SEO: How To Optimize Your Internal Linking

Right from the start, Google relied on the evaluation of backlinks as a signal of trust and thus became the most relevant search engine in the world in no time. Most website operators are therefore familiar with the famous PageRank, which is the cornerstone of the Google algorithm. Even if the PageRank has lost importance in recent years, it is still calculated from the link relationships and is still included in the ranking. Despite all the doom calls, backlinks remain a very important ranking factor.

However, while many webmasters are still aware of the importance of external backlinks, the internal link rarely receives the same attention – and completely wrong. Because only through the internal linking is a targeted distribution of the incoming PageRank on your subpages possible. A good internal link should therefore be a fundamental part of any sustainable SEO strategy.

A good internal link should be a fundamental part of any sustainable SEO strategy.

This article will show you that the internal link consists of much more than the pure link structure and the resulting click path depth. The correct handling of duplicate or near-duplicate content, the correct assignment of pages in other languages ​​to each other or the handling of deleted pages are also important components of the internal link.

But everything in order, let’s start with the “Link Basics”.

1. External and internal links

Figure 1: External and internal links (Source: eology GmbH)

One speaks of an internal link if a link is made within a domain A to a subpage on the same domain A. This can be done, for example, via the main navigation of an online shop or via a content link in a blog.

With an external link , a domain A refers to a domain B via hyperlink. It does not matter whether the pages have the same name. A link from e.g. https: //www.tolles-beispiel.com to the English language version https: //www.tolle-beispiel. com also represents an external link because the top-level domain is different (de versus com).

2. Structure of hyperlinks

A hyperlink consists of several elements. The basic structure is shown below:

<a href=”https://www.eology.com/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow” title=”Infotext”>Linktext</a>

What does it all mean?

  • <a href= ➜ This explains to the browser that a link and the link target follow
  • “https://www.eology.com/” ➜ The link target
  • target=”_blank” Ziel The target page should open in a new browser window
  • rel=”nofollow” ➜ Link is “devalued” because the search engine should not follow it. The no-follow attribute is discussed in more detail.
  • title=”Infotext” ➜ Explanatory text that appears after Mousover
  • Linktext ➜ the linked text (“anchor text”)
  • </a> ➜ Shows the browser the end of the link

The link target and the visible anchor text are mandatory. The specific link target is usually not visible to the visitor and can be another domain, a URL on the same domain, an image, a PDF document or the like.

The anchor text (link text) is the visible part of the hyperlink and makes it clear to visitors and search engine bots what they can expect in terms of content on the target page. For this reason, you should always use meaningful anchor texts. While you should pay attention to your link texts for external links and avoid excessive linking with hard money keywords, you do not have to accept any restrictions for internal links. Google itself recommends in the ” Start Guide for Search Engine Optimization “

“… the better the anchor text, the easier it is for users to navigate and the better Google understands what the page to which the link is linked is about.”

So if you sell “Puma sweatpants” on your site, you can easily link internally with the anchor “Puma sweatpants” without violating the Google guidelines and risking a penalty.

You should only make sure that the content on the landing page actually matches the anchor text used.

However, avoid excessively long anchor texts, because Google has also commented on this in the guide linked above:

“Aim for short but descriptive texts – usually a few words or a short expression is enough.”

If possible, also avoid linking the same URL with a large number of different anchor texts. Conversely, the same applies: do not use the identical anchor text for different URLs. In this case, you confuse both your visitors and the search engine bots. In this case, they do not rate the page optimally and cannot assign it to a specific keyword or topic.

3. The no-follow attribute

If you set links to external sites from which you want to distance yourself or which are paid or advertising links (affiliate links), then the no-follow attribute should be used. Even as a blog operator, you should definitely label comment links with a no follow, since blogs are still flooded with spam links and these links can even damage your blog without no follow-up cancellation. Because a link marked “No Follow” does not inherit PageRank signals (“Linkjuice”) to the target page. Conversely, this means that Google cannot punish the link-giving page if it links to an inferior page. This also prevents punishment due to excessive linking.

Some webmasters believe that a no-follow link can prevent crawling and thus indexing of these pages. However, this is not a reliable procedure, because the target page is often linked from another location (internal or external) or even the sitemap and is therefore still crawled. An effective exclusion from the search engine index is still guaranteed only by the meta-robots statement “No Index”.

There is really no reason to label your internal links with “No Follow”.

The rumor persists that you can influence the PageRank distribution with internal no-follow links (so-called PageRank Sculpting). To clarify this again: A link devalued with “No Follow” is also included in the distribution of the link juice – with the only difference that this link juice is not passed on to the target page linked with “No Follow”. The PageRank portion of the no-follow link therefore fizzles out. On the whole, internal no-follow links actually cause a worse PageRank distribution on your own pages.

As you can see: there is really no reason to label your internal links with NoFollow.

What about the other way around? You have received a no-follow link from an authoritarian site – is it worthless? No, a no-follow link from a strong domain is never worthless because it gives potential visitors or customers the opportunity to visit your website. In addition, a healthy and natural link portfolio always includes a certain proportion of no-follow links.

4. Linking pictures

A special case is the link via image. You can often see text on websites that is displayed in an image format. While visitors to these pages can easily understand what the target page is about based on the image content, the search engine bot has a much harder time in this case. Because unlike the classic text link, there is no anchor text when linking to an image, with which the bot could understand what content the link target is dealing with. If you instead place an image with a link, you should urgently pay attention to the use of a suitable alternative text (ALT tag) and image title, which the search engines then consider as link text. This also helps visually impaired users: screen reader software can read these alt tags.

5. Handling deleted pages

It is very frustrating for visitors to follow a link and then receive an error message. But this is also annoying for you as a webmaster, because the visitor often jumps off and tries his luck on another domain. Bad user signals and in the worst case wasted sales are the result.

As if that alone weren’t enough, a large number of inaccessible pages is also a sign of a poorly maintained website for Google.

No question: It is completely natural that URLs are deleted. Time-limited promotions or items that are no longer available in online shops are very relevant examples. It is only important how you handle these deleted pages.

Because the replacement of the page without replacement gives a 404 error when trying to access this URL – this solution is only useful in very few cases. The goal should always be to find the most suitable replacement page for the deleted page and to forward it with the status code 301 or 302.

The browser and search engine bot are informed with these status codes instead of calling up the replacement URL instead of the original page. A human visitor usually does not notice anything about this forwarding.

By the way: Even if the status code 301 is permanent and the 302 code is temporary, according to Google, both variants will be treated identically in the medium term. They therefore pass on their signals to the forwarding destination without loss.

Even if you really want to have a page removed from the Google index without replacement, simply deleting the page and the associated status code 404 is not the best solution. The better and correct variant is the status code 410 (“gone”). Because while a 404 error only says that a page is unavailable, the 410 code clearly says that the page has been permanently removed. So if you have ever wondered why the Google bot is still crawling your pages that have been deleted for years, you have the solution here. Google “tests” this page again and again at irregular intervals, because it could be that it can be reached again.

5. Canonical   and  hreflang tags: page linking without links

In principle, pages linked via canonical and ahreflang tags are already links. In contrast to a classic link, these are neither visible nor clickable for the visitor and therefore only relevant for the search engine bot.

5.1. Canonical tag

The canonical tag is an addition to the head area of ​​the HTML code and should always be used when identical content appears on different URLs in your domain (so-called duplicate content). The canonical tag is used to refer search engines to the standard resource, ie the “canonical URL variant”. As a result, these pages are treated as one page by search engines and only the canonical URL is included in the index. In addition, all ranking signals are bundled on this canonical URL.

Tip: For security reasons, each URL should always contain a self-referencing canonical tag in order to prevent duplicate content through parameters, session IDs or other URL variants that can be accessed multiple times.

The canonical tag is incorrectly used for pagination. On the pages of a page navigation, page 1 is shown as a canonical URL variant. However, this does not correspond to the actual purpose of the canonical tag, since the individual pages of the page navigation do not represent duplicates!

5.2. hreflang tag

The hreflang tag also refers to pages with identical content, but in different languages. By using this tag, on the one hand, duplicate content is prevented and, on the other hand, it is ensured that Google understands the geographic orientation of the website and plays out the corresponding language version or regional URL of a content for the user.

6. Breadcrumbs: Linking without reference meaning

Linking via breadcrumb navigation has a slightly different meaning than is the case with a classic link. It shows a hierarchy and helps the user to know at any time where he is in the hierarchy of a website.

The following is an example of breadcrumb navigation:

Home> Sports shoes> Brand> Puma> Puma SPEEDSEO 2

So that search engines understand the Breadcrumb navigation, you should mark it in the source code using microdata, RDFa or JSON-LD. With this award, Google recognizes that these are not simply classic links, but that they represent a hierarchy.

Another advantage of this award: The breadcrumb navigation is displayed in Google in the search results in the URL line as rich snippets, which looks like this:

Conclusion

Optimizing the internal link is not difficult if you observe the points mentioned. Every webmaster should therefore take a closer look at his internal links and exploit possible ranking potential. The effort is worth it, because you are often rewarded with better rankings and happier visitors.

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