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Internal linking strategy: new research offers early mover advantages

    How important is an internal linking strategy?

    We’ve known for a long time that the search engines such as Google and Bing recommend internal links on websites.

    These ‘in-house’ links act as signposts, helping people to quickly navigate from one page of your website to another to find what they are searching for.

    So good navigation equals a better user experience.

    But how important is it for SEO (search engine optimisation) and ranking high in the SERPs (search engine results pages)?

    Several studies – one by Zyppy and another by Authority Hacker – have demonstrated a clear connection between internal links and increased traffic from search engines.

    Link variety matters

    Zippy says popular pages on the Internet usually have “a wide variety of anchor text variations from external links “.

    Link anchor text is the words you use in the link to point people to another page. They click on it and it takes them to that page. In the example below, the link is blue. The anchor text is “launch and hosting”

    Internal linking strategy: new research offers early mover advantages

    We already knew about links that point externally. However, this study shows the same to be true for internal links. It found those pages with a wide variety of link anchor text pointing to them did well in gaining more search traffic.

    The theory is that if you have internal links with all the same words, Google may see it as one “editorial link”. This would be true if you had one link for 100 links internally using the same descriptive and context. Clearly you don’t want that. If you go to the trouble of linking internally, you want to be rewarded for your efforts.

    By the way, the study found it to be true for large and small sites alike. So whether you are a government website or local dentist or pre-school, it is just as effective.

    Naked URL links

    Another interesting result from the Zyppy study was to do with naked URL anchors. This is basically a web address, such as

    Google has historically advised webmasters against this. However, the study found it did not cause a markdown or penalty. In fact, used occasionally as part of a SEO strategy that employs a variety of descriptors for anchor text, it showed up as a benefit.

    Exact Keyword Match Links

    There has been some discussion about whether SEO tactics should include links using the exact wording in your anchor text that you are optimising a web page for. This study found that it was beneficial but should not be overused.

    What does this mean for your website design?

    Website designers should be including text with internal links in their initial concepts. Developing a website is a team game and you should start with best practice foundations.

    The actual use of anchor text needs to be thought about from an over-arching viewpoint.

    In the same way you would nominate keywords to target for each page, the links that point to this page and the anchor text used should also be documented in this plan. If you don’t, you are guaranteed this will be an ad hoc approach. You won’t maximise the benefits of a well thought out strategy.

    The other reason to document the strategy – and update it – is for new staff. When your marketing department SEO expert leaves the company, you don’t want all that knowledge being lost.

    The best advantage a strategic keyword anchor text approach will give your website is the fact that you are actually doing it. Very few companies are taking the initiative with internal links. They take a scattershot approach.

    By seizing the initiative and being rewarded by Google, Bing etc, you are adding one more reason for your website to be listed high on page one of the search results.

    It also brings discipline to your SEO marketing strategy. If you have a multi-channel plan, which is documented and measured, you have a far chance of success. Harvard Business Review research states that “Entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than the otherwise identical non-planning entrepreneurs.

    Other studies suggest that organisations with a business plan – and that includes a marketing plan, which would contain your digital strategy – are 50% more likely to survive.

    We bring a evidence based web design principles to each web project. Just as importantly, we take a business-like approach. The latter requires not just good planning, it requires superior implementation because good plans often gather cobwebs once they are written.

    All of that combines into organisational discipline. If you bring that discipline to bear with your SEO efforts and you use world’s best practice strategies, then you are guaranteed to rank higher than your opposition.

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