Internal link structures guide search engines through the depths of a website and represent connections between the individual webpages. Therefore, they have a major impact on the OnPage SEO due to the link juice distribution within the website.
It is clear how important internal links and optimized link structures within a website are for search engine optimization. This article will explain the most common errors and complications associated with internal linking as well as reasons why you must avoid them. You will also learn about the optimal solutions and aids for proper handling of links within your website in order to prevent reoccurrence of such errors.
Anchor text – also called link text – is the clickable text in a hyperlink that is highlighted in color. Anchor texts are important optimization signals for internal links since they provide users and search engines with information about the content of the landing page. A link that uses "Products" as the anchor text should point to the product page of the website. You should always use informative and descriptive text in order to avoid disappointing users or search engines with inappropriate anchor texts. Furthermore, the keywords you use are also crucial for the OnPage search engine optimization.
These errors often occur in archive pages, category pages, or blogs if the anchor texts do not contain keywords or descriptive information about the landing page. For example, an article overview should not use "more" or "read more" as the anchor text of the different links. You should use the article’s title as the anchor for the links. This ensures that matching keywords and information are also contained in the articles anchor text.
Figure 1: Optimize anchor texts using OnPage.org
Whereas external links can negatively impact the search engine optimization of the website if you overuse the same keywords in the anchor text, internal links do not pose the risk of over-optimization through keyword anchor texts. This means that you should not be afraid of any negative impacts on the quality of the website due to reusing the same keywords for the anchor text. Anchor texts inform search engines about the subject of the landing page and the keywords for which it should be classified. The more distinct the keywords are and the more frequent you use them, the higher the probability of the landing page being ranked higher for these keywords.
However, you should select an appropriate link concept carefully and properly plan all anchor texts of the various landing pages in order to make the most of the internal link juice, i.e. the values passed on to the destination page.
DSince a link’s anchor text is meant to reveal information about the landing page, you should avoid confusing search engines by using identical or very similar anchor texts for the same landing page. Interlinking two webpages with the same keyword makes it harder for search engines to evaluate these pages, regardless of whether or not they are thematically interrelated.
The best way to avoid such conflicts is by clearly defining and structuring your anchor texts as early as during the web design phase. This helps you avoid conflicts with search engines and always fulfills the requirements of your users. A detailed and well-structured link concept for the website provides a good overview of both the internal links and their anchor texts. Similar to page titles, it is also essential to clearly define a keyword per page for your anchor texts.
Although search engines consider every link they come across when crawling a page, they only pass on the link juice to the first link on a landing page and hence only evaluate the first anchor text. This means that if a document has several links to the same landing page, only the first link will receive the link power.
Tests, such as the anchor text test by Malte Landwehr, show that anchor texts are given preference to image links pointing to the same landing page. This means that for linked images, the subsequent anchor text counts for the same destination.
You can analyze the number of links placed on a website using OnPage.org reports. These enable you to quickly identify wasted potential and optimization opportunities in your website’s internal link structure.
Figure 2: OnPage.org Report - Content > Links
When saving an image with a link, you should make sure to use an appropriate Alt tag and image title. Since there is no direct anchor text in this case, search engines analyze the Alt text and image title (as long as the website does not have any anchor text for the same landing page).
Using breadcrumbs on your entire website is a must-have for your internal linking. Breadcrumb links provide a directory structure of the website and optimally piece together your link hierarchy. This way, all parent pages on your website are assigned one link. Therefore, you do not need to add links in sidebars or footnotes to avoid orphan pages. The breadcrumb links often help ensure that each website has sufficient internal links and hence sufficient link power.
The Hierarchy Report on OnPage.org enables you to easily analyze your website’s link structure.
Figure 3: Link hierarchy on OnPage.org
Note: You should structure the breadcrumb navigation very carefully. Wrongful use of the breadcrumb navigation can quickly lead to losses in the link juice distribution on your website.
It is no longer a secret that search engines pass on the link power with each link on a website based on the number of all outbound links on the webpage. You should therefore maintain an appropriate balance of links per page. Outbound internal links should appear natural and should be placed logically.
One common error in internal linking is the excessive addition of links on a webpage. The number of the links is still very important for the OnPage SEO of each website. Too many links weaken the link power since this value is divided by the total number of links on the respective page. The internal link power is therefore higher for a website that has 50 links than one with 250. Here, outbound links also play a key role since they also add to the total number of links.
Too many links are often placed in the navigation, the sidebar link lists, or the footnote. Most of these are often redundant and can weaken the link power of the various landing pages. In order to avoid wasting these important values, you should keep the number of links as low as possible.
A website’s navigation is an important aspect for the internal linking and communication of the relevant websites to search engines. Webpages with links in the main navigation are usually more important than those that have few links pointing to them. A page that is linked in the navigation also has more relevance than a page whose link is in the footnote.
Thus, one common error in internal linking is the nested placement of links to all webpages and other subpages in the main navigation. This raises the total number of links significantly and reduces the individual link power, not to mention the user-friendliness.
Masked links are links that are not identified as links by search engines and are therefore not crawled or evaluated. Many webmasters and SEOs use masked links to keep the number of links low for search engines, even though these links can still be clicked on by users. However, Google is currently able to identify masked links and evaluate them like ordinary HTML links.
This landing page was fully crawled and indexed by Google.
Figure 4: Google Search Console: Internal links
It is best to avoid marking internal links with nofollow since this will prevent any link juice from being passed on to the corresponding landing page. Time and again, webmasters use nofollow links to minimize the number of internal links on the website. However, these nofollow links are often considered by search engines in the total number of links yet they do not receive any link power for the landing page.
Another common error in internal linking is the use of links that point to redirected webpages or pages that are no longer accessible (404, 500 pages). These links waste a lot of link power. In particular, you should try and avoid 302 redirects since these are only temporary and cannot pass on the link juice. As for 301 redirects, Google explains that even though the link juice is passed on, the 301 pages lead to loss of a certain amount of link power.
Redirects to pages that are no longer available (status code 404 or server error 5xx) have an extra disadvantage. In such cases, it is not just the link juice that is wasted but also the fact that users who follow such links end up on an error page.
Such errors often occur after a website relaunch. If you fail to modify the internal links despite correct implementation of the redirects after a website redesign or changes to the website structure and URLs, you end up losing a lot of link juice. In the case of a relaunch, you should make sure that the internal landing pages within your text and other positions on the website always return a status code 200.
Another common mistake is having several consecutive redirects, the so-called redirect chains. These chains occur if a redirect has to go through one or more redirects to get to the destination page.
Example of a redirect chain:
example.com/page1.html → example.com/page2.html → example.com/page3.html
In this case, each of the redirects results in loss of a small amount of the link juice. Furthermore, each redirect also increases the latency and hence prolongs the user’s waiting time. According to Google, very long redirect chains with five or more intermediate pages pose a critical risk. The Google bot stops following these chains after a certain length and is therefore unable to get to the desired destination. In such a case, the entire link juice is wasted.
The OnPage.org Link Status Code Report is very useful in the analysis and optimization of the status codes of all your internal links.
Figure 5: Status codes for internal links on OnPage.org
The aforementioned points are the most important factors regarding internal linking. These five points will help ensure that the link juice flows perfectly on your website:
1. Use descriptive and keyword-rich anchor texts
2. Avoid using identical keywords in anchor texts for different landing pages
3. Avoid overloading a single webpage with too many links that point to the same destination
4. Maintain a good balance of links per page
5. Avoid internal nofollow links and do not link to redirected or error pages
One more tip as we conclude:
Create a detailed link concept for your website in order to optimally interlink pages using appropriate anchor texts. This makes your link structures more transparent and much easier to optimize.
Internal links are one of the most important OnPage signals for search engine optimization and therefore deserve a great deal of attention when optimizing or creating your website. Analyzing and keeping track of internal link structures is often not easy, especially for large websites. In such cases, OnPage SEO tools are very helpful in making the most of the link power for better search engine optimization.
Published on 07/06/2016 by Daniel Herndler.
Daniel works as senior SEO manager at Get On Top GmbH in Salzburg. His favorite topics are conversational and semantic search. Daniel also admits to being a true TV series junkie – as a huge “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” fan, he is already plotting his move to the Seven Kingdoms.