How I Increased My Topical Authority with Internal Links and Link Whisper

Link Whisper customer Nina Clapperton provided the following case study.

Nina is the founder of Nina Out and About, a solo expat blog that inspires young adults to live abroad. She shares her experiences living in over 18 countries in the last 10 years and destigmatizes the idea of not waiting until retirement to have fun.

By making a few simple tweaks Nina was able to clarify her topical authority to Google, which lead to higher rankings, a significant increase in traffic, and an increase in DA due to natural backlinks!

It’s a very simple method that anyone can implement, whether their blog has 500 posts or 5. Nina has repeated the process across her portfolio of niche sites in a variety of non-travel niches and had the same results.

 

Background

When I started blogging I did legitimately everything wrong. For four years, I tried to use the “free” method of learning (aka. reading every blog but not really understanding what they meant or what to do with the information).

My blog had a DA of 14, over 150 posts with no keywords, and got barely any traffic. I ranked for a couple of keywords by luck, but nothing substantial.

When I discovered SEO, I dove head-first into keywords.

I figured if I just added keywords into posts, I’d be golden, right? Wrong! 

There’s so much more to SEO, and it took me months to figure out just how much things like backlinks play into it.

At the time, I also had a misconception that I needed to have a DA of 30. If I did, I’d magically be making $10k a month passively. Like it was some video game level and once I hit it, I’d coast my way through blogging for the rest of my days.

Yeah, that’s also not real.

But while I was still in that mentality, I made it my mission to grow my DA.

I’d been stuck on 14 for a couple of years at that point, having done maybe 1-2 collab posts a year. Working two full-time jobs at the time didn’t really leave a lot of room for that, and the natural backlinks just weren’t coming since I wasn’t ranking yet.

I tried the whole “just write on the same thing 10,000 times” to prove my authority to Google to bump up those rankings, but it wasn’t working. 

Enter internal linking!

Let’s talk about how I started – and what you SHOULDN’T do with internal links.

The Wrong Way to Internal Link

1. Linking Random Words

Most bloggers’ introduction to internal links is seeing them randomly on blog posts online.

We don’t understand why the person put them there or their strategies, so we make assumptions.

If it’s a post on internal linking strategy, maybe it gives a bit of guidance (i.e. link on related topics), but not much else.

Since I saw everyone and their brother linking from words like “New Zealand”, I figured I should do it. But I had no idea what to link to. So I picked anything on New Zealand.

A sentence might read “Summers are hot in New Zealand”. I’d internal link the country name to a post about swimming with dolphins or skiing. Neither really made sense.

Think about it from a user perspective: if you came to a site to learn about New Zealand weather and then saw that someone added a link in that sentence, what would you expect when you clicked on it?

Probably a post about summers in particular in NZ or a general post about the country.

What you definitely aren’t expecting is a post about skiing!

The main issue with how I discovered this method is that I was relying on everyone I saw to be having success, regardless of whether or not they were.

It’s similar to seeing most travel bloggers have a hotel or flight booking widget in their sidebar. So many of us do it too because we see everyone else doing it, so we think “of course, that’s how I make money!”.

I deleted that widget early last year because it made me $0, even after I got up to 40k sessions.

You need to vet the bloggers you learn from. If they have a DA of 50, ask yourself why. Was their blog founded in 2001? That’s probably got something to do with it.

Without knowing the results of their strategies, you probably shouldn’t copy them (or at least verify them first!!).

2. No Consistency

Another mistake I made was adding random amounts of internal links to new posts.

This one is kind of twofold. 1) I wasn’t going back to old posts to add links. 2) I had no minimum or maximum amount.

There were some sentences with three different internal links in them! (Yes, it was that bad.)

Not having a strategy meant I was adding internal links like a kid putting glitter glue on a birthday card: I did it where and when I felt like it.

But that doesn’t bring results. In fact, that mentality is really one you need to kick to the curb when running a business.

Meanwhile, my old posts had 0 internal links going to my newer posts. Although they mostly weren’t ranking well at this point, they still had more authority to pass than my new posts did.

3. Orphaned Posts

Because I didn’t link from my old posts to my new ones, I was causing a lot of orphaned posts.

I’d write a new post, add 3-5 internal links (or 35 with no reason why), hit publish, and call it a day.

That new post might get links from the next post I wrote. Or I might forget about it entirely (I’ve had two concussions so I have a goldfish-level memory).

Orphaned posts would then sit on my site with 0 internal links.

These were always the ones that took the longest to get indexed and didn’t show strong signs of ranking, even after I’d learned about SEO.

Orphaned posts lacking internal links tell Google they don’t belong on your site, essentially. You’re signaling that none of your other posts relate to it – so Google is like “why is this even here??”

4. I Relied on Related Posts

The “Related Posts” section is way too heavily used by bloggers.

I’ve heard literally dozens of bloggers in 2022 tell me “but aren’t related posts internal links?”

Yes, but they’re not natural.

Think of it like advertising. A “related post” or “read more” kind of widget – whether at the bottom or within your post – is like a giant billboard. There’s no way for people to think it’s a natural suggestion.

Same for Google. Google sees that you’ve put up a billboard to send them to this post, so it doesn’t feel like a natural recommendation.

It’s the reason people scroll passed sponsored Instagram and Tiktok posts when they see the “sponsored” notation.

But if you add something natural in the sentence like “Summers in New Zealand are regularly 35C” (I didn’t fact check that, just an example!) that links to a post on summer in New Zealand (let’s say the original post is on weather generally), it looks like you are:

1) Citing your sources, but using yourself as a source

2) Providing helpful follow-up information

3) Actually know what you’re doing because you’re not sending them to something unrelated.

Related posts are good to have for CTR if someone makes it to the end of an article. But let’s be honest: most readers don’t.

They skim through, find the bit they need, then duck out.

So having relevant internal links in the post can improve CTR for those skimmers.

Also, people are less scared of these links. They don’t scream “sponsored!!”. Instead, they seem like relevant, helpful bits of info.

5. Same Anchor Text

I legitimately used the same anchor text every time for 99% of posts.

And most of the time it was via an exact match to the title of the post.

This, again, shows Google you’re sending people elsewhere with a billboard. It’s not a relevant, natural suggestion.

I’ve done heatmap tests on my site, and the links that have the full title get clicked on far less than the links that have relevant anchor text.

Having the same anchor text also gets spammy to Google over time.

If you have 100 links to a post on your site and the anchor text is always “best places to swim with dolphins in New Zealand’s South Island”, Google is going to notice that pattern.

It’s also going to drastically limit your ranking options for secondary keywords.

Change it up! Change is very very good when it comes to anchor text.

How I Fixed It

I realized I was doing internal linking the exact wrong way around the point of 150-175 posts on my site. I had a lot of on-page SEO problems that needed to be fixed. 

This meant I would need to go through and edit 150-175 posts to internal link properly between them. I’d had to consider multiple anchor text options for each, create a full Google spreadsheet map of my site’s links to figure out what was pointing where, and I’d have to book about a month off of writing new content to do this.

I knew I didn’t have that time to waste.

Cue Link Whisper (internal linking tool)!

Like a genie magically poofing out of a lamp when I needed it most (literally two days before my month of internal linking was going to start – because yes I batch my months and give them fun names), Link Whisper ended up in my inbox from someone’s newsletter.

It’s one of the few tools I didn’t hesitate to buy.

I installed in on my site, and in 3 hours my whole internal linking was redone.

I came back a week later to make a couple of tweaks, but that only took another 30 minutes.

When I was done I had 0 orphaned posts, every post had at least 10 internal links going outbound, and at least 3 coming inbound (usually more, but some posts were written way before I knew my niche).

And my anchor text was inspired by any Google Search Console keyword the posts ranked for. Oh, and I deleted the nonsense links to random posts that made 0 sense – sometimes deleting things is just as powerful as adding!

I waited two months and just kept chugging along, writing content. I kinda forgot about building internal links and this big change I’d made – because that’s the beauty of Link Whisper, you aren’t really thinking about it.

My new workflow became:

once the post is done and formatted,

  • do a manual pass for internal links on my final proofread
  • check Link Whisper’s outbound internal link suggestions (filtered by category)
  • add relevant links
  • publish the post
  • check inbound internal link suggestions from Link Whisper
  • manually index with Google Search Console (this is an old habit of mine, I always do it manually even though they index on their own).

So imagine my surprise when I log in one Thursday and bam a DA of 28!

I dug deeper and yep, rankings were up by over 30%! Posts that had been languishing on page 4 of Google have suddenly burst onto page 1.

My traffic was up so much that within 6 months I got into Mediavine – all while working my full-time job and multiple part-time gigs.

The only other thing I did in that time was deleted a couple of truly terrible posts. They wouldn’t have had this much of an impact on my authority or my growth as a whole.

I’ve since used Link Whisper on my portfolio of niche sites in and out of the travel space, and every time my traffic skyrockets, my posts index and get impressions quicker, and my CTR is higher.

I’ve since learned that proper internal linking really is the key to showing Google that you know your stuff.

It’s like telling a complete story instead of dropping random fun facts into a 10-year friendship. They may start to think you know about tractors, but if you give them a full-on lecture they’ll know immediately (and also maybe not want to hang out with you as much).

Well, Google is the kind of friend that needs that lecture where you connect all the dots. And Link Whisper automates that process so I have time to write more articles!

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