Top 10 Google Ranking With Internal Linking – A Case Study 20


Internal Links

Have you implemented an internal linking strategy on your blog?

Or more importantly, have you considered the Google ranking impact that such a strategy could have?

This case study might well see you reconsidering your approach to internal linking.

When it comes to learning as much as possible about internet marketing, I must say that I get the most out of case studies.

I have found some brilliant ideas in list style posts but sometimes a long list of tips can be overwhelming.

On the other hand, when I come across a published experiment, describing a Twitter strategy  for example, or a case study about generating more blog traffic, then I’m sold!!  I make time to study it. 

So, rather than provide you with an exhaustive list of ideas about how to rank in Google, I’m sharing with you just one strategy I used in an experiment to see if I could rank a keyword on page 1 of Google.

If you have being trying for some time to improve the rankings of keywords that are sitting on page 3 or beyond, then this case study will be of interest to you.


An Internal Linking Experiment

One strategy that has often intrigued me is that of internal linking, and more specifically, the impact it can have on rankings.

I have thus been exploring whether or not internal links can be used to bump up a keyword’s position in Google.

Internal links, as the name suggests, are links that point to other pages on the same website or blog.  Every time I write a new post, I usually link from it to previous posts that are relevant to the topic under discussion.  Similarly, I go back to previous, related posts and add in-content links to the new post.

Thus, internal linking provides a great way to inter-connect relevant posts. As such, you can sustain a reader’s interest by encouraging him or her to branch out to other related content on your own blog.

In addition, internal links also allow search engines to traverse the inter-connected network of your site’s pages and find new pages to index.

The fact that some pages have a ‘better reputation’ (page authority) than others, means that link juice can be passed on to other pages.  This is one explanation behind the ranking power of external backlinks.

But to what extent can the internal sharing of link juice promote search engine rankings, specifically Google rankings?

The Rationale Behind this Case Study

It is obvious that incoming links from other sites, external links, or at least the right kind of external links, can make a big difference to a site’s ability to rank. 

If one is aiming to secure backlinks via natural means, then this can be especially time consuming. And by ‘natural means’, I am referring to links that come about  because your content is so good that people simply want to link to it. However, natural link building strategies can take a long time to bear fruit.

There is no disputing the fact that more risky backlink strategies, those that are considered less than white-hat, are still able to have an impressive impact on the ranking of sites. Whilst it is to be expected that some of these strategies might work only until a future  algorithm update catches up with them,  they do appear to be producing results in the meantime.

However, if you can find safer ways to rank your sites, then  not only can you sleep better at night but you shouldn’t need to be constantly looking for new ways to achieve and/or reclaim rankings.

What I really like about internal links is that we have 100% control over them:

  • We can decide which pages to link to.
  • We can easily find higher page authority (PA) pages to link from.
  • We can at any time, change our mind and severe the link if need be or replace it with a more appropriate link.
  • We can utilise keyword research to find relevant phrases that can be used as anchor text.
  • There is no delay. As soon as we decide we want to link to a new post from a particular page, we can simply insert it and hit publish. It is done. There is no waiting to see if it ‘comes through’ like there is with a sought-after external link

So, given that internal links are so easy to set up,  and so instantly made live, wouldn’t it be great if they could effect some improvement in rankings too?

Many a blogger debates this, but I haven’t seen a lot of case studies actually demonstrating, either way, the extent to which internal linking can have a ranking impact.

Correction Update: Since publishing this post, I have indeed come across another interesting case study on the ranking impact of internal links. This one, How to Get a Blog Post to Rank (Mini Case Study) is by Amanda Gant and was published late last year on Orbitmedia.com. Amanda outlines the 9 steps that were implemented and then discusses the impressive results achieved.

The Case Study Details

The type of internal links that I have focused on in this case study are context links, that is links from within a post’s content rather than site wide navigation links. 

I like to incorporate internal links naturally within the flow of a sentence rather than writing “Click Here” whilst at the same time avoiding forced or over-used anchor text. For example, this post on blog promotion is linking to another page on my blog about how to get more blog traffic.

Internal Linkingpointing
Linking to an internal page
This inter-connecting of content is very beneficial, but if it also leads to improved rankings then that would be the icing on the cake.

Identified Problem

I don’t know how many times I have seen people posting on forums, such as WarriorForum, lamenting the fact that their targeted keywords continue to languish on pages 2, 3 or 4 of Google.

How can we improve the rankings of these keywords?

This dilemma is something that I can readily identify with. If you are trying to rank for a keyword  and it is sitting on page 3 or 4 then it might as well be sitting on page 10 for all the traffic it will be attracting.

Before starting this experiment, I had a buyer keyword that had moved from position 75 in Google to 39 and then sat there for what seemed like forever. I had given up on this keyword, assuming it had performed as well as it was ever going to.

So, this presented a perfect challenge for me:

Could I take this languishing keyword of mine and use a persistent internal linking strategy to get it to page 1 of Google?

I love a challenge and even more, I love to record my findings and then see if the results can be repeated.

So here is what happened.

The Specifics of the Ranking Experiment

  • The site is a relatively small instructional-type blog.
  • The targeted keyword is a buyer keyword (product related)
    • For obvious reasons, the actual keyword is not revealed in this post but the actions, progress and final results are. However, the keyword phrase takes the form of ‘product name’ + ‘review’.
  • Search volume is very small but this is often typical of very specific buyer keywords. At the time of starting this experiment, it varied but was anywhere between 100 to 200 U.S.searches and 500 to 600 global searches per month.
  • Keyword difficulty was gauged using 2 tools: Long Tail Pro and the Keyword Difficulty module of Rank Tracker.
    • When I used Long Tail Pro to look at the competition for this keyword (the sites currently ranking in the top 10), I found:
      • 7 sites with a Page Authority of less than 30
      • 7 sites with a PR of 7.
        However, as discussed in my competitive keywords study I haven’t found PR to be a very reliable metric.
    • According to Rank Tracker the targeted keyword had an Overall Difficulty Score of 29.
      I find that a score less than 30 is relatively easy to rank for. However, it is important to keep in mind that the review on this product was published more than a year before. Since that time, regardless of the low Difficulty Score, the keyword had at best only achieved a page 3, and sometimes 4, ranking.
  • On day 1 of the experiment, the keyword was sitting at position 39 for the monthly average ranking according to Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) and postion 29 according to SmallSEOTools.
  • I used the following tools in the case study:
    • Open Site Explorer to find internal pages with greater authority – FREE version
    • Small SEO Tools (Keyword Position Tool) – FREE
    • Google Webmaster Tools (providing an average ranking position over the previous month) – FREE
    • Long Tail Pro as mentioned above
    • Rank Tracker as described above

So How Did This Ranking Experiment Go?

It should be noted that this was an experiment running in the background, if you like. In other words, it was not done in a hurry as you can see below. Internal links were added spasmodically whenever I took a break from other time-consuming projects. 

Plus, in the beginning, I probably doubted that an internal linking strategy would have the results that it did. I had previously viewed internal linking mostly as a way of connecting to relevant content to keep the reader interested and as a way to make sure that bots would find new pages to index.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

An Overview of Ranking Results

Towards the end of this post, you can see a lengthy listing (Table 2) detailing:

  • When internal links were added
  • Any other activities that could have had an impact
  • The Google Webmaster Tools (GMT) impressions and
  • The keyword’s rank according to SmallSEOTools
  • The keyword’s rank according to Google Webmaster Tools.

But, in case you don’t have time to wade through that rather lengthy listing, here is a brief summary of the main milestones achieved.

This table (Table 1) shows:

  • The main ranking milestones according to SmallSEOTools
  • The main ranking milestones according to Google Webmaster Tools.
  • The cumulative number of internal links that have been added. 

As you can see, the addition of internal links spanned a long period of time, not intentionally, but because of competing projects and possibly because at the time, I didn’t really expect to see the keyword rise up in the ranks in the way that it did.

Day
Google Rank
(SmallSEOTools)
Google Rank
(GWT)

Total Internal Links Added (Cumulative)

1
29
39.0
4
8
29
35.0
5
20
23
34.0
6
50
86
36.0
 
92
21
33.0
 
112
13
20.0
 
119
14
16.0
7
123
10
14.0
 
131
10
12.0
8
155
11
11.0
9
167
10
11.0
11
169
8
10.0
12
183
8
8.8
14
189
11
8.7
[1 external nofollow link]
202
7
9.1
 
207
5
8.8
 
215
4
7.8
 

 Table 1: Summary of Ranking Results

As you can see, there was 1 external nofollow link added via a blog comment. However,  the keyword had already achieved a top 10 ranking some time before this was added and it is debatable just how valuable, if at all,  nofollow links in  blog comments really are.  But if I were doing this experiment again, and I plan to in another niche, then I would exclude all external link building to the targeted page so as to eliminate any possible contamination of results.

Top Ten

Top 10 Achieved

After 7 internal links had been added, the keyword appeared on page 1 for the first time. It had gone from position 29 (SmallSEOTools)  to sitting in position 10.  You can see this in the screenshot of July rankings below.

Top 10 Google ranking

It took another 4 internal links, or 11 in total, to see the monthly average (as listed in GWT) reach position 10.

After another 3, for a total of 14 internal links, the keyword moved up into the top 5 and then to position 4 (as seen in the screenshot below of September rankings).

Keyword with Top 5 Google Ranking

A Detailed Listing of Actions and Ranking Results

There were some tweaks and improvements done that could also have had an impact such as improving the load time of the review page. And these are listed in the Actions & Comments column below, along with ranking fluctuations experienced, and dates that internal links were added.

Points to Note:

  • Rankings were not checked every day so in some cases, the SEO Tools ranking might have been checked while the GWT ranking was not and vice versa.
  • Most internal links were added to posts but there were some pages in the mix.
  • GWT in the table refers to Google Webmaster Tools.
Day

 

Rank (SEOTools)
 
Rank
(GWT
)
 
GWT
Impressions
 
Internal Links
Added
 
Actions & Comments

 

1293912044 internal links from higher authority internal pages (all posts)
62535146 Updated content of the review post
Removed site wide links pointing to the review page from header & sidebar
829351621Linked to review page from a new post
1073   Perhaps removal of site wide links has had a negative impact but only short term.
1172   Added phrase to paragraph 1 on review
152637182  
163936191  
182235204  
2023342021Added some static code to home page and included a link to review from the home page
222933203 Edited review – added phrase to 1st sentence & to H2 heading, made some wording changes
462932245 Changed link’s anchor text on home page to “product phrase review”
508636222 Discovered very slow loading time of review, reduced size of images in post
922133138  
1121320148  
1161417178  
11914161821Internal link from newly published post
120

100+

   Wow what happened? The keyword is nowhere to be found.
1211315188 But the keyword back in the rankings the next day
1231014210 First time on page 1 of Google
13110123181Internal link from newly published post
1411111360 Just discovered that my internal link on day 119 was nofollow – fixed today
1421110378  
1491510407  
1531111396  
15511113961 
15810    
160911373  
16710113682Linked from 2 older posts
1698103931Link added from newly published post
17999.1476  
181   1Added another internal link from older post
182    Moved an existing internal link towards the top of a page
18388.84871Added internal link from an older post
187118.7531  
18811    Moved an existing internal link higher up on another previous page 
189118.7 1Did add 1 external link from blog comment (not sure how much such links count)
199109.1635  
20279.1  Moving up in the rankings
20389.1643 Made 1 correction to an image on the review
20678.9663  
20758.8665 Ranking in the top 5
21358.1705  
21547.8709 Now position 4

Table 2: Detailed Listing of Actions, Internal Links Added and Ranking Results

Keyword Clicks

As well as tracking stats for the keyword position, I also tracked monthly clicks and found that they improved from zero to 9, to 35 and eventually to 47 per month.

Review Page Performance

In Google Webmaster Tools you can view Top Pages in addition to Top Queries. Unfortunately, page impressions weren’t recorded initially. However, they were tracked after day 100.  From that point on, they were seen to improve from 2,099 to  3,343 per month.

Takeaways from this Internal Linking Experiment

As mentioned,  in the beginning I didn’t really expect to be able to achieve page 1 ranking, let alone position 4.  I did expect that there could be some improvement but not to this extent.

Had I realised in the beginning that this could be possible, I would have run the experiment in a more condensed mode. That is I wouldn’t have left such big gaps in time between adding internal links.  I would have wanted to see how quickly page 1 ranking could have been achieved. Then the title of this post could have been ‘How I Achieved Page 1 Ranking in xx Days using Internal Linking‘.

So, from this experiment, it appears that internal linking, from within the content of a page, can significantly improve Google rankings.

Does it depend on competition?

Sure it does, as it does in the case of an external backlinking strategy!

I would always use either Long Tail Pro or Rank Tracker’s Overall Keyword Difficulty tool to check competition before spending time on targeting a  given keyword.

But there are 2 major differences between internal and external links:

  1. You probably have a limited number of pages on your site that are relevant to link from. That is, just how many posts have you published that would make sense to link to the targeted review page?
  2. The idea behind the value of backlinks, is that they represent, or should represent, a vote of approval from an external source. If linking is akin to measuring how popular a site is, then, by comparison, internal links are a little like paying yourself a compliment. So, one would expect that white hat backlinks from outside sources would carry more ranking power.

However, I was very happy with the results! So much so, that I would now like to repeat this experiment with another keyword in another small niche. But as indicated above, this time it will be my goal to see how quickly I can take a keyword from page 3 or 4 and drive it up to page 1.

What are your experiences with internal linking? Have you tried an experiment along these lines? If so, I would love to hear of your results as well.

 

Featured Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
Top 10 image by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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20 thoughts on “Top 10 Google Ranking With Internal Linking – A Case Study

  • Adrienne

    Hi Glenys,

    Wow, I got exhausted just reading everything you had to go through to research, experiment and then get the results.

    I’m not much of an SEO gal myself and I focused more on that back when it was a lot easier to rank. I had so many run ins with Google not liking my content then liking it again that I couldn’t keep up.

    That’s not to say I don’t find this interesting because I do and I appreciate you taking the time to explain how this works, taking us through each step and then the results. I say you did a great job and as you said, you’ll tweak it some for the next experiment. Either way, I so appreciate you sharing this with us. What a great lesson for us all.

    Bravo!

    ~Adrienne

    • Glenys Grob Post author

      Hi Adrienne,
      Actually, the experiment itself took only a few minutes on the days that I added an internal link or changed the position of a link.
      But what did take an enormous amount of time was the write up. I need to become more efficient in that area.
      Thanks so much for reading Adrienne, I really appreciate it.

      – Glenys

    • Glenys Grob Post author

      Hi Cody, thanks for your interest in my case study.

      Re. the anchor text, I would have used an exact match once or twice at most. The rest of the time, the links were either different variations of the targeted keyword phrase or generic text links woven into the discussion.

      The targeted keyword is still ranking on page 1 of Google but I do find that if I have been inactive on the blog for a period of time, it tends to slide towards the lower half of page 1. When I am more active, it tends to improve again. Any time I publish a new post that is related, I send another link to the target page which helps maintain its ranking.

      It’s interesting that the target post now attracts many other long tail keywords so its ranking continues to improve. And I think this is the way to go. That is, I think it is more important to concentrate on ranking a page (with many search terms) rather than trying to rank for one individual keyword.

      Thanks for reading Cody.

  • SunnyD

    Great case study. I have read so many people talking about the necessity of internal linking. But no one has shown the real impact of such links. Till date I interlink pages to reduce bounce rate but never thought it as serious seo. Thanks for the write up.

  • Corey Zeimen

    Nice case study, just shared.

    Trying to build traffic to my blog which also features case studies in the niche of PPC strategy, of course will now include heavy internal linking moving forward as well as revision to other past posts.

  • Shelly

    Very interesting! My attention span is too short to read the whole article but I did take away some useful information. I already do internal linking, and ofter I don’t use the keyword I’m going for, but instead a variation, it’s nice to know that this is okay.

    • Glenys Grob Post author

      Yes it is an extra long post Shelly, but the ‘bottom-line’, no pun intended, is the most important point, that is, the fact that internal linking is definitely worth doing. It’s a good idea to mix up the link text so that different internal links include different wording if pointing to the same page.

  • Mp3 Music

    Trying to build traffic to my blog which also features case studies in the niche of PPC strategy, of course will now include heavy internal linking moving forward as well as revision to other past posts.