What Wikipedia can teach us about internal linking

As Wikipedia turns 20, we take a look at what SEOs can learn from the online encyclopaedia when it comes to internal linking, from structure, to anchor text.

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Wikipedia turned 20 this month which can mean only one thing….

No, not shamelessly begging the general population for money (it doesn’t need a milestone birthday for that) but an opportunity to take a look at what the SEO community can learn from online encyclopaedia when it comes to internal linking.

There aren’t many phrases that Wikipedia doesn’t come out top, or near top, for. Of course, there are several reasons for this, from literally millions of external links, to extensive content on pretty much every topic imaginable. But one thing that Wikipedia does particularly well, and which plays a big part in its success within organic search, is its approach to internal linking.

Why is internal linking so important?

An effective internal linking strategy holds benefits for both SEO and UX. At a fundamental level, it helps users navigate your website which means a better experience, but it’s also likely to lead to more time spent on site, as well as a better traffic flow to various pages.

Then there’s the fact that Google uses links to actually discover your pages, as well as determine the relative importance of them. The internal linking within your site makes your pages more visible and is useful for helping bots establish information hierarchy.

No one is suggesting that one internal link has the same SEO power as one external link from an authoritative website, but, alongside other on-page factors, it’s still important, and often overlooked. When we consider the time and effort that goes into earning links from relevant and authoritative sites, the comparatively little amount of time it takes to create internal links makes it a no brainer. Unlike links from third party websites, it’s something you control; there’s no danger of spending hours creating content or buttering up journalists only for your hard earnt link not to materialise.

Auditing your current internal links

Before you embark on a hyperlinking frenzy, it makes sense to take stock of your current situation. This allows you to establish what links you already have in place, so you can bear this in mind when building new ones. It may be that you find you have a lot of links to unimportant pages that could be updated. For example, a link directing people to a blog post from 2015 about an event that’s already passed could be redirected to a more important and relevant page, giving the user a better experience, and passing a little bit more ranking power to this page.

This exercise is also handy for identifying broken links. These can either be fixed, or again, directed to more valuable pages.

Determining your internal linking structure

Ideally, your site’s internal links should form a pyramid structure, where the home page would normally be at the top, with individual service or product pages lower down, and pages such as blog posts at the bottom.

As well as considering the hierarchy of your pages, it’s about which ones naturally relate to each other too. Wikipedia never misses an opportunity to include a hyperlink to a page that’s not only relevant in terms of topic, but to that user’s current intent.

In Wikipedia’s page on internal linking (as I said, there’s a page for everything), within the first line, it links out to more information on hyperlinks, web pages, websites and domains. Obviously, if I did that in this blog post, it would be unnecessary, and quite frankly patronising, but as this opening paragraph begins by explaining what an internal link is, it makes sense to give explanations for these related terms too. Plus, if you’re looking up internal links on Wikipedia, it’s probably fair to say that it isn’t your day job.

By identifying which pages are some of your most powerful, and then selecting pages you want to boost, you can also be really tactical way about using internal linking to improve your search positions.

Pay attention to your anchor text

Internal linking is your opportunity to play puppet master with keywords without getting told off by Google. Unlike your external links, where it’s really not a good idea to over optimise, using keyword rich anchor text for internal links is actively encouraged by Google.

Just as with creating content for your site, keyword mapping is a good idea to ensure your own pages aren’t competing with themselves for certain phrases. It’s also important to mix up your use of anchor text, selecting natural variants and a blend of short and long tail keywords, that most importantly, make sense in the context you’re using them. If a user thinks they’re being sent to a guide that shows them how to use XYZ, make sure that’s where they’re actually going!

As with your link profile, it’s also about how your site’s use of anchor text overall appears to Google, and there are several tools that can give you an overarching view of this. 

Getting in the habit of internal linking

Like anything, force of habit helps create a more successful internal linking strategy. Once you’ve got an understanding of what you’re doing and why, it’s not a difficult or time-consuming task, just one that not all of us remember (or prioritise).

For example, when publishing a new blog post, making an effort to pick at least one or two key pages or previous blogs, that your post relates to, should be part of your routine each time – and that of your wider team. Make sure those people writing or uploading blogs understand the bigger picture and know which terms you’re trying to push on for which pages.

The same logic goes for new pages. You could have the best content in the world, but it’s no use if the spiders can’t find it, so make it part of your checklist before putting a new page live, to build links to it from other relevant pages.

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