Smart Internal Linking for SEO
Tom Schmitz Feb 24 2011
If you charted your website’s internal links does it possess a logical order to it
or does it look like a plate of spaghetti? Be careful before you answer. Strip away
all the design and page names. Think of your site as dots (pages) and lines (links).
Many websites try to link too many pages to each other, especially in the top menus
and sidebar navigation. Two reasons for this are:
- The desire to be user friendly.
- Trying to send SEO link juice to too many pages.
The Desire to be User Friendly
You want visitors to find what they are seeking. That’s good, however, overzealous internal linking can lead to both SEO and usability problems.
From a usability perspective too many choices will lead to decision paralysis. Instead of taking the time to look through your menus to find what they want your visitors will get frustrated and abandon your site. In truth, people will click on links as long as they believe that they are on a clear and direct path toward their goal.
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In your analytics package or using a tool like Crazy Egg, look at the links people DO NOT click on. If nobody clicks on a link what does it accomplish? What good does it do for your visitors?
Trying To Send SEO Link Juice to Too Many Pages
One of the first precepts of SEO I learned is that every page of content strengthens your SEO. If you have studied long tail theory you understand the power of content to capture high quality visitors by optimizing for many different queries, especially specific searches that trade off low volume for less ranking competition and high visitor relevance. In a typical scenario you might publish a new article or page.
Next you choose to give it an SEO boost by cross linking pages to it and sending your article extra link juice or PageRank. The danger here is that you can cannibalize ranking authority from important pages, especially if you cross link to too many pages.
Overzealous cross linking occurs from the desire to increase page authority. A better strategy, especially for long tail content, is to increase domain authority and flow PageRank through your site naturally. When you treat too many pages like they are high value SEO targets you dilute the ranking strength of your entire website. I am not saying do not cross link. Anyone familiar with hub pages understands the value of cross linking. What I do advise is be disciplined and select your hub pages thoughtfully.
Lead With Internal Link Discipline
The first step in SEOing a new website is to develop your content and topics. The second step is to organize your content into categories or topic silos. At this point don’t think about keywords. Only after you have laid out your website should you research, select and assign keywords to pages.
Here is a classic SEO website architecture. Click on the image to view a two category version.
Within the category the topic is broad at the top, close to the home page, then becomes more specific as you go deeper into the silo. Pay careful attention to the internal linking structure.
- Every page links to the home page.
- Every page links to every category level page. This is your main navigation.
- Sub-category pages link to other sub-categories within the same category only.
- Sub-category pages link to their own topic pages only.
- Topic pages link to sub-category pages within the same category only.
- Topic pages link to their own article pages only.
- Article pages link to each sub-category page within the same category only.
- Article pages link to each topic page within its own sub-category.
- Article pages link to other article pages within the same topic.
This classic SEO internal linking architecture works especially well for brochure or sales pages. You can be more disciplined with your internal linking too. Here is a strict internal linking scheme. Click on the image to see the two category version.
And if you want to be more disciplined yet, do not link articles to each other.
Cross linking for SEO
After you set-up your website’s internal linking structure you can begin to think about cross links. Cross links boost the SEO value of a page by sending it PageRank from outside its place in the internal linking structure.
Here are three reasons cross linking makes sense:
- Give an SEO boost to new content.
- Create hub pages.
- Pass PageRank from pages with lots of external links to key SEO targets without external links.
Give an SEO Boost to New Content
You can get search engines to index new content more quickly by linking to it from high value pages like your home or category pages. Cross linking can also provide a PageRank or link juice boost to a page to help it rank better. If you’ve worked on a blog this will be familiar to you. Cross links can give new content time to earn its own links and authority. Be certain to remove cross links as material becomes older and you cross link to new content.
On a blog links to new articles usually appear on the home page, the article’s category page and in tag pages. Links may also appear throughout the blog in the sidebar, often under the heading Recent Articles or Recent Stories. As new content gets introduced the home page link is pushed down further on the page then eventually disappears. The same happens on category and tag pages. Eventually the only way to click through to the story is through the archive links on its category and tag pages. Blogs work like a conveyor belt, constantly giving the most internal link juice to the newest content and removing it from older articles.
Create Hub Pages
Hub pages are important SEO keyword targets in your website, often deeper content. The home page and the category pages are natural hub pages. This is why every page links to them in the internal linking structure. Before you create a hub page it is important to be ruthless. Does the page really deserve to become a hub? If successful, what value will it bring? Remember, every time you cross link outside of the link architecture you steal PageRank from other pages that would otherwise receive that link juice. Each link also messes with your carefully crafted top-down flow of PageRank.
Once you decide that a web page is also a worthwhile hub page, begin by linking to it from within the articles of main content of pages with similar or related
topics. Link using anchor text that contains the hub pages most important keyword target. If you must, add links from other pages, but do so gradually and thoughtfully. If you think that every page on your website ought to link to your new hub page, perhaps it should become a new category page or sub-category page.
Pass PageRank from Pages with Lots of External Links to Key SEO Targets without External Links
What’s the use of creating great link bait if you cannot spread the link juice around? A well optimized website has lots of pages with external links. These boost the domain authority of your site and help all pages to rank better. But PageRank is a renewable resource. Once a web page uses PageRank for itself it can pass some of it along. If you have a page with lots of external links it makes sense to target some of the PageRank at other SEO targets. Again, be disciplined. Only link to high value SEO targets and only link to a few pages. If you link to too many URLs you will exceed the amount of external link juice the page can transfer and siphon-off internal link juice.
Be ruthlessly disciplined with your internal linking. Do not attempt to make every page a high-value SEO lander. You will be well on your way to increasing the search engine optimization of your entire website.
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