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Internal Linking and Stucture Optimization

SEO strategy, tips & questions. How to optimize web pages. Search engine algorithms. What affects your rankings. This is where you'll find all discussions related to Search Engine Optimization.

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Internal Linking and Stucture Optimization

Postby RyanMoran » Fri Jul 03, 2009 1:18 am

Just posted this over at Sitepoint, and thought it would help some people here, as well:


In Part One of this beginners’ series about search engine optimization, basic on-page and off-page strategy was revealed, and we ruffled the feathers of those who disagreed. Today, we’re going to do it again. ;)

See Part One Here:

There were those who wanted to challenge my credibility, and that is fine – I expect it on a good forum. While I prefer to not “sell” my credibility, I’ve worked with the Sitepoint owners personally, am sought for consulting and SEO help, currently have seven (7) full-time SEO employees, and my competitors hate me. Let it be known that I’m writing to help the SEO beginners who have never been helped, because I see a lot of myths being taught here… so for those of you who disagree, that is fine, but remember that my goal is to help (and to debunk your misconceptions ;) ).

In part two of this series, I’d like to dive deeper into on-page structure and internal linking.

On-Page Structure:

As specified in Part One, I believe on-page optimization (that is, h1 tags, title tags, image attributes/descriptions, bolded keyword in the footer, keyword density) to be important, but vastly inferior to the importance of link building.

One aspect of optimization that was brought up by a reader of Part One was having keywords in the domain. Here’s my take:

For on-page optimization, having the keyword in the domain does very little for Google. It WILL help for other search engines, but not so much for Google. However, there are plenty of article directories and bookmarking sites that do not allow for anchor text. Therefore, having the keyword in your domain still allows you to get link love, even though you don’t get to choose the anchor text. In other words, the URL is essentially the anchor text, which gives you at least some credit when your keyword shows up in the domain. Therefore, I believe you SHOULD attempt to have your keyword in your domain, even though it does little for the on-page optimization side of things.

Optimization, however, is different than your on-page structure, and the overall structure of your site can have a profound effect on your overall ranking. Here’s why:

1) Google takes into account your internal links.
2) Google is strongly influenced by human activity and uses it as a factor. Put simply, if humans stay on your site longer than they stay on other sites, your ranking will increase.

Therefore, your site’s structure does matter. And if your pages are optimized, then each external link that you acquire will become more powerful.

It makes sense, then, to optimize your site’s structure for both humans and for robots. One way to do “manipulate” this, if you will, is by using a “rel=’nofollow’” tag. Here’s how it works:

When you use this tag in your link, the search engines pass it over and don’t count it as a “vote.” In other words, if I have 100 links pointing to my blog that say “Ryan Moran,” but all of the links have the “rel=nofollow” tag, then I will get zero points from Google. I may still get traffic, but no link love from Google.

If you’ve ever heard it said that you need to be careful when you make a comment on a blog because it might have “nofollow,” this is what they are referring to. Again, this is because a link with a nofollow tag will not pass along any credit.

However, you can use this tag on your site to your advantage to optimize your internal linking structure. Here’s how:

In simple terms, the more links you have on a site, the less value each one has. In other words, if you’ve got links to your home page, five internal pages, your external link partners, an 'about me' section, some articles, and some miscellaneous external pages, the value of each link can get diluted pretty quickly.

This is especially true if you have a low-pagerank site. If your Google pagerank is 6, then you’ve got enough to spread around to more links, but if your rank is 1, then it can get used up very quickly.

But, you can minimize this by using the “nofollow” tag on links that are unnecessary. For example, your site navigation often exists so that humans can easily find pages on your site. However, the anchor text of the links does not represent what keywords are being targeted. Therefore, you can use the nofollow tag on your navigation to prevent them from using up your link juice.

To implement this tag, it looks like this:
< a rel=”nofollow” href=”[url]”[/url] >Anchor Text< /a >

If you use the nofollow tag on links that are not important, you can raise the effectiveness of each link. This does two things for you:

1) Allows you to keep links on your site that are made for HUMANS, without flooding your site with links that dilute the quality of each one.
2) Allows you to link internally to your site with maximum effectiveness.

For sake of reference, here are the pages that I will link to without the nofollow tag:

- Internal Pages that I’m trying to get high in the search engines
- External links to high PR sites, like Wikipedia, that exist to raise my Quality Score or Google relevance (remember, Google likes to see that you’ve linked to outside authority sites).
- External links that are reciprocal or sold to another person.

In this way, you can optimize your site for humans (and increase the time that they spend on your website) while manipulating the internal linking structure for Google.

So, here’s a recap of some main points:

- Internal linking matters
- Human activity matters
- Number of links matters
- You can minimize the number of links that Google sees by using a “nofollow” tag, thus increasing the validity of each internal link.
- Sites made for humans can be optimized for search engine spiders.

Objection: Those who frown at this model will suggest that Google will have a hard time indexing all the pages of the site. This is why I always have a link to the Sitemap on my page, which Google will index and crawl each link. Plus, I expect that external links to each of the deep pages will exist, as well, allowing for sites to be indexed.

Internal Linking:

Others disagree, but it is my opinion that Google sees an internal link the same as it sees an external link. For example, when a story obtains first-page listing on Digg, it will likely rank well on Google, even if it has no external links. Therefore, internal links are often overlooked and very powerful, given that they are relevant and of high quality (just like external links).

My sites are usually divided into what I call “hubs.” If I have a hub about muscle building, then the main page of it will link out to the reviews of muscle building products. A link from a page about “muscle building” will have a very targeted link to a page about “Vince Delmonte Fitness Review.” At the same time, a link from my hub about Hoodia weight loss will be much less relevant.

In other words, your internal linking structure should follow the same rules as your external factors: link to pages that are relevant.

Internal linking is especially effective in a strategy that I call the “Competition Crippler.” This is a guaranteed way to really tick off your customers, and it involves getting a double listing on the search engines. Here’s how it works:

Once you are on the first page of Google for any term, it is very easy to get a second listing on the same page. Therefore, you can have spots #1 and #2 instead of just one of them. Sometimes, a second page that ranks on page #5 will leap to page #1 with this technique. This works well for me, because I’m often able to knock a competitor below the fold when I have two listings on the same page.

It is very easy to do this if you have an efficient internal linking structure. Once you’re on the first page of Google, link THAT page to a secondary page on your website that is at least partly optimized for the SAME term.

If your primary page is on the first page of Google, then it can be assumed that Google sees it as authoritative on the topic. Therefore, if you link it to a secondary page, it is a very, VERY powerful link for the search term. As a result, you can achieve a double listing on the front page without having to do much extra SEO.

Remember that all aspects of SEO become easier when your page and your structure is well optimized. Each link carries more weight, external links become more effective, and you can rank other pages higher.

I’m aware that some of this is deep, and it may go over some of your heads. Feel free to post your questions, and I’ll do my best.
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Postby RyanMoran » Fri Jul 03, 2009 9:07 am

Clarification regarding Matt Cutts' recent statements regarding nofollow:

Matt Cutts did make some (very controversial and disputed) claims at the SMX conference this year suggesting that nofollow no longer applies to site sculpting, but tests have shown that this has yet to affect the ranking of sites that are sculpted.

(See this humorous video by Dan Theiss about it:

So Matt is saying that using nofollow will NOT increase the value of the other links on the site, but that nofollow is still valuable when you do not want to "vouche" for a link. If we assume that this is correct, then site sculpting still has value, but it would be more focused on increasing the relevancy of the pages within the site instead of the power of the links.

For example, if you use nofollow on your navigation (assuming that your navigation has links to not-so-related content from other parts of your site) then your "hub" becomes more targeted for the topic at hand. As a result, you INCREASE the relevance of each of the links on your page, even if extra pagerank does not pass through. Does that make sense?

I don't know how Google's claims on nofollow are going to change the ranks of people who have used it in the past... but when Google updates, I usually benefit, so I'm still doing (and teaching) stuff that works for me, and I certainly have not seen adverse affects from the supposed change. So even if Cutts is not being misunderstood, and nofollow does not change amount of Pagerank that is passed, it still can increase the relevance of each of the links that are passed, which still has value.
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Re: Internal Linking and Stucture Optimization

Postby lindastacy » Fri Jul 03, 2009 9:37 am

RyanMoran wrote:.....I’m aware that some of this is deep, and it may go over some of your heads. Feel free to post your questions, and I’ll do my best.

Actually, your post is one of the most understandable explanations I've come across. Admittedly, SEO is not one of my strong suits and quite often when I try to read about it, my eyes just glaze over and I end up glossing over the whole thing. But I read every word of this post and bookmarked it for future reference. Particularly helpful to me is that much of it is in "simple terms" and you explain why you do things the way you do. I also like that you include the objections and your response to them (when I see the objections elsewhere I won't have to wonder what you think of them).

Thank you.

This morning I've been looking for information about directory submissions which you mention in the Sitepoint post. I'll post my a question or two in a new thread here.
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Postby terrapin719 » Fri Jul 03, 2009 11:21 am

I agree with Linda, you explained your points very well and in a pretty understandable way compared to most folks that talk SEO.
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Postby RyanMoran » Fri Jul 03, 2009 3:50 pm

Thanks guys! I'm glad it was helpful! I really appreciate the kind words.
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Postby angienewton » Fri Jul 03, 2009 11:03 pm

Always helpful Ryan! Thanks.
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Postby nhynes57 » Sat Jul 04, 2009 4:14 am

Great post. I agree that internal links are very important as Google ranks pages and not sites.
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