News publisher SEO: Why internal links are key to your search strategy
In issue 08 of WTF is SEO, a search newsletter for publishers, we are looking at internal link building strategies for news.
Hey, it’s Jessie again. Back with another issue of SEO tips for news publishers, this time looking at internal links – the companion to a backlink strategy.
This week we are covering link building strategy part one: focusing exclusively on internal linking (one of the key concepts we briefly touched on in issue three). Next week, Shelby will tackle external link building strategies for publishers and answer questions like, “what’s a backlink” and “how do I get one (without being spammy)?”
Internal linking for news SEO
Internal linking, and link-building strategies more broadly, are great for SEO – and, as a bonus, highly actionable. You can read today’s issue and take up the advice literally today, on your next story, right away!
What’s an internal link and why is it important for news SEO?
Internal linking is an important ranking factor and a driver of internal referral traffic for your site. Simply put, an internal link is a link that connects one page (article) to another page (related article) on one domain (news website).
For example, when The Guardian links from their list of the 18 best vegan recipes to a guide for making the optimal oat milk, that’s an internal link (from one story to the other on the same domain).
If The Guardian links from a plant milk guide to the Oatly website (a URL that is not on The Guardian’s domain), that’s an external link.
Linking from your page A (18 best vegan recipes) to the page B (oat milk) tells search engines those two stories are related. It’s a useful way to tell Google your website has authority on a given topic (or breadth of topics).
It’s also an effective strategy to increase engagement on your site. The longer a person spends on your site, the more traffic you receive to multiple pages, and the more engaged they are with your breadth of content, the more likely they are to return.
What is the value of internal links?
Site structure: Internal links help search engines understand the structure of your website, and find and index individual articles on your site.
Google says that some pages are found because the bot has already crawled them, while other links around found “when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.”
Internal links can help Google find and index new pages on your site. Pages within the internal linking structure help Google understand the importance of that page.
What you don’t want: orphans — those pages saying, “please, sir, I want some more (links).” Orphans are pages without any internal links (meaning there is no way for a person on your website to get to it unless they have the direct link).
Authority: Internal links are little bits of ✨ SEO dust, ✨ sprinkling authority across your stories and telling Google what's important on your site.
If you have a high-performing pieces of content (your page A) – think: your COVID-19 case tracker, a guide to the best movies on Netflix or the best vegetarian cookbooks – linking to a related story (page B) will help sprinkle your ✨ SEO dust ✨ across that page.
Identifying these pieces of content that are performing well in search, and linking out to other stories is a useful way of conveying additional authority and expertise.
Hot tip: A few weeks ago, we talked about the robots tag. If you want to indicate to search crawlers to follow all links on your page, you can use the robots tag “follow.” This is a great indicator if your internal linking structure is giving additional SEO juice to some previously lowly pages.
Bottom line: Find your high-value content, then make sure you are linking out to other stories on the same topic across your website. Don’t try to sprinkle SEO dust on random or unrelated pages (Google knows) – only link out to related or relevant reporting your readers will actually value.
What kinds of internal links exist?
Internal links can be both navigational (header, footer, sidebars), and contextual (inline, in the body of a story).
Navigational: You want a clean, easy-to-navigate site structure (more on this in future newsletters). Updating the links in the navigation is likely work that will require your development team and the folks who are responsible for technical SEO.
Contextual: Adding and updating contextual links are a quick win, something that can be added to your existing workflow. Make it part of the on-page SEO checklist you consult before publishing (this list should include: writing a great headline, a clear dek, adding an image, and internal links).
How should internal links be added?
Internal, contextual links can be added within the body of an article, or in a “related posts” section at the bottom of a story. Most websites have both – inline links in the body and a section of additional stories at the end of a post.
Google will divide the value of links across pages. Your homepage is like to have the highest value from Google (because it has the most links to other pages).
From there, every sub-page will have less link value. So if you want the most ✨ SEO dust ✨ for a story, be sure it appears on your homepage.
Anchor text: Your anchor text (where you add your hyperlink) for contextual links should be clear and send readers a signal about where they are going. Avoid using “here” as the hyperlinked text.
Instead of: This recipe calls for one cup of plant milk. If you want to try making your own oat milk, click here.
Try: This recipe calls for one cup of plant milk – go the extra mile and make your own oat milk.
Link text: You can think about hyperlinking the keywords you are trying to rank a specific page for (“make oat milk” is a keyword and makes sense as the anchor text).
One note when trying to link to keywords: It is useful when it makes sense, but avoid keyword stuffing – or, inorganically forcing keywords into the link thinking it’ll help your ranking.
In addition to Google being smart enough to know you’re trying to game the system (and penalizing you), it creates a worse experience for your readers.
Also, be sure that your links are checked for accessibility – this is partly about SEO, and partly because the internet is for everyone and not prioritizing accessibility limits who can surf the web.
How do you know what pages have big SEO energy?
To find those high-performing links, audit your website’s existing stories. Here’s how to find high-value links:
Start by thinking about the topics your site covers most often (your content pillars or your cornerstone content – the stories you most want readers to find in search). These should be topic areas that overlap with your target keywords, those broad terms that have high search volume (personal finance or COVID-19).
Use keyword research to find the search terms you want to target, then identify the posts generating the most search traffic: that’s your high-value link.
Use a (paid) tool like Yoast, if you’re on WordPress, SEMRush, or TK THIRD IDEA to help identify these pages.
Look at stories with search traffic: If you have real-time analytics on your site (like Chartbeat or Jetpack on most WordPress sites), look at your most visited stories. If the bulk of your page views are coming from search, be sure to check that the story has sufficient links throughout. (Search traffic is often new audience members or top-of-the-funnel readers; they are potentially less familiar with your site, so make sure you’re trying to send them to a second or third story.)
Bottom line: Your links between stories (pages) form clusters within your site are extremely important in telling Google what is related and what is important.
How many links should you add, per story?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic number of links to add to a specific story.
The main consideration should be using links to help inform your reader – if a story is building on previous reporting, it’s helpful to link back to those stories as they are referenced in the text.
If a link or piece of related reporting can better the reader experience, add it. If the link is being added to check an SEO box, slow your roll. Re-read the story, take inventory of your archive. If still nothing is relevant, don’t add junk.
You can start a content audit of your stories, to review what is and isn’t working and make an actionable to do list of posts to edit or update.
The bottom line: Links are good, they help sprinkle ✨ SEO dust ✨ on other stories on your website (something Google likes) and help readers find new stories (something publishers like).
✔️ Action item: Take a look at your top five performing stories from search or social. Where do they link to? Do the links make sense? Can you add an additional in-line link to another related story?
FUN + GAMES
When did Google overtake Yahoo as the most popular search engine?
WHAT’S TRENDING -
Resource of the week:
BruceClay - SEO Silos: How to build a website silo architecture
NEXT WEEK: Join us next week for part two of our link journey, when Shelby will tackle building an effective backlink strategy.
Have something you want us to explore? Email email@example.com
FUN + GAMES
The answer: 2007
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley.
Doing a deep dive into all of your content and just want to say THANK YOU, this is so good, so clear, so actionable!