SEO Corner: Internal Linking Structures
Many savvy search engine optimization (SEO) experts will tell you that incoming links are the most important factor for competitive keyword rankings on the search engines. But did you know that links pointing to pages within your own website also play a crucial role in transferring the ever important Google Page Rank value?
The Basics: Internal link structure is an important aspect of any SEO strategy — especially valuable for websites just getting started or recently purchased domain names. The problem is that the first incoming links to any website normally only point to a home or index page. A proper internal link structure can take those initial incoming links and spread the Google Page Rank or link “juice” to the many other pages within your site. This can help satisfy the ultimate goal of high rankings with your index page as well as pages of secondary importance.
Proper Internal Link Structure: Superior internal link structure is not only good for SEO but can also ease human navigation within your website. For example, a horde of click here links on your site doesn’t tell your visitors anything about the linked page, making it less desirable to click and navigate deeper within your website. Those same links omit critical information for the search engine spiders when they visit for a site crawl — it’s no secret that the less information spiders have, the lower your site will rank.
Many sites still include flash- or image-based navigation as the primary means for browsing your website. Since search engines still prefer good old fashioned keyword-rich text links to index your site, consider implementing an additional (alternative) text link navigation menu at the top (preferably) or bottom of each page along with your flash navigation. Most importantly, make sure you match text links with keywords in the title tags of linked pages. For example, if you are linking to your XYZ product page, match the text link with the first keywords listed in the title tag of that page. In this example, the first words in the title tag would be Product XYZ and all incoming text links to that page would also read Product XYZ. This tells both your website visitors and the spiders exactly what each page within your website is about. It’s true that you want to vary keyword text for incoming links from external websites whenever possible, but remember that we are focusing on internal links. Staying consistent helps not only from a search engine perspective but also aids website navigation for users.
It is also important to add a sitemap link to your text link navigation menu. You don’t always know how visitors end up at your website (it could be a link from a less popular page on your website) so make sure that no matter how they arrive, visitors and the spiders can crawl to every one of your pages.
This leads us to the next topic: how do you determine which of your pages have actually been found and indexed by Google and Yahoo?
Google Webmasters Console and Yahoo Site Explorer
For years, Google and Yahoo had carefully hidden which external website pages were linked to your internal pages. Not anymore. Now, both Google and Yahoo have tools to help SEOs determine exactly which pages are linked.
Setting up accounts in the Google Webmasters Console and Yahoo Site Explorer should be one of the first steps after your website has been designed and optimized for the search engines. Today, we can create a search engine-friendly sitemap and let Google and Yahoo do the work for us.
Explore all of the options that these tools offer. The more time and effort you spend, the more useful tools you will find for your site.
Create a new account and add a site. With Google Webmaster Console you can add any or all of your websites and have them listed in one interface. After you have verified your website(s) you will be able to access very specific, detailed and useful information about your website pages. Let’s look at the information presented within the Webmaster console:
• The Diagnostic tab let’s you know if Google spiders are having trouble with any of your pages — http errors, URLs not found, URLs restricted by robots.txt, URLs timed out, etc. If any errors are presented, simply click on the details link to find out more.
• With the Statistics tab you can view the distribution of Google Page Rank and which page has the highest rank each month.
• The Page Analysis section provides great insight as to what Google “thinks” your content is about.
• The Links tab contains perhaps the most useful information within Google Webmaster Console. When External Links is selected, you can view all external links pointing to each of your internal pages. When Internal Links is selected, you can determine which of your internal pages are linking to a particular page. For both the external and internal sections, click on the Numeric link to the right and view the exact list of website pages Google currently has indexed that are pointing to each of your Web pages.
• Finally, the Sitemap tab is where you can setup the sitemap for each of your unique domains. Make sure to include each and every page
that you want Google to crawl.
• Again, create an account and add each of your sites (you will have to authenticate each of your domain names).
• Once this is done you are able to “explore” your websites. When you click Explore within the administrative interface you can view all of the pages of your site indexed by Yahoo.
• You can also view what Yahoo calls “Inlinks” — the number of pages linked to the page you are currently exploring. To see only the external links pointing to your website, click the drop down menu Show Inlinks and select Except From this Domain. Now, you will only see the external links pointing to the page you are exploring.
Again, take advantage of the useful interface and tools Google and Yahoo have provided and be sure to login frequently to see which pages were recently indexed and which pages now have external links pointing to them. Google and Yahoo are finally providing the means to accurately track all necessary information for a successful SEO campaign — it’s time to take advantage of their generosity.
Establishing a proper internal link structure is very important, yet easy to implement. Keep in mind these other important considerations:
• Having an excessive number of outbound links can dilute the link value you are spreading to your own internal pages. Limit the amount of outgoing links from your pages as much as possible and keep all incoming and outgoing links as relevant to your website as possible.
• It is also important to consider human navigation when designing your text navigation throughout your website — a happy visitor returns and makes recommendations.
• Finally, none of this does any good if you don’t have a sitemap that complies with both Google and Yahoo. Login and make sure Google and Yahoo are indexing each of your pages. While getting pages indexed in Google and Yahoo does not guarantee keyword rankings within the search engine results pages (SERPs), it will provide you with needed information to determine your next step in your overall SEO strategy.