Last week we talked about external hyperlinks, which direct internet users to other websites. Now let’s turn our attention to internal hyperlinks. Internal hyperlinks redirect visitors to different pages on your website. Because they don’t provide any link juice, people tend to undervalue them, which is a pity since they are a useful tool for site navigation and promotion.
Internal links provide an easy way for visitors and web crawlers to explore your website by reducing the number of clicks needed to find content. Ideally, a visitor should be able to access any page on your website with no more than three clicks.
There are four types of internal links. Menu links are normally found at the top of the website and repeat on every page.
Footer links are found at the bottom of the page and usually list the most popular pages or content on the website in order to help visitors who have scrolled to the bottom of the page without finding the content they were looking for.
Sidebar links are found on the side of the webpage. Popular sidebar links include links to popular products, recent comments, and content archives. Depending on your site’s content, they may only appear on one or two pages.
The most useful links are contextual links. These are found in the page body, describing the content that they’re linking to. These types of links target visitors while their interest is engaged, which increases the number of page visits your site receives, as well as the average time spent on your site. Internal links also provide your site with a cohesive internal structure that improves search engine visibility.
Search engines like Google use automated programs called web crawlers in order to index websites in their databases. Internal links let crawlers index your site more thoroughly, recording its content, keywords, and subpages, increasing the likelihood that they will be ranked alongside your main page. Sites like Amazon.com have been doing this for years, which is why so many of their products and sub-categories appear prominently on Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).
Web crawlers respond best to contextual links accompanied by anchor text. Not only do they have the simplest interface, which makes it easy for crawlers to follow them, but the text allows the individual pages to be indexed and ranked by the search engine.
The most important goal of internal links is to redistribute your link juice in order to draw visitors to your most important services, products, and content. Because menu, footer, and sidebar links provide the basic site architecture that allow visitors to explore your site, contextual links are the most useful in this regard. First, do some and find out how your site is indexed. What keywords are visitors using to find your site? Contextual links should always describe the page they’re directing visitors to, using keywords as anchor text.
Next, use your site tools or a link juice calculator to see which of your webpages have the most links from other websites. The page with the most links is the page that you’re going to want to link from the most often. Link carefully, though. Internal links dilute your link juice, so the more you link, the less each page will rank. Your best strategy is to target your second or third most popular Web pages, as they are going to benefit the most from the extra link juice. The best case scenario is that the boost will enable them to start ranking on the first SERP alongside your home page or in the sidelinks menu that appears beneath your homepage link in Google.
The final consideration is your link frequency. Contextual links should only be used when the context justifies it. Gratuitous linking and an overuse of important keywords are going to raise red flags and might lower your Google Trust Rank or result in your website being classified as spam. Limit yourself to six to eight links per page and keep an eye out for linking opportunities as you add more subpages to your site. Linking new material to old material is the best way to ensure that it stays fresh and popular.