A Copywriter's Practical Guide To Smart Internal Linking

Ian Lurie
no, I'm not saying all copywriters are baboons. some of us are hairier.

Yo, copywriters. If you freak out about semantic markup, then you have varying degrees of apoplexy over links. But linking is a critical part of smart online copy. Links are why it’s called the world wide web, and not the world wide collection of random disconnected bits and pieces.

So you need to learn. Here’s a quick tutorial from me, a one-time marketing copywriter. This doesn’t go into a lot of theory – it’s strictly step-by-step.

This article is just about internal links – the links you create from one page on your site to another page on your site. If you’re nice, I might do another one about external links.

Prologue: Rules for Linking

First, the basics:

  1. Every article you publish should have at least one link to related content elsewhere on your site, right in the article text. The ‘related articles’ list doesn’t count. That way, if some jackass cut-and-pastes your article onto their spam blog, they create a link back to you.
  2. No article should have so many links that it looks like a rabid two-year-old with a permanent marker and a ruler went berserk. If you don’t know where the line exists between too many and just enough links, then you shouldn’t be writing online.
  3. Links should clearly indicate what they’re linking to.
  4. You must have a plan for your links, and that plan must create hubs.

I’ll explain each of these as we go through the steps for creating useful links in your blog or web site.

Step 1: Know Where You’re Linking

You just finished your article. It’s ready to publish. Now, where are you going to point that link (or those links)?

Find an article, product or other content on your site that’s either related to your new content, provides an opposing viewpoint, or supports your assertions. If you can’t find anything, fire yourself. The next writer will figure it out, I’m sure.

K, found the article? Open it in your browser, if you haven’t already. Now, in your browser’s address bar, select the entire address of that page:

your link, in technicolor

Click “Edit>Copy”. That copies the page address (URL) to your clipboard.

Paste that somewhere – anywhere. A text editor will do. You just don’t want to lose it if your computer crashes, or if you pound your fists bloody on your keyboard after reading this article.

Step 2: Figure Out Your Link Text

Now you need to figure out where, and how, you’re going to link to that page. Sometimes it’s easy: Last week I wrote a piece about semantic markup for copywriters. So, if you look at the first paragraph of this article, you’ll see that I created a link to that article right there.

A few good tips for link text:

  1. If you take that link text and write it on an empty whiteboard, someone else in your office should be able to figure out what the target page will be about. So To learn more about the drunk roller skating incident, click here is great; Fun randomness!!! is not so good.
  2. Whenever possible, link text should include SEO keywords. If you’re trying to get a higher ranking for ‘buggy bumpers’, make sure you link to an article or hub page (more about this in a second) about ‘buggy bumpers’, and use ‘buggy bumpers’ in the link text. Search engines care about this kind of stuff.
  3. Don’t link an entire sentence or paragraph. It looks really stupid. And it’s really hard to read. Plus, search engines will ignore it because clearly anyone who does this is either a lunatic or has very little to offer to the world.

Figured out what you’ll be linking to, and what the text will be? OK, next step.

If you’re feeling dizzy at this point, sit with your head between your knees for a minute. Breathe slowly. Once you’re feeling good again, read on.

Step 3: Make the Link (the easy way)

It’s time to make that link. Chances are, your HTML editor, blogging tool or content management system has a super-easy way to create links. Open the tool that you use to add content to your site. Generally, you’ll see a tiny chain link icon that you click. That’ll display a box that looks like this:

creating a link, all by yourself

Highlight the text you want to make the link. Then paste in the page address you copied way back in step 1 right into the ‘link’ field and press enter. Congratulations! It’s a link!

Step 3: Make the Link (the other easy way)

If you work for a draconian tyrant of a boss like me, he or she will probably force you to learn how to code link. Scream: GAAAAAH!

Now, make the damned link. It’s not that hard. Here’s what you do:

In your text editor (that’s what you’re using if you have to hand-code the link), you’re going to surround your link text with the bolded stuff below:

<a href=”http://www.buggybumpers.com/”>buggy bumpers and how they can protect your buggy’s youthful shine</a>

Paste the page address between the ” ” and you’re good to go.

Step 4: Test the Link

Click the link. Make sure it works. If you don’t, your draconian tyrant of a boss will display your folly on a 10 foot wide screen at the next company meeting as a ‘valuable learning experience’.

Epilogue: Have a Hub Plan

Links are at their most powerful when you use them in a concerted effort to boost the relevance and importance of a single page.

Let’s say I have one lonely article or product page about buggy bumpers:

sniff. a lonely page.

But I want to get a higher search ranking for that phrase. Plus, I want my readers to see lots and lots of stuff about buggy bumpers, so they know my buggy bumper wonderfulness and buy from me.

I am at 34,000 feet writing this, with my COO’s elbows jabbing me. And of course the pilot carefully aimed for turbulence just as they started serving drinks, as f—ing usual. So my writing is a bit silly.

So, I write another article and link it to the first one:

friend with benefits.

Neat. But not as good as it could be. Create a hub page – a page that will link to every buggy bumper-related page on your site. It could just be a simple list of links with short summaries of each article. As you add new articles to your site, add them to that hub, and link to the hub from each article:

a whole bunch of pages, linking madly... never mind.

Voila! A hub page. You now have a central location on your site that is the repository of All Things Buggy Bumper.

Thinking Hurts. Do It Anyway.

This is hard work, huh? You can’t just open up Roget’s and start hammering out pithy phrases. You’ve gotta actually learn something new for the first time since you realized your History major and Poli Sci minor (my college choices) won’t guarantee you the US Presidency.

It’s worth the effort. Copy is no longer just words – it’s interaction, too. Those cross references you used to write can now actually do something. Take advantage.

I just wrote an SEO Copywriting eBook, by the way. You can buy it for 5 bucks.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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