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In this research-backed guide I’ll show you how to write better content by using internal linking best practices to improve the clickthrough rate of your internal links, reduce bounce rate, and increase the pages per session metric.
To show you how to do this, I am going to edit the content on one of my sites and show you how I personally improve the click rate for my internal links.
An internal link is a hyperlink that points from one webpage to another page on the same site (as opposed to backlinks from external websites).
As a freelance SEO copywriter, a large part of my work is creating content that generates clicks, improves on-site interactions, and ultimately increases sales. And I’ve worked with literally millions of links.
For this tutorial, I’ll be working on one of my sites, TheDailyMeditation.com. This is my own site as opposed to a client’s, so I can happily show you the inner workings.
First, I’ll show you how I personally improved my internal link click-through rate. Then I’ll share my top 10 tips for improving your own internal links.
Note, this is different to internal links structure, which has been written about hundreds of times before.
Why you should follow internal linking best practices
Internal links matter to SEO and to usability. Here’s why:
- Internal link optimization reduces bounce rate
- Increases pages per session
- Increases dwell time
- The above lead to improved ranking position in SERPs (Google etc)
- By optimizing links we can improve conversion rate (which raises bottom line)
- We can direct site visitors to sales page by increasing internal link CTR (click through rate)
- And we can move customers and clients down the sales funnel towards conversion
So how do we do it?
In this tutorial we’ll look at:
- Internal link best practices
- The best anchor text for getting link click
- Where to place links on a page
- How to structure content around links
- All of these will massively reduce bounce rate and increase website conversion rate.
How I analyzed my content
I wanted to provide statistical date to back-up my arguments. Therefore, I conducted research on TheDailyMeditation.com in order to determine best practice for internal-links.
To do this, I used Google Analytics to analyse which internal links generate clicks, and which do not.
I researched over 5000 links to test various criteria in order to determine what a good internal link looks like and its placement on the page.
I did this by using the Chrome extension and going through every post on the site, taking measurements of the CTR for all links based on various criteria as you can see below. I then averaged the CTR percentile across the site to measure how the efficacy of the various types of internal links. Meanwhile, I recorded the anchor text of links with high CTR (10%+) for additional information.
What the results teach us about internal linking best practices for bounce rate & CTR
I’m delighted to say that this study has revealed conclusive evidence of what does and what does not lead to a high clickthrough rate for internal links.
Let’s take a look. And remember, you can use these tips on your own site to reduce bounce rate, increase page views, and improve search ranking.
I recommend editing your blog posts and including all the following tips.
1. Internal Linking Best Practice 1: Place links between 15% and 50% down the page
I had expected that internal links above-the fold would have a higher click through rate than links below the fold because they are the first links to be seen and they are the only links that every website visitor who lands on the page sees.
Turns out I was wrong.
Links below the fold in the scrolling range of 15% to 50% had the highest CTR.
This is probably because visitors like to begin reading the page before clicking through to another page.
Unsurprisingly, links past the 50% scroll range had progressively lower CTR as visitors gradually exit the page.
There was some increase in CTR for links at the very bottom of the page as opposed to those in the 50-90% range. This is likely because visitors habitually view the end of the page to see related posts. Plus, visitors who do read the entire blog post have something to read next.
Take-away: Position the majority of internal links in the 15% to 50% scroll range for the highest possible clickthrough rate. Making this one change will massively reduce bounce rate and increase pages per session and dwell time. Include a couple more links at the end of the article.
Internal Linking Best Practice 2: Position internal links at the beginning or end of the paragraph
We know from studies into reading habits that people read the beginning and end of sentences and paragraphs and are likely to skip the middle bits. Because of this, it is not surprising that links at the beginning or end of a paragraph or sentence have a higher clickthrough rate than links in the middle.
In the study, links at the beginning of a paragraph or end of a paragraph had a CTR of 6% to 7%. Contrastingly, internal links in the middle of the sentence or paragraph had an average CTR of 4.6%
Take-away: Place internal links at the beginning or end of a sentence or paragraph for a quick way to increase clicks and improve bounce rate.
Internal Linking Best Practice 3: Place internal links at the beginning or end of a list
If your post contains lists (numbered or bulleted) place links in the first entry of the list, or the last.
This matches with the point above.
Readers tend to read the beginning pars of a section of text, skip the middle, and read the end. Therefore, for maximum ROI, place internal links on either the first entry in a list or the last, and not in the middle.
Take-away: Put links on the first entry of a list or the last to increase pages per session and reduce bounce rate.
Internal Linking Best Practice 4: Use Headings to draw attention to internal links
Headings are widely regarded as the most important part of content writing. Often, readers scan a blog post and read the headings first as they search for the information they are looking for.
Smart writing (or editing) means taking advantage of this. To do so, break a post into a series of headings. Then, position the internal links just below the headings.
Alternatively, position internal links at the end of a section of text, directly preceding a heading.
Take-away: Use headings to draw attention to a section of the blog post. Then place internal links around the heading. Simply using enough headings will decrease bounce rate quickly.
Internal Linking Best Practice: word count for anchor text
There is a debate in the SEO world about how long anchor text should be. The popular opinion is that anchor text should be two words long. However, this is usually based on SEO concerns rather than usability.
In my test I focused solely on how different lengths of anchor text result in different clickthrough rates.
My study reveals that anchor text between 2 and 5 words have the highest CTR. Internal links that are one single word long will not attract clicks. And neither will links with anchor text exceeding five words.
For this reason, it is likely best to go with the popular vote and make anchor text two or three words long for best SEO results and best usability.
Take-Away: Give internal links anchor text of two or three words. Do not use single-word anchor texts. Do not exceed five words in your anchor texts or you’ll get less clicks, which can lead to a bad bounce rate.
Internal Linking Best Practice 6: relevance
By far the most important factor in determining the CTR of an internal link is relevancy. All links should be relevant to the blog post they appear in.
Results from my research show that highly relevant internal links average 11.4%. Links of little relevance average 1.4% CTR.
Relevancy is subjective. How should it be measured?
When creating internal links, ask:
- Is this link thematically related to the post (which is important for SEO as well as usability)
- Does this internal link help readers achieve their goal?
- Does this internal link move visitors along the sales funnel?
Take-Away: Make all internal links highly relevant to the blog post they appear on. This is essential for reducing bounce rate.
Internal Linking Best Practice 7: Maximise CTR by including keywords in the anchor text
I previously shared secret tips on increasing clicks on your titles.
In that article I discussed the importance of putting keywords in the title. Keywords are also important for internal links.
Ever since Penguin Penalties came around, SEOs have been terrified of the idea that putting keywords in anchor text could result in a penalty.
Newsflash: It wont, unless you artificially produce thousands of spammy links with the same keyword anchor text.
If you use keywords in anchors naturally on your own blog, you will not get a penalty. And you should do precisely that.
There are two things to remember here:
1) You only have a few words to create anchor text
2) Readers mostly scan an article and do not read it word-for-word
3) Therefore, make sure that the anchor text makes sense and describes the page it links to based solely on the words in the anchor text. Doing this without using anything that might be considered a keyword is simply not possible.
Usability demands that we call a link what it actually is. And this means using keywords. If we’re linking to a book about cooking, it is only natural to use the anchor text cookbook (or something similar). Anything else is pure folly done for no other reason than to avoid a penalty which would never happen anyway.
My research shows that internal links that contain a keyword get a CTR of 8% on average, where anchor text without keywords get 2% average CTR.
Take-Away: Put keywords in anchor text. Just don’t spam it. Vary the text on each page. Do not use artificial link building strategies.
Internal Linking Best Practice 8. Write anchor texts that resonate
When editing blog posts to increase clicks on internal links, remember to make your anchors actionable, evocative, and curiosity-provoking.
Remember, you only have two to five words to make anchor text Zing! That means you have to get to the point, presto.
My research shows that for the highest CTR, anchor text should be:
Achieving all this in just a few words is not easy. But here are some tips:
- Use a verb
- Use a killer adjective
- Say what the link is for
For more on this, read my guide to writing headlines for high CTR.
Internal Linking Heat Map
To illustrate the main points of this tutorial, I created a simple infographic: an internal link heatmap.
This internal link heat-map shows the average CTR of internal links based on their position in the page and on each paragraph.
Here are the takeaways:
- Links at the beginning or end of chunks of text perform best
- Links from 15% to 50% scroll depth work well
- Above-the-fold internal links work well too
- Links from 50% to 90% scroll have the worst CTR
- Links from 90% scroll to the end of the article have good CTR as visitors start looking for a new article to read.
- By chunking text into headings and subheadings we control a visitor’s attention. By placing links around those headings we can increase the CTR of those links.
My study reveals that there are important internal link best practices to follow. These internal linking best practices reduce bounce rate and improve pages-per-sessions.
Simple changes like putting links at the beginning or end of a paragraph, and using anchors of two or three words, can massively improve the clickthrough rates of internal links. And this in turn will lead to increased page views, better usability, and ultimately, increased website conversion rates.
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