Internal Linking Best Practices

Cara Bowles    By under SEO.

Everyone in the SEO industry knows links are an incredibly important ranking signal, but internal links are often neglected. In this post, let's talk about best practices for internal links.

What Is An Internal Link?

spokes

Hyperlinks are clickable text pointing to a specific URL with html markup that tells browsers to navigate the user to that URL when they click the link. In the SEO industry especially, hyperlinks that point from one page on a domain to another page on the same domain are called internal links.

Internal links use the same html markup as any other hyperlink:

<a href="https://example.com/folder/page" title="hover text">anchor text</a>

We are operating under the assumption that this link is found on a page at https://example.com. Clicking the link will take the user to https://example.com/folder/page. An internal link can actually also function without listing the domain, using a relative link that only includes the path, like this:

<a href="/folder/page" title="hover text">anchor text</a>

Here, the domain https://example.com will automatically be added to the path /folder/page to generate the full URL https://example.com/folder/page.

The first best practice we will recommend is NOT to use relative links.

Avoid relative links because if one of your pages is scraped and copied to another location, the link won't work properly when it gets posted elsewhere. Any time your links are copied, you want the links to work and point to your site so that any SEO authority will point back to your pages and any users who click the links will be directed to your pages.

The link title, hover text in this example, tells browsers what to display as a little pop up if the user hovers their mouse over the link. The link title attribute is not used by search engines, so you should only use it to provide users with additional information about the page they will visit by clicking the link.

The anchor text, simply anchor text in this example, is the text the user actually sees in their browser. The user generally doesn't see the destination URL in the browser, they will only see the clickable anchor text. Anchor text does impact how search engines interpret links and URLs and we will speak more on best practices for anchor text in this post.

Internal links are useful because:

  • They make it easy for users to navigate your site simply by clicking on links without needing to know URLs.
  • They, ideally, organize your site's pages into a clear hierarchy of importance and subject categories.
  • They spread search engine authority between pages on your site.

Generally Accepted Best Practices For Internal Links

Now that we know what internal links are and what they are for, let's talk about how to use them most effectively for SEO.

Do Not Use Relative Links

As we mentioned above, relative links only work when they are on the same site. If your internal links are copied and pasted somewhere else, they won't work. This not only means users can't click the link to visit pages on your site, it also means that the link won't send any search engine authority to your page. The search engine has no way of knowing that the link is supposed to be attributed to your site.

Every Page Should Be Easy To Find Through Internal Links

pointing at map

Remember that the fundamental purpose of hyperlinks is to make it easy for users to navigate the web. A user should be able to easily find the page they are looking for by clicking on your internal links.

Your site's most important pages should be reachable by clicking links in the main navigation at the top of every page. Less important pages should be easy to navigate to from links on those pages. The most common way this is organized is by creating category pages linked to from the main navigation. The category pages then link to the remaining pages on the site, either directly or through subcategories, which may themselves either link to pages or deeper subcategories and so on.

There are several reasons why this is typically the best way to organize your site:

  • Google crawls the web by following links. If it can't find your pages through links, it can't index your pages.
  • If your pages are organized intuitively by links that follow a categorical structure, it is easier for search engines to determine in what context your pages are relevant to show in search results. Google analyzes the content of pages that link to a page in order to determine what that page is about.
  • Sites that are well organized and easy for users to navigate will encourage users to stay and explore rather than return to the search engine. Aside from the obvious benefit of increasing user retention, this is also a positive signal to search engines that users are happy with the site.

Don't Hide Links In Forms

paperwork

If a link isn't plainly visible in a page's HTML and is only accessible if the user fills out a form, then Google may not be able to find it. Do not count on any dynamically generated link to be discoverable by search engines. While Google has been known to do these things, only static HTML should be considered "search engine safe."

Don't Hide Links In Search Results

magnifying glass

Google generally does not crawl links found in search results. Including a search box for users is great for usability, but Google advises webmasters to block search engines from crawling search results pages, so this clearly isn't an acceptable place to include links that you want search engines to crawl.

Don't Hide Links In JavaScript

Google has been known to parse JavaScript but, like any kind of dynamically generated link, this is not a good place to include internal links that you hope will be crawled by search engines. Anything discoverable through JavaScript should also be discoverable through static HTML. This goes for Flash, Java, and anything similar.

Keep The Number Of Links On A Page Below The Low Hundreds

too many chains

Modern Google does not have any firm cutoff on the number of links allowed on a page, but as a general best practice 150 links should be considered a rough cutoff point. There can be exceptions for especially important pages built intentionally as collections of links, as long as user experience is centered.

If there are too many links on a page, Google may stop crawling additional links out of concern that it is encountering an infinite link space or simply a computationally intense space of links.

Conclusion

Stay ahead of your competitors by giving your internal links the attention they deserve. Save this post and stay on top of your internal links.