You might be able to increase your rankings, boost your traffic, and improve your user metrics without creating new content or building new backlinks.
Sounds crazy, right?
It all has to do with your users. Because when you get your user engagement right, Google starts to take notice.
Let’s talk about the best practices for internal linking.
But first: why you should care.
Why Worry About Internal Linking?
It’s never been so important to care about your users. In the olden days of SEO, you could keyword stuff and build PBN backlinks to thrive.
Now, you have to be better.
Google and other search engines want to make sure that users love your website. Google has admitted that content and links are the two most important ranking factors.
But the third most important ranking factor? RankBrain: a continual split test for search engine results to make sure that users are happy.
Internal links help your site rank by providing an awesome way for your users to enjoy your site more. You’re making it easier for visitors to get around to more things that they love.
This leads to improved bounce rates, time on page, and more pages per session.
You also do a better job of passing authority throughout your site. Your newer pages can rank higher and faster through the power of internal linking.
But wait, I’m just some stranger on the internet. How do I know all this stuff. Well, we ran some tests.
We saw the power of internal linking in mid-2019 at my site Niche Pursuits. We updated a couple of posts and added several internal links.
One of these posts was targeting the word “best online business” and getting a little over 70 views per day, or about 500 views per week. We added internal links and…
Traffic exploded. You can see that our 500 views per week rocketed to over 1000 per week. It was a literal doubling of traffic.
So we ran the test again. This time, we added some internal links to an article targeting “best niche markets.”
Here’s what happened:
Each of these articles got about 50 new internal links pointing to them and we added several outbound internal links.
These internal links did two things for us:
- They boosted our relevance in the eyes of Google by passing link juice.
- And they also helped our users get around to more places. An interesting side effect of our linking was that user metrics improved alongside rankings.
Here’s an example from the “best niche markets” article:
You can see that our page views went up (a combined result of more internal links pointing to the page and higher Google ranking).
Our bounce rate took an enormous 8.5% slide (that’s a good thing).
Our time on page went down. That’s because we hadn’t set the new internal links to open in new tabs. I recommend you open your links in new tabs.
The improved user metrics make a lot of sense. When visitors come to our pages, they want to know something. When they see an internal link to a related topic, they might want to know about that too.
They click the link, user metrics improve a bit.
And the more internal links there are, the more opportunities that visitors have to click.
Now let’s talk about the best practices.
Best Practices For Internal Linking
Your internal linking should have two purposes in mind:
- You want to build topical authority for your site and boost your overall authority
- You want to help your readers find amazing, engaging content that they will love
We’ll discuss each of these in depth.
Building Authority With Internal Links
Internal links help you show Google that you know what you’re talking about.
In particular, Google does a great job of finding out what kind of things you’re an expert on.
When you’re an expert in an area, we call this topical authority.
Internal linking helps you show off your expertise by using topical clusters:
On Niche Pursuits, we have an article on “Best Keyword Research Tools”. We review a bunch of paid and free tools and the article clocks in at right under 10k words.
It’s our “pillar”.
But we also have “cluster content”. We have reviews for KWFinder, Long Tail Pro, SEMRush, Jaaxy, SerpStat, and more.
All of these tools are keyword research tools. All of these individual reviews link back to our “best keyword research tools” article. Our “best keyword research tools” article links back to all of our individual review.
What does Google see?
“Wow, this guy knows a lot about keyword research tools. We can trust his website.
And sure enough, I rank pretty well for topics related to keyword research.
Helping Readers Explore Your Content
We touched on this above: Internal links help your readers get to amazing, engaging content that they love.
So here’s how to do that: First, you want to make sure that you aren’t just adding links willy nilly. The perfect internal link has relevance.
So if you’re writing about the best couch for bad backs, don’t expect to link to your article on kitchen design ideas. The opportunity just isn’t there. It’s not relevant.
But any time you see relevance, don’t be afraid to add an internal link.
And even if it seems like you see a lot of relevance, don’t be afraid to add an internal link. Because if your content is good and you have a relevant post you can link to, reader’s won’t mind. Google won’t mind.
Here’s how I know:
How Many Links Is Too Many?
We ran another little experiment at Niche Pursuits. We wanted to see what would happen if we added a bunch of internal links to a page.
Because even though Google has answered “How many is too many?” their answer isn’t the best…
Google says that we should “keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number.”
Well gee, thanks.
Matt Cutts (former head of a Google webpam team) said: “It seemed about right to recommend 100 links or so,” and “in some cases, it might make sense to have more than a hundred links.”
Once again, thank you Matt. (that was sarcasm)
So we ran some of our own tests.
I have an article ranking #1 for the term “niche sites”. That article has 101 links pointing to another article on my website. It also has 92 links pointing to other articles.
Total, it has a whopping 193 outbound links.
That’s double the maybe-one-hundred-maybe-not number that Matt gave us. But that article is ranking #1 for its target term. It’s ranking in various positions for 471 other keywords as well.
So I must be doing something right.
And that article clocks in at a whopping 6,772 words. Every 35 words, I have either an internal or external outbound link leaving.
That sounds like a lot, but users and Google love that article.
And this isn’t the only post I’ve had success from: Another article ranking for “amazon associate earnings” ranks high for over 1,000 different keywords. It does well trafficwise. It has 99 outbound internal links and 15 outbound external links for a total of 114 outbound links.
Again, well over Google’s limit.
And I’m doing just fine.
“But wait,” you might think, “how does this guy know how many internal and external links he has per page?”
Until recently, I didn’t. And then I created a plugin called Link Whisper that would show me. We’ll talk about it later.
One interesting note you can see: I have 143 and 146 internal links pointing to those articles.
I don’t know that there is a “too many” internal links per page. But I think that an irrelevant link should be lost.
Irrelevant internal links don’t help your rankings and don’t help your viewers. It’s better to not have an internal link than to force one into your content.
Take it away.
Now that we’ve talked about some best practices, let’s talk about the best ways to build internal links.
How To Build Awesome Internal Links
There are two ways to build internal links: by hand and by software.
Building links by hand is easy, but it takes time.
First, you find a post that you want to link to. Let’s say it’s a post about kitchen design ideas.
Then you have to find posts that talk about related subjects. Maybe you have a bunch of posts on fashionable kitchen furniture. Those are good places to link to your post on kitchen design ideas.
Once you find some posts where you could add internal links, you’ll need to find a good anchor text. The rule of thumb here is that your anchor text should be something that you want your post to rank for.
When you have your anchor text, highlight it in the WordPress Editor.
Copy the URL of the page you want to link to and hit Ctrl + K on Windows, Command + K on a Mac. This brings up an option to insert a link in your highlighted text. It will look like this:
Don’t forget to click the gear and open your link in a new tab 😉
This manual method is an easy and cheap way to add internal links to your site… until you have more than 10 posts or pages. Building internal links by hand has a natural upper limit. Every amazing, relevant internal link needs 4 things:
- A good anchor text for your links
- A pretty significant chunk of time (the manual method can take a while if you’re building links to/from multiple posts)
- Articles that are relevant to the article you’re writing now
- An intimate knowledge of your blog/website
And this is starting to sound like the perfect task for a VA.
But it isn’t. Even the greatest VA in the world won’t be able to build internal links very well for these reasons:
- First, there’s a fine balance between a good number of internal links and too many. The links have to be relevant or it doesn’t help you.
- Second, a VA will lack an intimate knowledge of your website. That means that your costs skyrocket as your VA has to learn your site and search it for relevant opportunities.
- So what’s the solution here?
Remember the plugin I mentioned earlier, Link Whisper? Let’s take a look at what it does.
How To Add Fast, Relevant, and Easy Internal Links
I created Link Whisper to solve my own internal linking needs. I knew that internal linking took too long and became more of a hassle the longer I put it off.
Link Whisper works with the precision of manual linking. It uses AI to judge and find relevant anchor texts for your posts. Once it has a good anchor, it suggests some posts that you could be linking to.
Link Whisper gives you internal link suggestions at the bottom of the page in the WordPress editor:
I highlighted all the ones I thought were relevant. Link Whisper isn’t perfect, but it gets a lot more relevant suggestions than it gets irrelevant 🙂
You can click the boxes on those and click Update Post.
And the links are added. One cool thing is that the links get added whether you’re using the WordPress editor, Thrive Architect, Elementor, or whatever.
And Link Whisper doesn’t just select stale anchor text. When it highlighted things in the post I screenshotted above, “target keywords” leads to a post about keyword targeting. “builds your topical authority” leads to a post about building links (hence, building your topical authority).
The results are fresh and relevant.
You can also use it to add inbound links to content.
Once you find a post that you want to add internal links to, click on Add below Inbound internal links. You get a screen like this:
The Post for adding link show you what post your link will be in. Sentence shows you where the anchor text will go within that post.
Link Whisper lets you add internal links from the posts and posts. That’s pretty powerful.
And one of my favorite features about Link Whisper is that I can use it to find so-called “orphan content”.
Orphan content is the content that doesn’t have any internal links pointing to it. Google still ranks these pages, but it’s more difficult for them to do. Your internal links provide Google with relevance indicators. When possible, it’s best to make sure that Google knows what you want to rank for.
You can filter results by “inbound internal links” and find the pages with 0 internal links pointing to them.
Overall, this is a tool that I created to solve my own need. It makes the process of internal linking easier, faster, and more relevant than you could do it otherwise.
Internal Linking Can Improve Your Site
Internal linking can help you rank higher, bring in more traffic, and have more engaged users. It is one of the lowest hanging fruits of your website and something that you can improve with little effort.
You can build links manually, but it’s very time consuming. If you have anything more than just a handful of pages, you could spend hours adding internal links, but it pays off.
If you’re like me and have 700+ pages… well, that job didn’t get done for a reason.
How are you handling internal linking on your site?
This is a guest post by Spencer Haws, a blogger, podcaster, and software entrepreneur at NichePursuits. He recently created a WordPress plugin to internal linking smarter and faster at LinkWhisper. When Spencer isn’t blogging or starting a new software project, he enjoys running marathons and spending time with his wife and 4 children.