Best Practices for Internal Linking in WordPress

Search engine optimization is a complex process that includes many different practices, not all of which are easy to master. But if you want to improve your search engine rankings and grow your website, you need to know the basics.

One of those basics is the practice of internal linking in WordPress, which is relatively simple, yet incredibly effective in increasing traffic and improving rankings. As is the case with most things in SEO, however, there are good and bad ways of linking internally.

To make the most of your internal links, you’ll want to avoid the practices that don’t work very well and focus on the best practices instead.

What Is Internal Linking?

There are certain fundamental building blocks of SEO that every website should use. Internal links are one of them. Even if you’re starting to learn about web development, you should already be familiar with internal links as a concept as you’ve probably encountered them before. Linking internally means linking to another page on the same website. This differentiates internal links from external ones – those links that point to a page on a different domain. A blog post that contains a link to the homepage of the website it’s hosted on, for example, is a blog post that links internally.

Person browsing a website
Links that take the user to another page but keep them on your website are internal.

Different Types of Internal Links

Internal links can be navigational and contextual. Navigational internal links help you locate different pages on the website. They are typically just one or two words: “Contact”, “Services”, “Blog”, “About us”. You can find them in menus, headers, sidebars as well as tables of content and sitemaps. They help organize and structure the website and make it easier for users to find the content they’re looking for. Contextual internal links are those you find within a text. The anchor for them can be just one word, or it could be a phrase. They help connect related content and guide readers to relevant pages and posts. They also carry more weight in SEO because the context they’re in provides information about the content they’re pointing to and search engines always like having more information.

The Importance of Internal Linking

It is obvious how internal links help end-users: they make it easier to navigate the website, they point to related content so readers don’t have to waste time searching for it and they are an excellent resource for further reading and research. But linking internally will also help your SEO rankings in several ways by:

  • increasing organic traffic by leading your users to multiple pages on your site
  • improving website structure and making it easier for bots to crawl and index your content
  • reducing bounce rates and keeping visitors on your website for longer by putting more content relevant to their search within easy reach
  • giving authority to important pages by linking to them often and redirecting traffic to them

Graph showing how internal linking increases traffic.
Internal linking has a measurable effect on your website stats.

Internal Linking in WordPress

For all the flaws of WordPress, it is still a relatively easy and intuitive platform. So it should come as no surprise that it is incredibly easy to link internally in WordPress. Select the text you want to use as your anchor and click on the link tool in the toolbar at the top of the post editor (or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+K). A search field will open asking you for either the URL of the page you’re linking or a search term. You can paste the link itself or search the keyword for the page you want to link. When you have the right page, click on the blue “Apply” button, and you’re done! If you’re using a text editor, you’ll use the standard href code:

<a href="http://exampleurl.com/">example anchor text</a>
Creating Internal Links in WordPress Automatically

Manual linking (described above) is the best way to link in WordPress. It allows you full control over anchors, links and context while leaving little room for mistakes. Typically, you’ll employ this tactic when creating new content – you’ll add internal links as you write the post or page in question. But what if you have multiple pages you need to add internal links to retroactively? Doing so manually would take a lot of time. Instead, you can use a plugin like Internal Link Juicer to create internal links automatically. You set up keywords for the pages you want to link to. Then, when those keywords are used in other posts and pages, the plugin automatically links to the relevant page.

Internal linking shown as lines of computer code.
You don’t have to be an advanced programmer to create internal links – WordPress plugins do it automatically in your stead.

However, you have to be careful when using automatic link building. No matter how advanced a plugin you’re using, no code is as smart as a human being. A plugin might misidentify your keywords in context, link where a link would be inappropriate or skip linking in some contexts where links would be welcome. So your best choice is still to link manually whenever possible.

Make the Most of Internal Linking on Your Website

Some of the best SEO tips are about the use of links. But people often focus on external link building and backlinking, assuming that internal link building comes naturally to everyone. This, however, is not always the case – many people make rookie mistakes with their internal links. So it’s important to talk about the best (and worst) practices of internal linking, especially given that it’s such a powerful yet often underestimated aspect of SEO.

Follow a Good Marketing Strategy

Internal links are a part of a broader marketing strategy. Which pages you’re linking, how often, using which anchors – these are all decisions that depend on the overarching marketing goals you are trying to achieve. Let’s say, for example, that you own a real estate business. You’ve recently expanded to a new city – Los Angeles. Because of that, you’ve also added a new page to your website, advertising your services in LA. In the first few weeks after its creation, you’ll want to focus on linking this page in all new content in order to both promote your new branch and give credence to your new page. This plan is a form of marketing strategy and shows how broader marketing goals (the promotion of your real estate services in LA) affect internal links on your website. A good marketing strategy is, therefore, the basis of good internal link building.

Tablet showing an online marketing strategy.
A good marketing strategy will guide your internal linking in the right direction.

Choose the Right Anchors

The anchor text should provide Google (and your readers) with some necessary information about what they can find if they follow the link. Generic phrases like “click here” and “this link” don’t really do that, so it’s best to avoid them. Instead, you should use keywords or relevant phrases as your anchors. If you’re linking to a page with tips to learn French, for example, your anchor could be something like “learn French” or “tips for learning French”.

Don’t take this too far, though – overusing the same anchor over and over (especially on the same page or post) can get you penalized, and your users certainly won’t appreciate being spammed. Find a balance that will make your anchors fit naturally within the text.

Link To The Right Pages

Internal links add to the importance of the pages being linked, so don’t link to irrelevant blog posts that don’t have much value for your website as a whole. Instead, focus on the important pages you want to promote, like your services or products, locations you serve, master lists of tips and similar content. If you notice some of your relevant pages are not very popular, link to them more. If you see some of your pages are overrepresented in internal linking, link to other, less popular pages instead. It’s all about balance and which content you want to promote.

Always Link to Relevant Content

Sometimes, we focus so much on optimizing our content for search engines that we forget other people will be consuming that content. It is one of the common mistakes when using WordPress: you choose the right keyword, you remember to put links, you optimize your images because these are the things Googlebot looks for, but you don’t stop to wonder what it is that your reader is looking for. And what they want is to learn more about a particular topic.

Puzzle with a missing piece.
Link to pages that fill the gaps left in your post.

Internal links are a way to point the end-user in the right direction. What else should they read on your website when they finish the current article? How can you expand on the information you’ve already provided them? Which page should they go to next? If you’re writing a blog post about moving to California, for example, linking to an article about a renaissance fair in Maine will not help anyone. Link to relevant related content instead.

Don’t Oversaturate Your Content with Links

There’s no real hard-and-fast rule on how many internal links your post should have. It all depends on the type of post, its length, the links you’re using and the way you’re incorporating them into the context. But there is definitely such a thing as too many links. Nobody wants to see a link in every sentence – it’s distracting and annoying. Google doesn’t like this either as it assumes you’re running a link scheme or spam website, so don’t overdo it!

Make Internal Links DoFollow

One of the most important things internal links do for your website is giving credence and relevance to the pages being linked. However, Google only interprets dofollow links as endorsements, so that is the type of link you want to be using when promoting individual pages on your site. In WordPress, links are dofollow by default, which makes your job easier.

Use Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are a navigational tool that helps you keep track of where you are on the website. You’ll typically find them at the top of a page. They take a form similar to “Homepage > Locations > Miami”, for example, with each parent page linked. This both helps users find their way around the website and boosts your SEO. Breadcrumbs are pretty easy to implement in WordPress; in fact, many themes already include the use of breadcrumbs. If yours doesn’t, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin to create breadcrumbs too – navigate to the SEO option on your Dashboard, find internal links and enable breadcrumbs.

Utilize Footers and Sidebars

Footers and sidebars are an excellent way to easily introduce relevant links to any page. Most WordPress themes support footers and sidebars (though some are more flexible than others) and you can populate them using widgets, a built-in WordPress feature available for anyone using the platform. Different widgets will add various elements to your sidebar or footer. This includes sign-up forms, calendars, navigation menus, recent posts and more. Many of these include internal links to other content on the site.

Website with a sidebar.
Use the sidebar to help with navigation or promote relevant content.

You can also use plugins to populate your footer or sidebar. The most popular are plugins that use keywords and context to locate related posts and suggest them at the bottom of the page. This adds relevant links to your post without oversaturating the text itself with links. But use the related posts feature in moderation – no one wants to scroll to the bottom of the article and find 50 vaguely related pages suggested there. Set up a reasonable number of posts to show and don’t overwhelm your readers.

Internal Linking Mistakes to Avoid

It is clear that internal links can be beneficial to both your users and search engine bots. But sometimes, internal linking can cause problems with SEO when done incorrectly. Some of the mistakes that lead to this are:

  • too many links in a post (appears suspicious and overwhelms readers)
  • too few links in a post (doesn’t offer additional content to the reader and doesn’t spread around “link juice” among pages)
  • over-optimizing anchor text (appears suspicious and can be frustrating when reading)
  • linking unnaturally (doesn’t appeal to readers)
  • links to irrelevant content (doesn’t add value to the text and connects pages that have nothing to do with each other which is destructive to site hierarchy)
  • always linking to the same pages (overvalues certain pages while undervaluing others)
Review the Results of Your Linking Strategy Regularly and Update Your Practices Accordingly

Internal linking is not a one-time deal. You should be adding internal links to pretty much every post or page you publish, but as you create more content, you change your website. You add to its structure, develop its hierarchy and create more important pages. These changes should affect how you choose internal links. So you should continuously develop your marketing and linking strategies to reflect changes you make to your website and the goals it serves.

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