Internal linking means the links between the pages on your website. This is a part of SEO that many people ignore, yet it is VERY powerful.
To illustrate the point, I took one of my websites and played around with the internal link structure on the site. I wanted to see what effect internal linking had on the ranking of my homepage for a keyword phrase I wanted to rank for.
I cannot tell you the keyword phrase I wanted to rank for, as I don’t want this ongoing experiment to be influenced by people searching for the phrase. Members of my “Insider’s Group” know all of the phrases and ranks and even the website, so they can vouch that what I am going to tell you on this page is true and accurate.
Before starting the experiment, my site ranked between #190 and mid 200s for this main phrase. I had one link pointing to the site using that keyword text, but no other optimization for that phrase. e.g. The domain name did not contain that phrase, nor did any page filename, title, etc. In effect, none of the page on the site were optimized for that phrase at all.
I analyzed the internal link structure of the site to my homepage, and this is what I found:
The screenshot is from a piece of software I created to analyze internal link structure of a site. NOTE: This software IS NOT currently available to buy.
What you see there are the number of links using a particular anchor text together with the anchor text used. I have blurred out two of the anchor texts to protect the site.
Top anchor text that was found 319 times was the name of the site (this is not a commercial term, the site name was chosen for branding purposes). The bottom anchor text found once was a phrase totally unrelated to the topic of the site.
At this point, my site was ranking at #190 or lower for the phrase.
I then went in an changed the internal linking on the site so that there was a more varied set of anchor texts. After my meddling, this was the internal link profile to my homepage:
I’ve blurred out the anchor texts to protect the experiment.
What I did was increase the number of internal links pointing to my homepage that had the words that make up the phrase I wanted to rank for.
e.g. if I wanted to rank for “dyson vacuum cleaner”, I’d add more internal links to the page that contained one or more of the words “dyson”, “vacuum” &, “cleaner”. These links might look like “buy a dyson”, “best dyson vacuum”, “is dyson the best cleaner”, etc.
After about a week, I saw some changes in my rankings for the homepage for the target term.
Here is a screenshot from my Rank Tracker:
The site jumped from #190 to #115. The rank rose to a high of #69, before falling back and settling around the #110 mark.
I decided to make a few more changes to the internal link structure on my site. I wanted MORE variety of internal anchor texts. Here is what my internal link profile to the homepage looked like after this second round of tinkering:
Almost immediately my rankings started to dance again:
The graph above shows the last bit of the previous ranking screenshot, plus what happened after I changed the link text for a second time.
The rankings moved up almost immediately and settled between #50 and #60.
I wasn’t happy with this, so I added a few more links back to the homepage. What happened next surprised even me.
It jumped very quickly to number 15 in Google, and settled there. The ranking has stayed firm for the last two months.
During the test period, no other changes were made to my website. While these changes could have been due to Google algorithm changes, the timings of the climb closely coincide with the changes I made to the internal link structure on the site. It should also be noted that the site had ranked #190 or lower for the selected phrase for several months prior to this experiment.
While not conclusive, the evidence is strong, especially when you consider other phrases I have been monitoring in this experiment that contain the words that make up the main phrase. I’ll show you the rank changes for various phrases, though I won’t tell you the phrase as again, I want to protect this site from lots of automated queries of people checking these results.
This one jumped from nowhere, into the top 200 and then moved up to where it currently sits at position #60:
.. and this phrase:
Moved up from nowhere at the beginning of November to #22.
.. and this phrase:
Again, moving from nowhere it is now sitting at #20 in Google.
Note that when the graph starts on a certain date, it means that checks before that date did not find the site ranking for that phrase. Therefore, looking at the phrase rankings above, we can see that all of these phrases started to rank at roughly the same time, which corresponds to the start of my internal linking experiment. Jumps in rankings also correspond nicely with the addition of new internal links.
Automating Internal Linking
I actually use a plugin that I helped to design to handle internal linking on my sites. It’s called CI Backlinks. CI Backlinks works hand in hand with another tool I created called the Internal Link Analysis Tool.