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Here’s Why You Should Prioritize Internal Linking in 2022

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Here's Why You Should Prioritize Internal Linking in 2022


Internal linking features in most SEO strategies, but the reality is it’s rarely prioritized highly enough.

SEOs often focus on other tactics while failing to realize the true potential that internal linking offers to move the needle on keyword rankings.

My view on this is that SEOs are missing a trick. After all, an effective internal linking strategy has the potential to make a difference.

In this guide, you’ll learn the following:

Looking to learn the basics of internal linking?

Great! But before you continue, why not check out this actionable guide on internal links by Ahrefs’ head of content, Joshua Hardwick.

Why internal links are so valuable

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Effective internal linking provides a wide range of technical benefits, from helping Google discover your new content to ensuring all of your pages are crawled frequently by Googlebot. In my opinion, the most fruitful value of internal linking is its ability to distribute PageRank. This is an attribute of internal linking that is overlooked all too often.

Building a strong backlink profile is critical in directing PageRank to your website. But as SEOs, we should not stop there. The great thing about internal links is that you can control the target location of the link itself. This allows you to directly pass on that essential link equity from your pages that receive the most links to those that receive the least.

One tough reality of link building is that webmasters rarely link to pages with transactional intent, such as a sales or product page. Most backlinks will typically point toward the homepage or an informational page (e.g., a report). Internal links are crucial in bridging the gap and ensuring your transactional pages gain that crucial boost in authority.

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Editor’s Note

Here at Ahrefs, we call this process of “bridging the gap” with internal links the Middleman Method. You can see how it works below and learn more about this SEO strategy here.

Gif showing how Middleman Method works

Joshua Hardwick

Six tips for implementing internal links effectively

Now that we’ve established the importance of internal linking, let’s go through a few techniques, tips, and tricks to implement it effectively.

Link within the main content where relevant

Internal links within the primary content of a page, in my opinion, offer the most value from a PageRank perspective.

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This is as Google’s behavior is likely similar to that of the users’ when it comes to prioritizing the primary content of a page. Users are typically more engaged with the main content and are, therefore, more likely to click on a link that sits within the main content.

As a result, Google almost certainly applies a stronger weighting to these links, as indicated by its “Reasonable Surfer” patent.

Infographic of article with 3 links. The biggest muscular arm connects most prominent link to another article (implying the most authority passed)

What’s more, these internal links sit in the heart of the page and are surrounded by hyper-relevant, keyword-rich content that Google will use as a signal to understand the context.

Include important links within the site navigation

Links within the header navigation are also incredibly useful for passing on PageRank. They may not be as strong at passing contextual authority as links within the primary content. But they sit on every page of the site—and that makes them valuable. They also sit right at the top of the page.

This means Google is more likely to prioritize these links compared to the footer navigation, for example.

While not as powerful as the header navigation, the footer navigation should not be underestimated. Despite sitting in a less-attractive location, the footer navigation, again, sits on every page, making the links there worthwhile.

Notably, some companies have strict approval processes. In such cases, you may find less resistance in adding internal links to the footer navigation compared to the header navigation, so this may be the perfect short-term solution for you.

Utilize breadcrumbs logically

In my opinion, breadcrumbs are the single most underutilized form of internal linking. They not only make it extremely easy for users to navigate the site, but they are also incredibly powerful at passing on PageRank.

Don’t just take it from me. Here’s a tweet from Google’s very own Gary Illyes, who says that Google likes breadcrumbs and uses them for PageRank computation.

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As we already discussed, many SEOs believe the higher up a link on a page, the heavier the weight of PageRank that gets passed via the link. Breadcrumbs typically sit right at the top of every page. Thus, it’s clear why they hold so much value in passing on authority.

Furthermore, breadcrumbs also reflect the structure of the site. As a result, your most important pages, which sit high up within the site architecture, will be internally linked to very frequently via the breadcrumbs.

TIP

Don’t forget to implement breadcrumb Schema to ensure Google fully understands your breadcrumbs and that you’re eligible for rich results.

Internally link to your most valuable content

It’s usually hard to attract links to your most valuable content because of its commercial nature. Remember: To bridge this gap, it’s critical to link from those pages that hold strong authority to the valuable pages that drive your business revenue.

You can find relevant, authoritative pages to internally link from for free using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer with a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account. Here’s how:

  1. Paste your domain into Site Explorer
  2. Go to the Best by links report
  3. Look for relevant pages to internally link from

For example, let’s say the team at Ahrefs launched a brand-new keyword tool and wanted to boost authority to its landing page. Using this report, we can see several relevant pages with lots of referring domains that will be perfect for adding an internal link.

Best by links report results

Utilize contextually relevant anchor texts to establish topical relevance

Earlier on, I mentioned Google reads the surrounding content of a link as a signal for the context. Further to this, the anchor text of a link provides an even stronger signal for context.

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Anchor texts should be:

  • Descriptive
  • Topically relevant
  • Keyword-rich
  • Succinct
  • Natural

Generic anchor texts, such as “click here,” provide minimal value, as they do not indicate to Google what the linked-to page is about. Keeping your anchor texts descriptive and relevant will ensure you are passing on the most PageRank. This signal also stems from Google’s “Reasonable Surfer” patent.

Infographic of article with 3 anchor texts. The biggest muscular arm connects the most descriptive anchor text to another article (implying the most authority passed)

You can find contextual internal linking opportunities that already exist on your site for free using Ahrefs’ Site Audit. Here’s how:

  1. Sign up for a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools account
  2. Crawl your site with Site Audit
  3. Go to the Link Opportunities tool

For example, if we do this for the Ahrefs blog, we can see a contextual internal link opportunity from our SEO glossary to our meta robots guide.

Link opportunities report results

Sidenote.

If you provide a link via an image, Google will treat the alt text as the anchor text. 

Regularly audit internal links for errors

Technical errors within your internal linking could be causing PageRank “leakage.” For example, every time you link to a URL that results in a 404 status (page not found), you could be directing some of your link equity down the drain.

Google assigns a set amount of PageRank to be distributed from each page (regardless of the number of internal links). So with each link that you add to a page, you’ll be slightly reducing the value passed on via the links that already exist.

But as long as you are not excessively adding links, this won’t be a major cause for concern. It’s simply another reason why minimizing technical errors remains crucial. Not only are you making sure both Google and your users are having the best experience, but your site will also become more efficient at passing on PageRank.

Don’t forget to utilize Site Audit (what I showed you earlier). This tool is perfect for diagnosing a wide range of technical issues, including those related to internal links.

Once set up:

  1. Head to the Link Explorer tool
  2. Select the “Internal” drop-down filter
  3. Filter by each of the errors one at a time

For example, if we filter for internal links “to not found” on the Ahrefs blog, we see 143 internal links to dead pages that should be removed.

Link explorer report results

Final thoughts

The best thing about this approach to internal linking is it’s not a complex theory (once you understand how PageRank works, of course). It also doesn’t take a huge amount of time to get started.

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Internally link from your most authoritative content to the pages that drive revenue
  • Breadcrumbs are incredibly powerful and completely underestimated
  • When you think of PageRank, think about not only backlinks but also internal links

Have any questions? Will you be reshaping your approach to prioritize internal linking? Ping me on Twitter and let me know.

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SEO

SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

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SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

The SEO industry will be forever changed with the loss of Bill Slawski, owner of SEO By The Sea, Director of Search at Go Fish Digital, educator, mentor, and friend.

Bill was a great many things to a lot of people. He has been a contributor here at Search Engine Journal since 2019, and a friend and mentor to many of us for decades more.

It’s not often you can say that someone has influenced and shaped an entire industry. But this is one of those times.

On May 19, 2022, the SEO industry learned that Bill Slawski had passed away.

The loss and sadness across our community were palpable.

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend
Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

Remembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & FriendRemembering Bill Slawski: SEO Legend, Mentor & Friend

A search patent expert, colleague and mentor to many, and a friend to many more, Bill influenced the lives of everyone in the search industry.

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If you hadn’t read one of the thousands of articles he wrote or contributed to, watched one of his interviews, attended one of his talks, or listened to a podcast he was a guest on – I guarantee that someone you work with, learn from, or work for has.

This was due in no small part to Bill’s vast knowledge and expertise, combined with an unequaled passion for the nuances and technological advances that make search engines tick.

I spoke with Bill a few weeks ago as we were planning a feature article on the patents he felt are most impactful for search marketers.

In that interview, he explained his love for patents.

“One thing I always say about patents is they’re the best place to find assumptions about searchers, about search, and about the web. These are search engineers sharing their opinions in addition to solving problems,” he said.

He loved getting to see what engineers were thinking, and what they had to say when it comes to different problems on the web.

“One of my favorite types of patents to look up is when they repeat a patent and file a continuation,” Bill explained. “I like to look at these continuation patents and see how they’ve changed, because they don’t tell you, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”

That innate curiosity and true passion for unraveling the complexities of the search algorithms we work with each day made talking with Bill and reading his work a real joy.

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Bill or referenced his work in mine over the years, as have so many others.

He had a real talent for making complex concepts more accessible for readers and marketers of all stripes. As a result, his contributions to our collective understanding of how search works are unrivaled.

Bill Slawski’s work and knowledge are foundational to the practice of SEO as we know it today.

I speak for all of us at SEJ in saying we’re incredibly grateful for what he generously shared with each of us.

He was a close friend and respected colleague to our founder, Loren Baker, as well.

“Bill Slawski was a true friend of mine in more ways than one. First of all, he was a surprising mentor who helped me out quite a bit early on in my career, even before the days of social media or Search Engine Journal. He was my buddy and workmate,” Loren said.

Loren Baker and Bill Slawski

Loren Baker and Bill Slawski

Bill and Loren worked together for a couple of years and spent a lot of time out in the parking lot in Havre de Grace, Maryland, smoking cigarettes and talking about Google patents.

“If anything, I would say that Bill taught me that there was much more to SEO than just ranking alone,” Loren explained, adding that Bill taught him the importance of incorporating a narrative into all of the work that you do.

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“He taught me the ethics and workmanship behind creating a piece of digital art that people will want to read, will want to share, and will ultimately search for and click on–touching their lives,” he said. “I will miss Bill deeply. It’s very difficult losing friends.”

Having started in 1996 and launching SEO By The Sea in 2005, Bill was the go-to source when you wanted to understand how search engines work or how they change the way we search or live our lives.

But it was so much more than that.

Bill was generous with his time and eager to share his knowledge of search, information retrieval, NLP, and other information technology with any and all.

He had a gift for taking complex patents, algorithms, concepts, real-world behavior, and search engines and explaining how the world of search and information retrieval worked in a way that everyone could understand.

Bill seemed to have an instinct for understanding what you knew and didn’t know or where you were confused. He could fill in the gaps without making you feel silly for having asked. Even if it was the millionth time he’d answered that question.

You didn’t have to be an SEO rockstar or an experienced professional, either.

If you didn’t understand something or had questions, he would happily spend hours explaining the concepts and offering (or creating) resources to help. And as many in the industry who encountered Braggadocio can attest to, you always felt like a long-lost friend, even if you had just “met” him in text.

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“It’s like when you go to a conference and you’re one of the first people there. And all the seats are still empty and there’s not a lot of discussion going on. That’s what the SEO world was like back then…I remember happening upon an SEO forum and just being a lurker. Just looking at what everybody was talking about and thinking, ‘this is a strange career. I’m not sure I can do this.’ In the end, I did it.

I started out working and promoting a website for a couple friends who started a business. And so helping them succeed in business was a pretty good motivation.” Bill Slawski, cognitiveSEO Talks interview, April 5, 2018

Bill’s wealth of knowledge extended far beyond search, too.

With a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware and a Juris Doctor Degree from Widener University School of Law, Bill spent 14 years as a court manager, administrator, technologist, and management analyst with the Superior Court of Deleware.

He loved nature and plants, and the ocean. He loved traveling and search conferences, but he ultimately found peace in nature and took advantage of it often. And he shared it with us all.

Bill pushed everyone to look beyond the headlines and keywords.

He was quick to add words of support and congratulations when someone shared an achievement. He encouraged everyone to explore the possible, to not be intimidated by new things, and to better understand the search ecosystem, not just the technology, so we could better serve our families, communities, colleagues, and clients.

His kindness, generosity, loyalty, and love of the industry knew no bounds.

The King of Podcasts on Twitter

The King of Podcasts on Twitter

Marshall Simmonds on Twitter

Marshall Simmonds on Twitter

Here at Search Engine Journal, Bill was a familiar face on social media and a VIP contributor, but he was much more than that.

Matt Southern, News Writer

One of the things I’ll miss most about Bill Slawski is the outdoor photography he shared on Twitter.

As deeply entrenched as he was in SEO and online marketing, he always took time to step back from the keyboard and admire life’s beauty.

I think that’s something we could all benefit from doing more of.

Roger Montti, News Writer

I knew Bill Slawski for almost 20 years, from the forums and search marketing conferences. He created a stir with all the things he discovered in the patents, which went a long way toward demystifying what search engines did.

What impressed me the most was his generosity with his time and how encouraging he was to me and to everyone. I feel privileged and honored to have been able to call him a friend.

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He will be profoundly missed.

Brent Csutoras, Advisor and Owner

So much of our marketing journey has been in understanding not only how something works with Google but what they are trying to accomplish over the coming years so we can be prepared and ready to pivot when needed.

Bill’s work with patents provided valuable insight very few individuals were capable of distilling and yet everyone benefited from.

He was instrumental in getting us to where we are as SEOs and digital marketers today.

Bill Slawski Was A Man Of Quiet Impact

“My first interaction with Bill Slawski was on Kim Krause Berg’s Cre8asite forum. I was trying to learn what SEO was all about, so I just lurked, soaking up knowledge from bragadocchio, Black Knight, Grumpus, Barry Welford, and others. I know that Bill started more 10,000 threads there during his time as one of the admins and one of the first things that struck me was his willingness to patiently share his knowledge. At the time, I had no idea who he was, but it quickly became obvious that he was someone who was worth listening to. ”

~ Doc Sheldon, Facebook

That he was.

Atul Gawande once wrote that life is meaningful because it has a story–one driven by a deep need to identify purposes outside of ourselves and a transcendent desire to see and help others achieve their potential.

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This was the very essence of Bill’s life.

Not just in the wealth of unparalleled knowledge and resources he has gifted to us, but in the inspiration, guidance, and encouragement he has instilled in us all. That is his legacy and one that will live on.

It’s been difficult to hit Publish on this piece as I don’t feel anything we share could do that legacy justice.

Search Engine Journal will leave Bill’s library of content here untouched in perpetuity, and we’ve left comments open below for all to share your contributions to this memorial for Bill.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your intelligence, passion, and knowledge with the SEO community.

You will be sorely missed.

Written in collaboration with Angie Nikoleychuk.

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