Internal Links – An Overview

Search algorithms rely heavily on internal link structures, using them to determine the importance of internal pages on your website. As a result, the pages that you link to the most frequently are usually considered the most important ones.

Anchor Text

Because of their reliance on internal link structures, another thing that search engines pay careful attention to is the anchor text that is used to link to a specific page. Although it’s not always easy or possible to control how external sites link to you, you can always make sure that your internal links use effective anchor text to improve your image in the eyes of the search engines.

When you’re linking between your internal pages, it’s important to use the keywords for which you want to rank well in the anchor text. So if you’re trying to rank for widgets, and linking to a page which is about widgets, make sure that the word widget appears in the anchor text of the link pointing to your widgets page.

Descriptive Anchor Text

The technique referred to in the above paragraph is known as “descriptive anchor text.” Whenever possible, you should use the words in the title of the linked page as your anchor text. If you have a page that is about the origins of widgets, and titled as such, then “origins of widgets” is the anchor text that you want to use.

Although it’s sometimes necessary to use the words “click here” as your anchor text, in most cases, it’s possible to avoid it. If you can’t get round it, you could give your link a “title” attribute for the benefit of search engines, but they place much more importance on the anchor text than on the link title.

If at all possible, your anchor text should always describe what the page you’re linking to is about.

Using Images As Links

It’s usually better to use text for your links, rather than images. If you do want or need to use an image as your link though, it’s important to remember to give it a descriptive “alt” tag. To a certain extent, the “alt” tag, (which displays alternative text to browsers that do not load the image) functions as the anchor text for that link.

This is important even for logo images that link to your home page. If your navigation links are all image based, then it’s a good idea to include descriptive text links at the bottom of each page as well, to help search engines determine the relevance of your pages.

Loading your “alt” tags with keywords however, can do more harm to your site than good. “Spammed” alt tags are generally regarded by search engines as attempts to manipulate search engine rankings, and as a result you may be demoted, or even removed from search engine results completely.

Links To Page Anchors

On long pages, it’s possible to use text links to link to different places within the same page. These are referred to as page anchors, and can make on-page navigation easy for your users.

This can be great on long pages, allowing you to provide a short table of contents on the page, with page anchor links to the various sections. Another benefit, aside from usability, is that Google has recently started taking these internal page anchors into account, and displaying them on their results page, allowing users to “jump” to what it considers the part of the page most relevant to the search.

Of course, this is only possible if you have a table of contents on the page, with links to page anchors for the various sections.

Broken Links

There’s nothing that annoys a visitor to your site more than a broken link. Especially if that link is supposed to point to some information that the visitor really wants to have. In the same vein, search engines and directory sites don’t like broken links either.

The dynamic nature of the internet means that sites and links may disappear frequently, and as domains expire, they may be registered by other companies, and used for different purposes, including spam. If your site is linking out to spam sites, or to sites or pages that no longer exist, search engines may decide that it’s a sign of poor quality, and penalise you for it.

So it’s a good idea to regularly check your site for broken links, especially if you’re frequently linking out to external sites.

The only exception is if you have a site that is a clearly dated news site, which is not expected to remain perfectly current at all times. News is topical and timely, so if you’re blogging about something today, it won’t matter that much if next month, the page you were linking to in that old post is gone.

Unlinked Pages

It’s important that most of the pages on your website, and preferably all of them, should have at least one link pointing to them, and contain at least one link pointing out to another page. If a page doesn’t have any links to it, search engine spiders won’t be able to index it. And if it doesn’t point out to other pages, then they can’t use that page’s link authority to help index other pages.

Types Of Internal Links

In general, there are two types of internal links that are common, relative links, and absolute links. Absolute links include the full location (or URL) of the page to which they are linking. Relative links, on the other hand, contain only the part of the path that is relative to the site on which the page is located, and leaves out the “http://www.yoursite” part of the URL.

Now search engines always convert relative links to their absolute locations before assigning the page an ID. Although it is considered by some to be better to use only absolute links, search engines should have no trouble assigning an absolute URL to your page.

However, there are some potential drawbacks to using relative links that may make it advisable to use absolute links instead.

* Content Theft: If people repost your content to their site, using an absolute link will gain you a little link value when they repost your link.
* Site Hijacking: Using relative links makes it easier for people who try and hijack your site (by making search engines think your site exists on their URL) to get many pages from your site. Absolute links limit this.
* Canonical URLs: If a search engine indexes both the absolute and relative parts of your site, you may have a problem with duplicate content.

Linking Inside Your Content

Don’t rely solely on your site navigation to let visitors get around your site. Links inside your content are much more likely to be followed, especially when they’re pointing towards more content that is relevant to what the user has just read. Using an article to drive links to other articles helps you exert some control over the path users follow through your site. It also lets you use a lot of different descriptive anchor texts to each page.

In general, there are 3 important reasons for using links inside your content:

* Self Selection: Users get to choose the path they’re interested in, which allows you to effectively categorise your content, and quickly guide them to where they want to go.
* Active Engagement: When users click on your internal links, they become actively engaged in your content, rather than being merely passive readers.
* Usability and Control: When users click on a link, they feel in control of where they’re going, because they made a choice to click on a link. “Official” navigation can sometimes feel just like clicking on an ad. Content links however, give users a sense of control, and improve your site usability.

Adding a section on your home page that features the latest content that has been added to your site can also be a good idea, partly to drive traffic, and partly to help new content be quickly indexed.

External Links

The internet is a social marketplace. Linking out to high quality sites makes it more likely that other sites will link back to you too.

(For an overview of outbound links, check this article: Outbound Links – An Overview)