If you’ve ever been inside a building under construction, you’ve likely seen the frames and structures that are eventually hidden behind drywall and decor. It may look skeletal and incomplete, but these supports are some of the most important parts of the building. No matter if it’s a house, a business, or something else, the building needs this internal structure if it’s going to be strong enough to stand. Websites need structure, too. Just like a support structure gives a building strength, a strong system of internal links gives a site the structure it needs to be found and navigated by both users and search engines.
But there’s a right way to create that structure. A building’s frame isn’t made up of two-by-fours nailed together at random. To get the most out of your internal links, you’ll need to put some thought into your site’s structure and it’s most important pages.
So what are internal links? How do they impact your site? What do they have to do with SEO? And of course, how should you use them? We’ll cover all of that and more in this guide. Don’t forget to wear your hard hat!
What Are Internal Links?
Let’s start with the basics. Links are how you navigate the internet – they connect pages. When you click a link, you’re directed to the page that link targets. In other words, rather than typing the address of a page into your browser manually, a link does all the work for you and takes you right there.
An internal link, then, is a link that targets a page within the same domain in which the link is found. For example: if we used a link to take you back to our Blog page, it would look like this:
This is an internal link because you’re reading this article on punchbugmarketing.com and the link targets a page which is also on punchbugmarketing.com.
Are external links important too? Yes, but for different reasons. External links target pages in different domains than the one in which they’re found. These let users navigate between different websites. External link building is outside the scope of this article; let’s get back to the internal variety.
What Makes Internal Links So Important?
Internal links come in many forms. Our header menu is full of them:
Just about every website has some kind of header menu. Some look like this, while others are much different or more complex depending on the needs of the website. But they all have one thing in common: they use internal links to make it easy for users to navigate your website.
There are many other kinds of links, though, like this Learn More button from our homepage:
This button takes you to related content on our site, specifically to our Services page. If we wanted to direct you to related pages on our site, we could do so with a contextual link. Here’s an example: if you find this article on internal links helpful, follow this contextual link to read our tips for building an online presence for your new business.
So what’s the point of all these links? They make it possible to navigate around a website. Take a look at our homepage and imagine it without any links – no buttons, no menus, nothing. Sure, you could get some information about our business. But there would be no way to learn more about what we do here at Punch Bug or see any examples of our work.
What Does This Have To Do With SEO?
Let’s talk about search engines. When you type a query into Google’s search bar (or that of any other search engine), it gives you a Search Engine Results Page, or SERP. As Google’s algorithms get smarter, the SERP becomes more effective at finding the best results for your query. But somehow Google needs to know out of all the pages on the internet, which pages are relevant to your query. It does this by using crawlers to index sites.
You can learn more about the Google SERP here, but what you need to know about crawlers is that they use links to navigate between pages, just like a person would when browsing. Crawlers don’t just keep track of the content on your page, though. They also note how often that page is targeted by links. If they find lots of links leading to a particular page, they’ll rank that page as more important.
Crawlers can also determine the value of your internal links. That means they can detect whether links lead to related content. As we mentioned, Google’s algorithms continue growing more intelligent. It can tell the difference between links that target relevant pages and ones that target unrelated pages, helping it find content a user would actually consider helpful. But it can also determine a hierarchy between pages.
Think of it like this: The Home page on a company’s site links to a Products page, which in turn links to individual pages listing more information about each product. These pages include prices, pictures, and a link to buy the product, but they also have a link that reads Back To Products. That means the products page links to all of these pages and they all link back to it.
Google understands this link structure to mean that the individual products pages should rank lower than the Products page itself. But it also understands that the Products page is lower in the hierarchy than the Home page. Strong internal links lower in the hierarchy boost higher pages, meaning the strong Products page also strengthens the Home page.
How Should I Use Internal Links?
Depending on the size of your site and the number of pages you have, building an effective internal link structure may seem like a breeze or a nightmare. But it doesn’t have to be difficult! Follow these steps to get started and keep your internal links organized.
Lay out the structure of your website.
To get started, think about the main pages of your website. Create a list of all of your pages, then pick out the ones you would want visitors to find first through organic searches. Your homepage is probably an obvious one, but these may also include contact pages, services pages, and even FAQ pages.
Decide how they fit together.
Now you’ll need to determine how to link between these pages. Many SEOs think of internal link structures as a pyramid. The tip of the pyramid is the homepage. Under it are the site’s main categories. Supporting these are subcategories or individual posts and pages.
It might help to break out a pen and paper to make a visual representation. Draw circles to represent pages and lines for links, like this:
In this drawing, the big circle at the top is the homepage. Notice how the lower pages don’t need to connect to the homepage directly – their links boost the structure all the way up the hierarchy. Once you’ve figured out your site’s internal link pyramid, you can start implementing it one page at a time. If you have a lot of pages, cross out each link line in your sketch once you’ve established that particular link.
Create contextual links.
So you’ve determined the hierarchy of your site. But there are more ways you can improve linking. Find relationships between content lower down the hierarchy of your website, like blog posts or products, then create links between them in your content. Be sure to use these links when it makes sense to do so.
Cornerstone content can help bring a sense of order to what can quickly become a web of internal links. This content is your best and most complete. If it’s a blog post, it may cover the basics of a topic you specialize in. It can then link to posts that delve into specific aspects of that topic, which would also link back to it. Our guide to evergreen content can help you create compelling cornerstone content!
With contextual links and cornerstone content, you can help make sure users find your best and most accessible content first. They can dive into your specialized knowledge base from there.
Use organizational tools.
Sitebuilding tools like WordPress give you the ability to apply tags and categories to your content. These can provide you with even more links that tie related content together and give Google a sense of what your content is about. They’re also a great for organizing and navigating your pages and posts, both for you and your users.
Want to learn more about categories and tags in WordPress? We explain it all here!
Decide which links should be ignored.
Every page on your site should have a purpose. But that doesn’t mean you want them all showing up in the SERP. Some pages, like ones that thank customers for purchases or welcome new members, shouldn’t be found in search results. It wouldn’t make sense for visitors to find these pages first.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent crawlers from following links to these pages. Using the nofollow tag in a link, you can tell crawlers that the link isn’t important to the hierarchy of your link structure. You can also use the noindex tag to stop crawlers from indexing a page, as you may have guessed.
Robots tags and the robots.txt file can also help you control where crawlers are crawling. Yoast has a great rundown on the robots tag and nofollow links.
Building a structure of internal links is a never-ending process, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. Internal links help your site make sense. They can boost your SEO through easy navigation and improve the user experience at the same time. With some planning, you can use internal links to give your site a frame that will keep it standing firm in the SERP for a long time to come!