Internal SEO & Linking Structure: It's Not Just About Keywords, Anymore

Nov 22, 2017


Article ImageAs we approach 2018 and reassess our online marketing strategies for the new year, take a moment to think about internal SEO. In the rapidly changing SEO landscape, the prospect of finding the ideal internal SEO strategy is intimidating. What can you do to rank better in the SERPs, find more online traffic, and ultimately, generate more sales?

Think about SEO from the perspective of the minds behind Google. Through deep learning — defined by Maryville University as “a subset of machine learning (which is, in turn, a subset of artificial intelligence) that focuses on neural networks” — the goals of the developers behind Google is to generate search results that genuinely benefit the user.

As a result, each algorithm change brings the search engine closer to its intended purpose. It’s getting harder and harder to “game the system” with exploitive linkbuilding strategies and blackhat SEO. In short, it’s not just about keywords; it’s about creating a cohesive and appealing user experience. This is known as organic optimization.

A strong linking structure and other internal SEO best practices can provide that. Here are four considerations to keep in mind when optimizing the internal SEO of your website:

HTML Tags

Let’s start off with an integral part of a solid internal SEO strategy: you must use HTML tags on your website. While this might seem like basic knowledge, thousands of businesses suffer from inconsistent (or absent) title, header, and blog post tags.

Tags are intended to give search engines a method of understanding the site’s architecture. Google will compare a page’s title tag to content on the page to check for keyword consistency, which means you need to be attentive when optimizing SEO. Header tags (ranging from h1-h6, with h1 being the highest in importance) give Google a greater idea of the hierarchy of your page, and text within those sections must also be consistent; effective header tag usage has been associated with notable increases in SERP rankings. Finally, blog post tags are intended to specify which topics your content covers. Such tags make it easier for Google to understand your site and for visitors to find your content.

One question that often arises in regards to HTML tags and linking is whether or not internal links should be “nofollowed.” “Rel=’nofollow’” instructs Google to not allow PageRank to flow through the link. For this reason, Matt Cutts, a former software engineer for Google, suggests not using the nofollow tag at all for internal links. By all means, however, exercise discretion when it comes to external links that may harm your SEO.

Finally, div elements can help be used to optimize website navigation. Header jumps are a useful method of helping customers access specific information without frustration or wasting time. By using div tags, you can easily jump to specific sections of your website by adding a pound and the element name at the end of a link. So, for instance, if the title of a piece of content has the div tag “<div id="main-content">”, simply adding “#main-content” at the end of a link would skip to the header of your article. This can be done to nearly any element of your site, and it can be especially useful in long-form pieces of content, as seen in articles on Wikipedia. 

Internal On-Page Linking

This naturally leads to a discussion of the importance of on-page linking. Internal links form the basis of organization and structure for your website. They also impact your rankings; a website with poor or inconsistent internal linking will suffer in the SERPs. As noted by SEO experts at Moz, “internal links are most useful for establishing site architecture and spreading link juice.”

On-page linking is an essential piece of the puzzle, and they impact link juice in more ways than you might anticipate. For example, links to content matter more to Google than mere navigation links. Furthermore, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that frequently used, highly visible links are more impactful than those hidden away in footers. Help consumers navigate your content by utilizing internal on-page linking. 

Internal Backlinks

Internal backlinks connect different assets — including content, product pages, or other information — together. Naturally, external backlinks will lead to increased brand exposure and sales. However, when you publish new content, you need to also include internal links to other pages on your website. When done correctly, this will lead potential customers to explore your content, improve sales, and improve your SEO rankings.

A major consideration when creating internal backlinks is how you link different assets together. Some website developers will use exact match anchor text, meaning the text linking to an asset directly indicates the content of that asset. So, for instance, the anchor text linking to plumbing service in New York might read, “plumbers in New York.” While this tactic is fine in moderation, you may find your site getting penalized if you do employ it too often.

Since the Penguin algorithm update in September 2016, Google has been watchful for anchor text keyword density. Leaning on exact anchor text too frequently appears suspicious to the search engine, which could result in worsened SEO rankings. This rule applies to internal links as well as external, so be mindful.

The best practice for internal linking is to think primarily about the user experience. Organically link to assets in a way that streamlines the buyer’s journey. When choosing anchor text, select phrases that make sense to the reader within the context of the content. These phrases may even contain exact match words. What’s important is that you do not create duplicate links and improve the link diversity of your website and target pages. Not only will this approach make Google happier, it will improve the chances that visitors will visit those pages. 

Utilizing Relevancy for Onsite Content

Links aren’t just for navigation; they are also a tool for guiding potential customers through the marketing funnel. “Relevance” is defined by the customer’s place in the buyer’s journey. Top-funnel content needs to answer general questions related to your industry and provide useful information to a wide range of people. Mid-funnel content should help readers with specific problems and demonstrate your expertise. Bottom-funnel content should promote your service or product and explain how you can provide a solution to the customer’s problem.

Top-funnel content should link to relevant mid-funnel content, which should then link to bottom-funnel content. For example, let’s imagine you run a website selling bicycles. if a customer has a passing interest in biking, an article about the most popular bike race events in America would be a valuable piece of top-funnel content. This article could link to a piece that discusses the best racing bicycles. The customer would then access deeper content that discusses specific products that your business sells. Links are integral for connecting each piece of content, ultimately leading to a potential sale.

The relevancy is dictated by the buyer’s place in the marketing funnel, though timeliness is another important factor. For this reason, you must continuously update your site with fresh, relevant content. Keep abreast of the news and explore the benefits of custom content to keep your audience engaged. Never forget, Google rewards those who post regularly.

These are a few considerations to keep in mind when planning and optimizing your site’s internal SEO and linking structure. By properly using HTML tags, on-page linking, and internal backlinking, you can streamline your site to best serve your customers. By creating relevant content that guides users through the marketing funnel, you can improve sales and generate more interest in your brand. Internal SEO isn’t just about keywords anymore; it’s about creating an authentic and engaging user experience.


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