Internal links, backlinks, and topical authority
This week, we look at how to develop solid internal linking and backlink strategies, and how that can help your topical authority efforts.
Hi, and welcome back, it’s me, Jessie. It’s March in Toronto, the most indecisive season! One day you’re freezing, the next sweating, and by week’s end my patience is gone and I’m screaming at the sky: please, I’m done slipping on stealth ice! Just give me spring! Just one single tulip would be great.
Onward! This week, we’re revisiting three related concepts: internal links, backlinks and topical authority. Links are a fundamental part of good SEO. We look at how having a solid linking strategy can help build your authority for a new topic.
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Let’s get into it.
In this issue:
How to build a solid internal link strategy
How to build a great backlink strategy
How to use links to help with topical authority
What is an internal link?
Simply put, an internal link is a link that connects page A (article) to page B (related article) on one domain (news website). Internal linking can help drive internal referral traffic for your site and is an important ranking factor. Google’s John Mueller affirmed the importance of internal linking for SEO.
Linking from page A to page B tells search engines those pages are related.
Internal links also help search engines understand the structure of your website; find and index individual articles on your site, and can direct readers to your most high-impact work.
Search engines understand that the most linked-to pages are the most important.
Internal linking helps search engines understand that your website has authority on a given topic (or array of topics).
Orphan pages: Every story on your page should be categorized and linked to appropriately. An orphan page, by contrast, is a page without any internal links whatsoever. This means there is no way for someone to get to the page unless they have the direct link – you want to avoid orphan pages.
Internal links are little bits of ✨ SEO dust, ✨ sprinkling authority across your stories and telling Google what's important on your site.
There are two types of internal links: navigational (found in the header, footer, sidebars), and contextual (inline, anchor text or a “related posts” section).
Navigational: You want a clean, easy-to-navigate site structure.
Contextual: Adding and updating contextual links should be part of your on-page SEO checklist. Aim for a minimum of 3-5 links in a story, to a mixture of topic pages, related reporting, explainers and opinion or analysis pieces. Adding links both in the body and as a section of “additional stories” at the end of a post is a great way to ensure you’re providing relevant information for readers.
How should internal links be added?
Being strategic about site structure and how pages are categorized. The deeper into the site a page is found (the number of subsections), the less important it is considered to search engines.
The URL: website.com/article-headline.html is considered more important than website.com/news/world/ukraine/article-headline.html.
Make sure your most recent or relevant stories appear on your homepage. (Shelby went in depth on Twitter about the importance of homepage for SEO.)
Find other high-value pages (those with lots of search traffic) using Google Search Console. These pages already see a ton of eyeballs, so make sure to include 3-5 links to stories to send readers further into your site.
Make sure the anchor text for contextual links sends readers a clear signal about where they are going and the angle of the story. Avoid using “here” as the hyperlinked text – instead, link on the keywords you want to rank for.
Monitor for broken links on your site. A broken link is a URL that is linked that does not go to its appropriate destination. This could be because the resource moved, was deleted or was incorrectly formatted when linked in the story. (A tool like Ahrefs Site Audit tool can help.) Broken internal links result in poor reader experience, so if it’s broken, redirect or remove the hyperlink.
✔️ Action item: Take a look at your top five performing stories from search or social. Where do they link? Do the links make sense? Can you add an additional inline link to another related story?
Read more: Internal links for SEO from Ahrefs
What is a backlink?
Link building is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites back to your website. A backlink is a link that connects publisher A (another news outlet) to publisher B (your site) across multiple domains.
Since search engines use links to crawl the internet, they will crawl links from your site to other sites, and vice versa. This is called a backlink.
Why do backlinks matter? A backlink is a sign of authority to your page and is considered by Ahrefs the “the most important ranking factor.”
Search engines consider relevance and authority when looking at backlinks: how many links are coming from big, authoritative websites.
The bigger, more authoritative a website, the more “power” the backlink is awarded. A backlink to a story on bbc.com from the nytimes.com domain is much more powerful than a backlink from JessiesRandomBlog.com (a low-traffic personal blog).
Links are a signal of quality: If a non-credible outlet links to your work, that’s a problem. This will happen sometimes with syndication. If there’s ever a reason that a link is grossly affecting your ranking or disputes the quality of your journalism, follow Google’s guidelines for disavowing a link.
How to monitor your backlink profile: SEO tools like the backlink dashboard from Ahrefs or the Moz Link Explorer will provide a full look into the sites that link to your site and on which pages. Once acquired, use an SEO tool to monitor the link. These tools will indicate if you have recently lost any links that you should try to fix.
How to build backlinks: Building backlinks as a news SEO can be challenging. That’s because you don’t have control over when other publishers provide a link to your reporting.
It’s entirely too common for publishers to cite – but not link to – another publication in a story. Links act as citations and can help build reader trust. If you rely on another outlet’s reporting, be an MVP: link to their story.
If you publish an exclusive, investigation or important feature and notice other outlets using your reporting, but not link to it: send an email. Outreach is an important part of link building: Politely email an editor at the outlet to see if they would hyperlink to your reporting.
The first step to build a strong backlink profile is to publish great journalism. Share that content widely on social media, off-platform, in newsletters and on your homepage as part of your overall audience effort. Great content will get shared and organically pick up backlinks.
You can also reach out to notable guest authors or contributors who likely have their own sites or social following. Encourage them to link their stories on their own websites or other personal platforms.
The bottom line: Links to your site from third-party sites is one of the best signals to search engines about the quality of your site. Building good backlinks and ensuring they are kept over time is a great strategy for news publishers.
THE HOW TO
What is topical authority?
Topical authority is SEO jargon for subject matter expertise. According to Search Engine Journal, it is the “perceived authority over a niche or broad idea set, as opposed to authority over a singular idea or term.” It’s one measure for the overall quality of a site and a contributing ranking factor.
Can links help build topical authority? Yes.
To build topical authority, first use a tool like SimilarWeb to understand which topics Google thinks you have authority in and/or consider the topics you want to have authority in. Then consider the content you will create and how you will link it all together.
Cross-linking takes readers further into your site, and deeper in the audience funnel. Consider aggregating existing content into content pillars or topic cluster pages.
Well-organized content pillars and topic clusters can be useful not just for readers, but the search engines as well. By linking your content pillar to all of your articles on the subject matter, you’re sending a signal to Google that you know what you’re talking about. Google will be more likely to return to your content pillar for new, fresh stories on this subject.
Find your power pages (those with the most backlinks and authority) and make sure you are linking out from those stories to other stories on the same topic across your site.
Start with a simple topic page that includes a list of all published stories and a clear, keyword-focused title tag and meta description (and additional copy on the page, if possible – see US Weekly’s celebrity profile page for example).
From there, continue to publish great journalism on the topic (explainers, news stories, opinion), build out topic clusters or pillar pages. Finally, use hyperlinks to connect all your content together.
Ensure all stories have 3-5 links; identify power pages and use that ✨big SEO energy ✨ to send clicks to new content.
Monitor the backlinks to your site; where necessary, request other publishers to link back to your reporting.
THE JOBS LIST
These are roles across the globe we see that are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
Vox Media is hiring a Technical SEO Manager (Remote, Washington, D.C., New York, N.Y.)
NBC Universal is hiring a Audience Development Editor, Regional Sports (Multiple locations)
Did you experience a drop in visibility on SERPs on 2/17-2/22? We discuss this in the News SEO Slack group.
The Gray provides a guide to cross-domain tracking.
Kevin Indig tries to explain why SEO is so popular right now.
Search Engine Land: Google’s ‘Russian invasion of Ukraine’ results included new search features, including fact boxes and a ‘For Context’ section.
Search Engine Journal: Google is working on ways to show more short-form video in search results.
From SearchPilot: How to write a compelling SEO hypothesis.
Folks from Search London, Turn Digi and the Optimisey are teaming up for a fundraising event for the International Red Cross in Ukraine.