How to improve your SEO with user-friendly interlinking
Sure, backlinks are important, but columnist Kristopher Jones makes the case that internal linking is also a critical component of improving your website's search engine optimization and user experience.
At my startup, LSEO, we recently ran an internal link audit to help inform and refine our growth marketing strategy. With multiple freelancers and staff writers constantly contributing content, our site has more than tripled in size in the past two years.
Unfortunately, running a massive content marketing initiative with no central internal linking strategy in place had limited the spread of link authority throughout our website.
I highly recommend auditing your own internal linking structure to make sure you aren’t inhibiting a blog post from being crawled or receiving “link juice.” This is not only bad from an SEO perspective, but also from a business standpoint. Content that is not properly interlinked may not live up to its full organic ranking potential — or be found easily by users.
Let’s review some of the best practices of internal linking and show you why interlinking should still be a central concern of your SEO development.
The function and benefits of internal links
A sophisticated internal linking structure provides SEO and user experience (UX) value for your website. Here are some highlights of internal link functionality:
- Opens pathways to web pages previously less accessible to search engine spiders.
- Helps organize web pages categorically based on the keyword used in the link’s URL and anchor text.
- Improves user navigation by providing further ways to interact with your site.
- Uses anchor text keywords to aid user intent.
- Passes “link juice” between web pages (a purported ranking factor).
- Organizes site architecture and communicates to search engines your most important web pages.
- Helps promotional campaigns by visibly highlighting or featuring links on a home page or next to content.
Of course, there are instances of links that search engines can’t parse. It’s important to mention them so you don’t mistakenly use them:
- Links in web pages that are disallowed in your robots.txt file.
- Links in search bars or submission fields.
- Links in embedded plugins, such as Java or Flash.
- Links on web pages with more than 150 links.
User experience (UX)
Setting aside all of the SEO value of internal links, interlinking is valuable to your UX. A savvy interlinking structure should feature a functional drop-down menu and navigation bar with links to relevant topical content to satisfy user intent.
Providing clear labels for each link encourages further website interaction, which also has lots of SEO value. Not only does this increase user dwell time and session length, but the longer a user stays on your website, the more likely he/she is to complete a desired conversion.
Imagine landing on an awesome web page from a referral traffic source and a day later trying to find it. Unfortunately, without optimized anchor text in the URL or deep links to index the page properly, it may be impossible to find it through direct traffic methods, which is frustrating.
Unlike backlinks, internal links have no direct impact on Google’s algorithm. But they do increase the flow of backlink authority that circulates from one page to another.
New blog articles are born with virtually no authority or recognition. With a deep link from the home page or a cornerstone page, you instantly transfer previously earned authority to that web page. That piece will be indexed faster and rank higher as a result.
Interlinking structure best practices
Your internal linking structure should follow a pyramid formation. Your home page rests at the top. Directly beneath lie cornerstone pages or category pages that deep-link to relevant blog or product pages. All pages directly within one link of the home page will be perceived as the most important to search engines.
The goal is to reduce the total number of links that occur between a web page and the home page. Your home page is your most authoritative, in part because it is the page that will receive the most backlinks. Leverage your home page’s authority to spread link juice evenly throughout your site, and position each web page to rank highly.
This leads us to the importance of navigation bars and menu functionality. As your website grows with blog posts, content and resource pages, these sophisticated navigation features will ensure that all web pages are still within two to three links of the home page.
Let’s explore the anatomy of link placements and which ones serve our UX and SEO campaign more.
Content is not simply a clever place to insert internal links for indexation, but they also aid our site’s UX. Placing a link in a piece of content serves as a source material and communicates to readers that you can stop reading to gather more information “here.”
Bolding content links makes them visually stand out from the rest of the content and beckons users to click on them. Ideally, you’ll want to place links in blog posts to other relevant blog posts. Relevancy is key because irrelevant links will disrupt your UX and result in bounces.