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The Right and Wrong Ways to Do Internal Linking on Your WordPress Site

The Right and Wrong Ways to Do Internal Linking on Your WordPress Site

Internal linking is a part of on-page SEO (search engine optimization) that many people don’t understand. Internal links are links between the various pages of your website.  They are important for the human visitors to your website, who use them to navigate from one page to the next. But they are also important to search engine crawlers. These crawlers use internal links to discover the most important pages of your site and index them so that they come up in relevant searches.

It is important to strike a balance between not linking enough and including too many internal links on your site. This article will teach you best practices for your internal linking and offer suggestions for how to improve the link architecture of your WordPress site.

Internal Linking Basics

To do better internal linking on your site, it is important to understand the basics. Here are some of the most important things to remember as you set out to improve your approach to internal linking.

Internal Linking Spreads Value Around Your Site

You can think of the links pointed at your domain from other websites as passing a signal of trust to your website. The link tells Google and other search engines that they are vouching for the quality of your website because you earned that link from them. This flow of trust from those sites that link to you is then distributed around the rest of your website through your internal links.

Internal Linking Example

Sample internal diagram (source: Webris)

However, if you only ever link to pages at the top level of your site (say, the links in your navigation), that flow of value is stuck being concentrated at those top level pages. Good internal linking spreads that value around more by pointing deeper into your site.

Internal Linking is Important for People, Too

It is important not to think of internal linking as something you do just for the benefit of search engine optimization. Good internal linking benefits people, too, because it helps them find information that is useful to them, and it keeps them engaged with your site. This, in turn, increases your time on site and lowers your bounce rate.

How many times have you fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, clicking from one wiki to the next? Perhaps two hours later you found yourself on a topic entirely different from the one you started on. That happens because Wikipedia is great at internal linking.

Wikipedia internal linking example

Demonstration of internal linking being used on Wikipedia

5 Bad Internal Linking Habits (And How to Fix Them)

Here are five tips to help you get better at internal linking on your WordPress website.

1. Not Including Internal Links in Your Content

The worst thing you can do for your internal linking is to not do any of it at all! You are your own best asset when it comes to spreading the value around your website.

Make it a habit to link to several related posts in every new post you write. Don’t rely on a related posts plugin to do all the heavy lifting for you (although these plugins can help keep visitors moving around your website). You are best off also embedding those links directly into the content.

If you don’t remember all of your older posts, or you aren’t familiar with all of the content on your website, you can use the search bar on your WordPress blog to find relevant content. Another handy trick is the site: search query operator, used with your own domain and a relevant keyword or phrase.

Here is a search that turned up some posts relevant to this post:

  • site:elegantthemes.com internal linking
Site query example

Site search query example for Elegant Themes

It’s also a good idea to routinely revisit old posts and link to newer related posts. You don’t know where a visitor is going to enter your website. If they enter on an older post and the links only point backwards chronologically, they may never discover a newer post that solves their problem.

2. Using Too Many Internal Links

On the flipside, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

First of all, let’s clear up some outdated SEO advice: there is no longer a rule that you must limit your number of links per page to less than 100. This used to be a guideline because there were limits on the number of links the search engine crawler could crawl.

Google removed this guideline in 2013, which is a good thing. It is actually very easy to surpass this number, especially in a CMS like WordPress. If you search the source code on your homepage for “a href” (the link tag), how many do you come up with? Likely either very close to 100 or many more, and that is fine. Google’s current webmaster guidelines recommend keeping the number of links under “a few thousand at most.”

So you have a few thousand links to work within, great!

Well, there is still a case to be made for cutting down on the number of internal links you use, especially in your navigation. Sure, Google might have no problem crawling your 50-link mega menu or link-saturated footer. But it is this kind of paradox of choice that can leave your human visitors scratching their heads.

Simplify your menus; if not for search crawlers, then do it for the benefit of your visitors. For example, Amazon helps simplify their menu with expanded sub-menus that go more in-depth. This keeps a menu that literally contains hundreds of links easy to navigate.

Amazon sub-menu example

Demonstration of Amazon using sub-menus effectively

3. Over-Optimizing Your Anchor Text

Here’s another old piece of SEO advice that has gone by the wayside: over-optimizing your internal links, using exact match anchor text. This would involve always linking to other pages on your website using the anchor text you would like that page to rank for. Sometimes this is done so poorly that the sentence no longer makes sense once the link has been shoehorned in.

Fortunately for all humans who like to read intelligible writing on the internet, Google started punishing some of the sites that were doing this too much with an “over-optimization” penalty.

The most important thing to do is to make your anchor text conversational. Don’t worry about linking on specific keywords. If your content is on-topic, it should naturally be surrounded by keyword-rich words and phrases that create context for Google and your human visitors.

4. Practicing Unnatural Internal Linking

Along the same vein, you don’t want to do other things with your anchor text that attempt to manipulate your rankings.

One example is using a plugin to automatically link to pages on your site anytime you use a particular word or phrase. This creates an unnatural backlink profile for those pages. They will have many links all with the same anchor text.

Another thing you don’t want to overdo is applying a nofollow tag to links on your own domain. In the past, some SEOs have done this in an attempt to control where the value is flowing on their site. They nofollowed all but the one internal link most important to them, in order to boost that page’s rankings. This is called “pagerank sculpting.” It’s another unnatural-looking technique that could put you at risk of being penalized if you do it too often.

5. Linking to the Same Pages Over and Over

When you add internal links to your posts, don’t reuse the same couple of pages over and over.

One scenario where this might happen is if you have a very profitable page on your site. Or maybe you have a service landing page that makes a lot of sales. Your inclination might be to link to that page as often as possible, maybe even within every post! However, that page probably isn’t the most relevant resource for all of those other pages. This can start to look unnatural.

Instead, create pieces of content about related topics to those pages, and link naturally between them as appropriate. Your goal should be to link deeply and send that value to all of those rich pages; not get stuck at the top of the page hierarchy.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this post opened your eyes to the importance of strong internal linking. Maybe it even showed you how to correct a bad habit or two! This is not an exhaustive list of internal linking guidelines, but it will give you a great start.

Here are the tips from this post, summarized:

  • Always include a few relevant internal links in your posts, and regularly revisit older posts to link back to new ones.
  • Pare down heavy navigation options to the most essential, and make those subpages easier to navigate.
  • Make your anchor text conversational and avoid overusing exact match anchor text.
  • Avoid unnatural techniques like automatically adding internal links and trying to control the flow of value.
  • Link deeply and to a variety of relevant pages.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to internal linking? Share in the comments below!

Article thumbnail image by Visual Generation / shutterstock.com

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