A young woman works at a laptop and looks off into the distance with a thoughtful look on her face. She has long, dark hair and wears a white blouse with ruffled cuffs. In the background, freestanding shelves hold wicker baskets, small potted plants, and other assorted items.
To get started with cross-linking, first identify your pillar pages, or the pages on your website that have the broadest scope of content, that you will use to link to other pages. — Getty Images/Egoitz Bengoetxea Iguaran

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex field that's constantly evolving as search engines update their algorithms. While these updates can change how websites are ranked, one factor remains important: your internal linking strategy.

Cross-linking, or internal linking, is the practice of linking between pages on a website or to relevant pages on other websites. Cross-linking creates a web of connections that helps the search engine algorithm understand your site’s structure and how different pages or blog posts relate to one another.

While the concept is simple enough, cross-linking takes some strategy to get right. Here’s how to cross-link content on your website to improve your search ranking.

How does cross-linking work?

Internal linking involves linking to other pages within your own website. This helps search engines understand your content's hierarchy and assign importance to different pages. Google and other search engines rely on internal links to discover content on websites and determine the site’s ranking. If a page or blog post gets many links, that’s a sign that it’s important, high-value content.

To put it more technically, Google’s algorithm scans different websites by following internal and external links. “This bot arrives at the website’s homepage, renders the page, and follows the first link. By following the links, Google can work out the relationship between the various pages, posts, and other content. This way, Google finds out which pages on your site cover a similar subject matter,” wrote Yoast.

Cross-linking isn’t just about adding as many links as possible to pages across your website. In fact, cross-linking without a concrete strategy can do more harm than good. Follow these best practices to make the most of your internal links.

How to optimize your internal links

Most experts recommend setting up your cross-links in a pyramid structure, with your homepage at the top. From there, aim to build a structure that uses the minimum number of links between the homepage and any other page.

“Crawl depth is a number that indicates a page’s distance from the home page. A higher crawl depth could affect a page’s crawlability. Important, revenue driving pages should have a lower drawl depth while maintaining a clear and organized site architecture,” wrote Moz.

As you plan, think about your website experience from the point of view of a customer.

Focus your cross-linking strategy on structural and contextual links. Structural links, or navigational links, help your website visitors find what they need on your website. For instance, the menu at the top of an e-commerce site should have internal links to product pages, an About Us page, and a checkout page.

Contextual links appear in the main body content of a page. “Rather than directing users to larger navigational pages, these types of links direct them to other related content,” wrote SEMrush.

Contextual links are typically more detailed and complicated to implement than navigational links. You can get more juice out of your contextual links by using the right anchor text, the clickable text that appears in a hyperlink. A keyword strategy is useful when developing and implementing contextual links.

[Read more: 4 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Practices Every Small Businesses Must Know]

How to get started with cross-linking

Internal links are just one part of your overall SEO strategy, but it’s worth getting your website's structure ready for Google before exploring external linking and other optimization techniques.

Start by identifying the pillar pages that cover a broad topic and can link to related, more specific pages. “Pillar pages should target broad keywords with high search volumes rather than more specific long-tail keywords,” wrote SEMrush.

Some small businesses may only have one pillar page, such as your homepage. Your pillar page is at the top of your marketing funnel. This is where curious customers land when they’re simply looking for general details.

Next, group your website content into topic clusters. For instance, a gardening site may have clusters such as “spring plants,” “gardening supplies,” “gardening advice,” and “nursery information.” These clusters will help you map your navigational and contextual links. As you plan, think about your website experience from the point of view of a customer. How can you create internal links that make it easy for viewers to quickly find the information they need?

[Read more: How to Ensure Your Business Website Is SEO-Optimized]

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