Internal Links: Are They a Ranking Factor?
Site owners and online businesses use various SEO links in their daily tasks. In particular, internal links are considered an SEO ranking factor by many. The never-ending chatter about this topic among SEO experts seems to come from unreliable sources rather than the true source: the search engines.
Internal links have long been associated with all sorts of SEO myths, so it isn’t easy to distinguish fact from fiction.
SEOs Claim That Internal Links Are a Ranking Factor
An internal link refers to a link from one page to another page on the same domain. This link helps users navigate websites and create a site architecture for hierarchy.
SEOs also have many questions regarding the internal links’ effects on SEO, such as:
- the total number of internal links pointing to a single page
- the quality of internal links
- the internal link’s anchor texts, which could be a relevant signal
- the length of the internal link’s anchor text
- the effect of having too many internal links on a page
The Evidence: Internal Links as a Ranking Factor
According to Google’s SEO Starter Guide, internal links are indeed a ranking factor. The guide advises SEOs to create a naturally flowing hierarchy.
Webmasters should make it simple for visitors to move from general content to the more specific web pages they are looking for on their site. When appropriate, they can add navigation pages, which should be effectively incorporated into their internal link structure. Moreover, they should ensure that all web pages are reachable via links and without the need for an internal “search” function to be found. SEOs should also link to relevant pages to allow visitors to discover similar content.
Another piece of Google-published content, “How Search Engines Work”, also confirms internal links as a ranking factor. It said that Google understands web pages by crawling them and following a link from a known web page to a new page.
For this reason, Google Search Console features the “top linked pages” report, which is used to confirm the core site pages, like contact pages and home pages, are properly linked within the website.
Google’s SEO Starter Guide also recommends using internal links in one’s breadcrumb structured data markup. A breadcrumb refers to a row of internal links at a web page’s top or bottom part. Breadcrumbs allow users to easily return to the root page or a previous part of the website. Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (often the root page) as the first, leftmost link while listing the subsequent sections to the right. When displaying breadcrumbs, Google recommends using structured data markup.
The PageRank algorithm itself and its internal flow depend on internal links.
SEOs Claim That Internal Links to High-Traffic Pages Help Rank Faster
After an analysis of Google’s Reasonable Surfer patent was published, SEO experts debated whether pages with or without traffic impact the ranking signals from internal links.
The analysis stated the possibility that a user following links randomly on the Internet might be redirected to a specific page.
The patent discussed the position of a link on the web page. It focused on giving extra weight to links that it thinks users will click, such as those located in more prominent places on the page.
Matt Cutts’s confirmed this at PubCon 2010. The patent does not mention traffic.
The analysis also went through the Page Segmentation patent that discussed the placement of internal links in depth. It also delved into more insights on how search engines utilise internal links to understand a web page.
The Relevance of Anchor Text in Internal Links
The SEO Starter Guide also went into detail about the status of internal link anchor text as a ranking factor. It said that paying attention to the anchor text in internal links can help Google and visitors better navigate the website.
Google’s John Mueller discussed this claim on Twitter, saying that SEO links give additional information through anchor texts. In 2019, Mueller also explained in a Google Webmaster Hangout how internal links helped with rankings.
As for the length of the anchor text within internal links, search engines have yet to verify if it matters, so its status as a ranking factor is considered mere speculation for now. However, the SEO Starter Guide plainly states that one should avoid using lengthy or excessively keyword-filled anchor texts for search engines.
Several prominent SEOs also dived into anchor text experiments to see if it helped with a site’s rankings.
Internal Links as a Ranking Signal in Site Architecture
Internal links can either have positive or negative effects. Some websites boost their traffic with their internal link structure, but others could not outrank competitors due to weak internal links.
Broken Internal Links
Broken internal links are a major obstacle for visitors and search engines alike. These make it difficult to navigate a site and index pages. They are a sign of low quality and therefore harm site rankings. Google’s Web Page Decay patent confirms this information, stating that a web page with many dead links gives the impression of staleness.
Excessive Internal Links
In 2009, Cutts discussed a limit of 100 internal links per page. Google previously would not download over 100k of a single page at once, so the idea of links distributing PageRank made sense. Today, Google can download more pages, and in 2013, Cutts retracted his previous statement, recommending SEOs to keep internal links at a reasonable number.
Are internal links considered a ranking factor? Yes, there is some truth to the claim that internal links are related to a website’s search rankings.
As Cutts pointed out, if a page is essential or has high profit margins or converts, one should escalate it. For a more effective SEO, one can place a link on that page from the root page.
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