Internal Links As A Ranking Factor: What You Need To Know

Are internal links a proven ranking factor? Continue reading to learn the truth about internal linking and best practices.

I have a serious question: Are internal links considered a ranking factor?

Too often, the discussion of internal links as a ranking factor feels like it’s coming from a never-ending game of telephone rather than from the true source, the search engines.

Internal link myths have been passed down through generations of SEO professionals. It can be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.

In order to clear the air, I used our resources to determine whether internal links are a proven ranking factor. Please hold your breath: the truth about internal links is about to be revealed.

An internal link is a link that connects one page on a domain to another page on the same domain. Internal links assist users in navigating websites and help to create a site architecture for hierarchy.

Okay, but what about the more specific questions, such as:

  • Is the total number of internal links pointing to a page significant?
  • Is the quality of the internal links pointing to the page significant?
  • Is the anchor text of those internal links a relevancy signal as well?
  • Is longer anchor text more valuable?
  • Is it possible to have too many internal links on a page?

The Evidence for Internal Links as a Ranking Factor

Because there are still a lot of internal link questions to be answered, and I want you to have all of the facts straight, here they are.

Are Internal Links A Ranking Factor?

In their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide, Google confirms that internal links are a ranking factor. According to Google:

Create a naturally flowing hierarchy.

Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal “search” functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.

And, Google’s “How Search Engines Work” establishes internal links as a ranking factor.

Some pages are known because Google has already crawled them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.

This is also why Google Search Console includes a report called “Top linked pages.” It’s used to “confirm that your site’s core pages (home page, contact page) are properly linked within your site.”

According to the SEO Starter Guide, using internal links in your breadcrumb structured data markup is also recommended:

“A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page. Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (usually the root page) as the first, leftmost link and list the more specific sections out to the right. We recommend using breadcrumb structured data markup when showing breadcrumbs.”

Internal links are essential to the PageRank algorithm and its internal flow.

Does Your Webpage Rank Faster If You Have Internal Links From High Traffic Pages?

Since Bill Slawski published his analysis of Google’s Reasonable Surfer patent, there has been debate in the SEO community about whether pages with or without traffic influence the ranking signals from internal links.

“…based on a probability that a person following links at random on the web might end up on a particular page,” Slawski explained.

The patent discusses the location of a link on a page.

Essentially, it is about giving more weight to links that it believes will be clicked, including links placed in higher-up positions on the page.

This was confirmed by Matt Cutts at PubCon in 2010.

The patent makes no mention of traffic.

Slawski also delves into the Page Segmentation patent, which explains how internal links are placed on a page. He also discusses how search engines use internal links to understand a webpage.

Is Internal Link Anchor Text a Ranking Factor?

The SEO Starter Guide clarifies whether internal link anchor text is a ranking factor, stating:

“Think about anchor text for internal links, too.

You may usually think about linking in terms of pointing to outside websites, but paying more attention to the anchor text used for internal links can help users and Google navigate your site better.”

Google’s John Mueller responded to this claim on Twitter, writing:

“Most links do provide a bit of additional context through their anchor text. At least they should, right?”

In a Google Webmaster Hangout in 2019, Mueller went into greater detail about how internal links help your rankings.

However, at this time, the claim that long anchor text within your internal links is merely conjecture. This myth has not been confirmed by search engines.

Indeed, the SEO Starter Guide expressly advises against “using excessively keyword-filled or lengthy anchor text solely for search engines.”

Rand Fishkin delves into his anchor text experiments to demonstrate the importance of quality anchor text.

In addition, Search Engine Journal’s Roger Montti delves into Mueller’s response to whether anchor text improves rankings.

Are Internal Links Used As A Ranking Signal In Your Site Architecture?

Internal linking can have both positive and negative consequences:

  • With their internal link structure, NinjaOutreach increased their site traffic by 50% in three months.
  • Because of its poor internal linking, the Daily Mail was unable to outrank its competitors.

Google’s patent on Ranking documents based on user behavior or feature data delves deeper into site architecture.

So, what happens if one of your internal links breaks?

Internal links that are broken make it difficult for search engines to index your pages and for users to navigate your site. Broken links indicate a low-quality site and may have an impact on your rankings.

This claim is validated by Google’s Web Page Decay patent, which states,

“A stale web page is defined as one that has a relatively large number of dead links.”

How Many Internal Links Are Enough?

Matt Cutts stated in 2009 that there was a limit of 100 internal links per page.

Because Google would not download more than 100k of a single page in the past (this is no longer the case), the idea that the links would distribute your PageRank made sense.

Matt Cutts retracted this statement in 2013, stating that “it should be kept at a reasonable number.” As a result, the rule of 100 internal links is no longer applicable.

Internal Links As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Yes, there is some truth to the myth that internal links and search engine rankings are related.

Consider this, as Cutts suggested:

“…if there’s a page that’s important or that has great profit margins or converts really well – escalate that. Put a link to that page from your root page that’s the sort of thing where it can make a lot of sense.”

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