(No AI was touched in the writing of this content)
You would think everyone would get Internal Linking right because the perfect Internal Link structure is within your control. But I am often surprised that posts and conference presentations on this topic start diving into “Topic Silos” and “Navigational menus”. I’ll cover these topics here, but this post is a little more advanced – or “nuanced”.
- A Fuller guide to Internal Linking is written here.
- A video on Topic Silos and how to set them up on Inlinks
The problem with navigation menus in internal linking
I have to start somewhere. So let’s kill a bad idea. Internal linking is not really about how you structure your menus. Let’s take a site for a DIY store. It is probably LOGICAL and SENSIBLE for you to organize the product pages by Product type (say Power tools / Hand Tools / Paint / Nails) and put the products in these categories. That is fine and not in dispute.
But we do not write content in this way. When we write content, we cross categories and topics. For example, a DIY site may write useful content on rehanging a door. This is USEFUL content but will put Hinges, a spirit level and a drill all in the same article. As humans, we like to consume information as stories, not as lists. This is great because search engines and other large language learning models (LLMs) can use these stories to connect the dots between things. They can use this to associate a hinge to a door, even though a hinge and a door are in separate isles in the DIY store.
The problem with link siloing
There is a place on some websites for using silos. A silo is when a defined group of pages will only link to each other and not outside the group. A good example might be a site in many languages, where you do not want French users to land on a Spanish page unexpectedly. Another example might be an international hotel chain that only wants to link to local restaurants, perhaps, but these cases are remarkably small and often ill-defined. A site in many languages might still link to an important piece of research, even if it was only available in the language of the scientist who wrote it, for example.
Anchor text reliance constricts your internal linking structure
Back in the “early days” (search engines move fast), search engines found that the anchor text – that is to say, the text the user reads when seeing a link – was a good indicator of relevance. This was even more relevant (generally) and easier to understand when the link was in a body of text rather than in a navigational menu. It, therefore, made sense for SEOs to start manipulating anchor text in links, and in truth, this has not yet gone away. However, Google has in the past severely penalized some sites when this anchor text was overly manipulated. The penalty was less likely with internal linking than generating links from outside sources, but this should nevertheless prove a warning not to overly rely on exact match anchor text when creating the internal link structure. Sometimes there is only one way to describe something. “Google” is an example. Although even here, the word is both a noun and a verb, which would mean that SOMETIMES a link to the “Google page” makes sense, and sometimes the link should be to the SERPs of the phrase you might be Googling. You can see that anchor text is not always a good way to approach Internal link building.
There has to be a more modern approach. Luckily there is.
A modern approach to internal linking
Good content creates a story or narrative that leads the reader to a new level of understanding. It helps them solve a problem or helps them understand an issue. In doing so, the content ties together a string of concepts (which we call entities) in a manner that makes sense to the reader. They understand the connections, and those connections tell a story. “I came. I saw. I conquered.” this is a famous saying, said to be a quote by Julius Caesar on invading Britain. Even if he did say it, he said it in Latin, “Veni, vidi, vici”, which is a point I will return to, but in any event, the phrase tells a story. This one connects “Arriving”, “Looking”, and “Conquering”. These are three well-defined concepts, and knowing that these three concepts are needed to understand this short story means that 99.999% of pages on the Internet are irrelevant to this story because they do not contain these three concepts.
A modern approach to internal linking is to stay focussed on your main overarching “Money” ideas… The main topics that define your brand and what it stands for, rather than trying to go too broad. Then you need to find where you are talking about those ideas and direct users and hopefully LLLMs to your “authority” page for that concept. You need to be consistent in your decision-making without being overly fussed about getting every connection linked. You need enough internal linking to disambiguate concepts and to show that you are an authority on SOME concepts.
My step-by-step guide to a perfect internal link structure
1: Decide on your main topics of authority
If you are a Lawyer, then “law” may be too broad… But if you are a Trade Union, then “Employment Law” might be a perfect choice. For InLinks, I feel “SEO” is too broad, even if it is accurate. In my business, I focus on Entities within SEO, Internal Linking and SameAs Schema. Here, we excel. This mirrors the principle of a business having a “Value Proposition”. If your value proposition is to be “The best real estate agent in the world”, – what does that even mean? Even Wikipedia does not understand “best”. The topics you decide on should be real value drivers for your business, and (importantly) they must be easily defined, ideally with a proper Wikipedia article. Still, I accept that this is not always an option.
Pro tip: If you use InLinks to set up a project for a website and bring in the first 100 pages, the tool will pretty much TELL you what your main topics are because it builds a knowledge graph (database) of the topics on your website.
2: Choose one “Hero” or “Target” page for each topic (or write a new one)
There is no point in doing internal links at scale unless the pages you link to are well written, have a good chance to rank in search and will create a favourable impression of your brand in the mind of the reader. You can get away with a few lapses of judgment on the feeder pages, but your cornerstone content needs to be good. Of course, InLinks can help you audit or even write your content.
3: Find where these topics are mentioned elsewhere on your site and link those mentions to the hero/target page in the body text
This is by far the hardest part of this exercise because the way you do this is not always clear. Luckily, Inlinks automates this part for you. But if you are not using InLinks (and even if you are), it is important to understand these principles.
- You are looking for TOPICS, not Keywords. In fact, you are looking for named entities. There are several AI tools that will help you extract entities from any given web page. Apart from inLinks, you can use IBM’s Watson (free) and Google’s AI (free to a point). We have found the strongest alternative to InLinks to be TextRazor. Using a named entity extraction algorithm at this step is likely to dramatically improve the number of associations (links) that you can find. It will reduce human error, as it is hard for a human to read one page and spot many entities within it manually. It will also be able to spot synonyms or other words with the same “stem” and will (most of the time) be able to avoid words that mean something else. For example, “Tower Bridge” is indeed a tower and a bridge, but the underlying entity is the Tower Bridge in London and nothing else.
- Only link if the reference makes sense. I try to imagine a user reading the text and seeing the link. Will the link seem natural for them to click on if they wish to dive more into the topic? And will they get the insight they expected when they click? Context, here, is key to the decision, although your choices are as much about your philosophy to SEO as they are to perfection.
- You do not have to link if the page already links to the target page. In fact, two links with different anchor texts create a dilemma for algorithms, as the context for each one may be different. Two links are not bad as long as there is no ambiguity.
Here is a run-through of my talk at BrightonSEO on Internal Links:
- Concentrate on contextually relevant links in the body text rather than navigational links or topic silos
- Have well-written, well-defined hero/target pages
- Links entities (topics) rather than focussing on specific keywords
- Use InLinks to help cover more ground, quickly
You can start using InLinks by signing up over here.