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Internal Linking, the Other Linking

Josh McCoy
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sign-post-this-that-wayIn a search marketing environment where linking is all the rage, we tend to forget that just as important are the links we maintain internally on our sites. What is the point of garnering a great inbound link profile if your site can hardly be traversed by a search engine or human visitor?

The problem with the world of linking is that we place too much time thinking externally. I, like many, ponder nofollow, follow, paid, non-paid, or who Google is threatening to penalize. But at the end of the day did we provide pathways (links) throughout our site for our content to be viewed from the masses we attained through a great inbound link profile? Probably not.

Internal linking is one of the easiest elements in SEO. Why? Because typically SEO has to pick a ratio of appeasing a user but also a search engine.

With internal linking, the better you do, you equally benefit the human element but also the crawling bot. So, let’s start making everyone happy.

For those of you well-versed in SEO, this is just a refresher as to what you probably have lost track of while worrying about inbound links, who the next JCPenney will be, or when you will reach your desired Domain Authority/Page Authority/PageRank and so on.

Making Search Engines Happy

  • Have sitemaps: One of the oldest rules of SEO is to have a sitemap containing at least all top level pages linked from each page of your site. Follow this up with probably the second oldest rule of SEO: you should have an XML sitemap containing all URLs on the site. The may not seem like internal linking, but this actually is, in its rawest form.
  • How do you link site-wide in navigation? You might be surprised to find out you are not linking to absolute URLs throughout the site. A few examples include non-www. versions of site pages as well as duplicate index pages.
  • Does your navigational structure or on-page link structure lean on image links or Javascript linking? Navigational linking should be textual or CSS based and you should remember to mind text in your on-page linking versus a reliance on image linking.
  • When linking with text, it should anchor on a relevant set of terms regarding the linked page. It doesn’t always have to be just a keyword phrase, but make sure it's never simply “click here.” Support your content with these links and do so in a fashion that features relevant topical content across the site being linked page to the main page for the given topic. You want to show the search engines that you're an authority for a given topic, you have a lot of content pertaining to it, and all this content points back to one main topical page.

Making People Happy

You've worked hard to get them here, now what? I usually take the task of internal linking for the user and parse into three steps.

  • You must use the four types of navigational linking, main, footer, breadcrumb, and secondary/supplemental. These should include links to the most important top level folders/categories on the site and a link back to the home page. Ensure that the main and footer navigation remains consistent across all site pages. Don’t overinflate the main navigation with links and endless dropdowns as you are only confusing a user and overinflating your site-wide overall internal link count. With this in mind, review your Google Webmaster Tools account within the Internal Links section. Before you get there imagine what you would like to see as the top five most linked page on your site. What did you find? You might be surprised to find that, yes, the homepage is linked the most followed by Privacy Policy and Terms of Use as this is all you are using in your site footer navigation.
  • Link from your copy. This one is so simple, but is often overlooked. Link to supporting content on your site. You could even link to another site – only if it is opening in another window. Think of it this way if you were stating a case or trying to persuade someone, wouldn’t you want to provide supporting information to substantiate your statement? Internal linking within the copy helps show that you're the authority for black fuzzy widgets because you have supporting articles, how-tos, FAQs, and a case study on them.
  • Calls to action, what do you want people to do? Is this present above the fold of each page? Do you want visitors to call, click, submit a form, buy something, see the latest deal? Don’t just provide a call to action once someone gets deeper into the site. If there is a mission to your site express what that and make this apparent throughout the site. Too often I see that someone intends to have users commit a certain action yet I don’t see the available opportunity for them to do so. Call to action reinforcement reminds me of a great presentation once given by Bryan Eisenberg on “Maintaining Scent.” Your messaging, design and in this case your internal linking must have consistency to help lead someone through your site into a conversion.

Now That Everyone is Happy

Paying heed to the points above regarding search engine linking needs ensures that you're doing your part to establish full site indexation and access to site pages. You're also giving a search engine spider a sense of which content on your site is the most important via the directional relationship of linked pages. 

For users, a well internally-linked site is going to let a user know where they are on the site, where they should go, and what they should do.

You've probably done a great job with inbound linking and other facets of SEO. However, now that the traffic has arrived, it's no time to quit when the finish line is within sight.


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