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Internal linking for bloggers: 9 mistakes to fix immediately

Internal linking for bloggers: 9 mistakes to fix immediately

Internal linking is one of the most under-utilized arrows in the quiver of a site owner.

Although inbound link building gets all the press, it’s the correct use of internal linking that can really move a site algorithmically when done strategically.

Google has been vocal about the importance of Internal linking for years. 

Google’s John Mueller touched on this specifically in this Office Hours Hangout from 2022, calling internal linking “super critical for SEO success.”

As a site auditor who routinely touches multiple sites daily and hundreds of sites annually, I know first-hand how important internal linking is for site recovery and improvement.

In my experience, fixing these specific internal linking mistakes results in stronger sites, easier indexing by Google and higher rankings.

How many of these mistakes are you making?

Mistake 1: Non-descriptive anchor texts

One of the simplest things to understand about internal linking is the following: we link by what we want to rank for. 

Do you want to rank for “banana cream pie” and then use that anchor text or these close variations:

  • “banana cream pie recipe”
  • “easy banana cream pie”
  • “banana cream pie with instant pudding”
  • “old fashioned banana cream pie”
  • “no bake banana cream pie”
  • “how to make a banana cream pie”

And yet, routinely, a link scan of a client site may result in large numbers of non-descriptive anchor texts like the following:

  • “Click Here”
  • “See this”
  • “Here”
  • “Get this Recipe”
  • “My pie recipe”
  • “This link”

When possible, be descriptive with internal linking. Use anchor texts that accurately describe to the user and Google what exactly you’re trying to index and rank.

Not only is this good SEO, but it’s also a sound accessibility practice.

Nothing annoys someone using a screen reader more than hitting non-descriptive anchor texts that fail to communicate where the user is being sent via a click-through.

Mistake 2: Anchor text cannibalization

We know that having clear, descriptive anchor texts is important to users and Google. But what happens when you use identical anchor texts on multiple posts or pages?

Let’s say you have four different chocolate chip cookie recipes and used the anchor text “chocolate chip cookies” on all of them.

Congratulations! You have basically guaranteed none of them will rank as competitively as possible for “chocolate chip cookies” and, most probably, won’t rank at all.

This is where the concept of internal linking cannibalization comes into play.

Google routinely limits which results from a site rank for specific queries. This search diversity limit prevents any site from dominating the SERPs for the same target queries.

Fixing this, though, is not difficult.

Sticking with the “chocolate chip cookies” example, focus on differentiating the internal links by varying the anchor texts.

Maybe one of the recipes is an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe, the other is a double chocolate chip cookie recipe, and still another is a chocolate chip cookie with brown sugar recipe.

By working methodically to map and differentiate internal links and corresponding anchor texts to prevent shared anchor text cannibalization, all these recipes can rank and rank competitively.

It’s a known fact in SEO that all links are not created equal.

In-content links, sidebar links, footer links, etc., all count as links, but some are more important than others.

A good rule of thumb is this: a link that is clicked is always more powerful than a link that is not.

In the vast majority of cases, footer links are seldom clicked and don’t send much traffic. 

Footer links are best used to publicize About and Contact pages, links to main category pages, links to copyright and accessibility policies and links to social media and location-specific information.

Unfortunately, spamming footers is a recent trend that has gained steam by publishers using blog support companies who are struggling to recover their sites from recent HCU, Core and Spam Update hits.

If you encounter a footer stuffed with anchor text-rich links to posts and pages, it’s probably because the publisher was incorrectly advised that footer links are a great way to increase authority sitewide.

The truth about footer links, though, is clear: they look spammy and do not remotely send a positive signal to Google.

Bottom line: Only place links in the footer that users will expect to see. That seldom will be anchor text rich text in multiple columns.

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Mistake 4: Linking to noindexed content

In the early Wild Wild West days of digital marketing, we had a concept called PageRank sculpting.

The concept involved controlling the amount of link equity passed through pages on a site by selectively nofollowing links on those pages.

That practice, however, has not worked in over a decade. Instead, when Google crawls a page and notices that a link on a page is nofollow, those links are ignored for algorithmic purposes.

Think of those nofollow links as a black hole on the page that just sucks up the link equity and PageRank to nothingness. You can’t get it back.

As such, it’s important for internal link building and topical discoverability that we try not to link to noindexed content on a site.

Otherwise, we are wasting that internal link authority.

Mistake 5: Not fixing 404s and 503s

Nothing is more annoying to a user than visiting a page and hitting a 404 or 503.

If a user navigates through your site and repeatedly hits a 404, one thing is guaranteed: that user will not come back.

Although Google has said for years that 404s are not a sign of low quality, if the issue is widespread and systemic, 404s can absolutely hinder the flow of PageRank and link equity through your site content.

Fixing 404s and 503s is not difficult. Your SEO guide to finding and fixing broken internal links covers the issue in detail.

If you are a blogger, I recommend using the Broken Link Checker plugin or use tools like Semrush, Moz, Ahrefs, Clarity or dozens of other options to crawl your site internally and fix these issues when they arise.

Mistake 6: Automating internal linking

The use of automation in SEO is all the rage these days. 

You can’t throw a rock and not hit an article that covers how just installing the correct plugin or using one specific AI tool is all you need to take your SEO to stunning new heights.

For example, if you are a WordPress blogger, the plugin Link Whisper is a very popular internal linking option. However, you cannot use it to automate your link building, or you will spam your own blog.

The paid version can be horrible in both the sheer volume of its suggested link targets and the less-than-descriptive ways it warns you to link within those targets.

In general, I’m against all automated internal linking for the following reasons:

  • You end up spamming your anchor texts. A tool that allows you to link every instance of chocolate chip cookies in a post does more harm than good. I see it daily.
  • The tools ignore users. Understanding UX is very important with internal linking. We link when it makes sense to users on a page. Tools seldom understand that.
  • The linking may not be strategic. You know your content best. Which posts you should send users, over a tool, is always of paramount importance.

Again, I’m all for working smarter, not harder. However, when it comes to internal linking, a slow and steady approach is always better than automation. I guarantee it.

It’s not uncommon for sites that have existed for years to change their URLs at some point. 

Sometimes, those changes are simple, like slightly changing one URL to add or remove keywords. Other times, they’re more detailed, like removing dates from your URLs and changing your entire sitewide permalink structure.

Google has been clear for years that changing URLs should be avoided, especially if all you are doing is adding or removing keywords.

But one of the biggest reasons to avoid changing URLS is that this creates internal permalink redirects. These extra server hops can reduce the flow of PageRank through the site and even impact page speed at scale.

For example, links to https://example.com/2022/02/sample-url.htm can be redirected to https://example.com/sample-url/ and links from https://example.com/sample-url can be redirected to https://example.com/sample-url/.

The problem with the above is that most site owners fail to do a “find and replace” and remove all the old internal links (with the previous URL permutation) to the new URL internal links (without the previous URL permutation).

This can result in dozens, if not hundreds, of internal redirects, which can greatly reduce a site’s bottom-line quality.

To fix this, contact your host and have it scan your site to fix it at scale. You can also install a plugin like Search and Replace and do this yourself.

Not every link is equal. 

It’s generally understood that an in-content link, higher on the page, is the most powerful form of link for SEO purposes.

Sure, you can have links on the sidebar, footer, in a links list, a breadcrumb, or as an image; all of those links have value. But the in-content link, placed higher on the page, is usually the winner.

Why is this the case?

Google crawls a page from the top to the bottom: first, the header, then the body, and everything else after that.

Google then renders the page and runs any JavaScript it finds at this time. This is also why it’s important not to have a ton of JavaScript on the page to slow things down, especially pushed-out client-side.

Further, as far back as 2016, Google has said that in-content links within the primary area of a page are always treated as more relevant than those in the header, menu, footer and sidebar.

For internal linking purposes, it’s always a good idea to link naturally from the top of the page to the bottom. But placement absolutely matters.

Mistake 9: Orphaned content pages

An orphaned content page is an internal page that has no incoming internal links.

Fixing orphaned content pages is the epitome of low-hanging fruit for any site owner looking to improve their topical discoverability with Google and their bottom-line SEO.

As a general rule, I recommend pages have a minimum of 3-5 unique incoming links from related content and in many cases, much more.

Finding and fixing orphaned content is not difficult. Orphaned content linking reports are built-in to most site auditing suites, including Semrush, Ahrefs, Sitebulb, Moz and more.

You can also use the Link Whisper plugin mentioned previously in this article. It has a simple ability to scan the entire site and then sort all your content by the number of incoming links.

Finally, you can use the Yoast plugin (premium required), the All-In-One SEO plugin or even RankMath (premium required), all of which have built-in tools to scan and surface orphaned content pages and posts.

High-quality internal linking is a confidence vote for you

My late good friend Bill Slawski used to talk a lot about link confidence

He was a big believer that internal linking done correctly was imperative for search engines to understand the relationship between links, entities and user satisfaction. 

This link confidence was necessary to rank your site and content competitively.

In the wake of relentless core, spam and HCU updates, along with the rise of AI Overviews, ranking a site effectively has never been more competitive than right now.

If you struggle to focus on where to put your SEO efforts in 2024, internal linking should be top-of-mind. Doing so helps you communicate your site more effectively to Google.

July 10, 2024

Original Source https://searchengineland.com/internal-linking-blogger-mistakes-444009

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