Internal Linking Made Smarter
With the latest Google algorithm updates, a lot of sites with poorly designed internal links or links that resemble spam have seen a sudden, sharp drop in traffic. Perhaps the most severely affected are travel sites, where there is a common header linking to their products across thousands of different pages. To safeguard against future Google algorithm changes and to provide a better user experience, smarter internal linking is needed.
Start by designing taxonomies and link structures that provide a pleasant user experience, instead of just for the purpose of ranking higher in the SERPs. Google can quite easily see site-wide headers and footers, and on most occasions will consider them as spam; site-wide elements like these simply don’t work anymore. Consider how you want to build the site so that the user can find what he wants with little effort and few clicks. Obviously, in a big organization it is impossible to link to everything from the main website, so perhaps you can subdivide into states, regions, etc.
Internal linking will influence the importance of all your pages, meaning that a highly linked-to page will show in the SERPs more and will attract more traffic. Furthermore, consider the usefulness of internal links. For example, you might link two subcategories if the comparison will be relevant to your users. Alternatively, an updated list of popular or recently visited items will be more useful to visitors and better accepted by search engine crawlers.
Another point is keyword competitiveness; you need to decide which keywords you want to rank highly in the SERPs. By carrying out a market analysis, you can quickly determine those keywords that are most profitable and/or most competitive. Having found your priorities, it is best to link to and from wherever it would appear natural and not overstuff them with backlinks. These keywords deserve links even from your home page, but it’s important to be prudent with your choices because you cannot turn the home page into a link farm.
It is pretty easy to evaluate the current structure and internal links of a website. Search for “site:yourwebsite.com” and the pages you see are the ones on which Google places the most importance. If the list does not match with your estimates, or features obscure insignificant pages, then your internal links could use some improvement.
Internal linking could also be improved by proper use of what is known as country code top-level domains, or ccLTDs. If your company is based in one country but has websites covering other countries, for example, based in the U.S. but operating in the U.K. as well, you can link between your U.S. domain and the U.K. domain. This is more important if your services are area-specific, for instance, if you have hotels across Europe.
Microsites can become an internal linking nightmare, so beware of how you utilize them. Google can detect site-wide headers, and even more so if they are featured on the main website. The company will quickly read the Who Is information and connect the dots. Consider replacing site-wide headers with site-specific links so that users can seamlessly continue to browse your website. Sidebars also work extremely well with this as well as offering users additional functionality.
A new webpage might not be indexed as quickly as you want it to be, so providing an up-to-date and comprehensive sitemap is the key to successfully linking your pages internally. For WordPress users, it is quite useful to install the Google Sitemap generator plug-in as it will save time and effort.
Generally, when building internal links within your website, think of your users and especially how to improve their experience. Avoid focusing on promoting certain pages with hundreds of spam-like backlinks, and you will master the art of smarter internal link building.