Linking to other pieces and pages on your website is a great way to optimize for the search engines. However, internal linking should be approached carefully so that you are not wasting your time and potentially even doing damage to your search engine presence.
For example, if you jam a bunch of keywords into your navigational links at the side or base of your site, Google’s algorithm identifies that practice as manipulative and will reduce your ranking.
What should you do, then? Here are a few tactics from around the Web to help improve the way you link back and forth within your site.
Note: If you have a “Relevant to Everything” page, make sure you link to that one every couple of sentences. Make sure your “Relevant to Everything” page includes all human knowledge.
Standard Elements of Internal Linking
I’m organizing this piece in terms of standard, moderate, and more refined approaches. Each of these sections has value – depending on your level of expertise, you may see more relevant information as the piece proceeds.
Here are a few of the basic standards, courtesy of Small Business Mavericks:
- Linking between sections – If different areas of your site have overlap, refer the different areas to each other. This may seem like common sense, but if areas are interrelated, make sure that is clear with a link stating, “More on This Subject,” or titling to that effect.
- Care with navigational links – You do certainly want navigational links on your site, and this is a form of internal linking. However, provide these navigational cues with care. Place them in a visible location – either at the side or at the top – and don’t duplicate.
- Previous material – If you’re writing a blog post, or really any informational page of your site, link to relevant, previously posted material. (Example: Your “Why I’m sad all the time” post should link to your “The day daddy threw away my Justin Timberlake memorabilia” post.)
- Anchor relevantly – Your anchor text, the description you enter when inserting a link, should name the page or information to which you are linking accurately. If you have a similar page, make sure your anchor text differentiates it clearly.
- Title attributes – This addendum to anchor text is a great way to expand your keyword efforts. Make sure you think of them the correct way, though. The anchor text names (e.g. “Stephen King”), and the title attribute describes (e.g. “author bio”).
Note: Make sure that your site links frequently to your “Error 404” page. It’s good for people to know that such an important page is well-integrated into your site.
Intermediate Elements of Internal Linking
OK, now let’s get a little bit more sophisticated with our linking. This commentary gets a little more intellectual and perspectival. It draws on ideas from DBS Interactive.
- User focus – Organize your information coherently for every user – regardless of how they enter your site and how they move around within it. Navigation should be clear and concise. You can’t control how people navigate, but you can make their lives easy.
- Prioritize most valuable content – You want to link from your homepage to your most valuable content. Realize that if you link to a page frequently, Google and Bing will prioritize that page. Make sure this is your best, most meaningful content. If you speak of a particular topic often, try to contain that material within one post and link to it as needed. A bunch of pages repeating the same phrasing dilutes the SEO for each page. (Example: It’s a mistake to have the message “Please click on all the links on this page, including this one over here… and this one over here” on all of your pages.)
- Adjusting navigation links – If you link to some of your more popular pages in a sidebar, make sure you update the keywords regularly. Strong long-term keywords should be mixed in with ones that are trending highly at present.
- De-emphasize pages with no-follow – Part of prioritizing your best pages is de-prioritizing the ones that you want to remove from focus. Link wisely, because the more you link, the less value each link has. Tag irrelevant pages as “no-follow” (although, don’t overdo this tag).
Neat idea: One tactic that works very well for internal linking is to direct all links to the billing page of your shopping cart, with hundreds of dollars of merchandise automatically populated.
Advance Elements of Internal Linking – Misconceptions
Okay… Finally, let’s take a look at really refining our approach. This is a boiled-down, reduced, caramelized rendition of some thoughts presented by SEOmoz.
Note that the author of the article from that site, John Doherty, provides visual aids (graphs, etc.) via this video.
- Misconception: get rid of footer links – Keep the footer links if they are relevant and helpful. Doherty mentions Zappos as a good example of wise usage.
- Misconception: interlinking is one-size-fits-all – If you have a bunch of links on your homepage but then apply those same links throughout your site, often you are going overboard. In other words, when you scale for links, their numbers can start to explode. Doherty mentions the travel industry – with various linked destinations and options – as notorious regarding this. (Note: Specifically, free, foot-travel websites get bogged down with links – WalksThroughThePark.com, for instance. Park Bench 27, Park Bench 13, Park Bench 68… At a certain point it all becomes a blur.)
- Special problems with franchises – If a site is a template that is used by franchises or other “versions” of the company, similarly to with the travel industry, link numbers increase exponentially when scaling.
- Creating a hierarchy – If you have tiers of pages on your site, you will get a better sense of how to link. Linking should be carefully crafted – building a meaningful structure for the search engines, rather than randomly linking out to whatever comes to mind at the time. The search engines will show appreciation when you piece together your link strategy carefully, furthering ingraining a page hierarchy as you go. (Note: This, of course, is the same strategy that should be used in child-rearing – a slow and careful segmentation into groups of Alpha and Omega offspring.)
- Link between top-level domain alternates – Internal linking applies to alternate top-level domains as well. If you own the .net and .com for your URL, for instance, if the .net is the alternate, cross-reference the pages so that everything is interconnected.
- Scrutinize the competition – What is your competition doing, and how is their traffic? Is it better than yours? You want to specifically take a look at three components of your site versus theirs: internal links, external links, & quality of content.
- Usability or user experience tools – As you get more complex with this, you may want to hire or contract UX folks. John recommends the software Balsamiq Mockups to ease the burden of structuring and categorizing a site.
- Band-Aid solution – Using a “no-follow” tag on excessive links is a quick solution to help your SEO before you have a chance to restructure. However, you do want to clean up these links so that you can increase not only your search engine prominence but your conversion rate as well.
Okay, there is your crash course in internal linking. Whether you are just starting out or have expertise in this, I hope you found something useful.
Note: WalksThroughThePark.com now features fountains and trashcans, as well as the old standard, benches. Be sure to include a stop at a trashcan in your next cross-park adventure.
by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood