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April 8, 2009

SMX Sydney: Leveraging Internal Links

Live blogging of Internal Links session by Jane Copland of Ayima Search Marketing at SMX Sydney 2009.

Why are Internal Links Important?

– Along with on-page content, how a site’s links are structured often determines the rate of the site’s search engine performance

Internal links acheive a number of goals

– allow people to find their way around a site

– allow search engines to find their way around a s ite

– allow PageRank to take hold

Regular forms of internal linking include

– navigational links

– content links

– secondary/ tertiary navigation

– breadcrumbs

– footer links

– site wide links (often navigational links)

– resource links (categories, tags, related resources)

Each of these links is viewed and valued differently by search engines

Different Types of Internal Links

Navigational Links – use a consistent form of navigation througout a site. Links are not only good for humans, they play a viral role in letting search engines crawl deeper within the site. These should be created with HTML. Drop-downs from navigational links provide search engines further means to find your content

Distributing PageRank Throughout a Site

PageRank is the metric by which Google determines a page’s importance. Pages accumulate PageRank when other pages link to them. The more good links that point to a page, the more PageRank it accumulates and can pass on. You can use this to *sculpt* the flow of your site’s PageRank.

Footer Links and Site-wide Links

The least effective froms of internal linking are footer links and sitewide links that don’t have a strong navigational element. They provide little benefit to users. They often take a page’s total links to over 100 (a Google no no). Footer links have been abused for spam purposes. Also avoid the Wikipedia model of internal linking.

Resources, Tag Clouds and Categories

– These are often automatically generated by CMS

– They tend to be exponentially increase in volume and link to relatively useless pages

– They often take a page’s link count to well over 100

– Use tag clouds and category links sparingly, including those with the most content. Remove or no-follow the rest

Internal linking is the process of passing PageRank throughout a website. Pages with no-index meta tags can both accumulate and distribute PageRank. Only certain types of links pass PageRank. Links created with JavaScript do not. Links that include a no-follow tag do not either.

For the purpose of passing PageRank, the best type of link is a regular HTML link that is not an image. Because HTML links are the best/only way for a search engine to navigate a site and distribute PageRank, websites should not use JavaScript or Flash for linking.

Sculpting PageRank with Internal Links

Unless you carefully structure a site’s links, you have no control over how its’ PageRank is distributed. Page Rank is NOT evenly distributed across all of a page’s links. The best way to prevent PageRank from being passed is by using the no-follow link attribute.

The Dangers of Using No Follow

Using NoFollow to prevent pages being passed PageRank is not without drawbacks. People go overboard to flow PageRank. When choosing to no-follow a link on a prominent page, consider which pages the linked-to page links to. It is possible to prevent search engines from accessing entire sections of a site by being over ambitious with no-follow PageRank sculpting. A no-followed link will be treated as though it doesn’t exist. There is no danger in using nofollow from a trust perspective.

If a site’s CMS routinely creates duplicate pages, accessible via multiple URLs, the owner can:

– redirect

– use the canonical meta tag

– use noindex on or robots.txt exclusion of the duplicate pages

OR use no-follow on all links to that page

We’re not sure if pages LOSE PR when they link to external resources, but they do GIVE PR to external resources instead of to internal pages so consider this when linking out.

Linking to Home Page

Linking from within a site to its home page is tricky. Try not to link back to the home page using a primary keyword over and over again. A home page will rank well naturally so it doesn’t need internal link sculpting. That said, internal linking is a great way to cut down on the keyword cannibalisation problem. Link back to your primary resource with keywords in your anchor text. This will help Google determine the *master* page on the subject within your site. For example, your blue widgets, red widgets and green widgets pages should all link back to your main widgets page. Google will then see that page as the master of your keyword theme.

Absolute versus Relative links

Use absolute where possible. If you’re using relative URLs, use the BASE href tag.

SEs generally view subdomains as relatively separate entities so and are seen as separate but related. Jane recommends using sub-folders instead where it makes sense to do so.

Best Practices for Linking

– include less than 100 links per page
– don’t send internal links through redirects of any sort
– where possible, avoid pagination
– don’t use complex tracking codes on internal links
– use the # symbol for tracking code because Google ignores content following the hash symbol