Internal Linking: The Benefits Of Great Information Architecture For SEO

Every time I write a requirements document for SEO, I make sure to address Usability and Information Architecture. I like to think that Google will reward sites that do have good Information Architecture because it is mostly always search engine friendly designs that support crawlability and indexing. This is usually the reason I spend a lot of time with the User Experience team or UX designers, because working closely with them will only help influence a search engine friendly design built into the product requirements. I’m not going to sit here and say that I win every time, but, I’ll take a win where I can get it. Aside from all the awesome acronyms, I thought I would share some of the things that I have seen influence IA, UX, and SEO.

Sub-Pages and Navigation

Deep Content websites have a ton of content that requires you to split pages up and helps from both a standpoint of clean Information Architecture of main page to sub-page. Similar to category and sub-category indexes, entertainment content like Movies, TV, Celebrities and Music all have deep content types and indexes, putting it all on one page would be one incredibly long, unusable page with a horrible user experience. Oh, and that page would probably take 20 seconds to load even on today’s speedy internet connections. I think it’s fairly obvious that pages and sub-page types exist, so, taking a few minutes to think it through is probably a good idea.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are navigational elements that are designed to help the user experience of a website by leaving a trail of where are user is browsing on the site. From an SEO standpoint, breadcrumbs are extremely useful because of all the internal links that are created as you get deeper into the content. For sites with a lot of deep content or a large index of pages, this can be especially helpful because the number of internal links grows exponentially.

Example of a Breadcrumb:
So, let’s say I was designing a breadcrumb for Myspace and I was on the Kim Kardashian topic page. It would look something like this:
Home > Celebrities > Kim Kardashian

And, by the way, the term “Breadcrumb” is probably one of the coolest web terms used…how could you not use them on your site?!

In-Page Navigation

In-Page Navigational links can be referenced in a few different ways, from jump-links to on-page anchors, etc. It’s actually one of the oldest forms of navigation from the web 1.0 days when websites didn’t have fancy menu’s, navigation elements, etc. Today, you’ll still see many sites use in-page navigation to guide users through FAQs or even through large pages. Wikipedia and IMDB are great examples of this as they have fairly long pages and help users move through page content fairly easily.

Now, from an SEO standpoint, this is awesome for internal linking because, URL fragments (#) (and, everything the follows) that are used in on-page anchors are ignored by search engines and therefore creates links internal to that page. While It is debatable from an SEO standpoint, you can leverage URL fragments for SEO benefits in AJAX as well.

Related Links

Related links are a gold-mine and one of my favorite types of ways to leverage User Experience for SEO purposes. From a page to page browsing standpoint, they are great at increase page views while users stay engaged, clicking through your website content. There are all types of implementations from modules in sidebar’s, sub-page sections, and link lists to navigate users through a website. Many of these examples range from “Songs similar to…”, “You might also like…”, or “Top Lists.” Here are some examples from Kanye West’s HAM song page on Myspace:

User Experience and SEO

I tried to show some of the key examples of how user experience and SEO teams can work together. But, there are so many more examples out there and every website and product have different use cases. The key is to work together to create richer and smarter user experiences on the web. And, you can pretty much guarantee that by creating that solid UI, with a well thought out content architecture, you’re site will be search engine friendly. This helps overall SEO strategies through strong internal linking that increases crawl paths and rich anchor text links on your website. An overall win-win for UX and SEO in my opinion.

I make it a point to talk to user experience professionals daily to understand how they think and talk through various scenarios. There are countless times where they have helped me think outside the box on projects and through a simple brainstorm, come up with better SEO solutions for a page, product, or website.

Internal Link Architecture for your website

Part of any link building campaign should always include the internal Link Architecture that you have within your domain and off the domain for link building activities. I tend to use the term Link Architecture because it is similar to the Information Architecture (I.A.) that is used within your site. The Link Architecture will give you a naming convention for text links and image alt text used for links on your domain or for any other link building.

To preface, I would say that it is important to have some sort of I.A. for your site prior to building out your pages. This can be done quickly by writing the information down on notecard(s). That being said, I would always recommend to create a formal I.A. and Link Architecture documentation. The benefit of creating formalized documentation is that you can pass it around within your organization to creative and development teams or an agency that could quite possibly be working with your organization.

Documenting your Link Architecture and link text and/or image ALT text will provide a frame of reference.

When a search engine crawls a web page it associates the link text to the page it is linking to, which then associates link value to your page. An example of this is using the link text “web design” that points to “web-design-services.php.” Doing so will tell a search engine that the page you are going to is specifically about “Web Design.” These are the types of associations that should be created, documented and implemented for any and all link building in order to get the most link value possible for the associated keywords or key terms.

The naming convention used also applies to the image ALT text that are linked as well. All images that are linked should contain the contextual text within the ALT tag. For example, if you have an image that has a link pointing to a developer referral program page, the image ALT text should be example that, “Developer Referral Program.”

Something to look out for is using the terms “click here” and “this” for link text, which is a bad naming convention. Using this type of link text will not provide any context to the user and also to search engines, and along with that, it does not offer any link value to your domain.

The crucial thing to remember is that associating keywords to the link text when performing any link building or submitting to directories will pass the link popularity and PageRank value to the keyword you have associated to a web page. This in turn, makes your pages more relevant to search engines and will most definitely increase your rankings.

Related Article(s):
Sculpting PageRank using rel=”nofollow” for your internal Link Architecture

Sculpting PageRank using rel=nofollow for Link Architecture

Over the years I’ve been practicing a lot of different techniques with my internal link architecture. One of the things that I have been doing more and more of is evaluating when to use the rel=”nofollow” tag on the internal links.

Why is this important?
Well, in order to make the content within your site more relevant, you need to tell the search engine what is and is not relevant. Using rel=”nofollow” within your internal link architecture is a great way identify links that you do not want ranked well within the SERPs.

For example, contact us pages, FAQ pages, help pages, etc. are really not pages that most people want to be ranking well. By using rel=”nofollow” on those links, you are telling the search algorithm not to pass any link juice or PageRank (google specific) to the linked page.

How do you do this?
Start by establishing a listing of the types of pages that I talk about above. Next, you are going to want to do a site wide update of your links. For example, its as simple as updating your markup to the following:

Now that you have all the major ones out of the way, I recommend taking a few minutes to analyze your links on a page by page basis to see where you want to distribute the link value within your web site.

That’s all!

It is a fairly simple process, but one that I find especially crucial when I start looking at the Information Architecture and Link Architecture of any website.

Related Articles:
Website Link Architecture for link text and Image ALT text