How to Build an Effective Internal Linking Strategy in 2020 & Beyond

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Over time, if your site has a strong internal linking strategy built around your user’s needs, it will experience massive organic growth.

Internal linking often doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the SEO or content marketing world. That’s because it is easy to overlook. There is no easy way to improve its relevance to your bottom line, and usually, most visitors will never visit another piece of content on your site from a specific post or page.

But does that mean you shouldn’t worry about it? Absolutely not.

Building an effective internal linking strategy is important for your site for a few main reasons:

  • It helps Google index your pages for more keywords
  • It helps crawl bots understand the structure of your website better
  • It can help to build the comprehensiveness of your site over time
  • It establishes and distributes authority throughout your web pages

Basically, think of internal linking as making a giant spider web, or tree for search engines to read through in order to understand your website, your content, and what your site is all about.

If you do it right, and build an internal linking strategy that plans and executes properly, you can have a serious impact on the way search engines understand and index your web pages in the future.

So what exactly do you need to create an effective internal linking strategy in 2020 and beyond?

5 Ways to Create an Effective Internal Linking Strategy in 2020

These 5 tips will help you to take your internal linking strategy to the next level, and begin seeing internal links as a tool you absolutely should be using and making the most of with every page on your site.

1. Plan Your Content Out Effectively: Content Silos & Trees

Believe it or not, for digital marketing and SEO experts, internal linking strategies start before the content has even been written or published on your website. They do this through what is called “content silos”, or as I like to think of them – “content trees”.

The best experts try to think about their content in terms of how it affects users. Based on this, they will divide their content into a few main categories, usually something like this:

  • FAQs
  • Buyer’s Guides
  • Customer Stories
  • Individual Categories Beyond These

Think about it like this: Say you run a website about lawn care. For the most part, your content will follow this model and fit into one of these main categories. You may have questions like, “what’s the best weed wacker in 2019?” or “what’s the best weed killer for crabgrass?”. Sure, you could leave these on your blog to rank over time, and they’d probably do fine as long as you made comprehensive content. But, if you take the time to organize your content into silos, over time, it will allow search engines to index your site differently.

So, instead of leaving these both on your blog, you gave one the category of “Weed Control” and the other one the category of “Yard Tools”. Now, these will forever live in a content silo that can be populated with other similar content, such as things like, “how can I kill dandelions?” and “what is the best lawn mower in 2019?”. You can even make a category icon on your blog page to help people navigate to these specific posts, or make it part of your menu under a learning tab. This helps both users and search engines understand your site better.

By planning out your content in silos like this, not only will you be able to easily come up with more ideas that are always relevant to your audience, but you will be able to link to other resources that are highly useful and relevant to them within your content – and do so in a way that makes sense to Google and other search engines.

For example: Let’s say someone now lands on one of your top posts in the “Weed Control” category. You can assume that they have a weed problem. You can also assume, it probably doesn’t stop at the one they are here about. So, in this article, you can internally link to dozens of other relevant articles about similar techniques, tips, products, etc. that will work well.

This accomplishes a few things:

  • It tells Google this article is about weed control
  • It tells Google that the articles in the same category are also about weed control
  • It helps users find more relevant articles easily from your blog page
  • It gives you tons of relevant resources to link to

The beauty of using this methodology when planning and creating content is that as you write it, you will always come up with more ideas, because simply writing about a topic makes you explain key points, ask questions, and mention more key terms people may not be aware of. Just by writing one post, you should be able to generate 4 or 5 more content ideas that you can eventually link to in that original post.

So, if you take the time to think up 5-10 categories for your blog content based on the different audiences you attract and the main overarching types of questions/needs they have, you can easily get started with 50-100+ content ideas by organizing them into silos or trees. Then you have the advantage of a headstart on your content in terms of planning, which allows you to always go back and easily insert relevant internal links as you publish them.

2. Build Resource/Tool Pages

I don’t care what industry you’re in, you should be building valuable resource/tool pages on your site that help people find answers or solutions quickly and for free.

This accomplished three main purposes outside of internal linking:

  • It builds your brand awareness
  • It builds organic traffic to your site
  • It serves as a lead collection source

On top of that though, these resource pages should be towards the top of your linking hierarchy on your site, meaning you should be trying to drive as much traffic and healthy internal links there as possible.

So for instance: Let’s say the same lawn care site wants to build a tool or resource page for helping people find the proper weed killer for their weed infestation. Every blog throughout your entire site that addresses weed problems, how to kill them, keep them away, what they are, etc. should all point towards this main resource page in a constructive, unique, and appropriate way that helps users primarily – but also that helps search engines understand your site structure.

From there, say you added this page to your menu under Tools > Weed Killer Finder. Search engines will now index this page above blog posts, and with the same importance as other subpages in your menu. As you grow, you may want to make more tools and resources that function in the same way with the same hierarchy. As you do this, you may want to keep them in the same menu structure, but build out your Tools page in order to house all of them with internal links to the individual tool pages.

Think about it like this: If I come to your site looking for the best weed killer, I want something quick. Sure, I could read about the 100 different types of weed killers all day and still not know which one to pick. Or, I could use your tool and you can tell me exactly what to pick, with an internal link to the product page and a deal with a coupon code. Which one is more useful to me as a user?

Furthermore, you can then take this same tool and link to it in a constructive way within your blog posts about weeds, in order to get people to click through to it and use it, but also to show search engines its relevance to those categorized pages.

3. Make Your CTA’s & Links Visual!

Let’s go back to our tool example one more time. Say you were looking for a way to kill off all the weeds in your yard. But you have no clue where to start, so you search for your biggest problem first: how to kill dandelions.

Say your site ranks in the top 5 for this term and gets clicked on. As a user, which internal link am I more likely to follow of these two:

Of course, the second one does. But if that’s the case, why are so many marketers only focused on making non-visual, boring, and non-attention grabbing internal links on their site?

Sure, it will still help the page get indexed all the same, but if that’s only half of the goal – the second half is getting users to stay on your site longer to explore more pages and eventually convert – then why neglect the best way to reach users?

The key here is to make sure that you are not linking directly to pictures. Instead, make buttons on the photos or in widget CTAs that internally link to these pages.

Picture links tend to not be taken as seriously by Google and search engines because they are hard to differentiate and associate with the page they are being linked to, unlike text. On top of that, they carry no major link juice with them to that page. They are great here and there and can be highly effective in some situations, but should be balanced with text-based internal links.

Another important thing here is to try and find a balance between text links and picture links. Sometimes, you simply need a picture to say what words can’t. That’s fine. Just be sure to internally link to the same page in the paragraph above the picture CTA, as the first link to the same article on a page usually gets the most juice.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Link Often

As your site continues to become more comprehensive in terms of content, you will continue to have more and more pages to potentially link out to as needed.

A lot of SEOs and marketers tend to treat this as a problem instead of as a good thing – worried about having too many internal links on their pages or having to leave some good resources out in order to not have too many internal links.

For example: Let’s go back to our lawn care site again. Say we made an ultimate guide to killing weeds years ago, and we now have over 50+ pieces of content, pages, and resources on our site related to killing weeds. The piece of content is about 3,000 words long, and you want to make sure to make internal links to as many relevant pieces of content as possible. But how should you go about it?

A general rule of thumb is this: as long as it’s relevant to the user, there is no such thing as internally linking too much.

So, instead of tippy-toeing around it, only making 5 or 6 more internal links, just go for it. If you have a section about dandelions, crabgrass, bindweed, etc. link to any relevant information in those sections, like this:

This helps to accomplish a few important things:

  • It keeps your content on point
  • It builds a strong internal linking structure over time
  • It helps to rank your existing content for more keywords
  • It helps give users a better path towards what they want
  • It builds your brand as a leader and trusted resource in the space

Often times, sites that don’t have effective internal linking strategies will go on and on about a subject that really only needs to be discussed briefly – instead of making a new resource and then just linking to it for those who are interested.

Other times, people get too afraid to make too many links in a small section like this, so they don’t get the most out of their internal links – showing users and Google other resources that are relevant.

Look at this Wikipedia page that ranks number one for “search engine optimization”, arguably one of the most competitive keywords on the internet:

It has over 10 internal links in the first 4 paragraphs. The second search result is actually entirely link-based:

The point is if this is what search engines are ranking, and SEO’s are doing – it’s EXACTLY how you should be making internal links in 2020 and beyond.

This page is almost entirely link-based – built as a directory, or a pillar/resource page, to expand on previous tips. Some subjects are too broad to talk about all at once. But by dividing them into nice, neat sections that:

  • Answer questions
  • Show how-to
  • Help compare solutions
  • And more

To give you a visual of how this type of pillar page/ category page and link structure is visualized by crawl bots, check out this image:

By conceptualizing your site structure and internal linking structure like this, you can find the most efficient way to organize and build content on your site that helps both users and Google index your pages, access them, and make a visual of your site’s content.

You can dramatically improve people’s ability to find what they are looking for on your site → sending good signals to Google. Then, if they visit multiple resources from that page, and stay on them, it sends even stronger signals to Google, which will then send the link juice to these main pillar pages.

5. Think About Your Site As A Search Engine Would

This can be one of the hardest concepts to grasp, but once you understand it, your internal linking strategy will make a quantum leap.

At the end of the day, I always try to approach internal linking like this:

  • Make content that is highly relevant to the main keywords you are trying to rank for
  • Answer additional relevant questions briefly
  • Create additional content to these questions more in-depth
  • Link out to these resources where it is relevant

Think about it like this: On this lawn care site, there is probably a lot of content that has a section with basic information about weeds. This usually comes in the form of the most basic questions people could have, like, “what is a weed?” or “why are weeds bad for your lawn?”. All sites have small sections like this, some more than others. Rather than trying to explain exactly what a weed is in an article about “how to kill dandelions”, you are better off briefly explaining it in one paragraph, then making an internal link to a relevant guide that is all about weeds.

This keeps your content on topic in order to rank for the top keyword, but it also diverts all link juice for the answer to that question to a guide that is in fact all about that exact keyword. This helps users to find exactly what they are looking for, but also helps search engines to create a more in-depth architecture of your site.

I like to call this the “Wikipedia model”. If you ever visit a Wikipedia page, you’ll notice that it talks specifically about that one single subject. It may mention additional subjects, people, events, etc. that are relevant in brief detail and link out to them, but it will never go off on a tangent about them unless it is absolutely relevant to the topic at hand.

By viewing your site and its content at this meta-level, just like a crawling bot would, you will begin to view your site as an encyclopedia of knowledge about your industry that you are willing to open up to your users.

Don’t take my word for it, though, look at these recent results from a client site that implemented this type of internal linking strategy:

Seeing your site in this light will motivate you to fill in the blanks any time you can, answering every possible question about a subject matter before moving on – giving you more content ideas, and more relevant content filled with answers for your users – all while building an impressive internal linking structure.

3 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Internal Linking Strategy

When it comes to making an effective internal linking strategy, you don’t just want to practice these helpful tips, but you also want to stay away from some practices that can get you into trouble, or slow down your progress with your internal link strategy.

1. Stuffing Too Many Keywords

One of the main mistakes that people make when developing an internal linking strategy is trying to go overboard with the way they link to relevant articles. You should try to aim for the keyword you want that article to rank for, without being ridiculous.

Here are some examples of what IS okay:

  • If you want to learn more about killing off those nature’s most pesky weeds, check out our Complete Guide to Killing Dandelions.
  • Sometimes, you just can’t kill weeds with natural remedies, so it’s time to bring in the big guns and turn to the best weed killers to get the job done.

Here are some examples of what is NOT okay:

  • Want to learn more about how to kill dandelions? Check out this comprehensive guide we wrote on How to Kill Dandelions, the #1 Best Dandelion Killing Guide 2019 – Get Rid of Dandelion on Your Yard Today.
  • Getting rid of all your weeds can be tough, but with the help of the Best Weed Killers – Top Fertilizers for Killing Weeds, you can get the job done no problem.

Basically, if you read the sentence back, and it sounds like an infomercial – you’re trying to stuff too many keywords in your internal link anchor text.

If your concern is sending link juice to the page you are linking to for a wide range of keywords, consider doing this:

  1. Set up a spreadsheet with all of the keywords you want that page to rank for
  2. Establish a hierarchy of importance for these keywords based on volume and difficulty
  3. Whenever you link out to that article, use a different keyword from your list in the anchor text
  4. Try to use the phrases with the high volume more frequently, and distribute keyword use for internal linking anchor text as needed from there
  5. Try to use the keyword in an organic way when linking, not something that seems outrageous, out of place, or stuffed

This will take some time, but over the course of the life of your page and site, it will send link juice far more efficiently than you could without this type of organization and system.

2. Not Using Follow Links

Without getting too into the technical SEO side of things, you want to make sure that all of the internal links you are making on your site are what are considered “follow” links, as opposed to “nofollow” links.

This is simply a command that tells search engine crawl bots to follow the link or not. If they do not follow the link, they will not pass on that link juice to the other page, in order to help build your internal linking structure, index it for that keyword, and build your site hierarchy.

Basically, if you aren’t using follow links for your internal linking strategy, you are wasting your time. No worries though, if you never messed with this, then you’re anchor text internal links are likely set to “follow”.

The easiest way to check is to inspect the code from your site. By right-clicking on a page, then clicking “Inspect” you can see the HTML code that makes up the page. If you don’t understand it, no worries, in Chrome, you can easily follow along by scrolling over an element in the code – it will then show you visually where it is on the page by highlighting it.

Once in Inspect mode, simply look at the link, and look for a rel=”dofollow” or rel=”nofollow”. If you don’t see either, search engine bots will automatically treat it as a rel=”follow” link.

3. Internally Linking in Header Tags

Believe it or not, internally linking to resources on your site from headers like H2’s, H3’s, and so on is actually considered a bad practice. Not only does it seem spammy to both users and Google, it actually passes no more link juice to those pages.

In fact, some SEOs even believe it sends less link juice or even none. In some cases, doing this too often can actually hurt your rankings.

The reason for this is because Google sees headers as a way of organizing the page in order to interpret what it contains. So, when you link to the header which usually has a header that you are trying to rank for on this page – then pass that link juice to another page, Google gets confused.

Should it be indexing this page for this header, or should it be indexing the linked page for the header? Things get even worse if the header you are using as anchor text for an internal link is not quite related to the article you are linking too.

Instead of doing this, focus on making your headers ideal for the page it is on. Then, if you have actually relevant content that you want to link to in that subsection, do so accordingly as you normally would.

Internal links don’t always have to match keywords – to go back to one of the previous points made in this guide.

At this point in time, crawl bots are smart enough to recognize semantics, understanding what a section is about, and then understanding that links nearby likely point to this subject.

So, in this section, even though the button does not have any keywords in it, Google is able to understand that this button links to this food, and indexes it properly for the keywords from the section.

This is important to keep in mind, because you should try to use these types of links where they make the most sense for users and have confidence in doing so, knowing Google will still understand your intent to pass on link juice through internal links.

Best Internal Linking Strategies 2020 – Key Takeaways

You now have insight into some of the best internal linking strategies and tips in 2020, how will you apply them?

By implementing these tips and methodologies into your internal linking strategy, you will be able to build powerful, high ranking pages over time as your site becomes an ever more comprehensive resource in your industry.

This is one of the many important ranking factors that successful brands are able to leverage through the power of SEO and digital marketing.

Over time, if you focus heavily on becoming a resource that answers user questions, and have a strong internal linking strategy built around your user’s needs, your site will experience massive organic growth.