If SEO is a big part of your digital marketing strategy, you spend a lot of time making sure you have backlinks from other websites.
Chances are, you're also mindful of your external links, some of which may be part of an exchange between yourself and someone else's website.
But what about internal links?
These are easy to overlook, but not only are they relevant for SEO, they're also integral to your website's overall user experience.
The architecture of your internal links is important. Too many orphaned pages, or link structures that don't make any sense, can make it a chore to navigate your site.
It can also throw off Google's crawlers, complicating your ability to rank.
In a recent Whiteboard Friday post, Rand Fishkin of Moz explains what kind of internal link structures your website should have.
Best practices like avoiding identical anchor text for different internal links, as well as making sure each page is a maximum of three links away from any other page, can go a long way toward making your website more usable, more organized, and easier for people to navigate.
Ideal internal link structures
So ideally, in an internal linking structure system, you want something kind of like this. This is a very rough illustration here.
But the homepage, which has maybe 100 links on it to internal pages. One hop away from that, you've got your 100 different pages of whatever it is, subcategories or category pages, places that can get folks deeper into your website.
Then from there, each of those have maybe a maximum of 100 unique links, and they get you 2 hops away from a homepage, which takes you to 10,000 pages who do the same thing.
I. No page should be more than 3 link “hops” away from another (on most small–>medium sites).
Now, the idea behind this is that basically in one, two, three hops, three links away from the homepage and three links away from any page on the site, I can get to up to a million pages.
So when you talk about, “How many clicks do I have to get? How far away is this in terms of link distance from any other page on the site?” a great internal linking structure should be able to get you there in three or fewer link hops.
If it's a lot more, you might have an internal linking structure that's really creating sort of these long pathways of forcing you to click before you can ever reach something, and that is not ideal, which is why it can make very good sense to build smart categories and subcategories to help people get in there.
I'll give you the most basic example in the world, a traditional blog.
In order to reach any post that was published two years ago, I've got to click Next, Next, Next, Next, Next, Next through all this pagination until I finally get there.
Or if I've done a really good job with my categories and my subcategories, I can click on the category of that blog post and I can find it very quickly in a list of the last 50 blog posts in that particular category, great, or by author or by tag, however you're doing your navigation.
II. Pages should contain links that visitors will find relevant and useful.
If no one ever clicks on a link, that is a bad signal for your site, and it is a bad signal for Google as well.
I don't just mean no one ever. Very, very few people ever and many of them who do click it click the back button because it wasn't what they wanted.
That's also a bad sign.
III. Just as no two pages should be targeting the same keyword or searcher intent, likewise no two links should be using the same anchor text to point to different pages. Canonicalize!
For example, if over here I had a shipping routes link that pointed to this page and then another shipping routes link, same anchor text pointing to a separate page, page C, why am I doing that?
Why am I creating competition between my own two pages? Why am I having two things that serve the same function or at least to visitors would appear to serve the same function and search engines too?
I should canonicalize those. Canonicalize those links, canonicalize those pages. If a page is serving the same intent and keywords, keep it together.
IV. Limit use of the rel=”nofollow” to UGC or specific untrusted external links. It won't help your internal link flow efforts for SEO.
Rel=”nofollow” was sort of the classic way that people had been doing PageRank sculpting that we talked about earlier here. I would strongly recommend against using it for that purpose.
Google said that they've put in some preventative measures so that rel=”nofollow” links sort of do this leaking PageRank thing, as they call it. I wouldn't stress too much about that, but I certainly wouldn't use rel=”nofollow.”
What I would do is if I'm trying to do internal link sculpting, I would just do careful curation of the links and pages that I've got. That is the best way to help your internal link flow. That's things like…
V. Removing low-value content, low-engagement content and creating internal links that people actually do want.
That is going to give you the best results.
VI. Don't orphan! Make sure pages that matter have links to (and from) them.
Last, but not least, there should never be an orphan. There should never be a page with no links to it, and certainly there should never be a page that is well linked to that isn't linking back out to portions of your site that are of interest or value to visitors and to Google.
You can read more about why internal links matter over at Moz.