You’ve probably heard the buzz about internal linking. SEO experts sing its praises, claiming it can boost your website’s visibility and improve the overall user experience. But what happens when those internal links aren’t working as intended? What if, instead of helping, they’re actually hurting your site’s performance and leaving visitors scratching their heads?

If you’re a website owner, marketer, or SEO enthusiast, chances are you’ve invested time and effort into building a solid internal link structure. You might have even seen positive results at first. But maybe you’ve noticed a drop in traffic, a decrease in engagement, or an increase in bounce rates. Could your internal links be the culprit?

In this article, we’ll dive into the common ways internal linking can go awry, and more importantly, how to fix them. We’ll explore scenarios that might resonate with you, whether you’re a small business owner struggling to keep up with the latest SEO trends or a seasoned digital marketer looking to optimize your site’s performance.

By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to identify and address potential issues, ensuring your internal links are working for you, not against you.

Ways Internal Linking Can Hurt Your Website

Broken Internal LinksLinks that lead to non-existent pages, causing user frustration.Regularly audit using tools like Screaming Frog or SEMrush to identify and fix broken links.
Circular LinkingPages linking in a loop, confusing both users and search engines.Map out your link structure using tools like Lucidchart to identify and break circular links.
Excessive Internal LinkingToo many links dilute their value and overwhelm users.Be strategic, linking only to relevant, high-quality pages.
Misleading Anchor TextLinks with text that doesn’t match the destination, frustrating users.Use clear and descriptive anchor text that accurately reflects the linked content.
Orphaned PagesPages with no internal links pointing to them, making them hard to find.Regularly audit and link orphaned pages from relevant sections.
Heavy Script LinksLinks leading to pages with slow-loading scripts, reducing user experience.Optimize JavaScript and consider server-side pre-rendering.
Lack of Contextual LinkingLinks that don’t match the context, confusing users.Ensure links provide additional value relevant to the current content.
Excessive Data DownloadLinks requiring large data downloads, slowing page load times.Streamline data and use compression techniques like GZIP.
Inefficient CalculationsComplex regex calculations slowing down performance.Simplify keyword matching and consider server-side processing.
Excessive DOM ChangesFrequent DOM updates causing slow page rendering.Batch DOM updates and minimize reflows and repaints.
Misused “Nofollow” AttributeUsing “nofollow” on internal links, limiting SEO benefits.Audit and remove unnecessary “nofollow” attributes on internal links.
Neglecting Homepage LinksNot leveraging the homepage’s authority for internal linking.Add strategic internal links from the homepage to key pages.
Overlooked Image LinksImage links without alt text or clear indicators, reducing usability.Add descriptive alt text and clear visual indicators for image links.
Deep Crawl DepthImportant pages buried too deep within the site structure.Maintain a shallow site structure with strategic linking.
Misguided ClicksLinks that don’t align with user intent, increasing bounce rates.Understand user intent and map journeys to provide relevant links.
Lack of Data TrackingNot tracking internal link performance, leading to uninformed decisions.Implement web analytics tools and track key metrics like CTR, bounce rates, and conversions.

Prefer a quick overview of common mistakes? Our companion article, “18 Common Internal Linking Mistakes To Avoid,” provides a straightforward list perfect for beginners or those seeking a quick refresher. It also highlights how a specific tool can streamline your internal linking process.

Now let’s get into some specific scenarios where internal linking can backfire, causing more harm than good to your website’s performance.

Imagine clicking on a link that promises to reveal the secret recipe for your favorite dish, only to be greeted by an error message. Frustrating, right? Broken internal links are a major turnoff for visitors. Not only do they disrupt the user experience, but they also send negative signals to search engines.

Why it happens:

  • Content changes: You might have deleted or moved a page without updating the corresponding internal links.
  • Typos: A simple typo in the URL can render a link useless.
  • Technical issues: Server errors or glitches can temporarily or permanently break links.

The fix:

Regularly audit your internal links using tools like Screaming Frog or SEMrush. These tools can quickly identify broken links, allowing you to fix or remove them.

2. The Never-Ending Maze (Circular Linking)

Circular linking is like getting lost in a maze with no exit. It happens when you link Page A to Page B, Page B to Page C, and then Page C back to Page A. This creates a closed loop that can confuse both users and search engine crawlers.

Why it happens:

  • Lack of planning: A poorly thought-out internal link structure can easily lead to circular linking.
  • Content silos: If different sections of your website are isolated from each other, you might inadvertently create circular links within those silos.

The fix:

Map out your internal link structure using a tool like Lucidchart or MindMeister. This will help you visualize the relationships between pages and identify any circular links that need to be broken.

3. The Too-Much-of-a-Good-Thing Trap (Excessive Internal Linking)

While internal links are important, too many of them can overwhelm visitors and dilute the value of each link. Imagine trying to read an article with a hyperlink in every other sentence – it would be distracting and make it difficult to focus on the content.

Why it happens:

  • Keyword stuffing: Trying to cram too many keywords into your anchor text can lead to an overabundance of internal links.
  • Lack of focus: If you’re not sure what your most important pages are, you might end up linking to everything, including pages that aren’t relevant to the current context.

The fix:

Be strategic about your internal links. Focus on linking to relevant, high-quality pages that provide additional value to the user. Use descriptive anchor text that accurately reflects the content of the linked page.

4. The Bait-and-Switch Tactic (Misleading Anchor Text)

Clicking on a link labeled “Learn more about our new product” only to land on a page about company history can be misleading and frustrating for users. It’s like being promised a delicious meal and getting served a salad instead. Misleading anchor text can create a negative user experience and damage your site’s credibility.

Why it happens:

  • Over-optimization: Trying to stuff too many keywords into anchor text can lead to misleading links.
  • Lack of relevance: If the anchor text doesn’t accurately reflect the content of the linked page, users will be confused and disappointed.

The fix:

Use clear and descriptive anchor text that accurately conveys the content of the linked page. Avoid generic phrases like “click here” or “learn more.” Instead, use specific keywords or phrases that give users a clear idea of what to expect.

5. The “Dead End” Page (Orphaned Pages)

An orphaned page is like a lone island with no bridges connecting it to the mainland. It’s a page on your website that has no internal links pointing to it, making it difficult for both users and search engine crawlers to find.

Why it happens:

  • Content oversight: Sometimes, new pages are created but not properly linked to the rest of the site.
  • Structural issues: A complex website structure can sometimes lead to pages being unintentionally isolated.

The fix:

Regularly audit your website to identify orphaned pages. Once found, strategically add internal links from relevant pages on your site.

While this might seem like a technical issue, it directly affects user experience. Some internal links, especially those leading to pages with heavy JavaScript or interactive elements, can take a long time to load. This can frustrate users and increase bounce rates.

Why it happens:

  • Unoptimized scripts: Poorly written or inefficient JavaScript code can slow down page loading.
  • Excessive resource usage: Interactive elements like animations or complex graphics can consume a lot of processing power.

The fix:

Optimize your JavaScript code to reduce its impact on page loading time. Consider lazy loading or deferring scripts that are not immediately necessary for the initial page rendering. If possible, pre-render interactive elements on the server-side to minimize client-side processing.

7. The One-Size-Fits-All Approach (Lack of Contextual Linking)

Not all internal links are created equal. A link that makes sense in one context might be completely irrelevant in another. For example, linking to a product page in a blog post about industry trends might not be helpful for the reader.

Why it happens:

  • Generic link building: Some website owners add internal links without considering the context of the surrounding content.
  • Automation: Automated internal linking tools can sometimes insert links that are not contextually relevant.

The fix:

Always consider the context when adding internal links. Make sure the linked page provides additional value or information that is relevant to the current topic. Avoid generic links that don’t add anything meaningful to the user experience.

8. The Data Hog (Excessive Data Download)

In some cases, internal linking solutions require downloading large JSON files or other data structures containing potential links and keywords. This can significantly slow down page loading, especially on mobile devices or slower connections.

Why it happens:

  • Overly Comprehensive Data: Some tools try to include every possible internal link and keyword variation, leading to unnecessarily large data files.
  • Lack of Optimization: The data files may not be optimized for size, further exacerbating the download time.

The Fix:

  • Streamline Data: Carefully evaluate the data being downloaded. Do you really need thousands of potential links on every page? Can you reduce the size of the data files without sacrificing functionality?
  • Compression: Use compression techniques like GZIP to reduce the size of data files transmitted over the network.
  • Caching: Implement caching mechanisms to store the data locally on the user’s device, reducing the need for repeated downloads.

9. The Regex Rabbit Hole (Complex and Inefficient Calculations)

Some internal linking solutions rely on complex calculations and string matching operations, often using regular expressions (regex). While powerful, regex can be computationally expensive, especially when dealing with large amounts of data. This can bog down the browser and lead to a sluggish user experience.

Why it happens:

  • Overly Ambitious Matching: Trying to match too many keyword variations or patterns can lead to complex and inefficient regex expressions.
  • Client-Side Overload: Performing computationally intensive operations on the client-side can tax the browser’s resources, especially on less powerful devices.

The Fix:

  • Simplify Matching: Review your keyword matching logic and look for ways to simplify it. Can you achieve the same results with a less complex approach?
  • Server-Side Processing: Consider performing complex calculations on the server-side and caching the results. This can significantly reduce the workload on the client-side.
  • Alternative Algorithms: Explore alternative string matching algorithms that might be more efficient than regex in your specific use case.

10. The DOM Manipulator (Excessive Client-Side Changes)

Dynamically adding or modifying elements in the Document Object Model (DOM) can be a powerful way to enhance interactivity and functionality. However, excessive or inefficient DOM manipulation can have a negative impact on performance.

Why it happens:

  • Real-Time Link Generation: Some solutions generate internal links on the fly as the user interacts with the page, leading to frequent DOM updates.
  • Poor Optimization: Inefficient code that triggers unnecessary reflows or repaints of the page can slow down rendering and create a choppy experience.

The Fix:

  • Batch Updates: Instead of updating the DOM for each individual change, batch multiple changes together and apply them in a single operation.
  • Minimize Reflows and Repaints: Be mindful of how your code affects the layout and rendering of the page. Avoid triggering unnecessary reflows or repaints.
  • Virtual DOM: Consider using a virtual DOM library like React or Vue.js. These libraries can optimize DOM updates for better performance.

11. The “Nofollow” Mishap (Misusing the Nofollow Attribute)

Internal links are meant to guide both users and search engines through your website. The “nofollow” attribute, however, tells search engines not to follow the link or pass along any “link juice.” While useful for specific external links (like those in comments or sponsored content), misusing “nofollow” on internal links can:

  • Confuse Search Engines: It can prevent them from fully understanding your site’s structure and the relationships between pages.
  • Limit Crawling and Indexing: Search engines might not discover or index important pages if they’re only linked with “nofollow” attributes.
  • Waste Link Equity: “Link juice” is a term that refers to the value passed from one page to another through links. “Nofollowing” internal links can waste this valuable equity that could be used to boost other pages on your site.

Why it happens:

  • Misunderstanding of “Nofollow”: Some website owners might mistakenly believe that all internal links should be “nofollow” to avoid being penalized for “link spam.”
  • Over-reliance on Automation: Automated internal linking tools might sometimes apply “nofollow” attributes without considering the context.
  • Legacy Issues: Older websites might have outdated practices that include unnecessary use of “nofollow” on internal links.

The Fix:

  • Review Internal Links: Conduct a thorough audit of your internal links to identify any that are using “nofollow” without a valid reason.
  • Remove Unnecessary “Nofollows”: Remove “nofollow” from internal links that should be passing link equity to other pages on your site.
  • Use “Nofollow” Sparingly: Reserve the use of “nofollow” for specific cases where it’s necessary, such as affiliate links or paid links.

Your homepage serves as the virtual front door to your website. It’s often the most authoritative page, receiving the most external links and enjoying the highest domain authority. Failing to leverage this authority by linking to other key pages can be a missed opportunity.

Why it happens:

  • Aesthetic Concerns: Some website owners prioritize a clean and uncluttered homepage design, neglecting internal links in favor of visual appeal.
  • Outdated Practices: Older websites might not have been designed with internal linking best practices in mind.
  • Lack of Awareness: Some website owners might simply not realize the importance of linking from the homepage.

The Fix:

  • Strategic Link Placement: Incorporate relevant internal links into your homepage design. Consider adding links to:
    • Key categories or sections: Guide users to the main areas of your website.
    • Popular or important content: Highlight your most valuable or sought-after pages.
    • New or featured products/services: Showcase your latest offerings.
  • Visual Cues: Use clear and visually appealing calls to action to encourage users to click on the links.
  • Balance: Strive for a balance between aesthetics and functionality. Your homepage should be visually appealing while still providing easy navigation to other parts of your site.

By linking to key pages from your homepage, you can:

  • Boost Discoverability: Help search engines find and index your most important pages more easily.
  • Improve User Experience: Guide visitors to relevant content and encourage them to explore your website further.
  • Distribute Authority: Share the authority of your homepage with other pages on your site, potentially improving their rankings in search results.

While we often think of internal links as text-based hyperlinks, images can also serve as valuable navigational elements. However, image links can be easily overlooked if not implemented correctly.

Why it happens:

  • Lack of Alt Text: Search engines primarily rely on text to understand the content and context of a link. If an image link lacks descriptive alt text, search engines won’t know where it leads or how it relates to the surrounding content.
  • Accessibility Concerns: Visually impaired users who rely on screen readers won’t be able to understand or use image links without proper alt text.
  • Usability Issues: If image links are not visually distinct or lack clear indicators that they are clickable, users might not even realize they can click on them.

The Fix:

  • Add Descriptive Alt Text: Always include descriptive alt text for image links. Use keywords that accurately reflect the content of the linked page, similar to how you would write anchor text for a text link.
  • Visual Cues: Make sure your image links have clear visual indicators that they are clickable. This could include adding a hover effect, changing the cursor to a pointer, or using a border or background color to distinguish the image from the surrounding content.
  • Consider Text Links as Well: In addition to image links, consider adding text links to the same page, especially if the image is purely decorative or doesn’t clearly convey the destination of the link.

14. The Buried Treasure (Disregarding Crawl Depth)

Crawl depth refers to how many clicks away a page is from your homepage. Pages buried deep within your site structure might be harder for search engine crawlers to find and index. This can lead to:

  • Lower Visibility: These pages might not appear as prominently in search results, even if they contain valuable content.
  • Limited Link Equity: Pages deeper in the structure might receive less “link juice” than those closer to the homepage, potentially impacting their rankings.
  • Poor User Experience: If users can’t easily find these pages through navigation or internal links, they might leave your site frustrated.

Why it happens:

  • Complex Site Structure: Large websites with many categories and subcategories can easily lead to some pages being buried deep within the structure.
  • Lack of Strategic Linking: Failing to link to deeper pages from more prominent areas of the site can make them difficult to discover.
  • Orphaned Pages: As we discussed earlier, pages with no internal links pointing to them are essentially invisible to search engines.

The Fix:

  • Shallow Site Structure: Aim for a shallow site structure where most pages are no more than three clicks away from the homepage.
  • Strategic Linking: Ensure that important pages are linked to from multiple sources, including the homepage, category pages, and relevant blog posts or articles.
  • Breadcrumbs: Implement breadcrumbs to provide users with a clear navigational path and help search engines understand the hierarchy of your site.
  • Sitemaps: Submit a sitemap to search engines to ensure that all of your pages are discovered and indexed.

Internal links should not only be relevant to the topic at hand but also align with the user’s intent. In other words, they should lead users to the information they’re most likely seeking at that moment. Failing to consider user intent can lead to:

  • Increased Bounce Rates: If users don’t find what they’re looking for after clicking on a link, they’re more likely to leave your site.
  • Frustration and Confusion: Misaligned links can leave users feeling frustrated and unsure of where to go next on your site.
  • Missed Opportunities: If you’re not guiding users to the most relevant content, you could be missing out on potential conversions or engagement.

Why it happens:

  • Generic Linking: Adding links without carefully considering the user’s goals and needs.
  • Lack of Personalization: Failing to tailor links to different segments of your audience.
  • Overemphasis on Keywords: Focusing solely on keyword matching without considering the broader context of the user’s search.

The Fix:

  • Understand Your Audience: Research your target audience and their typical search behaviors. What are they looking for when they land on your site?
  • Map User Journeys: Create user journey maps to visualize how users interact with your site and what they might be looking for at each stage.
  • Use Contextual Clues: Consider the surrounding content and the user’s likely intent when choosing internal links.
  • Personalize When Possible: If you have the data and tools, consider personalizing internal links based on user behavior or preferences.

16. The Data Void (Failing to Track and Analyze)

Internal linking isn’t a “set it and forget it” strategy. To ensure it’s truly effective, you need to track and analyze how users interact with your internal links. Without this data, you’re essentially flying blind, unaware of what’s working and what’s not.

Why it happens:

  • Lack of Tools: Some website owners might not have access to or knowledge of web analytics tools.
  • Overwhelm: The sheer amount of data available can be overwhelming, making it difficult to know where to start.
  • Assumption of Success: Some might assume that if they’ve implemented internal links, they’re automatically benefiting, without verifying through data.

The Fix:

  • Implement Web Analytics: If you haven’t already, set up a web analytics tool like Google Analytics or Matomo. These tools can provide valuable insights into how users are interacting with your website.
  • Track Key Metrics: Pay attention to metrics like:
    • Click-through rates (CTR): How often are users clicking on your internal links?
    • Bounce rates: Are users leaving your site after clicking on an internal link?
    • Pages per session: Are users exploring more of your website after clicking on internal links?
    • Conversion rates: Are internal links leading to desired actions, such as purchases or sign-ups?
  • Analyze and Adjust: Regularly review your data to identify trends and patterns. Use this information to refine your internal linking strategy and make data-driven decisions.

In Conclusion

Mastering internal linking is a balancing act. Overzealous optimization can be as detrimental as neglect. By understanding these common pitfalls, you can avoid self-sabotage and leverage your internal links to their full potential.

Remember, internal linking isn’t just about ticking boxes for SEO. It’s about creating a user-friendly website where visitors can effortlessly find what they need. When done right, internal links become invisible guides, enhancing navigation, boosting engagement, and ultimately driving conversions.

In my experience, the most successful websites are those that prioritize the user experience above all else. By aligning your internal linking strategy with the needs and expectations of your audience, you’ll create a website that’s both search engine-friendly and user-loved.