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Internal linking

One of the first facts you learn from search engine optimization is the importance of links as a ranking factor. A well-developed linking through external sites is a central aspect, but also the internal linking of a website has a big influence on the ranking in the SERPs. The internal links represent the structural linking of the various contents of a holistic Internet presence in order to facilitate indexing for the search engine and navigation for the user. Not only the quality and quantity of back links favour the ranking, but also a cleverly designed internal link structure. Internal links are necessary to signal to the search engine which contents within a domain are important - also more important than others - and how they belong together thematically. The web crawlers from Google and Co. search the web by jumping from link to link, which is why internal linking is also important for indexing. Of course, the website architecture must always bear in mind that the user should find the website intuitive and easy to navigate.

If you have thought about a meaningful internal link structure that should simplify navigation on the website for both the user and the search engine, you can choose between many different options for placing an internal link: in the main navigation of a website, the meta navigation, the sidebar, in one in the footer area or directly in the content. The sitemap and the breadcrumb navigation usually represent the relevant URLs and additional information for the search engine in a hierarchy.

There are two types of links: Links in the navigation, the sidebar, in the footer or in the breadcrumb are all "site-relevant", i.e. they are set automatically - with logical construction of the internal links -, normally appear on every subpage and are independent of the content. They serve usability and serve a practical purpose. The links that are relevant for the content and thus also loved by the search engine are those that are placed in the content and link from it, which is why they belong to the most important of the internal link structure (just like external backlinks, by the way). The website operator sets them manually and thus makes a recommendation within the content to another, topic-related page within his own domain. Content links have more link power than all others, which is why they should be carefully maintained. For internal links, the link should be "hard" to, i.e. keywords should appear in the anchor text, as they also give the search engine a strong signal regarding the relevance of the topic.

Most often the start page is internally linked, which ideally initiates the Internet presence and from which one should reach all subpages by a few clicks. The structure is then designed in such a way that you can access individual subject areas from the start page, which in turn are subdivided into sub-topics. The following graphic shows this as an example of a clever internal linking of a furniture store website:

Here you can see that internal links can also be created between the individual subject areas if these fit thematically. This is not only important for the user, but also for the search engine crawler, who recognizes the link as thematic proximity and records it in the index. Another feature of internal linking is the distribution of Linkjuice, which is created by external backlinks. If these link to the homepage of a website, the linkjuice is distributed to the other pages via the internal links. The linkjuice is distributed to all outgoing links in approximately equal parts. The closer a page in the hierarchy is to the start page, the more linkjuice it receives, which is why a clever internal linking structure should always take the distribution of the linkjuice into account. The interaction with the link power of the backlinks can therefore be used, for example, to transfer the linkjuice of prominent, externally linked pages internally to others and to highlight them. The big advantage of internal links is that you can decide on their placement and the target completely freely.

The internal linking of a website has more influence on the ranking than many webmasters think. Therefore, one should strive for a link structure that makes sense for both the user and the search engine and not only use it with regard to usability, but also create it for the content.

Sense and purpose of internal links

The internal link fulfils several purposes at once. It makes sense both for Google & Co. and for users.

For search engines: If one assumes that only a fraction of all URLs of a medium-sized website are externally linked via backlinks, it becomes clear that the internal link structure takes on an important task at this point. As soon as the Googlebot or another search engine crawler visits a website, it follows the links on it according to the information in the robots.txt. The anchor text is also read and interpreted. The internal links thus provide the bot with information on further content and provide the crawler with the thematic context of subpages of a domain. Due to the frequency of the internal links and their link texts, the bot can recognize, for example, why a certain subpage is more relevant to a certain search term than another; even without an external backlink referring to the corresponding page.

For users: Internal links are visible to users e.g. as main navigation or in the breadcrumb structure. Thus, one goal of internal linking for users is already mentioned: orientation. At the same time, links within a website offer the opportunity to draw attention to other topics or supplementary content. In this way, the website also benefits because the user stays on the page longer. This user signal can in turn have a positive effect on the classification of the website by search engines. A classic example of successful internal linking is Wikipedia. There every visitor is offered an appropriate "offer" for each article to inform himself about further facts with just one click.

This is what distinguishes a good link structure

With the help of internal links, the thematic allocation of sub-pages as well as the navigation of users can be optimized. In order for the link structure to make sense, webmasters and SEOs should pay attention to the following aspects:

  • Internal links should ideally not be placed in the footer or the sidebar.
  • The ideal place for internal links is at the beginning of the content, so that a click on the respective link can actually take place.
  • The anchor text of an internal link should consist of the central keyword of the target page or give the user and the search engine a clear indication of the link target.
  • The internal links of a website should stand out from the rest of the text in colour, italic/bold and/or underline.
  • Internally placed links should match the topic of the link giving page and should take up, extend or supplement the topic through the linking.
  • The internal links should actually be clicked on by users.
  • The amount of links used within the page should be limited to a reasonable amount per subpage so that as much as possible is passed on to Linkjuice.
  • The link target should always be linked to the same keyword within the domain.

Difference between internal, incoming and outgoing links

While search engines like Google have set up appropriate spam filters for backlinks via the search algorithms, this restriction does not apply to internally set hyperlinks. Today, for example, the use of "hard" keyword links should be avoided for external links in order not to receive a penalty from Google.

For internal links, it is especially important to use the keyword in the link text so that search engines can orient themselves better within the website.

In contrast to outbound links, internal linking does not require attention to problems such as bad neighborhood. In principle, it is possible to link from any part of the domain to any URL within the domain.

FAQ about internal links

How many internal links should a website have?

For a long time, the rule was that there should not be more than 100 links on a URL. But actually there is no limit. However, the Googlebot's crawl budget is limited by the number of internal links in a URL. Basically, the more crawl budget there is for a URL, the more internal links can be set.

Is there a Google Penalty if I only use keyword links internally?

No, unlike incoming backlinks, there is no restriction on internal linking. Even straight keyword links should be used.

Aren't the links in the main navigation sufficient?

The most important categories are usually reached via the main navigation of a website. In order to also refer to deeper directories, internal links should also be set in the content.

Is internal linking also worthwhile for small pages?

Even with small websites, the internal linking of subpages should be logical and structured in order to use the advantage for ranking.

How do I create internal links with a OnePager?

Internal cross-references in a OnePager can be created with the help of anchor links. Depending on the type of link text, these links can be displayed in a rich snippet.

Can search engines also read internal links in JavaScript?

Search engines can partially read JS, but the links in the script are usually not considered for internal linking.

What happens if I link to a URL that is forwarded?

If an internal link points to a redirection, this is initially not an error. This can happen again and again. However, two things should be considered: First, the link loses a little "linkjuice", although not much. And then the redirection should be permanent, the status code is 301 (not 302 or 307).