Understanding Internal Linking Structure

Recently I noticed that internal link structure and flow was being revisited by some of the SEO’s I admire. Of course, we’re aware of general best practices for linking, but search optimization best practices are constantly evolving, and it can be difficult to keep up. It’s very possible that we could miss a new best practice, or our skills could use some refining.

This has happened to me, and I’d bet it has to you too.

So today, I’m going to learn and refine, and share that knowledge with you as simply as I possibly can. By the end of this post we’ll all be well-versed with the best practices for internal linking, and building a well-structured website that, when applied, will benefit website search rankings.

The Basics (Refining)

Below are the basic best practices to keep in mind with internal linking:

  • Your site and internal links should be structured like a pyramid where the top page has the most authority and links (internal and external). The home page should have category and sub-category pages. So if you were a clothing retailer you would have a home page, you’d go to the shop and from there break that down into specific sub-categories like ‘sweaters’ all the way down to the specific product. That should be accompanied by a clean URL that is easy for the user to understand
  • HTML links>image links
  • Anchor text is important. That being said, they should not be stuffy, and must be implemented in a relevant, useful way
  • Don’t use too many links (consider the PageRank methodology where each link has a diluted value when another is present) This graphic from reliablesoft.net brings clarity to the concept
  • Use rel=nofollow wisely
  • Only use relevant and useful links
  • Don’t have orphan pages
  • Open external links in a new tab, so if users can easily return to your website if they leave to read the linked-to page

This is all pretty straightforward stuff. If you’re utilizing these best practices, you’ve got a great foundation. When paired with other solid SEO best practices (compelling meta information, useful and unique content, fast speed/load, great mobile website, user-friendly, etc.) the website you’re working on will have a great chance at ranking for your keyword or search phrase targets.

New/Often Overlooked Strategies

  • ALT tags serve as the anchor text for images
  • If a page lacks internal links, it can damage its ability to be crawled
  • Updating old posts/pages with fresh internal links
  • Updated blog posts on your home page can help to promote them and deliver more value
  • No page should be more than 3 hops away from another. This is difficult for bots to crawl, and it eats up crawl budget
  • Don’t use the same anchor text to different pages, it creates competition
  • Improve or remove thin/low-value content
  • Important to have targets, and make sure you have a primary page. If you don’t, pages may start competing
  • Eliminate unnecessary 301 hops (internal and external links may change given the protocol, www/non-www resolve, or perhaps the URL’s have been change)

These are the difference makers. The things not everyone takes the time to do. Take advantage of them! When keeping internal links in mind, you can essentially keep your website fresher, active, and therefore consistently relevant and useful to website visitors.

Helpful Tools for Auditing

SEMRUSH has an internal linking report within the site audit function.

Screaming frog just released version 10 with an internal links score and visualizations of your site structure


Working on a website’s internal linking will improve indexation and crawlability. Search engines retrieving information is at the core of SEO and search engine algorithms. Making the process easier will be beneficial to rankings.

Check out Dave Davies case study, pretty amazing results:

We’re going to be doing a case study on this ourselves. We’ll post the results as soon as we have them!

I’m eager to hear your experiences with internal link work. Please let me know if you have any case studies, or if something should be added to my post!

If you don’t have time to work on your internal linking structure, we’d love to help out. We work on internal link structure as part of our SEO services.

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