Is Your Internal Link Structure Your Enemy or Friend?

enemyIt does not take long for ecommerce webmasters to learn that links impact their rankings in the search engines. However, many webmasters make a big mistake with the links within their own site.

In order to develop a clear understanding for this article, let’s lay down some basic information about internal links. When discussing internal links, I am referring to any and all links within your website and links that stay within the same domain. I make this clarification because some may refer to links across domains, but within sister sites, as internal. For this article we will only refer to links within the same domain as internal links.

To further clarify information you should already know, (but we won’t hold it against you, if you don’t) the clickable text in a link is called “link text“, or “anchor text“. These mean the same thing, so no need to argue which phraseology is correct, right? Anchor text is vitally important in search engine algorithms.

Good. Now that we have ground rules, let’s discuss why internal link structure is the “enemy” for most webmasters. A large portion of webmasters do not take full advantage of the ability to link to themselves using the right anchor text. Many of you are eating, drinking, and sleeping link building. You are dreaming up new ways, reading endless information on the latest link building tactics, and working hard to obtain links with the right anchor text from outside websites. How many link requests have you sent with unsuccessful results? How many hours have you spent building other web pages all in the name of link building?

Now, how many hours have you spent ensuring the links within your own site use the correct anchor text? I can hear all of the excuses already, but before you go there, let me answer the most common questions. If you still have a question, leave a comment and we will address it.

Many webmasters do not use the right anchor text within the links of the navigation bar due to lack of space. I get it and understand. No need to have an ugly site. If you cannot fit the correct anchor text in the navigation bar (top, left, right, or any combination) without the text wrapping or a really wide or tall nav bar, then just use the root word.

Example: keyword = “Easton little league baseball bats”

nav bar link suggestions = “Easton baseball bats”, or “little league bats”.

Do the best you can with the navigation bars. The truth is, they are important, but not the most important internal links you can have.

Many webmasters also overlook the page footer. This space works well for longer keywords, as it allows greater space flexibility without negatively affecting site aesthetics. Check your footer for correct anchor text usage on all relevant links. For larger sites (in terms of pages), it is not recommended to use the footer for every link. If there are too many links, navigation can be messy or difficult for site visitors. Like anything else, this can be abused and a footer stuffed with keyword links is impractical.

Another way to get anchor text is to use the alternative text (commonly misnamed the alt tag) of an image. Search engines count alternative text as the anchor text for a link within an image. Be careful to use alternative text that relates to the image, or there is danger of being labeled a spammer.

The best place for obtaining value from internal links is the content area of your page. Search engines look at this area with more trust. Why? The odds are more likely that a webmaster will place relevant and helpful links in this area, which is what search engines want. I recommend that the text color on these links matches the color of other links within the site, and that links are underlined. (For most sites this would be blue and underlined.) Don’t try to disguise the link because it shows the search engines you are not trying to hide something.

You tell the search engines what each page is about by using anchor text within the site. Search engines use the external links pointing to your site to verify this information. Get your internal links correct, and it will likely take fewer external links to rank well for the keyword phrases you are targeting. Go fix those internal links today to see improved rankings.

Get Internet Marketing Insight For Your Company - SEO.com

6 Comments

  1. Gavin says

    Nice article, except I would disagree with the value Google place on the Alt text in images. I doubt very much that it treats this the same way that anchor text in a text based hyperlink is treated. Ive never seen this improve results the same way changing words in the anchor text does.
    Do you have any proof or examples you could provie to support this or do you agree it works to a lesser extent?
    Thank you

  2. Rick Hardman says

    Gavin,

    I agree that Alt text in images does not carry as much weight as anchor text on the page, but it does carry some weight, particularly as text on the page. It certainly does not hurt as long as the alt text is relative to the image and not keyword stuffed, so I would still recommend this as a part of good seo practice as well as usability issues for those who serf the net with images turned off.

  3. Mark from Malta says

    It’s a fact that most websites can simply gain rankings by optimizing it’s own navigation and internal linking structure. I see loads of sites which spend a lot in advertising and SEO link building efforts, whilst some simple on-site work will boost their rankings and traffic easily :P

  4. Michael says

    Always a battle to balance header / footer links with content links as the site gets larger and you start exceeding the feasible “cram all links into the header” approach.

  5. Rick says

    Michael,

    It is very true that it is a balance. At the end of the day, I would suggest that you need to make your seo work within the usability and conversion designs of your site. SEO does not make the sale. SEO, when done right, gets the right potential customers to your site. If they cannot navigate it once there, then it did not do a lot of good. The keyword (no pun intended) here is BALANCE (and creativity).

  6. Casey says

    Old article I know, but I have a question regarding this section:

    “…I recommend that the text color on these links matches the color of other links within the site, and that links are underlined…”

    I do follow that practice as the user of course needs to see a link in order to click it in terms of usability.

    But my question is can a search engine actually tell the difference if its not underlined and the same color? Do they check the source code and reference it to the stylesheet to confirm stuff like this when they crawl the website?

Leave a Reply