Link building, whether internal or external, can be a tricky tool to master. In fact, 41% of corporate marketers cite link building to be the top challenge in all of SEO, not least due to the fact that the guidelines are constantly changing with seemingly every algorithm update that passes. While external linking is more commonly seen as a priority, those hoping to maximize their crawl budget and streamline the way Google views and ranks their site should still be paying attention to the links they use internally.
From the main navigation to links within the content, a surprising number of webmasters and businesses alike make mistakes with their internal linking. We’ve spoken to our SEO and web development experts to find out the top internal link building mistakes they’ve spotted.
Over-Optimizing Anchor Texts
The anchor text for your internal links matters in the same way that it does with external ones, playing a huge part in how Google views and categorizes the linked page. For this reason, it’s easy to fall prey to the first common mistake – over-optimizing your anchor texts. It’s an easy mistake to make, particularly when you want a particular page to rank for a specific term in the SERPs, but it can actually be more harmful than beneficial if you overdo it. This has been the case since 2012 when Google released a refreshed version of it’s Panda update.
When Panda was first released in 2011, it saw Google’s algorithm begin to penalize websites that appeared low-quality or ‘thin’ and targeted content farms in particular who had previously been able to secure higher rankings using ill-advised SEO methods. The Panda 3.4 update in March 2012, however, saw too many exact match anchor text links become an unnatural link building signal within their guidelines. In fact, the suggested ratio of exact-match went from 30-50% to as little as 5%.
While this seemed to be targeted at off-site link building, in particular, over-optimizing is still something you need to avoid with internal links. Google can still pick up on ‘spam’ through internal links, so it’s best to avoid using the same exact phrase for every link made to a particular URL. Using the key term as a link is fine in moderation, but long-tail alternatives and more natural contextual links can provide better value not only in the eyes of Google but to your visitors too.
Linking Too Much
It’s not uncommon to see webmasters and businesses fall for the trap of adding too many links onto their page. However, despite the fact that the allure of linking to every relevant page can be overwhelming at times, too many on-page links can actually do more harm than good. In Google’s eyes, too many links translate to your content being spam, which could lead to the page losing rankings in the SERPs as a result.
In addition, the more links there are, the less value the resulting pages will receive. PageRank is split equally between links on a page and so the more links there are, the less value each one will get. It’s suggested that around 12% of pages on a typical website are likely to have too many links, so it’s important to take time to evaluate your internal linking methods. As a general rule, you should stick to no more than 100 links per page, including those within navigation bars, adverts, footers, and headers. Within the content, the links need to provide value to the reader as well as context for Google in order to offer topical relevance for the linked pages.
Linking Too Little
Just as linking too much can be harmful, linking too little means you’re missing valuable opportunities for your website. If you barely have anything more than your navigation bar, you’ll want to add more – but don’t just start throwing in links without thinking it through. Planning the structure of your internal links can help you optimize your crawl budget, direct Google to the most important pages on a website and ensure that every page is navigable for both Googlebot and your website’s visitors.
A simple internal linking structure that is widely advised by SEOs is the silo structure. This structure essentially begins by passing link equity from an external source to a core landing page on your website, which then links to further pages, which link to others, and so on. This structure will essentially link a category or main parent page to the subcategory or ‘child page’. This technique will pass Page Rank through the website more effectively, and can ensure that Google’s spiders are crawling through pages in a more efficient and effective way. Without these links or structure, your website will be missing simple but effective linking opportunities.
Letting Pages Become Orphaned
Any pages posted to your website that don’t have many links pointing to it are considered orphaned. Orphaned pages can be difficult for search engines to find, which of course prevents them from being crawled regularly, or at all in some cases. For this reason, every page that you post to your site needs to have a link pointing to it, whether this is in your navigation bar, a category page or your sitemap.
Even if you’ve been taking care of new pages, however, there are a number of cases where you may already have orphaned pages that need to be amended. Old blog posts, older products, old services that aren’t been offered anymore and tag pages that may not have any existing content could all be considered orphaned. In these cases, check whether they could still offer value to your visitors and need to be linked, or whether they should be removed from the website completely.
Use The Same Anchor Texts For Different Pages
If you have two similar pages, whether that’s a service page and a blog, or two related products, the target keywords for the pages can be similar. You need to be careful of keyword cannibalisation, particularly for internal linking. If you want the given page to rank for a particular keyword, you don’t want to be linking to another page using that term, as Google could begin to rank the linked page for that term instead. In these cases, the value could also be split, preventing either page from ranking highly in the SERPs and effectively fighting against one another for the top spots.
Not Checking For Broken Links
Broken links can happen for a number of reasons, whether that’s a deleted blog or page that’s left links without a destination, an incorrect URL or a change in a URL address without proper redirects. While they are an easy fix, they can be harmful to your website if left unresolved, making your website appear to be low-quality and ultimately preventing the healthy flow of link equity through each page of your website. It can also have a negative effect on user experience, which may lead to lower rankings in the SERPs.
To fix this issue, you can check your site’s current linking structure using tools such as Ahrefs in order to source any and all 4XX codes. These are the codes that your users will receive if the page linked to cannot be found. Once you’ve sourced the broken links, you can go in manually and either fix the links, link it to an alternate page, or implement proper redirect codes where relevant. This will better distribute the link equity and return your URLs to proper working order.
Letting Your Site Become ‘Bloated’
Bloating in SEO refers to excess pages that your website just doesn’t need to have. Every website is likely to have at least one or two excess pages, but those with larger blogs or regular content posting are more likely to have a bigger problem that can lead to wasted link equity distribution throughout the site and, of course, wasted crawl budget. Sites that have an excess of category or tag pages are particularly common causes of bloat and some of the easiest to fix with a bit of time and dedication.
In order to combat the bloat, you should first utilise a tool such as Screaming Frog to get a record of all of the pages within your website. From here, you can go through those that could be sources of bloat. Focus on /category/ and /tag/ pages if you have a large blog, then move through other alternate pages that could be eating up link equity. You can either remove them, noindex them or utilise robots.txt as necessary.
Not Considering Navigation As Internal Linking
While your navigation bar is a crucial part of your website, it can be overlooked as a source of internal linking when in fact, it’s one of the core solutions. Your navigation offers you the ideal place to show Google what the most important pages on your website are, and where the silo structure continues beyond the homepage. Under this intention, you should only link to the most important pages via your navigation, such as the services and contact pages and avoid using the ‘parent-child’ or ‘category-subcategory’ navigation style.
You can do this by only linking ‘parent’ pages in the navigation, and then linking the ‘child’ pages from their parent pages. This not only shows Google which pages are the most important but ensures that your visitors are guided through the right journey to the resources that they want or need.
Using Long Redirect Chains
Redirects, when done correctly, are a valuable way to direct users to the right pages. When done incorrectly, however, it can be damaging not only to user experience but to your rankings. Redirect loops or long chains affect around 8.58% of websites and can cause confusion for Google’s bots and slow down your website as a whole. It also eats up crawl budget, as Google doesn’t follow each redirect in a chain immediately. In fact, it can set aside the new URL to return to later and repeat this over and over until it reaches the end of the chain.
In order to fix this, you should link directly to the destination pages where possible and only redirect to the final page in all other cases. You can utilise one of a few tools to catch out any redirect issues, including SEMrush and Moz Pro.
Wrong Use Of Redirect Codes
If you’ve already fixed long redirect chains, it’s time to check whether you’re utilising the right codes for the redirects you have kept. This means determining whether the redirect needs a 301, or 302 direct. 301 redirect codes should only be used on pages that are permanently redirected, while 302 redirects should be used on temporarily redirected pages, such as when updating or redesigning a page or site.
If you are using a 302 redirect on a page that should be permanently redirected, you will be wasting both link equity and crawl budget. Google will continue to index and crawl both URLs until the redirect is removed or changed, and so it’s important to do regular checks and ensure that all 302 redirects are resolved when needed. Similarly, 301 redirects can be beneficial in some cases, but a direct link to the new URL will ensure that full link equity is passed through the link, rather than a reduced amount as with a standard redirect.
While there are a number of common internal linking issues in the SEO community, getting to grips with a proper internal linking structure isn’t impossible. From fixing redirect issues and using the right codes to amending broken links and adding a structure to your internal links, you can better optimise your website to distribute link equity and guide Google’s bots through your website more effectively.
For more information on internal linking or how to fix both common and uncommon internal linking mistakes, get in touch with a member of our expert team on 7738286862, today.