Internal linking – We may heard about it but for most of us eCommerce website owners, it is just way too complicated to even bother with. We already have so much on our plates. We need to set up our websites, add some products and optimize each one for SEO. On top of these, we need to look for places where we can promote our online stores so as to get more sales.
We should not bother with something as technical as internal linking, right?
It turns out that internal linking is very important not just for SEO but also for site indexing. Think about not being indexed on the search engines just from the lack of internal links. Worse, you can even get de-indexed or penalized from implementing a wrong internal linking scheme.
Today, you’ll learn about internal links and how to use them for your site’s indexing and rankings.
What are Internal Links?
It is very important to differentiate internal links from external ones. Internal links pertains to links within pages of the same website (same domain). So if XYZ.com links to XYZ.com/page, that is an internal link. In the same way, XYZ.com/page1 linking to XYZ.com/page2 is also an internal link. But if another website (say ABC.com) links to XYZ.com, that is considered as an external link.
Why are internal links so important? Well, it is very useful in directing the path of users in a website. So if you are selling some retail products for example, you can use internal linking to recommend other products or to direct them to your delivery page, contact page or terms of service. But more than customers, you can also direct the path of search engine robots which is why websites with good internal linking structures tend to rank higher on the search engines.
Internal Linking Vs. External Linking
You’ll understand internal linking more if you compare it to its opposite – external linking. In this section, I’ll show you what each brings into the table and how you can harness each to increase your website’s ranking potential.
External Linking Has More Power Than Internal Linking
Internal linking is important but it doesn’t have as much power as external linking. The reason for this is because most internal linking structures are usually within the control of the website owner. Since this is the case, the link cannot be counted as an independent vote. Instead, the link is more like a crafted vote created by the website owner himself. External links has more power because it comes from another person who liked to recommend your website for what it contains. Think about it this way. Which will you believe? A person that says that he is good at what he is doing or another person that vouches for his ability? I am pretty sure that you’ll choose the latter. The same is true for external linking. When another person recommends a website, that counts as an external vote and therefore has more power.
Internal Linking is Prone to Over Optimization
When people learn about internal linking, they usually treat it like some sort of holy grail method that they must do to rank their websites. But when they apply the method and see that their rankings are not budging, they’ll usually cry that the method did not work.
The problem is usually over optimization. This is where internal linking is seen as an easy-to-control tool to get more rankings. Well, if it was that easy, then everyone should be ranked easily on the search engines, but it’s not.
One type of over optimization mistake is the use of anchor text. Since website owners usually have more control on their internal links, they take this as an opportunity to keyword spam their internal links to oblivion. Please don’t do that. It will not work and you’ll end up irritating your users in the process. I am not saying that you should not optimize for keywords. You should. That’s SEO 101. However, you should not optimize in a highly manipulative manner. You should just do it naturally. Sprinkle a few of your keywords in your product description and categories. That will do the trick. Remember, today’s ranking factors is more than just the keyword density of your content. It is also about how well people loved your site.
Another over optimization mistake is page authority sculpting (also known as PR sculpting). This is where website owners plan their linking structures in such a way that will pass more link juice to one particular page. While this may seem effective in theory, it is not the case when you implement it. Don’t get me wrong. PR sculpting worked for the the old SEOs. It was an old practice done way back 2002. But now is a different story. Websites are now created for the user’s benefit and not the search engine’s.
Internal Linking is Important for Ranking and Crawling
Ever wondered how Google is able to find and index all of your pages? If you have not submitted a sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools, there is a good chance that Google just managed to land on your pages through some internal links.
It goes this way. Google visits your main page and then looks at the internal links. Then, it looks at all the other pages. That’s the easiest way to get your pages found.
But if you are not linking to some of your pages, that can be problematic. Not only are you hampering Google in finding that page, you are also preventing your visitors from finding it. What’s there to hide?
Don’t Go Overboard with the Internal Linking
Now that you found how easy internal linking is, you may have the temptation to put tons of internal links in your website. Don’t do that. While I agree that you should have an internal linking structure, don’t forget that the amount of links can also dilute the link juice (page authority or pagerank) passed to other pages. This means that the links will have less value.
This is true for existing eCommerce websites as well. Some of them are created with the customers in mind so the owner have links to 100 categories and 50 products right from the main page. When they do this, they sit down and wonder why they are not getting ranked. Well, the problem is in the sheer number of links. The right thing to do is to whittle it down. I have tried this with different eCommerce websites in the past and it worked.
Which is More Important: Internal or External Links?
Now that we have justified the importance of internal links comes the question on what is more important – internal or external links. Well, if you know the rules of SEO, you should know how external links can help a website rank higher on the search engines. SEOs often call external links as backlinks and they are very important in offpage optimization.
If external links are important in offpage optimization, internal links are important for onpage optimization – the other side of SEO. While external links will have a greater impact on a website’s rankings, that doesn’t mean that internal links are less important. In fact, it also has an effec on rankings.
With this, it is important to have both if you want to succeed online. Without thinking so much as to which is better, just make sure that you have both in your website.
How to Do Internal Linking the Right Way
Now that you have decided to do internal linking for your website, here are some things that you should consider:
STEP 1: Audit Your Your Website Pages
It is impossible to create a linking structure if you don’t know all of your pages. So list the number of pages in each category in your website.
While auditing your pages can be easy for new websites, it can be a pain for larger ones. If you are an eCommerce website that has thousands of products, you’ll know how hard it is to sort every single page in your website. This is the reason why I am just asking for the number of pages in each category and nothing more. This will help you keep track of the overall amount of pages that you need to sort before you proceed with the next steps.
STEP 2: Create an Overall Link Structure
With the website’s specific pages in mind, it is time to create a linking structure. Remember that is important to distribute links right from the beginning. Don’t bury pages deep within, it will only get harder and harder to crawl.
With this, it is important to create a diagram of the internal linking architecture that you plan to implement in your website. Consult an expert if you need to.
STEP 3: Decide on the Internal Link Location on the Page
Creating a linking structure is one thing but implementing it is another. To implement it, you have to create a link inside a page. How do you do that? By having a navigation bar on the sidebar, in the header or in the footer. You decide.
Most eCommerce websites have their internal links in the header. The reason for this is because it is easier for customers to see the header when they visit a website. Some website have internal links in both the header and the footer. While this can help in terms of visibility, it can increase the number of links on a page diluting link juice. So you have to decide on what to implement.
STEP 4: Tweak the Anchor Text
While anchor text may not be as important as it used to be, internal linking is still a good chance to include your keywords in them. Why? That’s because you are in control. You can put whatever keyword you like. This is your chance to add some keywords and inform the search engines about the keywords that you are targeting.
However, this does not mean that you should spam your internal links with keywords. Make it a habit to choose keywords that are relevant to your products. Also, don’t repeat keywords. For example, don’t name a red roses products with “big red roses” and “red roses”. Try to be more creative with the name.
STEP 5: Add some Links to Important Pages
There are pages that you just have to link to. These are your delivery policy, your shipping policy and your contact page. Some eCommerce website owners even include a link to their About Page in the footer. These are pages that you should link to without worrying about link juice. After all, customer experience will always be more important than that nonsense.
STEP 6: Do Some Link Cleaning from Time to Time
Use your analytics. Keep track of the pages that gets more traffic and delete the pages that are hardly getting any people. You don’t need those pages in your website. While deleting pages may sound scary, you’ll be surprised how a little page cleaning can instantly increase your website rankings. I suggest that you do this regularly or to hire someone who will do some seasonal page cleaning for you.
Do you have an internal linking strategy for your eCommerce website or are you just going with the flow? Preparation is key. Not only will internal linking improve your website’s architecture, it can also improve the flow of traffic in your site. If you did it well, you may even get some recommendations along the way.
Internal linking may seem easy to do. But don’t use it as a means to spam your audience. Remember, that you are not creating an online store to prove to the search engines that you can rank a website. You created an online store to help people who need your products. If you keep these people in mind, it will be easy to do internal linking and customer acquisition in a balanced way.
What do you think about internal linking? Do you think that it is worth implementing? Tell me all about it below.