Internal links are and (very likely) always will be highly important to your website’s rankings in Google. In this article I’ll give insight on why this is and how you can best leverage these links.
Why Internal Links Will Always be Important
Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. Internal links include any element on your website that loads another page of your website when clicked. The most important internal links are generally those in your website header/navigation menu. This makes sense from a web design perspective (who would link to useless pages in their navigation menu?) and is something that Google is clearly aware of. It’s no coincidence that Search Console has a report specifically dedicated to internal links.
The internet is gigantic and is growing every day. The service that Google provides is a simplified way to navigate this seemingly infinite space by providing pages that are relevant to user searches. Before search engines like Google, the best way to navigate the web was to use directory services that categorized websites by content type (think Yellow Pages). A few of these directories still exist, but they are simply too large to be useful. On that note, your website is a directory and internal link optimization is one of the most important ways to serve your visitors the information they are seeking. To do this, you must consider information hierarchy.
The hierarchy of a website is important because it lets a user understand where they are on your site. Most websites are not single-page sites and therefore require some sort of directory-like structure for their content. Information is best understood when categorized into groups of similar pages. If your website does not have a logical grouping of content, Google’s site crawlers may not be able to properly discover and index all your web pages. More importantly, users will likely struggle to navigate your site and quickly bounce.
Websites tend to fall under one of two hierarchical content grouping formations: flat and deep hierarchies.
A flat hierarchy is a website that has a larger number of categories than sub-categories. This type of web site is said to be “wider than it is tall,” in terms of graphical link structure. A deep website hierarchy is a website that is organized into many sub-levels of information. Content is said to be more discoverable when it’s not hidden under multiple hierarchical layers. Deep hierarchy website structures are considered more difficult to use. This is likely due to how the human brain stores information and processes location. Both types of websites can utilize a home page, which acts as a high-level information hub. In a flat hierarchy, a larger portion of the website’s content is understood when examining links from the home page. This is not only because there are more links from the home page, but also because those links do not lead to multiple sub-levels of information. This is compared to a deep hierarchy structure where the index page links to high-level categories of information that then link to more high-level categories of information.
Your website’s internal links and anchor text are essential to search engine optimization (SEO). Especially when a website is newly developed, these links will be the only links to your website’s pages and are pivotal to Google’s understanding of your website content. Within the Google Search Console, there is even a tool that analyzes your internal links to show you which of your pages you link to the most. In general, every page of a website has the same header menu, top menu, and sidebar if there is one. Therefore, the number of links to each page of a website is typically approximately even. The hypertext that links from each menu to a category page should be descriptive of that category. Google uses this hypertext as an indication of what type of information is contained in the linked page (this is of course not the only method they use to determine page content, but it is a factor).
So spamming tons of internal links is the answer, right? Not exactly. I recommend only linking pages when it seems natural. Performing historical SEO by going through old pages and blog posts and looking for internal link opportunities is highly recommended here. It is also important to try to diversify the hyperlink text leading to each page. As it pertains to link spam, in technical terms, Google is advanced enough to cross-check page relevancy by comparing the semantic distance between linked entities within the semantic web. In layman’s terms, don’t spam links.
Google ranks pages, not web sites. While it is important to remember that domain rank is a dated metric, its core ideology is still in use and highly relevant today. This is easy to prove. In my 8-year experience in the SEO realm, I have never seen a website that ranks highly for a highly trafficked query and doesn’t rank for any other queries. Clearly domain authority has some effect here.
Although PageRank often cannot fully explain a website’s keyword rankings, it is a very good indication of where a website has the potential to rank. Since the original PageRank algorithm was largely released to the public by Google, it is possible to determine a numerical approximation for if the potential of each domain and page to appear in search results. The most popular tool for determining page rank is the page rank toolbar produced by moz.com and is one of many important tools in our SEO arsenal.
Internal Links are Important
Google organizes the web in an automated fashion. To do this, it must use factors pulled directly from your website, internal links being one of the more important of those factors. If you are seeing a large drop-off of site visitors, a high percent exit on certain pages, or low goal completion rates, you should consider re-evaluating and optimizing your internal link structure.