Case Study: The Impact of Internal Links on SEO Performance



In an extensive study focused on the significance of internal linking within SEO strategies, a comprehensive analysis was conducted to explore the nuances that often go unnoticed in the Search Engine Optimization process. Most SEOs may either be following so-called best practices syndicated by established gurus or they may be relying on the toss of a coin perhaps. But jokes aside, internal linking is one of the biggest parts of your SEO process; in fact, it is a top 3 ranking factor. So, there is a lot riding on getting it right. Thus, we decided to carry out a massive case study across 23 million internal links. 

This case study delves into the methodology, findings, and implications of analyzing 23 million internal links across 1,800 websites, including e-commerce platforms and informational sites.

Out of these, a fair number of these websites are ones that I have access to via the Google Search Console. That way, I have first-hand data from Google. Plus, with over a thousand website SEO audits under my belt from 2023 and now over two hundred in 2024, I’ve seen my fair share of websites and their internal linking structure, offering me some pretty good insight for this case study. 


The primary goal was to understand the effect of internal linking on website traffic and SEO, with a particular focus on the role of anchor text in enhancing page visibility and ranking on Google. The study aimed to debunk common misconceptions and provide data-driven insights into effective internal linking practices.


A collaborative effort involving meticulous data collection and analysis examined a vast dataset of 23 million internal links, encompassing 520,000 unique URLs from 1,800 websites. The research utilized advanced tools and compared findings with data from authoritative sources like SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Google Search Console to validate the accuracy and relevance of the results.

Key Findings

The Quantity of Internal Links Matters

Expanding upon the observation that websites with 40 to 44 internal links per page saw significant increases in organic clicks from Google, it’s clear that the strategic distribution of internal links plays a pivotal role in SEO. 

This finding underscores the importance of creating a dense, interconnected network within a website, where pages support and enhance each other’s visibility. However, it’s not just about saturating a page with links; it’s about creating meaningful connections between relevant content that provides value to the user.

This strategy improves not only user engagement by facilitating easier navigation but also signals to search engines the hierarchy and importance of pages, enhancing indexation and ranking potential. The data suggests that a well-thought-out internal linking structure can serve as a powerful tool for SEO optimization, driving more focused traffic to key pages and distributing page authority throughout the site effectively.

Diminishing Returns Beyond a Threshold

The concept of diminishing returns beyond the threshold of 44 internal links per page highlights the delicate balance required in SEO strategies. This finding challenges the notion that more is always better, indicating that excessive internal linking can potentially dilute the value of each link and confuse both users and search engines about the page’s focus. 

It suggests that after reaching a certain saturation point, additional links may no longer contribute to the desired increase in visibility and could even detract from the user experience by overwhelming visitors with choices. 

This insight is crucial for SEO practitioners or SEOs like me who aim to optimize internal linking without compromising the site’s navigational clarity and content relevance. 

It calls for a strategic approach to internal linking, where the quality and relevance of links are prioritized over sheer quantity, ensuring that each link adds distinct value to the page’s SEO and user engagement objectives.

Anchor Text Variability and SEO Performance

The study’s revelation about the strong correlation between anchor text diversity and increased Google search traffic illustrates the nuanced role of anchor texts in internal linking strategies. It highlights the importance of using a variety of descriptive anchor texts that accurately reflect the linked page’s content, enhancing the relevance signals sent to search engines. 

This diversity not only helps in accurately guiding users to the content they seek but also assists search engines in understanding the context and relationship between pages. The optimal use of different types of anchor texts, including exact match, partial match, and branded terms, can significantly enhance a page’s visibility by aligning with a wider range of search queries. 

This approach demonstrates the strategic value of carefully selecting anchor texts to support the site’s overall keyword strategy, ensuring that internal links contribute effectively to the site’s search engine performance.

Naked URLs and Empty Anchors

Contrary to common beliefs within the SEO community, the study found that naked URLs and image links (empty anchors) do not negatively impact and may even enhance page traffic. 

This finding suggests that while descriptive anchor texts are valuable, the presence of naked URLs and image links within a site’s internal linking strategy can still contribute positively to its SEO. Naked URLs, often used in a straightforward manner to indicate web addresses, can provide clear and direct pathways for users, while image links, despite lacking descriptive text, can engage users visually and encourage clicks. 

This insight emphasizes the versatility of internal linking elements and the potential for various link types to support the user journey and SEO goals. It advocates for a balanced internal linking strategy that incorporates a mix of descriptive anchor texts, naked URLs, and image links to cater to different user preferences and enhance the site’s overall navigability and search engine visibility.

The Power of Exact Match Anchor Texts

Pages employing at least one exact match anchor text observed a fivefold increase in traffic compared to pages lacking exact match anchors, underscoring the significance of precise and relevant anchor texts in internal linking strategies.

Implications for SEO Practices

This case study challenges prevailing misconceptions about internal linking, offering concrete evidence on the strategic use of anchor texts and the optimal number of internal links. It serves as a valuable guide for SEO professionals and website owners seeking to leverage internal linking more effectively to boost search engine visibility and traffic.


The findings underscore the intricate balance required in internal linking strategies, advocating for a measured approach that values quality, diversity, and strategic placement of internal links. By embracing data-driven insights, SEO practitioners can refine their methodologies to achieve superior results in search engine rankings and user engagement.

Further Actions

Readers interested in applying these insights to enhance their SEO efforts are encouraged to consider professional SEO services and topical mapping to build authority within their niches. For more information, resources are available in the description below.

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