What is an internal link structure?

The internal link structure of your website is the set of links that point from your own website, to another page of your website. By linking from one page to another, you provide link equity (SEO value). Because internal links add value for users, it also helps you make pages more findable.

If you do not link to a particular page anywhere on your website, it is most likely a sign that that page is also not important within the structure of your website. As a result, Google will value that page less and the page will be visited less often. So with internal links, you make pages more important within the information architecture of your website.

Internal links have a ‘dofollow’ tag by default. This allows Google to understand that the links may be followed. Do you want a page behind the link not to be followed by search engines? Then make use of the no-index tag on this page; with this you provide a ‘nofollow’.

SEO tools for the internal link structure

Useful SEO tools you can use to map your internal link structure are Ahrefs, ScreamingFrog, Semrush and even Google Search Console or the internal link checker. When using ScreamingFrog or Deepcrawl, you can have your website crawled in the same way that a Googlebot, the Google crawler would do.

A crawler is a piece of software that goes through all the pages and follows all the links on the internet. In this way, they map out which websites and pages are relevant and valuable. Your website is no exception.

The data from these tools can be exported to give you insight into your website. You can see which pages link to each other, which pages show a 404 or which pages have no internal links referred to them at all.

Pages without internal links

If a page does not receive any internal links, it is a so-called “orphan” page. These pages are harder to find for search engines. These pages receive no value from other pages, and the chance that there are external backlinks is small. Crawlers can only view these pages via your XML sitemap or if you have them indexed manually in Google Search Console. Not optimal for findability.

For a page to be part of the ‘SEO spider web’, every page must have at least one internal link. This means there must be at least one page that points to the page in question. However, it is much better if a page has several internal links. This makes it easiest for Google to follow.

Internal linkbuilding

Internal linking is often done without consideration, for example when you want to highlight a specific concept or page and give people the option of reading or viewing more about it. This is where people provide a clickable link (hyperlink) in the text to another page. Your menu or footer are also made up of internal links to other parts of your website. By doing so, you create cohesion between different pages, and you make sure that your entire website is assessed as valuable collectively by search engines.

Take a website like Oudersvannu.nl, for example. They are experts on parenting and babies. Not only is the header clear and logical to follow, in their blog articles you will find many relevant references to related internal blogs. This makes for a better user experience and is the focus of internal linkbuilding. Search engines also pick up on relevance. This, with good content, ensures that the website is recognized as a reliable and authoritative source when it comes to parenting and babies.

Voorbeeld van ntern linken vanuit een header en vanuit een artikel - Oudersvannu.nl

What is the difference between internal and external link building?

Besides using internal link building, you can also work as a marketer with external link building; obtaining links from an external website to your own website. This is really a separate profession, which also requires a different strategy.

As a website, you need a lot of valuable content to be seen as interesting in terms of obtaining backlinks. These are relevant and important websites, which according to Google have an authoritative position and therefore rank high.

Obtaining external links will therefore only be possible if you add value for another party with your content. The more external links to your website that are of value, the higher your position in the search engine results pages (SERP) will be. Of course, you can also link from your own website to other websites or social media pages. The method is not very different from internal linkbuilding.

Internal link structure: why is it important?

Firstly, the internal link structure of your website is important for your visitors. You want to provide a clear navigation and design the website as user-friendly as possible to increase the dwell time on the website and the chance of a conversion. The dwell time maps how long a visitor stays on your website after he/she arrives at the website from the search engine results. This is something that Google values.

Visitors use the internal link structure to navigate within the website. Make sure you keep distractions on the conversion page to a minimum, i.e. the use of (internal) links.

As a marketer, you do not only want to create a pleasant website for your visitors, you are also focused on search engine optimization, making the website easier to find. The internal link structure of your website can contribute to a better findability in Google; the more internal (and external) links your website or even a specific page has, the more value Google attaches to it.

Please note: do not place an overkill of links in an article or on a page. Consider this as the total of 100% of your page. If you have five links on a page, then each page receives 20% link juice. The more links, the less value is assigned to each link.

It all starts with making your website structure as logical as possible. Think of a website as a book, with the homepage reflecting the table of contents. From the homepage, people will navigate to the majority of the website, which is how Google perceives it. From there, you navigate to the main categories, such as overview pages or important pages that should be easily accessible via the header or footer. Below that are subcategories such as a product page, which may also have niche subcategories. For an informative site, these could be blog pages. Make sure that Google understands this and finds your specific and most important pages easily.

Voorbeeld op Smartranking.nl van interne links in de header en de footer

What is a good internal link structure

As long as you remember that most value is given to the homepage, you can work on the so-called SEO spider web from there. Make sure it is set up as logical and structural as possible, so you can also ensure consistency between different pages.

An internal link structure must be easy to follow for the visitor and reader, but for the search engines as well. In an ideal world, it should take no more than three clicks for a visitor to navigate from the homepage to the most important pages.

Voorbeeld van een SEO-spinnenweb dat ontstaat bij intern linken - SmartRanking

Websites that focus on conversion should use internal linkbuilding to point visitors in the right direction. It is important that all internal links are up-to-date. Old links or links pointing to 404 pages will be experienced as annoying and increase the chance that the visitor will leave your website sooner. Note that Google also counts minus points for 404 pages. These are a waste of your crawl budget, and you want to minimize them at all costs. A good internal link structure is therefore an important part of your SEO strategy and certainly has an influence on the positions you achieve in the SERP.

Tips for improving your internal link structure

Are you optimizing an existing website, or do you need to add content to a new website? In both cases, it is advisable to map out the website structure. There are also possibilities to partly automate the internal link structure and to influence it yourself:

  1. Provide relevant internal links
    It seems obvious, but by linking logical pages you keep it relevant and Google will also consider certain pages as ‘hotspots’. A webshop like Amazon with the category page ‘women’s shoes’ would not easily link to the ‘washing machines’ category page. Logical is to link to a product page or a sub-category page like ‘trainers’.
  2. Create an XML sitemap
    With an XML sitemap, you map out the structure of your website and indicate which pages have priority. Make sure you upload the right versions in Google Search Console. The XML Sitemap is an overview intended for search engines, so they can also index the pages. Indexing means that a page is included in the search engine’s database. For a search engine like Google, it is then known which pages exist, what content those pages show and which internal or external links exist. This is done by a crawler, and the XML Sitemap helps the crawler to understand your website better.
  3. Provide relevant internal links
    It seems obvious, but by linking logical pages you keep it relevant and Google will also consider certain pages as ‘hotspots’. A webshop like Wehkamp with the category page ‘women’s shoes’ would not easily link to the ‘washing machines’ category page. Logical is to link to a product page or a sub-category page like ‘trainers’.
    Logische interne links plaatsen van de categorie schoenen naar de subcategorie damesschoenen.
  4. Provide clear anchor texts
    When using hyperlinks in texts on pages, it is important to make the visible text (anchor text) of that hyperlink as clear as possible. Anchor texts such as ‘click here’ are difficult for search engines to understand, while a written anchor text clearly indicates what the page behind the link is about. You also create more cohesion between the pages, which Google rewards. Don’t make them too commercial and ensure diversity. If you always link with the same anchor text and next to that mention the main keyword of the linked page according to Google, you are spamming. Example of a recommended anchor text:

    1. Wrong: Check our last minutes to Aruba, Bonaire and Jamaic here.
    2. Correct: Check our last minutes to Aruba, Bonaire and Jamaica here.
  5. Ensure sufficient link juice
    The most important pages should get the most internal links. Place these pages in the header, so they will get plenty of internal links from all the pages you already have. There is also a hierarchy in the use and quantity of links. The position of the link at the beginning of the text gets more value than a link at the end of the page. As said, there should be no overkill of links, but make sure you have pages with relevant and qualitative content, and pages that have already achieved a high position in SERP.
  6. Use breadcrumbs
    By adding breadcrumbs, you provide insight into the path taken by the website visitor. Often you’ll find these at the top of the page, like the example of H&M. Breadcrumbs are not only relevant for the visitor, but also for the crawling of the website. Breadcrumbs also allow you to add internal links as hyperlinks.
    Breadcrumbs verbeteren de interne linkstructuur
  7. Internal linking: keep it simple
    At last, remember not to make it too complex. Some websites place over 50 links in their website footer. Not only is this very unnatural, Google understands that this practice is only aimed at gaining SEO advantage. You will not gain any extra value when doing so.

With these tips, you can get to work on the internal link structure of your website. The use of SEO tools is also recommended so that you can understand where the profit lies.

Jarik Oosting

This article is written by Jarik Oosting

Jarik, an accomplished SEO consultant and founder of SmartRanking, brings over 12 years of SEO experience to the table. With his team of SEO specialists, he assists companies of all sizes in enhancing their online visibility. His areas of expertise include strategy development, analysis, technical SEO, and migrations.

His extensive experience spans B2B SEO, enterprise SEO, programmatic SEO, and e-commerce SEO. He holds a degree in Informational Science from the University of Groningen, where he focused on Natural Language Processing. His goal is to provide insights and knowledge to guide businesses toward success in the ever-evolving world of SEO.

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