Internal Linking – The Do’ and Don’ts (IMHO)

Everybody knows that having a good internal linking structure is an important part of both, reader experience (they find other content by you they might be interested in) and on page SEO (the search engines find your older content and know which part of your site is the most relevant for which keyword). Plus it lowers your bounce rate if people visit more then one page on your site 😉

But part of the latest Google update seems to have been also an ‘over-optimization’ penalty. Officially, according to Matt Cutts in the video below, this refers more to keyword stuffing (especially meta data like image tags etc), but it can also refer to excessive, automatic, internal linking.


I want, for the moment concentrate on the internal linking aspect of on page SEO. Many moons ago I had a discussion going forward and backward with Allyn H. from ‘BloggerIllustrated’, now this blog doesn’t exist anymore, but here a quick recap of what we discussed:

Allyn showed that Google has, in its advanced search tools, a function where you can fine tune the reading level you want to see in your search results for basic, intermediate and advanced. Allyn then concluded that a similar technique might be also used by the search algo to determine the ‘quality’ of a site. Made perfect sense and still does. Just imagine you want to do a search about ‘new developments in breast cancer research’ what would you like to get in return? An article written in basic English or an article written in advanced, aka academic English?  Chances are that the article in a basic reading level is also pretty basic in its information value and that the article that was written in advanced reading level is also more thorough with the information it contains …

But what has that all to do with internal links?

Following this Allyn and I started to discuss the whole concept of surrounding text. I stated that I suspect, and still do for that matter, that Google is also taking this in account, additionally to the anchor text of the link itself. I give you an example, using a recent blog post as as example. What do you think makes more sense for readers, and subsequently also for the search engines, if I link to the blog post like this?

“If you are interested to read more about what I think about the Penguin Update you might want to read my blog post from a few days back called ‘Penguin Musings‘.

or if I do it like that?

“The latest Google update nick-named ‘Penguin‘ has a lot of webmasters up in arms and seems to have affected far more sites than Google initially thought it would.”

I think the first way is far better, as the reader knows s/he will be taken to another blog post if s/he clicks the link plus there is a bit of information given what the blog post is all about. The second way doesn’t tell the reader much about what will happen if they click the link, it could take them anywhere …

Google tries to emulate reader experience with its search algo, it tries to determine not only what is the best answer available for a search query, but also which site presents it in the best way to readers. Does it succeed with this always? No, but that doesn’t matter, imho, for the purpose of this article 😉 What I want to point out is that there are many ways to send ‘quality signals’ to Google that many might have overlooked so far.

But Wikipedia does it that way!

Short answer: Wikipedia is Wikipedia and Google knows it 😉

Long answer: Yes, but Wikipedia is an authority site that can get away with a lot of things, but the same method, just linking the keywords without paying attention to their surrounding text, is also a method used by an awful lot of rather spammy sites. Which may or may not tempt Google in thinking your site is also of less quality …

How I do internal linking now

Linking to old articles manually is fast and no problem, I do it on this blog all the time. The real challenge I experienced as I started a new site! I knew that I would need to write a lot of articles that would be referenced to each other extensively in order to not to repeat myself too often and running into the danger of creating duplicate content on my own site. Remember you don’t want to have several of your own articles competing for the same keyword in the SERPentines 😉

But even as I mapped the site structure out, there was no way that I could write articles in an order that allows me to do the internal linking only manually, at least not without re-editing older articles continuously and driving myself completely insane! Here is the system I came up with and that works for me:

  • The trick is to use a ‘marker’ to tell the plugin which keywords to link and which not. I choose to surround the ones I want to have linked with >>> <<< on that site.
  • You will need the SEO Smart Links plugin (free >>>download link<<<) or any plugin that allows you to set up keyword/url pairings for internal linking.
  • Your list of keywords with the keyword written like this >>>blue widgets<<< or use any other marker, which will obviously become part of the anchor text, you wish. It could even be something as simple as just putting an * after every keyword you want to have linked.
  • When you write your article or blog post insert >>>your keywords<<< like this in the text with a short ‘surrounding blurb’, even if you haven’t written / published the article in question yet, where you want the internal link to appear later.
  • As soon as you have written and published said article, go to your internal linking plugin and insert there: >>>keyword phrase<<<, url to point link to.

This achieves several things:

  • It only inserts internal links in your posts exactly where you want them and avoids linking too many times to the same article just because you happen to mention your keyword in passing.
  • That in turn avoids annoying readers and search engines that might find 100% automatic linking too spammy.
  • It saves you time, as the links will appear on your older articles automatically and you don’t need to re-edit them manually anymore.

Extra Tip

If you use a caching plugin, clear the cache after you have inserted a new keyword/url pair to speed things up.

Hope that helps someone, as always, any questions, suggestions or critiques – please leave them in a comment.

If you like this blog post and found it helpful, why not share it with your preferred social network? Handy links and bookmarklets above ^^^ 😉

5 comments to Internal Linking – The Do’ and Don’ts (IMHO)

  • so this is what you’ve been so quiet doing! Its looking good – and I can actually find your posts here- that’s all go. This is a contextural perfected comment just to see if I can get some more backlinks for my spammy blog about Passive Income 🙂

    • SY

      Lol, you are officially the first commentator here after the move 😉 As for back links, it will be a very natural looking one as this site is nofollow …

  • Elly

    This is working only for google search engine, what abour other search engine such as bing or yahoo, does it create the same impact?

    • Elly, as long as Google holds like 80-90% of the share of search engine traffic, I don’t care much about other search engines, plus a good internal linking structure is also important for the user experience of your readers, as they find faster what they are looking for / might be also interested in. Additionally I don’t think that having good internal linking will hurt you in any search engine, hope that helps, SY

  • […] still working on that one to do it ‘my way’ See this blog post entitled >>>Internal Linking- The Do’s and Don’ts (IMHO)<<< to read my internal linking musings and why I don’t think that completely […]