Internal Linking: Advanced Method Based on Topical Clusters

Picture of Mehdi Malekzade

Mehdi Malekzade

Internal linking is a crucial aspect often overlooked or not deeply considered. Yet, if utilized effectively, various tests have demonstrated its significant and lasting impact on website traffic.

Internal linking refers to the process of linking one page of a website to another page within the same website. While seemingly straightforward, this practice has its complexities. Particularly, as a website grows, its importance dramatically increases.

PageRank Concept

Before I explain how to do internal linking properly, let’s review the concept of PageRank. PageRank refers to the algorithm Google uses to measure the weight of a page’s backlink profile. There used to be a toolbar that rated websites’ PageRank on a scale from one to ten, which was removed in 2016. It hadn’t been updated for 3-4 years before that because it was causing a lot of spam.

Think of it this way: every external link pointing to a page transfers a bit of its own “link juice” to the target page. Depending on the number and quality of the link juice from the source pages, the target page receives more or less link juice and PageRank.

PageRank for each page is a number calculated based on a formula. The original formula can be found in the initial article published by Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Stanford. However, naturally, that formula is different from the incredibly complex algorithm Google uses today.

The PageRank of a page, in addition to the external links connected to it, is also related to the number and quality of internal links connected to it.

Our entire effort in internal linking is to correctly transfer the existing link juice on website pages to our target pages. This way, we can promote our sales pages or important informational pages, expecting higher ranks, more clicks, and higher conversions from those pages.

You can watch this video about the PageRank Algorithm: How Google Works (using Networks): a Deeper Look at the PageRank Algorithm

Website Architecture

To correctly set up this structure, before working on the internal links of pages, we need to organize and optimize the structure and architecture of the website for SEO. This means having a scalable architecture where the website’s pages are arranged in a logical hierarchy based on the categorization of different sections of the website. The URL structure is also part of this setup.

Website architecture is a broad topic in itself. So, for now, I’ll just say that if your website’s architecture is not optimized, the chances of your internal linking having a positive impact are reduced.

Internal Linking How to Do

Now, let’s talk about how to do internal linking right.

Consider this: every website has certain services, products, or topics it wants to sell. Even charitable websites have donation pages they aim to promote. For instance, at UPGUYS, one of our SEO clients, we focus on two main groups of products aimed at combating erectile dysfunction and hair loss in men.

The goal is to promote these pages. The structure is such that each condition is associated with a subset of products/medications. It’s a simple structure. Larger websites will have greater complexities.

Taking UPGUYS as an example, we have a medication called Minoxidil for hair loss. For an SEO like me, Minoxidil is a topic I need to cover. That means creating pages that answer audience questions about this topic and showing Google that, because of the reliable information I’ve provided across various pages about this product, I have high credibility. So, Google, please give me good rankings.

This is known as topical authority.

Each topic, like minoxidil, typically has one or several commercial pages, which I call commercial pages, and several informational pages, often in the form of blog posts. Together, they form a cluster of pages for that topic.

Without understanding the content structure of the website and segmenting the website into these topic clusters, our internal linking would be aimless and not fully use its potential.

Let me give you an example.

I say I have a cluster of pages for the topic of Minoxidil. Within this cluster, some pages are more important than others. One is the commercial page related to it, which is our clear SEO target. And then there are pages that fall into one of these categories:

  • Have high search volume and traffic potential, like the page for Minoxidil side effects.
  • Have high conversion potential, like the page for Minoxidil cost or Minoxidil over-the-counter.
  • Or are our reference pages, like the pillar Minoxidil page that targets very broad keywords like “Minoxidil” itself or “what is Minoxidil”.

I call these pages, borrowing the term from Yoast, cornerstone content. The rest I call support pages.

This is different from pillars. Pillars are part of my cornerstone content. Cornerstones can also include the other types I mentioned.

For internal linking of the Minoxidil content cluster, we have two focus areas. One is how these pages link to each other. The second is how they link and are linked by other clusters and pages on the website.

The method I’m using now is this:

  • Every page, both support and cornerstone in the cluster links to the related commercial page.
  • Each cornerstone links to the other cornerstones within the cluster.
  • From each cornerstone, link to a cornerstone in a related cluster.
  • Every support page should link to all cornerstones.
  • Every support page should link to other support pages in the cluster, as reasonably possible.

This is essentially the model I use for implementing internal linking on the UPGUYS website.

Anchor Texts

Another important aspect of linking, both external and internal (which is our current focus), is anchor texts. Anchor texts serve as explanations of the target page for Google.

To test if you’re using the correct anchor text, ask yourself: if I link to these words, does the page align with them? That is, would someone reading these words expect the page I’m linking to? In other words, does it match the intent?

That’s what I call a correct anchor text. Generally, an anchor should be short and descriptive. You should be able to understand what the page is about just by looking at those words.

There’s plenty of scholarly work and research available on the web that you can read about. But generally, from these studies and my own experience, I’ve learned:

  • Keep a wide variety of anchor texts for each page.
  • Avoid using generic anchor texts like “click here” or “read more”.
  • Don’t use the link itself as an anchor, also known as a naked URL.
  • Avoid long anchors; don’t link a whole sentence, for example.

Maintain a variety of anchors, which means using different variations of your target keyword for that page as the anchor. For instance, if you have a blog post about “Minoxidil cost” with that as its main keyword, it’s good to use a relatively wide variety of variations when linking to this page and not always use the same anchor. Examples could include “Minoxidil cost in Canada,” “how much does Minoxidil cost,” “Minoxidil price,” “what is the Minoxidil price.”

As SEOs, we love to complicate things. For example, many set percentages for the variety and number of anchor texts, which I don’t think is wrong. But there’s one thing I often hear that seems mistaken to me: the idea of making it look natural. Don’t over-optimize!

This means using wrong anchors, linking haphazardly, using brand anchors, etc., as if you’re trying to signal to Google that you’re not doing SEO.

I think it’s a bit naive to assume Google can’t detect whether a website is SEO-optimized. On the contrary, I believe you should let Google clearly see the SEO work, use anchors deliberately, and be straightforward about it.

Design and Layout

In internal linking, there are links we place within the body of content, also known as contextual links, like those found in the text of a blog post or a commercial page.

Another crucial aspect involves links that are integrated through the design layout of the pages across the whole website. These are commonly found in site-wide elements such as menus, footers, and sidebars. Any block that remains consistent across your pages.

The links in these sections are very important and can significantly aid in promoting your main and important pages.

Understanding your website’s architecture, the arrangement and hierarchy of pages define these links.

Try not to have an excessively large number of fixed links. Imagine having a footer in your design with a hundred links. In this case, the link juice of your website’s pages is, by default, divided among many pages since this footer with all its links appears on all your pages. Consequently, very little link juice reaches each linked page, which is not our ideal scenario. Our goal is to direct the link juice as we desire. More for important pages and less for less significant ones.

A very, very important tip, which I’ll mention as a bonus, is that in the context of internal linking with menus and footers, ensure all these blocks are accessible without the need to render JavaScript resources. In theory, Google says it can render and understand what’s in the JavaScript file. However, in practice, almost all experts have observed that it doesn’t quite understand JavaScript resources content. It’s better to make it simple for Google to comprehend, which means using hard-coded HTML.

If you have a large website and have planned a lot of linking in the menu, but your menu opens with JavaScript, in reality, you haven’t shown any of that linking to Google.

Like the mega menu on this website. Nothing is available without rendering the related JS resources.

At the End

There’s a lot to internal linking. Below, I’ll list some useful resources and pages that might not be easily accessible with a simple search and some tools that can improve internal linking.

But ultimately, understanding the topics I summarized in this video will be crucial to grasp what we’re doing with internal linking. Without understanding the website’s architecture, grasping the hierarchy of pages, structuring website content into topic clusters, or comprehending the nature of PageRank, we could make many mistakes in this area.






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