Complete Guide to Internal Links SEO: Strategies and Best Practices

Bernard Huang
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    All great websites have three features in common. They’re easy to navigate, you can find relevant information quickly, and they have rich, well-organized content.

    How do these websites achieve this?

    They leverage the power of internal linking.

    Internal links help you create a great user experience (UX) and boost your search engine optimization (SEO).

    In this article, you’ll learn how internal linking helps SEO. We’ll also cover essential internal linking strategies and best practices to rank high on search engine result pages (SERPs).

    Internal links: The basics

    Internal links are links from a webpage to a different page on the same website. They often appear within the content of the webpage. They could also appear on navigational menus, sidebars, or call-to-action (CTA) buttons.

    Here’s a snippet from Clearscope’s article, “On-Page SEO: Your Guide to Higher Rankings in 2023.” When a user clicks on “page ranking factors,” the link will take them to another Clearscope article.

    The blue text, “page ranking factors,” is called the anchor text.

    Example of an internal link.

    The differences between internal and external links

    Both internal and external links are hyperlinks that lead the reader to another piece of content. Although their text formatting is the same, they’re very different. While internal links lead a visitor to other pages on the same website, external links (backlinks) lead the visitor to a page on another website.

    Webmasters have complete control over their internal links. They can decide which pages of their website should link to each other. However, they can’t control inbound links, i.e., links from external websites leading to their webpage. The best they can do is to tell Google to ignore backlinks from certain spammy websites (disavow links) to avoid SEO penalties.

    When a reputable website links back to your website, Google considers it as a sign of your website’s authority. So, external links contribute to the backlink authority of your website, and internal links help distribute this authority among related pages on your website.

    Jonas Sickler, digital marketing analyst at Terakeet, shared an interesting perspective in a Clearscope webinar on internal links. Assume that your website is a house. External links bring power to your website (in the form of domain authority and trust). Internal links help distribute this power (backlink authority) throughout your website.

    Differences between internal and external links.

    Types of internal links

    Based on the place they appear on a webpage, we can divide internal links into three categories: contextual, navigational, and anchor links.

    Types of internal links.

    Contextual links

    These are internal links that appear within a webpage’s content. They are also known as editorial links or in-text links.

    While discussing an idea on a webpage, you may place a contextual link to another page that elaborates on this concept or covers a related idea. This allows website visitors to go in-depth into a specific topic.

    For example, here’s a Semrush article that explains how to rank higher on SERPs, and it briefly discusses search intent. The internal link with “search intent” as the anchor text leads to another article that focuses on that topic.

    Readers unfamiliar with search intent might follow this link to learn more about it.

    Example of a contextual link (image source)

    In-text links aren’t just useful for your website visitors. They help search engines, too. Contextual links with descriptive anchor text help Google understand your content better. Google follows the contextual links on a webpage to discover new, relevant pages on the website.

    Navigational links

    These are internal links found on a website's navigation menu. For example, the header of your homepage may have navigational links to your products, customer service, blog, or other important pages.

    Navigational links might appear on other parts of your website, as well. Here are a few examples:

    • Sidebar: Links to a list of pages related to a webpage.

    • Header: Links to main pages on a website on the top navigational menu.

    • CTA: Links that help visitors complete an action, like a purchase or download.

    • Articles carousel: Links to related articles or webpages at the end of an article.

    • Footer: Links along the bottom of the page that share information about the business.

    • Breadcrumbs: Links on the top of the page that help visitors identify where they’re on a website.

    Let’s look at a few examples of navigational links on the Clearscope website. The navigational menu leads visitors to main pages like pricing, webinars, and support. The two CTA links in the top right allow users to sign in (or create a new account) and request a demo. The page also has links leading to articles.

    Examples of navigational links on the Clearscope blog page.

    Anchor links

    Anchor links (or jump links) link one part of a webpage to another part of the same page. Links on a table of contents are examples of anchor links.

    Anchor links help readers quickly refer to another part of the article. They’re also useful when you want to internally link to a specific section of an article.

    On-page anchor links help search engines understand your website's structure. Google often picks up these anchor links and presents them as sitelinks in SERPs. Sitelinks are shortcuts to an article that appear along with search engine results.

    For example, from Clearscope’s article “Topic Clusters: What Are They? Do They Help Your SEO? (with Video),” Google picked up two anchor links and presented them as sitelinks on the SERPs for “topic clusters.” Since Google presents sitelinks that match the search intent, users probably will click on these links.

    An example of how sitelinks appear on Google SERPs (image source)

    Why are internal links important for SEO?

    How internal linking helps your SEO.

    Internal links help search engine crawlers, like Googlebot, understand the structure of a website. They also allow crawlers to discover new content and its relationship to the rest of the website. Internal linking distributes the backlink authority of a top-performing page to all related pages on your website.

    Let’s examine how search engines use internal links to index and rank your webpages.


    Let’s say you’ve published a new blog post on competitive content analysis. Since it's a new post, search engines haven’t indexed it yet. Internal linking is a way to speed up indexing.

    So, if you add an internal link to this new article from a top-performing blog post on content pruning, Google might follow the link to discover your competitive content analysis post.

    How internal linking helps Google index new pages faster.


    In a Google webinar, John Mueller noted that internal links help Google find your most important pages. Google uses internal linking as an indicator of the importance of a page on a website. The more internal links to a page, the more important it appears.

    Structure and context

    Internal links help search engines understand how your website is structured. In addition to the overview of the entire website structure, the link also helps search engines understand the context of new pages.

    In his Clearscope webinar, Sickler explained that the anchor text and the paragraph around the internal link inform search engines about the content on the target page.

    Authority and expertise

    Google recommends Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust (E-E-A-T) as determiners for webpage quality. So, establishing your authority and expertise helps you rank better on SERPs.

    A website with good interlinking between pillar content and topic clusters might convince Google that the website has extensive, authoritative information — a positive signal of a website’s quality.

    Internal linking strategies to boost your SEO

    These top internal linking strategies will help you boost your SEO with minimal effort.

    Internal linking strategies to boost SEO.

    Pass backlink authority through internal linking

    When a webpage links to another, it passes a part of its authority to the destination page. This is true for internal and external links.

    Let’s say you have a relatively new page with no external websites linking to it. You can boost it by having some of your top-performing pages link to it. This link equity sharing should be an essential part of your internal link-building strategy.

    However, for this to work, you must link pages that are contextually related.

    First, make a list of your top-performing pages. You can quickly get this information from Google Search Console. Then, explore the linking opportunities from these pages to new or low-performing pages with related content.

    If a page has a high SERP ranking and traffic but not much content, consider adding more content to the page to open up internal linking opportunities.

    Define topic clusters with mindful internal linking

    Internal linking is an easy way to create a neatly structured topic cluster. You will have a pillar article at the center of the cluster. It could be a comprehensive article that touches on many ideas, and each of these ideas is expanded into a cluster page.

    Creating topic clusters through internal linking has many benefits, including:

    • Helping search engines understand your content.

    • Making it easy for your visitors to find information.

    • Passing the authority of pillar pages to all the cluster pages.

    When a search engine understands the context better, it may lead to a better ranking. Well-structured clusters show search engines how extensively you cover each topic. This helps establish your website as an authority on a keyword or a topic.

    Strengthen top-performing pages with internal links

    Internal linking can also strengthen your top pages.

    For example, say you have an article that ranks number four on SERPs. Adding a few internal links to the article on some of your other authoritative pages might bump it up to a higher spot.

    Your website might have many pages with similar content. So, when you link internally, there could be many possible candidates for the target page. In that case, pick the page that will give the best SEO results.

    For example, the Clearscope blog has two similar articles, “5 SEO Writing Assistants” and “5 SEO Content Writing Tools.” Let’s say we’re creating a new article, “The Essential Steps of SEO Writing.” It has an internal linking opportunity for an article about SEO writing tools.

    Now, we have two options for the target page. So, we’ll compare the SEO performance of the two similar articles through factors like their current ranking on SERPs, monthly traffic, and click-through rates (CTRs), then link to the article with better values for these metrics.

    Fix broken links and redirect chains

    Broken links are internal links to webpages that don’t exist. An internal link to a webpage might be broken if that page was removed or access-restricted. A link could also be broken if the destination URL is modified.

    Fixing broken links should be an essential part of your internal linking strategy for two reasons:

    • Improve UX: Website visitors click on an internal link to learn more about a subject or to perform an action. For example, they might click a CTA link to download an ebook. A broken link leads visitors to a dead end, and the visitor might leave the website dissatisfied. This creates a bad UX, and the website loses the chance of converting a prospect. Monitoring and fixing broken links ensures a great UX and promotes conversions.

    • Maintain your SEO performance: Google considers UX as a ranking factor. Users might quickly leave when they encounter broken links, increasing the bounce rate. Bad UX and a high bounce rate might prompt search engines to push a website down the SERPs.

    Redirect chains are equally bad. Let’s say you do a content refresh and redirect article A to a new URL, article B. You might have internal links from many pages leading to article A. So, readers who click those links will be redirected to article B. This creates a bad UX and confuses search engines.

    You should identify redirect chains and link to the destination URL directly.

    Ensure every new page has internal links

    A webpage with no internal links leading to it is known as an orphan page. Your users might never reach that page, and search engines won’t be able to index it quickly.

    So, whenever you create a new page, ensure at least some internal links lead to it.

    Use navigational links to create the website structure

    Navigational links are great for creating a neat website hierarchy. Smart internal linking can create an easy-to-understand site structure that impresses your target audience and search engines.

    Google says a strong link architecture helps it understand your website better. A good internal linking structure may also win you additional sitelinks in SERPs.

    For example, if you search for “Clearscope” on Google, the first result is a link to the Clearscope homepage, along with sitelinks to the main landing pages.

    Example of how Google picks up sitelinks from a well-structured website.

    Navigational links are also useful for organizing topic clusters and keeping website visitors engaged.

    Here are a few things you can do with navigational links:

    • Create a sidebar to direct visitors to related content.

    • Add a “related articles” or “read more” section at the end of an article.

    • Create a category page that appears in your navigational menu along with a submenu that displays its cluster pages.

    Audit and adjust internal links

    Internal linking is not a one-time job. You should keep auditing your internal links and making adjustments.

    Add these tasks to your link auditing checklist:

    • Add more links to pillar and child pages as you expand topic clusters.

    • Interlink new cluster pages when they’re contextually related.

    • Update links on old articles to point to new articles.

    • Add links to new content to avoid orphan pages.

    Internal linking SEO best practices

    Now that you know the basic internal link-building strategies, let’s look at a few best practices.

    Internal linking SEO best practices.

    Use an optimum number of internal links

    Internal links help you define a website structure and link related articles. However, you shouldn’t overdo it.

    There are no hard and fast rules about the optimum number of links. It may vary depending on the page. For example, a pillar page may have more internal links than a cluster or subtopic page.

    Ethan Smith, CEO of Graphite, a top SEO and growth marketing agency, suggests that 10-20 internal links are optimal.

    But how do too many internal links hurt a page?

    In the Google webinar, Mueller explained the issues they can cause:

    Let’s say you’ve linked every webpage on your website to every other page. Each page has too many links pointing to it, making it impossible for Google to determine your most important pages. This also spoils the structure of your website.

    Muller also pointed out that using too many internal links could dilute the flow of link authority and create a bad UX.

    So, if you have too many internal links within a webpage’s content, consider moving them to a sidebar or a “related topics” carousel at the bottom of your page.

    Add extra internal links to a page as related posts at the end of the page.

    Optimize the anchor text

    Anchor text is essential for SEO since it tells search engine crawlers what the destination content is about.

    Although using anchor text that exactly matches the target keyword in the destination article can lead to a penalty in the case of external links, Sickler said this isn’t the case for internal links.

    Let’s look at a few good practices for anchor text:

    • Destination’s content: The anchor text should match the content of the destination page. For example, don’t use “the SEO strategy” as your anchor text if the link leads to an article about Pagerank. While Pagerank is an essential part of SEO, readers and search engines would expect the target article to talk about SEO strategies in general.

    • Destination’s intent: The anchor text should also match the destination article’s intent. If the anchor text has the words “how-to guide,” the reader will expect a step-by-step guide on the destination page. Visitors might feel cheated if the destination is a “pros and cons” article.

    • Unique wording: It’s also important not to use the same anchor text to link to different webpages. This is true for links appearing within the same webpage and your whole website. Using the same anchor text for different articles might confuse search engines about the context of the target articles.

    • Descriptive phrasing: It’s not a good idea to use generic phrases like “click here” as the anchor text. The anchor text should describe the content of the destination page.

    Anchor text best practices.

    Avoid using extraneous formatting

    Websites often format their links with markers like urchin tracking modules (UTM) to distinguish between the sources of incoming traffic to a webpage.

    For example, here’s the URL of Ahrefs’ article on “Why Social Signals Matter for SEO”:

    URL for Ahrefs’ social signals article.

    If Ahrefs advertises this article on Facebook, it might add UTM parameters to this URL to identify how many people visited this article through Facebook. The link might look like:

    URL for Ahrefs’ social signals article with UTM parameters.

    While this formatting is a good idea for external links to your website, you don’t want to do it for your internal links. According to Daniel Waisberg, a search advocate at Google, that will distort your performance data.

    UTM parameters are bad for internal links (screenshot)

    How does this happen?

    Whenever a user clicks on an internal link with a UTM parameter, it’s considered a new session. Google Analytics then considers the first session as dropped, increasing the bounce rate and decreasing the session duration. In reality, the user is still on your website.

    Control crawl depth

    Crawl depth (click depth) is the number of clicks it takes to reach a specific page from your homepage. You must carefully plan your internal linking strategies to ensure your pages aren’t buried within your website. This helps you with improving UX and SEO.

    In a Google webinar, Mueller explains that if a page is several clicks away from important pages, like the homepage, Google might assume the content isn’t that critical. But if the page is one or two clicks away from the homepage, Google considers it an important page, and this adds weight to the page’s SEO ranking.

    Setting up topic clusters and pillar articles with the appropriate internal linking between them will help you avoid buried pages. You must also avoid linking to pages that redirect to another page — redirects increase crawl depth.

    Final thoughts: How to use internal links to boost your SEO

    Properly structured internal links improve your UX and help search engines find new pages on your website. They also can pass link authority from your top-performing pages to other pages on your website.

    A great internal linking strategy will help you define your site structure, create topic clusters, and lead visitors deep into your website. As a result, it will boost your SEO and persuade visitors to stay on your website longer.

    Following link-building best practices and auditing your links are essential to leveraging the power of internal linking.

    For example, you should choose an optimal number of links and only connect contextually related pages. Too many internal links or the wrong anchor text could hurt your website’s SEO performance and UX.

    Are you ready to take your website’s internal linking to the next level? Clearscope’s Inventory Link tool will help you get there.

    Written by
    Bernard Huang
    Co-founder of Clearscope
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