A well structured site can improve your chances of ranking well with the search engines. Intelligent internal linking, can be crucial to your site's SEO success. Yet it's often overlooked. So, here are eight ways to improve your site's internal linking.
1. Attract links from other sites
It almost goes without saying that the best link building you can do is to get links from other sites. So, before we talk about internal linking, it's worth mentioning that you should always be trying to get links from external sites. In particular, you should encourage other sites to link to the pages that target your most profitable keywords.
These are links from other sites, not to your home page, but to profitable pages deep inside your site structure (in other words, how your pages link to each other).
Let's say we have a page where we sell vintage glass beads. We sell lots of beads, and we make a good margin on each sale. In fact, the vintage glass beads page is the most profitable page on our site. We want it to rank well, but the vintage glass beads page doesn't get as much traffic as it could. It ranks on the first page of Google's results, but only at position 6.
By encouraging other sites to link to our vintage glass beads page, it’s likely to rank better in Google’s results and so we’ll attract more traffic. If we could get the page to rank at position number 1 in Google's results, we'd be likely to attract many times more traffic. And, in turn, many times more sales.
When you’re link building you should be thinking of ways to get other sites to link to your most profitable pages. Particularly those pages that already rank well, but aren't yet in the number 1 spot.
There's loads more we could write about link building from external sites - building links is incredibly important - but our subject in this article is internal links. So let's move on.
2. Add links from your own content
Once you’ve identified your most important - your most profitable - pages, you’ll want to promote them. And your internal linking is a key way of doing this. Whenever you get the opportunity, you should link from your own content to your site's most profitable pages.
Let’s look at our bead site example again. Here is an oversimplified model of our site's structure, with just three categories, and three content pages in each category. In reality you’ll have more.
In the model above, each of our product pages receives the same number of links. What we want is to get more links pointing to our most profitable pages, so that Google knows they are important.
You should aim to link to your most popular pages from within your content. So, when you’re writing a blog post, and it’s appropriate to do so, include links to relevant pages on your site.
For example, this link to Wordtracker's keyword research page tells Google that page is important.
You can see this in action on Hotels.com. This article - Top 10 Hotels in Paris - is packed with links to other pages on the site. These all pass valuable link juice to the site’s most profitable pages.
Google places more value on links that appear in the body copy of an article than it does on links in your internal navigation. Creating links in an article can be time-consuming, but it’s often well worth the effort.
3. Include keyword rich links to your main navigation
Users will expect to see a top navigation on your website. Use your navigation to direct users to your key categories and pages.
Let’s look at a couple of examples. Amazon uses its navigation to highlight its key categories.
Notice how its most important sales pages come towards the top of the list.
Google recommends that you don’t include more than 100 links on any page, and Amazon uses its full quota.
Each category opens out so you can see more buying opportunities. This flat structure spreads link juice across the site.
Notice that each page usually only gets one link. Adding more than one link doesn't give your SEO an additional boost.
At the bottom of the list, we can see a full site directory. Which means that all the site’s most important pages are at most two clicks from the home page.
Which means Amazon is losing very little link juice, and is giving its most important pages an SEO boost.
4. Add extra navigation to your most profitable pages
You can send extra link juice to your most profitable pages by creating additional navigation.
That’s why Hotels.com has a 'Top Destinations' box on its home page.
The links in this box help spread link juice to the site's most profitable pages. If you’re selling products, you might want to include links to your best sellers on your home page, too.
If you’re a blogger, you might want to include links to your most popular articles in your sidebar. Or, as we see here in a screenshot from MarketingWords.com, the SEO copywriting site, at the end of your posts.
If you’re using WordPress for your site, you can install plugins that will automatically add links to your most popular posts in your sidebar.
The Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP) will recommend up to five related posts. Both readers and search engines love related content - it encourages the visitor to click through to more pages on your site, and improves your internal linking.
In fact, all of these recommendations aim to help our users as well as the search engines. We want to promote our most profitable pages - precisely because users want to find them.
5. Add keywords to your breadcrumb navigation
Another way to help navigation is by including keywords in your breadcrumb navigation.
Breadcrumbs are a sub-navigation that shows your site’s hierarchy - links back up the site’s structure help users to find their way around.
This can be a great way of including targeted anchor text links to important pages.
There are different types of breadcrumb trails and you’ll find more examples in this article from Smashing Magazine
Another way that many sites link to content is through sidebars.
The old-fashioned way of linking to important pages was with site-wide sidebar links.
Nowadays though, you can prioritize related content within sidebars so that users are more likely to see content they will click on.
YouTube has some of the highest page views of any site in the world. The reason? It’s the sidebar.
You'll find more examples of sidebar navigation in this article from Problogger
Many of the most successful sites have stacks of links all over the place. And, of course, you don't want to overdo your internal linking, but most sites suffer from too few links, not too many.
7. Use keywords in your anchor text
We know that Google evaluates two main factors when determining its search results. These are:
So far, we’ve talked about Authority - the number and quality of the links that point at your pages.
Google also checks for relevancy. Which means looking at the anchor text, the keywords in the link.
Google assumes that if you have words in a link, there is a good chance that the words relate in some way to the page being referenced by the link.
You generally won't find the word ‘beads’ in a link pointing to a page about dentists, for example.
If Google sees a keyword in a link, then it assumes that the page contains content that’s relevant to the keyword. So, when we see a link like this, containing ‘beads’ it assumes that the page that's linked to deals with beads.
We can see this in action by searching for 'click here'.
You'll see that the top two results in the UK are for the AA's route planner, because lots of websites link to the AA's directions with the words click here.
And, I'm sure you've seen sites that offer a download of the Adobe Reader software, again with the link click here. Which is why we see Adobe's site in second place.
If you're optimizing your site, then creating links that contain the keyword ‘click here’ doesn't help you much. But including the page's target keywords can be a powerful tactic for helping your rankings.
Anchor text in links - how does that work?
Let's look at how you might create a keyword rich link. Let's say you have a link that says:
"Learn about our glass beads - click here."
It's helping search engines and users find the page, but it could do more to tell the search engines what the page is about.
A better, more focussed link might read:
"Learn about our glass beads"
... with a link on the words 'glass beads'.
Now you've told Google that the reference page is about glass beads.
This is important. Ideally the text in the link should match the target keywords in the referenced page.
8. Include keywords in your URLs
Once you’ve planned your new site structure, and you know what keywords you want to target, you’ll be able to start creating your URLs.
There are a few things to keep in mind.
The structure of your URLs should match the structure of your site. Your product pages should be nested within their relevant category.
So, for our bead site, we’d see something like this:
Of course, your URL should describe the content of the page, yet be as short as possible.
You should try to include your target keywords in your URLs.
If you’re targeting a phrase, include hyphens between the words.
Use lower case letters.
Try not to use numbers.
In other words, where you can, make URLs guessable.
Finally, you should make sure content is available under one URL and one URL only.
Let’s say you have these two URLs on your site:
Google may view these as two separate pages. In which case, both pages will rank - but badly. If you have links pointing to both versions of the page, you're losing out on rankings.
You'll rank much better if you consolidate all your links on a single version of the page.
Building links from external sites is the key to successful SEO. But it's difficult and time consuming. By comparison, your site's internal links are easy to manage - and can have a big impact on your site's rankings.
Here's a recap on the seven (plus one) ways of improving your internal linking:
- Attract links from other sites.
- Add links from your own content.
- Include keyword rich links in your main navigation.
- Add extra navigation to your most profitable pages.
- Add keywords to your breadcrumb navigation.
- Add links to your sidebars.
- Make your URLs into links.
- Use relevant keywords in your anchor text.
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About Justin Deaville
Justin has worked with a variety of clients - including both established businesses such as social media management firm, Sendible.com; wine retailer, WinesDirect.co.uk; and the online gift specialists Presents for Men. You'll find a fuller profile on Google+ or LinkedIn
If you'd like to improve your online marketing, whether that's social media, SEO, PPC, or conversion optimization, just send me an email: email@example.com