Interesting question in the Warrior Forum today: How do you set up internal linking on your site correctly?
The questioner explained that they had currently set up their site by linking each page back to the two previous pages via a link entitled ‘recent articles’.
While that would link all the pages together, it would create a daisy chain effect, which would not give a good user experience.
So how should you really set up internal linking?
To set up internal linking correctly you first need to be clear on why you’d want to link to other articles on your site. There are 3 main reasons:
- To improve the user experience
- To boost certain articles that you want to feature better in the search results
- To help the search engines find and index all the content on your website
With that in mind, there are two ways in which you set up internal linking:
- Through your navigation menu – meaning that you make sure all pages on your site are accessible from the menu, unless you specifically want them hidden (for example a download page).
- By linking specific content within an article to another (relevant) article that covers the subject in greater depth.
So here’s how to achieve each of the 3 objectives of internal linking:
Improve your users’ experience
To meet the first objective of internal linking you would use the second method: linking specific content to other relevant articles.
For example, if I was writing an article on how to display relevant ads on your posts, it would include a step that involved editing your custom stylesheet.
I’ve already written an article that goes into the detail of how to edit your custom stylesheet, so I would link the phrase ‘custom stylesheet’ directly to that article.
This would enable me to keep the current article focused, and it would enable everyone who already new how to edit the custom stylesheet to keep reading.
But it would also enable those who did not know how to edit it to get the details, without disturbing the flow of the article or covering unnecessary detail for those who did.
Everybody’s experience is improved.
To boost certain articles that you want to figure better in the search results
You need to be very careful with this one, because the search engines are getting better all the time at figuring out when you’re trying to game them.
And when they discover that’s what you’re doing, they’ll unleash all sorts of wrath on you.
However, if you have an article that you believe is particularly important but which is not figuring well in the search results, you could (again) use the second method.
The approach would be very similar to what you did earlier:
You would either identify existing articles that are relevant to the article you want to promote, or write new (and relevant) ones, and identify specific phrases within them to link to your target.
The important word here is ‘relevant’.
If you link ir-relevant content to your target article you will create a bad user experience and the search engines will quickly find you out (they’re already very good at understanding content and context).
However, as you add more links to your target article the search engines will understand that you consider that article to be important.
But only if you’re linking relevant content – I cannot emphasise that strongly enough! Also, only link out once in each new article to your target article.
To help the search engines find and index all your content
Helping the search engines to find all your content is best done through your site navigation (the first method).
The basic principle is that all pages on your site should be accessible from your navigation menu (including drop-down sub-menus).
Of course, when you have a very large site this does require some careful planning. For example, an electronics site may have thousands of pages featuring different products.
In this case your primary menu may simply have links to product categories: cameras, sound systems, TV’s and computers.
Drop-down sub-menus may take you to the different brands within each category, but once you get to the brands page you would have secondary menus taking you to the different models within each brand.
With that kind of structure it would be possible to get from your home page to every page on your site, albeit with a number of hops.
You wouldn’t be able to get directly from the page on a specific camera to the page on a specific sound system, though.
For that you’d have to go back up one level to the sound systems page and then down that leg until you found the system you wanted.
None-the-less, with that structure (a variation on the hub and spoke structure) the search engines would be able to find all the pages on your site.
(It goes without saying, of course, that an XML sitemap would make it even easier for the search engines – and all sites should have one of those).
So, firstly, make sure you’re clear on what you’re trying to achieve with your internal linking and then choose the method you’re going to use.
If your objective is an improved user experience, internal linking will become easier as you develop more content.
And be careful to resist the temptation to cross link to articles that are only vaguely relevant in the early stages.
If your objective is to help the search engines, make sure you plan your site hierarchy carefully. Cleaning up a dog’s breakfast of a site later is a long and thankless task!