Internal Linking: Thinking Inside The Box

As a website owner, you’ve thought about the ways that incoming links affect your ranking in the search engines. But have you considered how your own internal links might give you a boost? Wayne Hurlbert explains this often-overlooked potential source of popularity.

When website owners think of linking, they are usually referring to inbound links from external websites. While adding more incoming links from pages in external sites is very important, it’s very easy to forget the internal linkage factors at work in your own site.

The site’s incoming links provide Google PageRank to the receiving Web page. The inbound links boost both the page itself and help the site  receive an additional link popularity boost overall. The links received from external sources are only part of the overall linking program for a website.

Some very important link popularity increases will arise directly from a website’s internal linkage system. In fact, some improvements in the site linking and navigation can give a site a major boost in the search engines. This very important optimization technique is often ignored by link-seeking website owners.

Think inside the box: check over how the internal linking of the site is working — or not working — on your website’s behalf. It’s not a complicated procedure, but it can pay large dividends in better search engine rankings and stronger sales of products and services.

The revenue increase will result from the site becoming easier to navigate, to the benefit of the site’s visitor traffic. If a site is difficult to move around, the potential customer will simply leave, and seek out a site that provides better usability.

Several factors require examination for improving a website’s internal linking system. As a starting point, every website needs a good, easy to navigate site map. The site should also have menus that are easy to read, understand, and use, to enable the visitor to get to where she wants to travel within the site. If flash menu buttons are used, additional html links should be included as a precaution against possible search engine spider omissions.

Footer links, while not the most powerful of navigational tools, will help provide additional links to the site’s pages. The various clickable links should contain keyword link anchor text relevant to the receiving Web page, to emphasize the page’s theme for the search engines.

By setting up a solid easy to use internal linking system, with proper use of keyword anchor text, a site will gain higher placements in the search engines. The improved usability will result in much stronger online sales because of the ease of site navigation for the potential customers and clients.

{mospagebreak title=Setting your sights on a site map}

An easy to understand site map is an essential element of any good website. The site map helps boost a site’s search engine rankings, and helps visitors find the information they seek while clicking around the site’s pages. Surprisingly, not every website has a site map as part of the overall design. Those website owners should rectify that situation as soon as possible.

As with any linking structure, the first consideration for the site map should be the website’s users. If they can’t find the information they need, they will simply leave the site and give their money to a competitor. Fortunately, that scenerio doesn’t have to happen to your site. The site map remedies part of that problem with one fell swoop.

When setting up the site map, group the various internal directories into overall themes. Put related topics together to reinforce one another’s theme relevance. By doing so, you are helping the search engine spider recognize the overall themes and topics of the website. A well developed site map also enables the spiders to more thoroughly crawl a site’s directories by providing entries to those deeper Web pages.

The close interconnection of themes means better rankings in Google, Yahoo, and MSN Search. Site themes are a very important part of the search algorithms of all major search engines. A well designed site map also means easier usability for your potential paying customers. More convenient site navigation means your visitors can more easily purchase products and services from your site. Talk about getting good bang for the buck!

When setting up the site map, make certain that each link to the receiving page contains link anchor text specific to that page. For example, if the receiving page is about blue widgets, place the keyword phrase “blue widgets” in the site map link. The additional anchor text, pointing to the desired page, targets that page for that search term.

The added link anchor text reinforces the theme of the receiving page for the search engines, providing an added boost in the search rankings. The keywords also aid the site user by providing direct information about the content of the page being linked.

{mospagebreak title=Ordering off the menu}

Every page of the website should contain an easily located and simple to use page menu. Without a menu, of course, no visitor could ever find their way around the website. A well designed menu should also be helpful to the search engine spiders as they crawl around the site.

Like the related site map, the more pathways available to the spiders, the more deeply and completely a site will be crawled and indexed. Having more pages indexed, on a regular basis, assists in search engine rankings as well.

When designing menu buttons for a site, the best ones use simple HTML coding to reach the other site pages. Often, a site designer will use flash buttons to create a more exciting look to the site. While perhaps appealing to the eye, the flash button menu might not be the choice of the search engine spiders.

While it’s believed that the various spiders can and will crawl flash links, they will find it more difficult. It’s far easier to provide HTML links, even as a backup system. Making life easier for the spiders pays off in the search engine results pages (SERPs). As with all links, make certain that descriptive keyword anchor text is part of all page-connecting links, to reinforce theme relevance.

{mospagebreak title=Using footer links to get an extra kick}

Footer links are almost standard at the bottom of every Web page. They are placed there for a reason. Should the spiders not be able to fully crawl a site, or the visitor not be able to easily navigate the site, the footer links facilitate movement around the site.

As an opportunity to use good keyword rich link anchor text, footer links are a real boon to your site optimization efforts. In fact, the anchor text choice can enhance even the often neglected Home and About Us pages. At the very least, the anchor text for Home should be Business Name Home. The anchor text for About Us should read, at minimum, About Company Name.

While more powerful link anchor text than the site title would be a better choice, at least use of the company name points those pages out in a clearer fashion for the site visitor. If the company name includes a targeted keyword, some added search engine benefit is derived as well. In any case, the better link anchor text will assist in maintaining the overall site theme. Note that the footer anchor text places some extra keyword density on the page.

Link anchor text ties the site themes together

When creating internal site links, the single most important thing to remember is to always use keywords in the anchor text that reflect the theme of the receiving page. The use of keyword relevant link anchor text is especially important to link-obsessed Google, but is also valuable for higher rankings in Yahoo and MSN Search.

The choice of wording for clickable links on the site map, the site menus, and the page footers should reflect the targeted keywords for the linked-to page. The link anchor text tells the search engines what is the important theme for the page being reached by the link. If the receiving page is targeted and optimized for red widgets, the link anchor text should reflect that goal.

Link text for blue widgets would only be half as effective, and should be reserved for linking to the blue widget page. Don’t use the link text of red widgets for the clickable link to any pages other than the red widget page. Diluting the anchor text drops the total value to the receiving page by sending what amounts to mixed messages to the search engines. Keep the anchor text relevance clean and concentrated to the targeted page only.

The link anchor text is even more effective if the page receiving the link has the anchor text in its title tags — and even in the page unique URL. Of course, the on page content should include the keyword phrase at the appropriate density. The overall benefit is derived from the concentration of theme relevance.

{mospagebreak title=Conclusion}

While gaining incoming links complete with keyword laden anchor text from outside sources is important, a website owner should not neglect a site’s internal linking structure.

By judicious use of targeted keywords in a site’s internal links, more theme relevance can be given to the receiving page. By strengthening a page’s theme in the eyes of the search engines, higher search rankings can be obtained.

Through the use of a well designed site map, properly linked site menus, and good page footers, a site’s keyword density and themes can be consolidated into a better overall search engine package.

While gaining benefits from the search engines, a properly linked site aids the users of the site as well. Better site navigation helps visitors find the desired information, resulting in longer website stays. As a result, more opportunities for conversion from visitor to paying customer are created.

A proper internal site link structure assists a site in both the search engine rankings and in overall website based sales.

It’s time to redesign your site’s internal linking structure and improve the existing link anchor text to better target your most important keyword phrases for each linked page.

It pays dividends in more ways than one.

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