The advantages of internal linking are abundant. Internal links improve website usability, lead to an increase in pageviews, and improve PageRank. From an SEO perspective, these are all very good things. But new information from Google shows that using too many internal links can actually hurt your page rank, and that’s a major problem for digital publishers that rely on search traffic for website monetization.
The topic of internal linking was discussed during a Google Search Central office hours event earlier this month, when a site owner asked whether there are any dangers associated with having too many internal links. According to John Mueller, lead of the Search Relations team at Google, using too many links on the same webpage can dilute the links’ value.
We know that internal links are a critical component in SEO strategy. Unlike many other factors in SEO, internal links are entirely within the control of the publisher or the website owner. Internal links signal to Google which webpages are most important on a publisher’s own site. Google also uses links to understand a website’s overall structure. Having a logical structure of internal links makes it easier and faster for Google’s web crawlers to crawl a website. While internal links don’t send the same ranking signals as external links, they’re still very important for search optimization.
Given all the benefits of including links on a webpage, it makes sense that many digital publishers have gone all-in on this approach. However, some publishers may be finding that they have filled their sites with too many internal links, and that’s where the problem lies.
How Many Internal Links Is Too Many?
It’s difficult to put a specific number on how many internal links you should include on an individual webpage. Including any more links than is absolutely necessary is probably too many.
Having too many links on a particular webpage makes it harder for Google to understand the website’s structure. If all the pages on a website are linked to other pages on that website, then no real structure exists. In these cases, Google’s bot can struggle (and sometimes fail) to make sense of the website’s structure.
If Google’s bots can’t determine which pages are related to one another, and which pages are most important, then the website will drop in search rankings. This is true regardless of the website’s PageRank or authority. Having too many internal links makes it difficult for Google to understand the context of pages within the website.
Another problem that comes with using too many links has to do with the dilution of value. Internal links are supposed to signal that a particular page is important. However, these types of signals become less clear as more links are added. A publisher who adds 30 links to an article isn’t going to realize any more value than a publisher who adds three — and in some cases the value may actually be less. When every page is cross-linked, Google has no way to tell which pages are actually important.
The Ideal Website Structure
What is the ideal website structure? According to Google, publishers should aim to have a structure to internal links that resembles the structure of the website itself. If you are adding links to an article, you should make sure those links are contextual and that they relate to the topic of the article.
Consider link value when planning your linking strategy. To determine the link value, Google will divide value between all the links on a webpage. The homepage usually has the greatest link value because it has the greatest number of backlinks. That link value is then shared between all the links found on the homepage. The link value is passed to the following page, where it’s divided between the links on that page. This continues on until Googlebot reaches the end of the site.
If you’re looking for the moral in this story, make it this: Internal links are valuable, but having more links isn’t always better. Some digital publishers are doing themselves a disservice by including too many links in their organic content.
To learn even more about SEO for digital publishers, read A Comprehensive SEO Checklist for Digital Publishers.