My friends, I'm here today to speak on behalf of that often sadly-neglected frontier in link-building: internal links. That's right, friends, your site's own navigation. You know, the links on your pages that help people move around through your website?

You're Making Yourself Crazy, You Know

Webmasters will drive themselves absolutely bonkers trying to convince other webmasters to "deep link" to their interior pages with appropriate link anchor text to reinforce the target search terms of that page -- a difficult and thankless task if there ever was one. They post pleas for ideas and help on SEO forums and in the comment fields on link-building blogs, and they try all sorts of labor-intensive, wacky and sometimes outright deceptive techniques to obtain the elusive "rich anchor text" links from other sites.

But while they're complaining about the difficulties of getting "good links", they neglect the potential of their own internal navigation. You know, the links over which you have total control already? The ones where you get to specify the link anchor text yourself? The ones you don't have to beg for or offer favors to get?

Yeah, those links.

Fact vs. Opinion

I think the problem is, some people have the idea that internal links don't count for as much as "outside" links. They turn up everywhere, declaring this opinion as though it were some sort of immutable truth. And, unfortunately, some folks who read these opinions assume this means there's no point in spending much time or energy optimizing their internal navigation.

The real truth?

Unless a person is employed to design the algorithms for the search engines, they have no way of knowing for sure how the search engines weight links. And even if their opinion is right -- being valued less is not the same as having no value at all. No SEO in their right mind would say internal links have no value.

The Value Inside

Let's start with the SEO value. If nothing else, internal links spread the link-love around your site from the home page (which usually gets the lion's share of your incoming links) to your internal pages. These links can be coded with whatever anchor text you want, reinforcing your on-page optimization. Forget wacky "PageRank sculpting" schemes; a simple well-thought-out site navigation plan can easily and naturally emphasize to the search engines the pages you consider the most important and help internal pages rank more highly, particularly for long-tail search terms.

Aside from the SEO value, internal linking is also crucial for usability: it's the way your visitors explore your site and (with any luck) find and complete your most-desired outcome. So no matter what, it will serve you well to pay attention to your site's internal linking.

What Matters (and What Doesn't)

Thus, my answer to the question of whether "internal" links count for less is this: it doesn't matter.

  • Maybe Google knows those internal links are under my control and thus not an independent "vote" for my site, so they consider them less important.
  • Maybe Google doesn't really care where the link comes from as long as it's on a page they've indexed and are allowing to pass PageRank, so internal links are equally important with inbound links from other sites.
  • Maybe Google thinks those links offer clues as to what I think my pages are about and their relative importance as part of my site, so they consider them even more important than outside links.

No matter what their relative importance is compared with "outside" links, internal links are important. Not just for SEO, but also for accessibility and usability and conversions and a whole heap of other good stuff.

Of course, you do need external links. A site that only links to itself and has no links coming from anywhere else is not going to be valued highly in Google's eyes. Optimizing your internal navigation doesn't remove the need to get "outside" links. Just don't overlook the power of optimizing your own internal navigation and links to boost page rankings, make your site more visitor-friendly and increase your conversions and profits.

Bottom line: the next time you're tearing your hair out trying to figure out who you can convince to link to one of your interior content pages with the exact link anchor text you want, remember to take a good long look in the mirror.


May 18, 2009





Learn more about the ways Diane can help improve the performance and profitability of your business web site, or request a no-obligation personal consultation, by visiting www.NineYards.com.






Comments(20)

Thanks for the interesting information. I agree, it does matter how people are able to navigate your Website.

Diane:

Would it make a difference if your internal links were absolute instead of relational? In other words if I linked to http://www.domain.com/linkedpage.htm instead of /linkedpage.htm?

I think a quick way to test this idea is throwing an anchor text rich link in your footer. Then make the link go back to your homepage. Wait a few weeks, see if rankings improve. That is a link for every page, and one that will support your main keyword.

- Jeff

I really thought I knew about linking until I read this.

This is some good info - especially about internal linking.

William, nope, it doesn't matter a bit. The server will "normalize" both of those into exactly the same thing, so by the time it hits the browser (or the search engine sees the link) they'll be identical.

Yes, i agree with Diane Aull, as internal linking is very important but you have to look it in your site first. One more thing i want tell that it is also good if you build a sitemap. This could lead your site indexing very fast in search engines.

Great points and opinions. From my personal SEO experience, internal linking is huge, especially for sites with a huge stack of pages like blogs. Speaking of which, what better way to get a bunch of links pointing to the pages you are trying to optimize then starting a blog, putting the link (with appropriate anchor text) in the footer or sidebar, and posting regularly. Great post!

What about internal linking across multiple domains or across subdomains? I've heard that too much interlinking between sites can look spammy and actually hurt your rankings - but my company has content on multiple sites and sometimes it's a good user experience to send people to a page on another site. Is there a good rule of thumb for how many (user-helpful, of course) links can go back and forth between sites?

I added internal links to my pages because I though my visitors would be interested in reading related articles. Subsequently, I learned that it was a good idea from a SEO perspective. Thank you for the re-enforcement.

Thanks, Diane, for adding more value to our internal links. My goal has always been to do this as often as possible to provide more value to the visitor experience for my customer sites. Happy to know that the search engines like it, too!

I interlinked a lot of my pages that I thought would make my site a better experience and it pushed my pages up.

I found that internal links are extremely important. Google uses them to navigate your site and if the navigation is poor or any of the links do not work properly they will downgrade you for it.You can check your internal links on Googles Webmaster tools to find out if they are having problems with them.Also extremely important is to get your site verified by Google and get Googles XML Sitemap done which greatly helps your ranking.You can do this easily again at Google Webmaster tools.

I have to disagree with your final point and most of this article really. Internal linking is in fact a key to a successful SEO strategy, but your point appears to state that it is of greater value than external links. That is where I have to disagree. You can inner link your site until you are blue in the face, but with out some QUALITY external links pointing to your site with valuable ANCHOR TEXT...then your site will never be anything more than an internal link farm.

How do search engines evaluate PDF files?

I agree that internal linking is a too often overlooked part of SEO. You can focus your links onto particular pages that you want to rank well in SERPS.
Nice post.

I find it funny that so many sites spend so much time trying to get traffic to their site via backlinks, that they forget about making the actual site worth going to. Having good internal linking makes the site easy to navigate, a site that isn't easy to navigate is going to be left in an instant, no matter how many people show up. Nice article, thanks for sharing.

Do you think that you can make too many internal links?

Yeah. I totally agree Diane.

I also heard linking back to your homepage on your own sub pages with your keywords is good practice.

Is this true or just a myth?

How about site wide links? Do they help or are they classed as spammy?

I thought you outlined this topic very well. I have read some of the comments and like everything else about the internet there are those who feel that "they" have the "secert" for success.
I live on the web (or so it seems) and I would agree with you that a balanced attack of linking is what is required. As you pointed out, internal linking, sure won't hurt.

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