Internal Linking – What Works and Why…

Search Engine Optimisation as an industry has a reputation which is sometimes right down there with economy crashing rogue bankers, ‘dodgy expenses’ politicians and used car salesman.

As a retailer you’ve probably been exposed to hundreds of phone calls from people promising you ‘top of Google positions’ and piles of revenue which never materialises.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of this bad reputation is deserved, because over the decades our industry has been infected by those who saw an opportunity to make money quickly by spinning a mantra that has little to do with what they were actually performing for the retailers paying their wages.

This makes me both mad and pretty depressed at the same time, because doing things properly is not only easier but gets far better results. I’ll tell you why…

Search Engine? What Search Engine!

Imagine a World where Google didn’t exist.  This takes us back to pre-1998 where we had websites and primitive search engines like JumpStation https://goo.gl/xPwHzH  and Excite but little else.

Back then, websites really did follow the premise that ‘content is king’. A website was about information, first and foremost.

Online shopping had yet to come to the fore as the driver behind the expansion of the World Wide Web, so when you went online, you were looking for information – just what Tim Berners Lee had designed the ‘web for in the first place.

In the early to mid-1990’s, you rarely heard of anyone being a practitioner of ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ because really, this didn’t exist.  Those who optimised websites with quality content and structure were called ‘Webmasters’. Webmaster was a moniker to be proud of. It meant you cared for something!

A webmaster structured a website in order to allow website users to find content easily, which as it turns out is exactly what any search engine wants you to do.  Really then, a Search Engine Optimisation practitioner, if the work is actually done properly is ‘Webmaster’ under another name.

Which neatly brings me round to internal linking and why it needs to be done with the kind of thought and care an old-school webmaster would apply.

Caring for Content and Users

To allow website users to find the content they are looking for easily, internal linking has to be carefully thought out. Read through any scientific paper online and you will see how important content should be linked.

Search engines want you to follow this same principle. Important words should lead through to more important content on the same subject which can be found on other pages in your website. This is what internal linking is all about.

Google especially isn’t too fond of global navigation elements to find important content.

Internal and external links in header navigation and footers of a web page tend to get downgraded as these links, available on every page in your website don’t give the context that Google requires to tell what a link is about. Links within paragraphs of text however do  give context, which is why search engines, especially Google take note when they find an internal hyperlink within a body of text. Links like this say to search engine spiders that ‘here’s something important, here’s something about the link you are about to crawl through… now go and find more content’.

Well thought out internal linking really does give the Webmaster looking after your website the opportunity to show your content in the best light both website users and search engine spiders.

This is why when you plan out internal linking, it should be with the eye of an old school webmaster.

Taking a Search Engine’s View

If you’re a retailer in the UK then you need to take a search engine’s view when putting together internal page linking.  The Google search engine doesn’t see all links on a page as being equal, even when these links are embedded into the content sections of a web page.

Text hyperlinks are weighted higher than image or navigational links. This is because as mentioned, the surrounding words in a sentence of text give context to the link.  This means, if you are going to link through to other pages in your website and this link is deemed to be important, make sure the link is a text link in body text.

Also, bear in mind that you should limit the amount of internal links going to any particular page. Google will in most cases choose the first link on any page as being the one which is counted, so if you are going to link through, make sure that the first link on page is a link within body text, surrounded by other words giving that link context.

This does mean that global navigation elements such as the top navigation, which are in fact just a bunch of internal hyperlinks should actually be put at the bottom of the HTML code in your pages to avoid Google crawling these first if at all possible, but if your eCommerce site’s structure is clean and crawlable enough this doesn’t actually stop your embedded text links from getting crawled through.

Make it easier for search engine spiders to find important content and you should see better rankings and more traffic as a result.

 

David Fairhurst

Head of eCommerce

Intelligent Retail

http://www.intelligentretail.co.uk

David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London

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