One of the elements of site development and SEO that often gets overlooked is internal linking. When done right, you can kill two birds with one stone, and improve both search rankings and usability
You may be familiar with the fact that when sites link to other sites, search engines pass value for the terms/phrases used in the link anchor text. (Anchor text is the highlighted text in the link.) When working on improving rankings for a site, people usually try to target links from other sites (external links) that have the desired anchor text related to terms they want to rank for. However, contextual internal links
can also be effective in helping to improve a site's rankings for targeted keyphrases.
(For the purpose of this article, we're assuming your site already has a solid primary navigation structure. If not, you should take care of that first.)
Context is the Key - Link Within Your Content
Your website's text content is filled with opportunities to potentially pass link juice to other pages of your site and to help users find their end destination. To start improving your internal linking strategy, go through your site section by section, page by page, and see where it would make sense (from a user's point of view), and insert some contextual links to other pages that you want to rank better.
Be sure to use the keywords/phrases (in the anchor text) that you would like the destination pages to rank for. In your links to these pages throughout the site, vary it up and don't use the exact same phrases in anchor text, or it will look artificial to both search engines and users. As you are doing this, make sure that the target keyphrases show up on the destination page in some form. Links are more effective if the terms in the link anchor text also show up on the page. One area where this is useful is to help a site rank for both plural and singular versions of a word.
The surrounding text can help too, so you may want to tweak the sentences and paragraphs around your links to improve the contextual value.
When you're finished, get some feedback from outside users to make sure it still looks natural. Even Out the Link Strength
It's quite common for certain pages of a website to receive disproportionately more inbound links than other pages of the site. These pages tend to rank well compared to other pages of a site. Use Yahoo Site Explorer, Google Webmaster Tools, or your analytics program to find which pages have the most link
love and which ones have the least. You can strengthen the weaker pages by pointing some contextual links from the strong pages to the weak ones. It's usually best not to link to them from every
page of the site, just from a few that have strong linkage.
Internal links don't carry as much weight as links from other sites, but they can still make an impact.Usability Benefits
When done right, contextual internal links also can help improve the usability of a site. By adding links to the content of your site that are relevant for the user, it provides another path to the destination you're trying to lead them to. Multiple paths are a good thing in site navigation. Usability studies have shown that users are more likely to click on a link in the text of a page instead of those on a navigation bar, because it feels more natural.Examples of Effective Contextual Internal Linking
When it comes to linking within your site, there are several ways to go about it. Here are some examples of internal linking using specific anchor text, with variations.Example 1
- A couple months ago Jennifer Laycock wrote an article about Twitter, and benefits of using it.
- Jen wrote 5-part series on why you should be using Twitter.
In the first sentence, the internal link is passing value to the destination page for the term "Twitter". In the second sentence, it's passing value for the phrase "why you should be using Twitter". This can also pass value for included terms/phrases such as "Twitter" and "using Twitter".Example 2
- Stoney wrote an informative article about avoiding duplicate content.
- Stumped by duplicate content penalties? Let Stoney enlighten you.
In the first sentence of Example 2, the internal link is passing value to the
destination page for the term "duplicate content" and included terms. In the second sentence, it's
passing value for the phrase "duplicate content penalties" and included terms.
These are just a few examples, but you can see there are quite a few ways to use anchor text to create useful and search engine friendly internal links within the content of your site.Does This Actually Help?
Improving the internal linking structure of a website will almost always improve rankings for certain pages, and sometimes quickly. Adding contextual links is a perfect strategy for giving an extra
boost to specific pages for specific keywords. The battle for search engine rankings is often competitive, so every bit helps. Why ignore something that can help maximize your rankings, traffic, and sales? However, even if you don't care about the search engines, at least do it for your site users to improve their online experience.
June 13, 2008
Scott is the CEO and founder of Red Sand Marketing, a San Diego SEO and web design firm. A dynamic mix of marketer, designer, and developer, he thrives on all aspects of internet marketing and web development. Having been involved in search engine optimization and web design since 1996, he and his team consistently achieve top search engine rankings for clients in competitive markets, and have won multiple web design awards along the way.