives you additional data in a similar way to Sitebulb and shows you how your links are currently distributed. Using this, you can see at a glance if there are issues with the way the site is currently linked.
OnCrawl also allows you to see additional reports based on the InRank depth and distribution.
3 – Search Console
The Internal Links report in Search Console will tell you exactly how many internal links are pointing to each page on your site.
If there was ever any question about how important this is to Google, then this excerpt was taken directly from Google’s Search Console help pages (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/138752?hl=en).
Once you head into Search Console, navigate to the internal Links report.
From here you want to export all of the data into a spreadsheet. You will need all of this, later on, to work out the pages you want to use.
4 – Google Analytics
The next data set you will want is from Google Analytics.
Head to Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages…
While this step isn’t absolutely necessary, I much prefer to have more data to work with. You will probably find pages that are more heavily used than you realise and could miss out because another report has failed to pick it up.
Set a custom date range (I use 3 months) to get a better idea of how your pages are used over time.
Export the data to be used later.
5 – Sitebulb
This is a must for anyone who is serious about understanding their internal linking. Sitebulb offers one of the best visualisation reports around and really lets you understand what is happening with a site.
It starts by crawling your site and then choosing this option below:
When you select this, all kinds of wonderful things happen – you get a complete visualisation of your website.
This is an amazingly useful report that shows you how your site is currently setup. Hovering over each of these points shows you the page details about the number of external links and crawl depth plus lots more.
6 – Google Search
Take your website and in the URL bar, type in the following:
site:www.sitemap.com “search term”
What this does is tells google to look at all of your site pages, but only bring back those that are most important related to your phrase.
If you have already exported all of your data, you will see these pages in there (or should do) and if not, add them in. These are some of the strongest pages on your site to do with your term, so pay special attention to them.
Which are your hub pages?
The next step is to decide which are your primary hub pages – and this is easier than it sounds because a hub page is nothing more than a primary page that should be ranking for a key term. It can sometimes be a category page or even just a key page if you don’t use silos.
Most sites will normally have a few big phrases that they want to rank for – these are generally the pages that you will be targeting.
Which are your power / source pages?
There are so many names for these pages, but ultimately, they are pages that you will use to ‘power’ your hub pages. This is where you turn to the original data gathered using the techniques above.
Deciding which pages you should be using can be confusing, but you will have numbers from the original data gathering that has been performed.
Which keywords to use and how often
Now comes the point where you have to research the best keywords to use for the anchor texts for the links and the frequency to use them.
It is worth pointing out at this stage that if you just go all out and start linking from your power pages to your hubs with the same keyword over and over again, Google is going to notice something unusual and this can actually cause an over-optimisation penalty.
What you have to do is split your keyword anchors up, while at the same time keeping them on topic. For example:
*Primary Keyword: Nike Trainers
- Nike Trainers
- Nike Trainers 2018
- Deals on our latest trainers
- Nike trainers for men
- 2018’s Top Pick Nike Trainers for women
- Kids Trainers
What you then need to do is pick 4-5 keywords to use (depending on the number of power pages you have) and split them up as follows:
- Primary Keyword: 35%
- Second: 25%
- Third: 15%
- Fourth: 15%
- Fifth: 10%
- Total = 100%
If you have 150 pages in the site that can be used to power the primary hub for Nike Trainers, it would then look like this:
- Nike Trainers – 53 uses
- Nike Trainers 2018 – 38 uses
- Deals on Nike Trainers – 22 uses
- Nike trainers for Men – 22 uses
- Nike trainers for Women – 15 uses
- Total = 150
All you are doing here is working out the percentage use of 150. This keeps everything looking natural while using targeted phrases that still make sense to the page.
You can do the same and just use 4 phrases, but I wouldn’t generally go down any further than that.
*Please note: These are just examples. You might want to choose long-term and partial match for some of the keywords in the lower positions. The aim is to make it look as natural as possible.
Don’t forget to resubmit your sitemap and wait to see how your efforts have faired. Remember that Google is going to need to crawl your whole site in order to see all of the changes, but quite often I find the changes are picked up pretty quickly.
If you still have questions, feel free to catch me over on Twitter.