John Doherty from Distilled New York City on White Board Friday offers an excellent discussion to do better and smarter internal linking. How do you do this with Penguin on the prowl? This video answers that and gives excellent tips on how to make your rankings better using links without getting penguin slapped across your website’s face.
Howdy, SEOmoz fans. My name is John Doherty. I’m from Distilled in New York City, out here in Seattle for about a week, for MozCon. I came out here a couple days early, and SEOmoz was happy enough to let me shoot a Whiteboard Friday for you.
This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. It’s the topic of internal linking. Today, in a post-Penguin world, we need to be careful about how we’re linking to the other pages on our websites, both internally and externally.
Internal linking is a factor in Penguin, from what we’ve seen. I’ve been digging around on a lot of travel sites recently for a client, and I realized that sites that are in competitive niches, such as travel – there are a bunch of others that you can think of that we all may or may not have worked in at some point – that use a lot of internal links, site-wide footers especially, point to here site-wide footers in order to drive targeted anchor text deep into their site.
The problem I’ve been noticing here is that when you have a set-up like this, this is a beautiful little webpage that I drew for you, with a little URL bar, and I guess this is Chrome because we’ve got the extensions there, maybe a map here. You’ve got some text, and you’ve got your different products through here. It’s just going to be an e-commerce site, or it could be a travel site. Here are sidebar links. So this could be your categories, what have you. But then often here, in the footer, there are links that say, “Atlanta Hotels, London Hotels, New York Hotels,” and they’re on every single page of the website. If you have a site that has 200,000 product pages, you have 200,000 links saying this. One term, two-
word term, key term, pointing back to that page. Something is going to look a little bit suspicious, right?
What I’ve been seeing here, as I’ve been going through, doing some competitive analysis, is I look at their search visibility using a tool. I use a tool called Search Metrics Essentials. I look, and a lot of them, their traffic is going up. It’s ticking up.
Get to the Venice update, which happened back end of March or the beginning of April, which basically prioritized local content. This especially affected the travel industry, so category pages weren’t ranking quite as well. They were bumping up the most well-linked-to individual hotel pages, what have you. Traffic dropped for most of them. Almost every single travel site I’ve seen, traffic dropped. It happens. Google made an algorithm change.
Then they take tick along, and we get to the next algorithm update, Penguin. Every single site that I’ve seen that has site-wide links like this, boom, dropped. Most of them have recovered a little bit. They’ve started ticking back up, but almost every single one has dropped. The sites that didn’t, that are not linked this way, might have seen a little bit of a dip, but by and large they were good.
So what’s going on here? The only thing I can think of, when it comes to internal linking, that I can see on these sites was these site-wide footers. They’re also doing this externally. A lot of these brands, especially, have microsites, individual hotel sites that are linking back using the exact same footer as is on the main website. Same terms on every single page on those sites. Multiply this by four thousand, five thousand, ten thousand, once again, you have thousands upon thousands of links saying these terms. This is a problem.
Today I want to talk about smarter internal linking. How can we link to our important pages in a smarter way? I have a few points for you. How can we be smarter? This is the question we should ask ourselves. How can we be smarter about our internal linking?
Question number one: Go back to the user. What would the user expect to see? Google wants to reward a good user experience. They want people to be able to find what they want to find as quickly as possible. So I always start with the user. What is a person going to expect to see? Then, from an SEO perspective, I think, “Which pages are the most competitive?” You go and you do your keyword research, maybe use SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty tool. You look at the SERPs. You figure out which sites are ranking. You look at all the links that they have. Which ones are going to be the hardest to rank for? Especially if you’re working in-house, you probably know what this. You probably think off the top of your head, “Oh yeah, I know this keyword.” This one is going to take a lot more, not only external links, but also internal.
So which pages are the most competitive? You need to prioritize those, but not the way that I just showed you. The third point is think about your taxonomy. Think about the page types on your site. I’ve drawn out here a little site architecture for you, right? We start with our home page, and then this is another page type of ours, the category. Then we have the product, and then we have the product details. If we’re keeping with the hotels example, it’s going to be your home page, domain.com. Your category, domain.com/londonhotels, or language/londonhotels, what have you. Product, so this is going to be a hotel page. Product detail, this could be like amenities for the hotel or something like that. It’s a subpage of your product page.
Obviously, these are going to be your most important pages. They’re higher in your site architecture. They’re going to be more useful to the users. These are going to be the ones Google wants to serve up for the competitive search terms. We link to as many of those as we can off the home page. If you have a thousand of them, how are you going to be able to do that? If you have hotels in every single city in the United States, there’s no way you can link to all of them from your home page, nor would you want to. You’re diluting your link equity basically irreparably.
Here’s another category page. This guy’s sad. He’s like, “What’s going on?
I’m getting no love at all.” Then he’s got product pages underneath there, who are also getting no love. I’m not going to link. First of all, this isn’t going to be my most competitive term. This is probably going to be like second-tier competitiveness. I’m not going to link to this guy.
Let’s say this is London, this is Atlanta, this is New York, this is Boston. I live in New York, and there’s a New York-Boston feud going on, so we’ll make Boston second-class. If you’re from Boston, I apologize. I love you guys. But I don’t want to link to the Boston page, necessarily, from the individual London product page. But it will make sense for me to link to Boston from New York, from Philadelphia, etc. It’s the same thing. If this is Atlanta, and this is New York, I don’t necessarily want to link to it. London and New York, I don’t necessarily want to link to an individual New York hotel page, but I may want to link to the New York hotel page from Boston and vice versa. We’re joining these two up. Or if I know I need to prioritize Boston a little bit, I’m just going to link to it from New York, because that has more link equity going to it, because it’s more of a direct line from the home page.
Be thinking about some creative ways that you can do this, some creative ways that you can link between your different page types and your important pages.
Some that I’ve seen, that are working, especially in the travel industry right now, are sidebars. Once again, these are not site-wides. Most of them are doing it in the form of popular products, popular locations, trending locations, something like that. A lot of them I think that they update them semi-frequently. If I was doing it, I would update them semi-frequently. Keep the main ones. Keep London and Boston, etc. Keep your very competitive ones. But then you can switch them as other keywords become competitive. If you know people are going to New York for Christmas, you can switch that out, and you can prioritize that page for a while to get that ranking right before the Christmas holiday hits.
Here’s a little pro tip for you, something that I’ve seen working. This isn’t necessarily internal linking. It’s like quasi-internal linking. Think about your ccTLDs. If your company is in the U.S. or in the U.K., in France, etc., think about how you can use the ccTLDs to link back to these pages from the relevant page on that ccTLD. So you’ve got domain.co.uk/londonhotels with UK English. Domain.com/londonhotels with U.S. English, think about how you can link from this page, from this London hotels page, back to this page. You’re still driving the targeted links. You could do it through an image. I’ve seen some sites doing it with all of the countries down in the footer. On that UK page, if you mouse over the US, it says “London Hotels,” pointing back. Super-smart way to do it. They don’t do that site-wide, and so they’re able to drive those targeted links back from a different domain. Those are going to be very valuable for them.
One last thing that I’ve mentioned briefly at the beginning here was beware of your microsites. Beware of your microsite site-wide links. If you have sitewides on your microsites, as well as on your main site, this is exactly the kind of thing that Google can easily figure out. They can see everything. They can see the code. They can see the way that it’s structured. They can look at the Who Is information. Of course, we can do things to try to finagle and try to trick Google, but those are only going to last for the short term. So think about building for the long term. Microsite site-wides are not really working anymore, from what I’ve seen, so beware of these. Think about the taxonomies within these as well. You can still link. Think about these the same as you would think about your ccTLDs, linking to the relevant pages back on your main website.
Now I want to get a little bit bluebird for you. I want to think a little bit big. If I were Google, what would I do if I were Google? If you were Google, what would you be wanting to see? How would you want people to structure their sites? How would you want people to link? What kind of content would you want on there? How should people link between all of that? Google wants the best user experience. If I’m trying to serve the best user experience, I’m not necessarily going to have a travel guide on another page. If I have a London hotels page, why I’m not going to have a travel guide that I’m sending people all around? It’s bad from a user experience. It’s bad from a conversion experience, etc. I’m going want all of that right there.
If I were Google, I’d be looking to rank sites that are like a London hotels page that also has a travel guide on there. I saw one site doing this recently. I was like, “Light bulb brilliant.” Put your travel guide there on the page. You get links saying London hotels travel guide, London hotels, hotel travel guide. You can also link to the travel guide internally so you’re not just using London hotels to link to it. That’s the kind of thing that I would want to be rewarding, if I were Google.
In summary, I hope this Whiteboard Friday has been helpful to you. I hope I’ve given you some things to think about when it comes to internal linking. Feel free to tweet at me, dohertyjf on Twitter. Email me, my email is on the Distilled website. Once again, I’m John Doherty from Distilled New York City. It’s been a pleasure. Please leave your questions and comments down below. Thanks.