Many years ago I put my site through a re-design. I worked hard to make sure everything was done just right, including the images and navigation. But one thing I failed to consider was internal linking, separate from the navigational elements. It wasn't until much later that I realized how much traffic I was losing because my internal linking was (or lack thereof wasn't) benefiting my visitors.

In-site link implementation can make a considerable difference in how effective your optimization campaign is. Or isn't. While your site's primary and secondary navigation is extremely important, you shouldn't make that the only way for visitors to get around your website.

There are some stores that I'm OK finding stuff on my own. I don't need to be guided because I know right where things typically are. But when I walk into a RadioShack, instead of looking around, the first thing I do is ask someone if they can direct me to the product I'm looking for. Usually the helpful associate will walk me over to the wall of accessories and find exactly what I was looking for. I certainly could have found it on my own, but it would have taken me much longer. The personalized service I get at RadioShack keeps bringing me back time and time again.

Think of your navigation as a map that shows where various products or information is throughout your site. Anybody can walk up to the map and figure where they want to go. But good contextual linking is like guiding your visitors to the products or information they want, as they want it.

Good site navigation isn't jut about providing the map, it's about giving the personalized touch to guide your visitors to information they want and/or will be helpful to them. Here are some inter-site linking strategies that will help your visitors while also assist with your search engine optimization efforts.

Anchor text

Anybody who has done any kind of link building knows the value of good anchor text for external links pointed into the site. But anchor text is just as important within internal links pointing to other pages within your site. Take a look at these two images and see if you can figure out which one uses better anchor text.

Good and bad examples of anchor text

Ok, so I biased you with the red and green circles, but you can clearly see the difference between the anchor text in these images. One clearly uses descriptive keywords in the link. This wasn't done because the page was being "optimized", but rather just because it made sense to link this way. In the second example, both the links "click here" and "read more" are great calls to action, but provide very little in the way of telling the search engines (or the visitor) what the linked page is all about.

Search engines place a great deal of weight in determining what a page is about simply by looking at the text of the links pointing to the page. But even more importantly, so do people! Did you know that a good majority of skimmers and scanners do little more than read the link text on a page. For busy people like me, the links tell me where I need to go to find the information I'm looking for. "Click here" and "read more" do little to provide me direction. They tell me what to do, but not why I want to do that.

There are several options when deciding on what to do with your link text. The most important thing to remember is that your link anchor text should accurately reflect the information on the destination page. Here are some examples of what you do and don't want to do:

  • Click here to learn more about preparing personal tax returns.
  • Learn more about preparing personal tax returns.
  • Click here to learn more about preparing personal tax returns.
  • Click here to learn more about preparing personal tax returns.

So now, which is the correct way to use anchor text?

Ok, so that was a bit of a trick question. There is more than one right answer. In fact, the only wrong answer is the first one. The other three are all decent solutions to both using great anchor text and having the call to action for usability. I'm not certain there is any best way, it all just depends on your site. My preference is number four, but only if your text isn't already loaded down with links. Having two links instead of one can possibly clutter your page if you have a lot going on already. I would also nofollow the "click here", but more on that next.

Nofollow strategies

I won't go into the history of the nofollow or argue it's merits here. If you don't know much about the nofollow then I suggest that you go read Jennifer Laycock's article about nofollow here. (Notice the anchortext? I got my call to action, "read" and the keywords "nofollow" and "Jennifer Laycock" in there. Read that all by itself and you know exactly what to expect when you click that link.)

There is also argument about the merits of using the nofollow attribute to sculpt PageRank on your site. I'm not recommending any aggressive link sculpting strategies here, unless you really know what you are doing, but there are several ways you can implement nofollow tags that will be to your advantage.

Let's start with a brief explanation of the nofollow. In theory, the nofollow attribute tells the search engines not to follow that link. In practice it tells the search engines not to pass any link value from that page to the page being linked to. The search engines may still follow the link and the page being linked to can still get link juice from other sources, just not from yours.

Here how the nofollow attribute is added to a link:

<a rel="nofollow" href="blocked.htm">Blocked link.</a>

One excellent use of the nofollow attribute is to block link juice being passed from certain anchor texts. Remember our link examples above? I suggested nofollowing the "click here" text. Here is how I would implement the nofollow:

Click here to learn more about preparing personal tax returns.

The "click here" is a good action link but we don't want that passing any link juice to the next page. After all, the next page isn't about clicking anywhere, it's about preparing personal tax returns. That's the link we want to make sure gets the juice.

To use another example from above, the baby products have two links to the product page, the product title and the price.

Nofollowing bad anchor text

I highlighted the nofollowed links on this page in pink. Since we already have the product name in the anchor text, there is no reason to dilute that by linking to the same page using irrelevant anchor text.

Related products

One of the best ways to provide additional internal links to other pages is by cross linking related products. Not only do you get the additional links but this is a perfect opportunity to create additional sales by providing shoppers with additional information on things that they are most likely to want to purchase as well.

Here is one of my favorite examples. A year or so ago I was searching for the newest season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. When I got to the product page I was treated to some additional DVDs that the store thought I would be interested in.

Similar products to Battlestar Galactica Season Three DVD

They were right.

Linking to other products doesn't have to be as complicated as Amazon, where they look at your purchase history as well as the history of others who have made similar purchases. It can be as easy as just deciding which products should be "related". If someone buys a jumper cables, they might also be interested in a jack and lug wrench. If someone purchases a crib they might also be interested in bedding. If someone is interested in a three-screen monitor splitter they might also be interested in purchasing a couple of additional monitors as well.

Paying attention to your internal linking strategies can pay dividends when it comes to both search engine optimization and generating additional sales. Creating smart keyword rich contextual links, nofollowing non-relevant textual links and cross linking products is a win-win-win scenario. It's great for search engines, helpful to your visitors, and helps you generate more sales as a result.


June 18, 2008





Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(33)

Your post looks really horrible in Internet explorer, this is not the best way of selling a SEO.

Completely agree with your post, but I don't think link style no.4 meets Accessibility requirements:

13.1 Clearly identify the target of each link. [Priority 2]

If both 'click here' and 'preparing personal tax returns' link to the same place it fails. Test it here http://www.cynthiasays.com/ and have a look.

Rich

Not sure why that would fail accessibility, or why that would even be an accessibility issue. There are lots of reasons to have two separate links going to the same page. Maybe I'm just missing something obvious here.

Hi Joan,

I've checked the page in IE and had others check as well. Everything looks fine on our end.

Can you send a screenshot so we can see what you see? Send to:

webmaster@searchengineguide.com

Thanks!

Robert

@ Rich: Hate to burst a bubble here but accessibility and standards have little to do with SEO.

@ Stoney: many reasons to link to have multiple links to the same page. Just think of a long sales letter with multiple points telling you to make the purchase.

@ Robert: Looks fine to me in IE7.

Okay, just my few cents worth. :)

@Robert: Accessibility and standards have little to do with SEO!!!??? I think they have a lot to do with it, because it is important to Google too.

@ Reynder: I really have to argue that point. Google themselves don't comply with half the standards out there. I guess that makes them standard non-standards. hehehehe...

When referring to standards the W3C are mostly what I refer to. I assure you that these standards have absolutely no weight when it comes to ranking in Google. Usability and other issues... well that's a whole other story.

So just one quick thought - how does #4 link fit with the theory that Google only counts the first anchor found to any given page, even if that anchor is NOFOLLOWed?

Sorry - that's not a great way to explain. In the case of link #4 some theories state that only the 'click here' anchor will be counted even if that link is NOFOLLOWed.

@ Robert: Sure Google doesn't always comply to their own rules, but proper semantic CSS coding is important to SEO. True, you do not have to follow the exact rules of W3C.

@ Reynder: again I argue. CSS can be useful for moving content on a page, moving code from a page. But CSS is so browser specific... Does Google rank CSS for Firefox2, Firefox3, IE6... etc?

While CSS is very useful for brining life to a web page I don't see how Google uses it to rank a page. After all a page that has no CSS is as likely to rank as a page that has used it well.

@ Robert: You are right. Basic CSS doesn't do you any good. That is why I said 'semantic'; proper use and styling of , , , etc, etc.
Do not get me wrong. Basically I agree with you.

@ Reynder: I hear you. Again, styling won't make any difference to the search engines. But will surely make for a better user experience.

But this is standard HTML formatting and not a CSS issue. I don't know how a page created by Front Page Express will relate to CSS and web standards, but it's sure to rank if the search engines deem fit.

Again, I hear what you are saying. I would agree that CSS and other standard forms of web development are simply good practice.

Can the use of nofollow in your internal links be detrimental as well? Over at the High Rankings forum I read where this practice was cautioned, as you're basically casting a no-vote for your own page, and it's hard to know how Google will respond. Or, is this trumped by the other link to the same page which contains anchor text and isn't 'no-followed'?

Also, I wanted to bring up Richard's comment about only the first anchor text to a page counting, as I think it got lost in the exchange :) I know SEOmoz concluded this in an experiment they did. Any feedback about this, as well as my question above? Thanks!

@ Joan: Tim from http://www.thaas.info/ sent in a screen shot of the problem and I've sent it to the web dev guys to be worked on today.

Thanks!!

I'm not sure if evidence is conclusive but I'm assuming it to be true until proven otherwise. I would not recommend nofollowing the first "click here" link. The safer solution is to open with a keyword-rich anchor text and then follow up with a "click here" link, nofollowing the second link.

@ Stoney: Battlestar Galactica. Really?? :)

Thanks for the lively debate here everyone! I'll start with the most important comment fist.

@H_H, Hell yeah! Best show on TV since the X-Files. Lost is a close second.

Regarding the nofollow issue, I think that nofollowing links for pagerank sculpting can be detrimental but only in the more extreme cases. Matt Cutts has already said that nofollow can be used for internal site links without any harmful effects. It's not a "no" vote for a page, it's more like a non-vote. Kind of like an ignore.

I haven't ready anywhere that Google counts only the first link on a page *even if that link is nofollowed*. Can anybody point to some references. To me that just doesn't make sense. The nofollow should discount that link completely.

If this is true then my example above isn't a good idea at all, but I'll wait for further evidence.

Thanks for the reply about this issue. The use of "no-vote" was actually my own wording, albeit a bad choice :) "Ignore" is a much better descriptor for sure.

Excellent example of adding a nofollow to 'click here' links! I'll be using that for an internal training presentation on technical content strategies. I have never tested the technique myself, but it makes a lot of sense.

Follow this trail Stoney: The original SEOmoz post is worth a read - then the comments will fill you in on the rest.

http://sphinn.com/story/34958

hahahaha... Battlestar Galactica! I hadn't realised that they have started that again! Guess that's what happens when you stay in darkest Africa. :) I'm just frantically waiting for the new Star Wars movie - it's gonna rock!

@ Halfdeck: I guess if you really wanted to start sculpting PageRank then using a script to hide the link might be useful?

But I imagine that while nofollow still isn't an actual standard the rules or lack thereof will change daily. I wouldn't say anything is good or bad practice at this point.

linking anchor text to other pages / posts is exactly why wiikipedia ranks so highly for so many terms.

Most top bloggers do it too.

"Halfdeck: I guess if you really wanted to start sculpting PageRank then using a script to hide the link might be useful?

But I imagine that while nofollow still isn't an actual standard the rules or lack thereof will change daily. I wouldn't say anything is good or bad practice at this point."

Like I posted elsewhere, PageRank sculpting is low ROI except for doing the basics like nofollowing sitewides to a blog login page or a privacy policy page if your site doesn't have alot of juice to begin with. If site:domain.com/* returns fewer than 1000 results I'd say leave sculpting alone. Ysing a script to hide links is overkill and would harm usability if users can't see the links either. The bottom line is using nofollow is an option, like robots.txt or META robots or 301 redirect from non-www to www or sitemap XML is an option. You don't need to use any of that stuff if you don't want to. If you're doing black hat SEO lack of standards shouldn't stop you, since most of the domains you'll be dealing with has a short lifespan.

That aside, still the main issue that was pointed out here is how Googlebot extracts links from a page: according to Rand and MV, duplicates may be ignored, and if the first link is nofollowed, that link is dropped from the link graph.

First: It looks fine in IE 6 and IE 7 here

Second: The use of nofollow on the "click here" has been tested on several of our clients sites and it seems to have a small and positive impact.

Good article and fine points. And of course does usability and SEO go together. There are no use for rankings if the site does not work for the users!

I saw a link today that looked like:

<a href="http://www.linkingsite.com/?link=www.recipientsite.com">link</a>

Can anyone tell me if that link will pass value to the recipient website??

Justin, I assume you are referring to the code of the link rather than the link text. It appears that the linking site would have set up a redirect so the visitor would automatically be transferred to the intended linking page. However depending on how they said up the redirect would largely determine if the link passed value or not. My suspicion is that they did this so it would not pass any value. However it's still possible for the search engines to extract the intended destination and allow the link to pass link value. This, however, would be up to the search engine, and i would assume for practical reasons that the link is not passing value.

You are absolutely right about having great anchor text and not duplicating unnecessary links, I have noticed a big difference on some of my sites when I added informative links that gave the viewer a clear path to travel, after all it is all about the visitor and can improve conversions.

Im not that much into blocking strategies. Although i have heard a lot about Link sculpting, and a lot of people is questioning it.
What is your point of view on PR/link-sculpting?

Frederik

I think at this point you can use the nofollow only for links you don't want to pass PR and the robots.txt to keep pages out of the index. That's about it.

You get alot more people to comments post if you have dofollow, of course....

I expect soon to see a more strict approach from Google regarding linking anchor text to other pages / posts. Se alot of sites only with internal links ranking for their keywords.

Good point, Anchor text usually gives the user relevant descriptive or contextual information about the content of the link's destination.

We should supprt blogs with dofollow tags on the comment, keep up the good articles, sir..

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