Internal Links: Something SEO Experts Dwell On

Landing pages are pages that users land on. Sounds obvious, but they’re not special — they can be your home page, your service page, your about page, your blog, your contact form, an article on your blog, and so on. The answer lies within internal links.

Basically, any page that people land on, can find, and access is essentially a landing page. An article that only educates the user (one that, once read, the user leaves) is still a landing page. It doesn’t mean it’s a productive one, though.

A productive landing page is one that gets users to do something once they’ve landed on it. Whether it’s sharing its content, visiting other pages for further reading, joining a newsletter, or even buying a product, the moment a user engages with it it’s considered a productive landing page.

A landing page’s productivity is important for many reasons. For sure, it’s critical for PPC. But what about SEO? It is, but not in the way you may think.

Many SEO experts often talk about reducing bounce rates as if bounce rates kill SEO. But it’s a little misleading. Bounces, by themselves, are not entirely bad. If a page offers great content that satisfies the user’s query, and the user leaves after reading it, then it’s done its job. Even if the user bounces.

But when you factor in “Time on Page” (specifically, by looking at the bounce rate of that page and compare it to the time people should spend on that page), you get something that SEO experts call “Dwell Time.”

What’s Dwell Time?

In Google Analytics, you need to consider the next click to determine time on page. That’s the click where they leave the page — regardless of where they go after they’ve landed on it.

The problem is, if a person visits a page, stays for 25 minutes, and then leaves visiting no other page on the site, that’s still considered a bounce. Whether they’ve read the article is irrelevant.

That’s why search engines look at true bounces — bounces that occur within a six-second window. If people land and leave within six seconds, then that’s a true bounce. This explains why some pages with great content may have high bounce rates and still rank pretty well.

Dwell time is a better metric for this reason. When a page has a low dwell time, meaning users land and leave within six seconds, it may be an indicator that the content and/or the user experience are poor.

By the way, “six seconds” is arbitrary, but a growing consensus among SEO experts. The actual threshold is unknown. It’s a card Google prefers to play close to its chest to prevent users from gaming the system, which is understandable.

The longer the dwell time is, the better of an indicator it can be, as this shows that the visitor has consumed some, most, or all of the content on a page. This infers the quality of both content and UX. (Whether the information satisfied the searcher’s query is another issue.)

How to Increase Dwell Time?

Obviously, the quick answer is to “produce better content.” But what’s better? Content quality is subjective. There’s no way to define quality. Your content may be funny, informative, entertaining, and keep readers longer than six seconds.

But if it’s not useful, is it still “quality” content?

I would define quality content as one of three things: it’s useful, usable, and/or entertaining. Again, it’s subjective and only a guess on my part. But I’ve seen enough content that ranks well that follows one or more of these three.

  • Useful: the content is helpful, informative, and educational.
  • Usable: it’s actionable, engaging, and implementable by the user.
  • Entertaining: it inspires and evokes an emotional response (e.g., laughter, fear, sadness, hope, etc).

I’m sure there are more qualities than those. I’ve heard people say that it’s also findable, scannable, readable, etc. Those things, to me, are signs of a good user experience. Some do overlap, as an effective UX is the sign of good content.

But by other qualities, I mean those I’ve seen other SEO experts say, such as the content is reportable, quotable, memorable, and so on. All those things are good. But they revolve around the three important ones I mentioned above.

After all, if it’s useful, usable, or entertaining, chances are it will be reportable, quotable, memorable, and all those other things, too.

However, there are other things you can do to increase dwell time that go beyond the quality of the content and the user experience.

The Case for Internal Linking

Since one can measure dwell time by the time spent on the content before bouncing back (or bouncing off the site entirely), it makes sense to invite users to do something once they’ve finished reading your content.

Remember, the most productive landing pages focus on three things:

  1. It speaks to one market.
  2. It conveys one message.
  3. It leads to one outcome.

The landing page has content geared for one market. It can be a vertical market (it’s meant for a specific industry) or a horizontal market (it serves a specific need or solves a specific problem).

Second, it’s focused on one message, a message that has one specific purpose. It makes no sense to have your grandma’s cacciatore recipe on the same page you’re trying to sell blepharoplasty. Multiple messages only confuse the reader, and the confused mind will always leave.

And third, the page should lead to one outcome or focus on a primary goal. Can a page have multiple calls to action? Of course. But they should revolve around one outcome or goal. Otherwise, you will confuse the reader.

Give people too many choices and they won’t make one.

Again, I’m not saying that landing pages should only follow these rules. But the most productive, particularly the ones that are easiest to track, are those that follow one or more of these three rules.

If the goal of your landing page is to generate a lead or a sale, and particularly if you’re buying traffic to that page, you want to follow those three rules as precisely as possible. Stick with one action, goal, or outcome.

But what if your landing page is an article you’re trying to rank organically? Then it makes perfect sense to provide users with additional content — links to other articles that may answer additional or related queries they may have.

Internal links offer a better user experience for this reason, and by inviting that all-important next click, you not only increase dwell time on the page (and subsequently on the site) but also reduce bounces significantly.

Within each piece of content, there are many opportunities to link to other internal pages, whether they’re for reading additional content or for visiting other parts of your website. In my experience, they revolve around four types:

  1. Contentual Links
  2. Contextual Links
  3. Proximal Links
  4. Causal Links

Contentual links are links within the content. If I refer to another piece that I wrote, such as an article on internal links, and I link to it like I did now, that’s a contentual link. It’s part of the content, in this case. Links can be part of the text or from images within the text, too.

Contextual links are links integrated into the content to provide more context (e.g., more information about a passage or a related topic). The best example is Wikipedia, which is filled with links. The key is to choose anchor texts (keywords linking to other pieces of content) as they provide SEO signals.

Proximal links are links around the content but separate from it. They’re in sidebars, boxes, callouts, or bumpers (the sections before or after the content). For example, on my blog at the end of each article, I list related articles. I add them manually or use a plugin called “Contextually Related Posts.”

Following an interaction, causal links appear or push the user to another page or open another piece of content. Also called “interactive links,” they include opening a popup, watching a video, scrolling through a page, filling out a survey, using the search form, sliding through a gallery, etc).

Ultimately, to make a landing page productive, you need to know how well it’s doing. Are people reading it? Do they like it? Are they interacting with it? If the metrics are not favorable, then you need to improve the content.

But sometimes, you don’t need to improve the content or user experience in a direct sense. Incorporating internal links can do the job.

Moreover, it helps your SEO: internal links not only create relationships that give Google a better understanding of your content, but they also improve dwell times, which tells Google that your content and user experience are good.

Anchor texts (i.e., the words within the link), particularly keywords related to your own content, are themselves SEO signals. They are an indicator of topical relationships, create clusters, and communicate relevancy.

Plugins help automate some of the work, but remember that nothing beats expert analysis and hard-coding the links manually.

Topical clustering tells Google the major topic an article is about, falls under, or is related to. You might have various topics, whether directly similar or not, that have a certain theme or idea. Subtopics to a pillar topic, if you will. Many articles may even have more than one. By clustering topics together, it creates content relationships.

Why is this important?

Websites are largely structured based on a tiered hierarchy. For example, you have your main, top-tier pages. Then you have child pages, and child pages of child pages, and so on. Like a pyramid. You may have blog articles usually filed neatly under categories, too. It’s often referred to as a “silo” architecture, which is still very common.

Think of filling your content in folders, if you will.

But a content architecture that makes more sense is the hub-and-spoke model. And rather than falling under categories, they are tagged or connected together by a certain theme or topic. Simply, it’s more of an in-out model as opposed to a top-down one.

Think of labels as opposed to folders, like Gmail.

Allow me to be a bit geeky, for a moment. You’ll soon understand why.

Google’s natural language processing algorithm (called BERT) allows it to understand context and not just content based on mere keywords. If people are looking for soap and you have content with the keyword “soap” in it, it might be a match. But is it dishwasher soap? Soap bars? Soap operas? SOAP apps?

BERT identifies the context of a word based on all of its surroundings — including other words, images, and of course, links from other content. Linking content together amplifies SEO because it provides context.

Internal linking helps to improve your site’s user experience. UX is now a major ranking factor. After all, that’s what Google wants: to give users a more relevant and positive search experience. It’s part of what I call SXO, or search experience optimization.

Internal linking encourages readers to navigate throughout your site. It engages them with related content and decreases bounce rates, too. Think of the Internet’s biggest rabbit hole: Wikipedia. Try to read just one article, if you can. I know I can’t. With my ADHD, I can often waste hours on that site if I’m not careful.

Back to my plugin.

Since I have 200+ articles, it would be time-consuming to go back to older content, individually, and add links to newer content I recently published. So I use a plugin called Pretty Links. I use it to dynamically linkify specified keywords in my content to other pieces of related content on my site. It also tracks link performance, too.

But you don’t have to use a plugin.

(As an an aside, keep in mind that these links are not hard-coded. So if you ever deactivate the plugin, your links are gone.)

Just do this: from now on, when you post a new piece of content on your blog, try to link keywords and phrases to your other, relevant content. You can be a little more strategic, too, by linking to higher quality content, optimizing the keyword text, mapping user journeys, etc. Or you can hire SEO experts like me.

Just realize that if you don’t link to your other content, you’re missing out.

In fact, your users are the ones missing out.

About The Author

Avatar of Michel Fortin
Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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