Dave Chaffey - Insights Director at ClickThrough Marketing, The Search Conversion Experts

Dr Dave Chaffey discusses why so many businesses still fail to fully exploit the power of internal linking, why it matters, and offers some quick-win suggestions that might help even those with inflexible sites leverage the power of internal links for SEO and navigational gain.

We all know that quality backlinks from authoritative sites are essential to SEO success in competitive markets. We also know that this is hard work and takes a lot of investment in outstanding quality content to attract the links and PR outreach to obtain these links.

With so much emphasis and effort on external links, perhaps opportunities to improve rankings through internal links on sites we own are missed. Many mid to large companies have multiple sites which give lots opportunities to link between sites highlighting relevant product or service keywords in the anchor text. But if links do exist they often simply reference the brand name rather than the service and they will just provide a link to the home page. Much better to create a targeted deep link to a specific product category, particularly since these types of links are more difficult to obtain from third-parties.

Within a site there are also opportunities to link with relevant anchor text. Typically this is achieved through the navigation, which is fine, but there are other opportunities. Secondary or tertiary navigation links within pages of a section of a site referencing a particular product category, but expanding on the short keywords used in the main navigation can really help improve rankings for that term.

Of course to improve links within navigation or page templates will likely require a redesign and this will restrict many companies who due to inflexibility of their page templates, content management system or budget restrictions will only complete a design refresh every 2 to 4 years! It’s frustrating that in 2010 it’s still so difficult and costly to redesign and change the information architecture.

One form of internal linking is relatively easy and quick, but opportunities are often missed because copywriters don’t know the importance of it, or the importance of search engine optimisation. I’m talking about editorial links which are within the body copy of a page, separate from the main navigation. These links are also beneficial from a usability point of view since they engage visitors and can be used as “scent trails” to introduce visitors to particular products or offers.

Over the years, the weight of editorial links has increased as this video shows since Google has reduced the impact of approaches such as site-wide footer links. However, footer links or mini-sitemaps are another internal linking approach that is still worth pursuing.

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About the author:

John Newton has 14 years of strategic marketing experience across Online Display, Search Marketing and TV and Outdoor Advertising, in companies which include Yahoo!, ITV and TNS Global. John has written on blog monetisation for Web Designer magazine and was the editor of ClickThrough’s two books. John is a CIM Chartered Marketer.