Internal links are incredibly useful and effective, though sometimes complicated, aspect of your SEO strategy. While external backlinks are an effective search engine optimization (SEO) signal, in that they tell search engines, such as Google, others endorse your content, internal linking helps search engines understand the structure, importance, and hierarchy of your content.
In its ‘Importance of Link Architecture‘ resource on the Google Developers Blog, Google states:
“Link architecture—the method of internal linking on your site — is a crucial step in site design if you want your site indexed by search engines. It plays a critical role in Googlebot’s ability to find your site’s pages and ensures that your visitors can navigate and enjoy your site.”
Too often, brands fail to take advantage of the opportunities that smart internal linking provide. In this post, we’ll discuss the difference between external and internal backlinks and helpful tips to enhance your business’ internal linking strategy.
What’s the Difference Between Backlinks and Internal Links?
External links are any backlink from one web entity (website, blog, etc.) or company that points to another content piece or web page from another site. The link can come from images, content, and other forms of media and are a significant factor for ranking.
An internal link connects one part of a website to another. One of the most common examples is a link in a website navigation bar. This can include a dropdown, breadcrumb, or another navigation component.
Internal links can also take you from one page to another throughout a brand’s website to navigate different pieces of content. These are known as contextual links. The link adds context to one content piece by linking to another. This enables the site visitor to easily navigate to another relevant page.
For example, if a consumer is reading about “Fun Places to Stay in Tampa” and thecontent briefly discusses a unique aquarium, an internal backlink can take the reader to another piece of content that goes into more detail about that aquarium.
Unlike external backlinks, you can easily choose where to place internal links. This makes it easier to connect relevant content and create more internal links faster. And, you can decide where consumers will visit next based on your most pertinent content. At the enterprise level, with large sites or local pages for hundreds or thousands of locations, it’s important you have a plan in place to ensure you apply internal links consistently.
Internal Links Are Ranking Factors
In addition to their importance to user experience, internal links pass PageRank from the home page and other main pages to pages deeper in the site. The Whitespark 2021 local ranking factors specifically mentions internal backlinks as one of the main ranking signals. For organic or non-local pack rankings, it is one of the top three ranking signals.
It is also number fourteen on the local pack or map pack listing rankings.
How can local enterprise brands improve your internal link optimization? Here are a few recommendations.
Optimize Your Website’s Navigation Structure
First, take a look at your website’s navigation structure. There are many different options for website navigation, such as dropdown navigation or horizontal navigation bars.
Create well-structured breadcrumb navigation for optimal internal link optimization. Breadcrumb navigation not only improves internal link equity but also improves the user experience (UX) because it helps the user navigate their experience on a website.
They take a customer from one point to another without having to hit the back button or search for further information. Since you want to simplify the journey for your customer to present your most important content upfront, utilizing breadcrumb navigation can be a beneficial way to accomplish this. Here’s what it looks like:
Another bonus for breadcrumb navigation is that they are easy to create throughout your site. A local marketing partner can help improve breadcrumb navigation. For example, Rio SEO implements breadcrumb navigation as best practice for local pages. Here is an example of a well-optimized navigation breadcrumb link for a financial institution:
This makes it easier for customers to reach each intended site point along the way. Notice how the anchor text in the location includes the keywords “Bank and ATM Services.” The keywords here in the backlink are considered a positive SEO ranking factor.
Google accounts for these keywords as being relevant for a particular landing page. Therefore, it is a SEO best practice to use relevant, targeted keywords in the anchor text of the breadcrumb link.
Map Out Your Linking Structure
Whether you choose a breadcrumb navigation plan or any other form, it’s important that you have an organized map of your internal links. This way, different content is grouped together. Then you can focus on weaving together different content pieces to optimize your backlink strategy. In turn, plans for how each piece of content relate to each other don’t get confused or become unorganized.
Pinpoint the main anchor pages throughout your website to build off of to help increase your ranking. Additionally, these main pages can help you find opportunities to create more content and make more internal backlinks.
Another valuable aspect to note is that brands typically have more than one web property to enhance the local user experience, such as their main website and coexisting subfolder or subdomain for local pages. Creating a backlinking architecture throughout is important for link strategy success.
Additionally, the link that points to the locator experience is powerful because it originates from the brand’s main website. However, instead of using “locations”, this particularly strong backlink could be better optimized to include a primary keyword phrase in the anchor text.
For example, this particular grocery chain previously used the anchor with just the phrase “locations” in the footer navigation section of their website, which isn’t ideal.
This was later optimized to say “Grocery & Pharmacy Locations”. This update is a much stronger SEO signal for the brand’s location page finder. It’s critical to figure out which keywords will be the best for internal links.
Add Links to Main Pages and Blog Mentions
Make internal linking a best practice and part of your content planning strategy. When you outline a new piece of content, include information for the writer(s) about which pages they can link to and what other resources on the website they can surface and refer to.
Also ask a webmaster to backlink to your website (preferably once or twice in the main body content) if you are guest posting original content on third party website. However be careful not to overdue this particular backlinking strategy. One way to stay safe is to make sure to backlink brand mentions in your main body content.
After you see how your blog posts are performing, you can look for opportunities to add additional links to your most popular posts, as well.
More Helpful Backlinking Tips
Before we close out, here are a couple more helpful tips to get you started on your backlink journey.
If you’re overwhelmed with the prospect of mapping and planning links, the first thing you can do is assess your existing links using a tool such as Screaming Frog.
Identify broken links and evaluate which pages are already linked together. This is especially important if you have recently:
- Changed up your content
- Are fixing up or refreshing old content
- Are producing a stream of new content
You want to make sure your links are doing their job to keep more consumers on your page and help you rank higher on results pages.
Make sure you’re using relevant anchor text. This helps search engines understand the context of the link and is also essential for users, who should have a clear idea of where they’re being directed to when they click a link. It can be helpful to use keywords in anchor text, but be careful of overoptimizing and looking spammy.
Use Plugins to Optimize Your Internal Linking Strategy
Internal link building can be time-consuming, so it’s important to automate the process when possible. You can accomplish this with various plugins, such as Yoast SEO, or a custom script for different topic groups. This way, you don’t have such a repetitive process for your team each time you want to release a series of new content.
It’s important to remember not to overload your content with internal links. Place them carefully throughout your content so as not to weigh heavily on one specific area. When in doubt, err on the side of user experience. Focus on using your high-traffic pages to direct more traffic to high-converting pages that directly impact your bottom line.
Curious about your website structure and how it’s serving your SEO goals? We offer enterprise brands a free local presence audit to pinpoint opportunities to improve your local presence and boost organic traffic to all of your locations.