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Why internal links matter to your website

Internal links are essential for any site’s SEO. Having an internal link structure that is bad or just plain non-existent can be catastrophic to your website. But why?

Internal links serve several purposes. They drive visitors from page to page on your site, they help to establish a page hierarchy and they help to spread ranking power around.

If there are pages on your website which aren’t linked to from any other page, visitors won’t find them – meaning they have zero chance of converting. What’s more, search engine crawlers won’t be able to find them either. Crawlers browse your site by following links from page to page, so if you haven’t added internal links that connect relevant content on your site, you haven’t offered crawlers a way to access that content.

If crawlers can’t find content, they won’t display it in search results. It won’t just be browsers already on your site that won’t find it, no one will. These types of unlinked pages are known as orphaned pages, and until you implement an internal link strategy they will never achieve their full potential.

Passing link equity

The most important pages on your site, such as the homepage and key service pages, should attract high quality external links naturally. But a page further down the pecking order or a brand new page might not have any.

As such, internal linking gives you the opportunity to take link equity gained by the more powerful pages and spread it around.

By establishing a hierarchy whereby the most important pages link to the next most important, and so on and so on, you ensure that page ranking power isn’t just focused in one place. A simple link structure starting with the homepage linking to key pages, which then link to supporting content, and finally down to additional information, would follow a structure similar to this graph from Moz:

Moz Internal Link Graph

Pages with a lot of links on them pass on less value per link than pages which only have a few, so don’t go mad and try to link to dozens and dozens of pages from every section of your site. Connect content that is relevant, and stick to a handful of internal links from each page to the related information.

Making sure crawlers can read your links

If your internal links are served in Javascript, Java applets, Flash or other similar plug-ins, it’s likely they’re completely inaccessible to search engines. Javascript links that do get read are likely to have been devalued, while links embedded in Flash and similar media formats are still a major stumbling block.

It’s for this reason that using standard HTML links to connect your site pages is recommended.

When it comes to the number of links per page there are other things to consider than just the dilution of link equity, too. As well as knowing that 50 links on a page each pass less power than if there were only 10 links, be aware that search engines all have an approximate crawl limit of 150 links per page. Add any more than this and the crawler may not follow the additional links at all.

Best practice

  • Concentrate link value to the most important pages by streamlining your site navigation.
  • Organise your content around topics, and prioritise which pages get top-level focus and which ones will be found a few clicks down.
  • Keep user experience in mind at all times – good internal linking is designed to help human beings find and explore your content, not just search engines.
  • Use HTML links with descriptive, relevant anchor text.

Remember that without a good internal link structure, content that you’ve spent time and money on languishes in the form of orphaned content on your site, providing no return on investment. There are various best practice guides to internal linking around to help you keep things in check.

If you need help developing and maintaining a powerful internal linking strategy that allows you get the most from your content, get in touch.