How to audit your internal links

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Your website is a interconnection of pages.

Regardless of SEO and UX issues, the problem always comes down to its two basic elements:

  • The pages themselves.
  • The connections between them, aka internal links.

This makes internal linking your second priority.

So today we’re going to take a look at all the ways internal linking can hinder your site’s performance.

1. Revise the structure of the website

An optimized website is a structured website.

Too many websites have no clear organization at all.

Why is this happening?

Typically, this is because website content is added sporadically, without any real strategy. Sometimes this is due to changing business needs and things that were once important no longer.

To understand what you are working with, you need to have an overview of your website architecture.

Ensure a coherent structure

As Google’s John Mueller puts it, the way your pages are interconnected provides Google with “context.”

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Internal links help the search engine understand how your pages relate and what their roles are.

So you need to make sure that your website is not a mess of random linked pages. This makes the context of the site unclear.

You also need to make sure that the type of structure you are using is actually optimal.

Which one greatly depends on the needs of your business, but here are a few options to consider:

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  • A flat website structure this is when there are only two implicit hierarchy levels – the home page itself and the rest of the pages (linked directly from the home page). Obviously, this one can only fit smaller websites and gets really confusing when we are talking about hundreds and thousands of pages.

How to audit your internal links

  • A pyramidal structure that’s when you start with the home page and scroll down to categories, subcategories, and individual pages within those. This is one of the most common ways to organize an eCommerce store.

How to audit your internal links

  • A thematically grouped structure it’s when you group your content by themes. And not in a pyramidal way, but rather to have a “pillar” page in each cluster and a certain number of subordinate pages supporting it. The pillar page, in this case, covers the topic in general. While the subordinates, focusing on specific long tails, all refer to the “pillar”, thus “voting” for his authority on the subject:

How to audit your internal links

This tactic has become particularly popular with websites that rely heavily on blogging and has proven itself well in some experiments.

Click depth optimization

I’m not about to parrot old age three click rule.

Many experiments have shown the number of clicks does not affect user satisfaction or success rateSo there is no particular reason to make all of your content accessible in just three clicks for UX’s sake.

However, you should always consider the depth of clicks in terms of SEO, as the depth of the pages affects their importance to Google.

Sometimes click depth issues can just arise due to carelessness.

So start by identifying your most important pages. Make sure they haven’t been buried deep by accident.

Quite often, click depth issues are the result of your paging.

How to audit your internal links

I highly recommend revising your pagination.

Eliminate orphan pages

Another fairly common problem is with orphans – pages that have been completely excluded from your website structure because:

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  • They don’t have any internal links pointing to them. Most likely, these are old pages linked from deleted content or new pages that you forgot to include in the navigation.
  • You messed up with nofollowing and noindexing. As if you decided to remove your paginated pages (I’ve seen people do that…) from Google’s index. The deeper pages to which the linked paginated pages would remain accessible to users, but not to the Google bot:

How to audit your internal links

The problem with fixing orphan pages is that they are hard to find.

You can search for them in the XML sitemap (in case they were added to the sitemap but not to the navigation) and in the Google index (in case Google knows about them because of external links).

How to audit your internal links

Also run a crawl tool to analyze your website like the Google bot does and check if any ban instructions stand in its way.

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Fix duplication of content

Another common problem is that inconsistent interconnection can create duplicate versions of your pages.

Like when some of your internal links have slashes at the end, and some don’t. If no redirect is configured, these two URLs look like separate duplicate pages:

https://example.com/page1/

https://example.com/page1

The same can happen with the www and non-www versions of your site, tracking parameters in URLs, and other instances of content duplication.

The thing to keep in mind here is that you shouldn’t just configure redirects. You should fix the internal links themselves to avoid constantly triggering unnecessary redirects.

2. Audit of PageRank flow

I will not go into how PageRank actually works. I’m just going to mention this, for the Last 20 years, PageRank has been a key ranking signal from Google.

That’s why you want a well-thought-out website structure – one that naturally conveys authority to your most important pages.

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However, you still need to make sure that your website’s PageRank is gaining unhindered external feeds on the website and that it is not wasted.

Stop the evaporation of PageRank “Nofollow”

I don’t usually fall for what the Google reps have to say, but the official statement (at least one of them) goes as follows:

“When you have a page with ten PageRank points and ten outbound links, and five of those links are not being followed… the five links without nofollow would each result in one PageRank point. “

This implies that untracked internal links “evaporate” your website’s PageRank.

PageRank points move away from the original page via the link but don’t land anywhere else.

So if you are still not following your internal links, there is an easier solution:

Make sure you don’t have too many internal links pointing to your less important content.

How to audit your internal links

Freeing PageRank from dead ends

Another trap for your PageRank feed are dead end pages – pages that don’t exceed the PageRank they received elsewhere on your site.

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This can happen when the pages simply don’t have any outbound links to follow (which is a vexatious experience for both users and bots).

Also, dead ends are your:

  • Pages without index.
  • Broken links to pages 4xx and 5xx.
  • Redirect loops.
  • Etc.

These issues tend to reappear every now and then as your website changes and evolves. Therefore, auditing your broken links, redirects, and bot instructions should be your usual habit.

3. Revise the anchor text

In addition to creating a hierarchy and conveying authority, internal links play a role in the relevance of your pages.

And although these days it takes a lot more to rank a page for a keyword than just anchor text, Google still uses them to figure out what your pages are about.

Add meaningful anchors

From an SEO and user experience perspective, there hardly makes sense to meaningless anchor text like ‘click here’. They just don’t let bots and users know where the link takes them.

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So given that internal anchors are still used by Google and cannot lead to a penalty, you have every reason to put keywords there.

However, the thing to keep in mind here is the possible (although somewhat questionable) first link priority rule.

It indicates that if “Page A” refers twice to “Page B”, only the first anchor text counts for Google.

So, it might be a good idea to make your top navigation (which search engine spiders find out before moving on to the main content) keyword rich:

How to audit your internal links

Reduce image links

John Mueller of Google warns against using image links without anchor texts:

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“The only thing I would avoid doing is changing the anchor text to an image. So if you have… a fancy font or something that you want to use on your pages and you change a link from a link of text to an image link and you don’t have any type of textual link with that image for that link, then it’s really hard for us to figure out what the anchor text is supposed to be.

So if you link between pages that contain images and for some reason you want it to stay that way, at least make sure that each image has descriptive alt text.

Conclusion

I could go on and on about the various internal bonding tactics and best practices. But the three aspects covered (hierarchy, authority, and keyword relevance) are the three pillars you can start on.

Finally, don’t forget to:

  • Keep in mind how the importance of a link is affected by its position on a page.
  • Pay attention to onclick = links to JavaScript-based websites and other possible indexing issues.
  • Use relevant Schema.org markup to breadcrumbs, internal bio links (Due to TO EAT), and lists (now available for Recipes, Movies, Classes, and Articles).

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More resources:


Image credits

Featured Image: Created by Author, April 2019
In-post images and screenshots created / taken by author, April 2019



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