October 13, 2009
How To

Target Internal Site Links for Improved SEO: 7 Tactics

SUMMARY: SEO programs often focus on adding in-bound links. But don’t forget that your website contains hundreds of internal links that affect search engine rankings.

We spoke with one of the search industry’s top linking experts to learn how to use internal links to improve SEO. Includes seven tactics, such as areas to test and assumptions to avoid.
When it comes to improving your website’s organic search rankings, inbound links from outside sources are important. But they are not the only links that matter. Your internal links -- the links that point visitors to different parts of your site -- can be modified to improve your natural search results.

To learn more about the value of on-site links, we spoke to linking expert and SEO authority Eric Ward, President, EricWard.com. Below are the seven tactics he recommends for making the most of a site’s internal links.

These tactics are most likely to help a website that has five or 10 years of history, decent rankings, and no previous focus on on-site optimization. New sites without many inbound links and credibility are less likely to benefit.

Tactic #1. Establish benchmarks and start testing

For all the tactics listed below, it is best to establish baselines for your site’s performance and start testing changes.

For example, if you’re planning to change your site’s navigation, set a baseline average for:
o Number of clicks on each link
o Traffic to each linked-to page
o Conversions on each page
o Search rankings of each page

Once you make a change -- such as adjusting a link's anchor text, or adding links to pages -- use these benchmarks to monitor performance.

- Rankings aren’t everything

Remember that the goal is to increase the number of conversions on your website. Higher rankings can help conversions, but there is no guarantee.

"The quicksand here is that you forget testing about the user and only test for Google," Ward says.

- Avoid absolutes

Testing is vitally important because every website and industry is unique. There are no absolute rules that apply to all situations. Without testing, it is impossible to know how many internal links a page should have, or whether it’s risky to have more than 50% of its links with identical anchor text.

Tactic #2. Tweak links’ anchor text

The hyperlinked text of a link -- its anchor text -- helps signal to search engines what type of content is on the destination page. Using your target keywords in the anchor text of on-site links can boost the pages’ performance in searches for those keywords.

For example, say you ran a link analysis on your website and realized that the product page for a popular product has 30 in-bound links on your site. If only 10% of those links are using a target keyword in the anchor text, you might increase that percentage by re-writing the links.

How much should you increase it? Again, it’s impossible to know without testing.

Tactic #3. Unearth interior content

Internal links from popular pages can increase visibility -- and visits -- to areas of your site that are lagging.

"Probably one of the most overlooked tactics is using the power of your most visited pages, especially your homepage, as a way to expose the interior content that otherwise might not be as widely known," says Ward.

For example, Ward suggests adding a ‘featured content this month’ section of links to a homepage, and pointing it to rotating areas of the site. Site owners could repurpose or repackage older content to use for this strategy to cut down on costs.

"It’s almost like ‘What does Macy’s put in the window?’"

Tactic #4. Test no-follow links

Some marketers believe that internal links from high-traffic pages need to be rationed, so that the power of that traffic benefits pages they want to rank higher. The rationing is sometimes done with no-follow tags.

For example, links from a homepage to an ‘About Us’ or a privacy policy page might have no-follow tags to avoid using up some of the homepage’s value. Links to more important pages, such as a product category page, are not given the tags.

Ward does not advocate using this strategy, because he believes the concern over diffusing a page's ranking power is overblown. This is another area that could be tested to improve a site’s performance.

Tactic #5. Test navigation links

Some sites have navigation sections that feature dozens of links to different pages. These blocks of text links can be less than user friendly, but many site owners believe the huge list of navigation links improves a site’s natural search performance.

However, Ward suggests testing using fewer links, or perhaps rotating through your entire list of navigation options. This technique can improve the user experience, which often has a way of improving your natural search results.

"If you let the user experience drive your choices, it gets easier. But you still run into the same challenge, which is ‘What do we show versus what do we not show?’" Ward says.

Tactic #6. Analyze "orphaned" pages

While analyzing your website’s internal links, you might notice that some pages have been orphaned. They have one or no links pointing to and/or from them.

- Sometimes this orphaned content can be valuable. It can be updated or repurposed, and linked to other portions of your website.

- Other times the content has little value, such as a five-year-old press release on a new hire that has since left the company.

Look for these orphans and decide whether they should have less or more link exposure on your site.

Tactic #7. Watch for new keywords

Search habits change, and you may see an increase or decrease in traffic being sent to your site from certain keywords.

Keep an eye on these keyword trends and watch for any upstarts that might be worth testing as new anchor text in relevant on-site links.

Your site’s internal search tool is also a good place to look for new phrases, Ward says.

Useful links related to this article:

Special Report: Missing Links? 7 Traffic-Building Tips to Boost SEO

How to Measure SEO Effectively: 7 Tactics


Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions