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Strategic SEO: Internal Link Structure

Building the Right Foundation

You’ve got your site-wide keywords. You’ve learned the basics of SEO and are comfortably blogging or filling the pages of your website with keyword rich content. You’re even using deep linking strategies to lead visitors deeper into your site.

Good job! But what if I told you there was another vital element, –in fact, one that most people overlook? Yep, it’s true.

The very foundation of your site begins with the structure of its internal links. A proper internal link structure will maximize your SEO efforts, increase consumer usability by ensuring that visitors can easily navigate your website, and also allow your site to earn the most benefits from external links pointing to your site.

Internal Link Structure Defined

Just in case you’re lost already, let’s stop for a minute and define the term.

Internal link structure is the concept which refers to the way the links within your website work together. These links create a hierarchy, which are evaluated by the search engines. Search engine spiders use links to find and index new pages within your site.

With this in mind, it is vital to have a well planned out internal linking structure, not only to increase a site’s ranking, but to ensure that each page gets the attention it deserves.

If you put the effort into creating a 100 page website but only 20 of these pages get indexed, you’re defeating the purpose. A solid link structure prevents that from happening by creating a highly navigable site map.

Make more sense now? Good! Next up are your step-by-step instructions to building an internal linking structure that will best position your site for SEO success.

Building the Correct Internal Link Structure

Whether you are writing a blog post or adding a few new product pages to your website, always have your link hierarchy in the forefront of your mind. It’s easy to get carried away with the look and feel of your site, the amazing content you’re writing, or the slick product pictures you’re about to upload.

Just remember, without a solid internal link structure, you’re greatly limiting the number of visitors who will ever see these pages.

Here’s the breakdown of building the correct link structure:

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the blue, underlined, clickable text in a hyperlink. Search engines use this text to help determine the subject matter of the content you are linking to and what it should rank for. This is where many people go wrong.

If you’re simply using keyword phrases as anchor text and hyper-linking them to various deeper pages within your site, you’re going to have a link relevancy problem unless the agreement is there.

Much the same as keyword stuffing (unnaturally and overpopulating web content with keyword phrases until the text sounds completely forced) is punished by Google, so is the use of keyword phrases to link to pages just because you want more SEO juice.

anchor text breakdown

The above example is an HTML breakdown of anchor text. Visitors will only see “Real Help for Single Moms”. The link referral location is the actual URL the link will lead to when clicked.

When using anchor text on your site for internal linking purposes, always use a descriptive phrase for the visible text as opposed to “click here”. In the link above, the keyword phrase ‘single moms’ is used in a way that agrees with the link referral location, so link relevancy here is accurate. Ideally, this is your goal (to use your chosen keyword phrases whenever possible).

Handy Information

Google only pays attention to the first anchor text for a given URL on a page. For example, if you decide to link to your home page by using the anchor text “home” (not recommended), and further on down the page you link to the home page again by using the text “Help for Single Moms” –that second, keyword rich anchor text will probably be completely ignored.  Currently, only the first instance is used to influence rankings.

Don’t get confused, as long as other links on the page are to other URLs, you can effectively use different anchor text for each one.

The take-away here twofold: One, the wording of your anchor text is of vital importance and two, internal anchor text is really only beneficial if you’re linking to a page that isn’t already a part of the site’s navigation. Linking through anchor text can pull otherwise non-indexed pages into the hierarchy where they will be crawled and indexed.

Making the Most of Navigation Links

For most sites the navigation bar links are the first links Google sees, just because the navigational links are generally at the top of the page, so higher in the site code. Here’s where that tidbit about Google only recognizing the first link comes in handy.

If the link to the home page of your site is “home” that’s not doing much for your SEO. Put your nav links to good use by naming them as keyword-rich as is practical for link relevancy.

Rather than reading “home” the link back to your home page should be the name of your company. If you’re a brick and mortar company, using your company name gives you a sweet “double-dip” in the SEO juice, since it will also give you authority with local search.

With this information in mind, let’s review and take a look at some of the glaring mistakes that are made with internal linking strategies. You’ve seen it before, someone (maybe you) learns a little about SEO and the benefits of internal linking.

The next thing you know, they (or possibly you) are sprinkling your site with keyword rich, hyperlinked anchor text, –but the links are all going to pages already included in the navigational bar and other category-level pages.

As you can see, since Google only recognizes or counts first instances, linking to navigational and category pages is futile. Instead, anchor text should always be used to pull in product-level pages and stragglers that would otherwise be left off of Google’s radar.

If it helps, think of a link for what it literally is…a LINK. What is a link? A connection. Use your links to make sure every page of your site is tied together. It sometimes makes more sense if you visualize it.

Basic Site Hierarchy

Another vital fact to be aware of is that each page on your site carries its own individual page rank. If you use Mozilla Firefox, just download the SEO for Firefox extension and you’ll have immediate access to your individual page rankings with one click.

Each page is able to pass along its page rank through all the links on the page. With this in mind you want to design your site so the most SEO juice is flowing to your most important pages.

Basic site hierarchy should work like this:

  • Link from your home page through to your most important categories.
  • Link from your category pages down to your sub-category pages.
  • Link from your sub-category pages to your articles, blog posts, or product pages.

Home > Categories > Sub-Categories > Articles, Blog Posts, Product Pages

internal link hierarchyThe basic site hierarchy that benefits your SEO efforts the most is to link from your home page to your most important category pages; then your category pages link to sub-category pages; then those sub-category pages link to product pages. Obviously you don’t have to have products, the bottom level can be anything from articles to specs to blog posts.

Quick note: Don’t make a mess of your category pages. A category is defined as anything that is on your navigation menu. You are telling Google, “These are my most important pages.” That’s why many companies place the About Us, Privacy Policy, Employment Opportunities, Wholesale Pricing and other pages in the footer with anchor text instead of in the Navigation Menu at the top of the page.

Always keep the pyramid image of your hierarchy in your mind’s eye and continue to build around it. Finally, keep your category level links clean and avoid using too many links.

Things like press releases, news, employment, and other non-money makers should be sub-categories. Don’t spread these across your navigation menu. The more categories you have, the more you’re creating a flat structure instead of a hierarchical one, and the less weight each one of them will carry.

Armed with this information, you are more than ready to tackle the foundation of internal link structure and gain the winning edge.

<a href="https://plus.google.com/112623526556723027579/">Donny Gamble</a> is the Senior SEO Specialist at InBusiness and publisher at DonnyGamble.com