Search Marketers’ 5 Best Practices for Internal Linking

Internal links function a lot like road signs for the Internet. You reach your destination faster when they are clear and lead you in the right direction. Internal links perform a similar function for popular search engines. They use them to guide visitors to relevant information on your website.

Internal links function a lot like road signs for the Internet. You reach your destination faster when they are clear and lead you in the right direction.

Internal links perform a similar function for popular search engines. They use them to guide visitors to relevant information on your website.

First, What Is Internal Linking?

Internal links connect the pages of your website to one another. You may be discussing a topic like making sunflower oil and link to a previously written article on different types of equipment you can use in this process. Doing so helps apply structure and logic to the design of your website.

By adding internal linking, you can:

  • Define the architecture of your website
  • Help users navigate through your site
  • Give pages throughout your site more “SEO power” to help ranking and authority

Internal linking helps Google and other search engines find clear paths to your content. They also encourage users to linger on your website longer and build a tight network of posts and pages.

How Are Internal and Inbound Linking Different?

Inbound links, also commonly called backlinks, connect one external website to another. Your online reputation rises whenever an external site makes a legitimate link back to your webpage. It is a digital representation of a recommendation. Someone is confirming that your website is a valuable resource on a specific subject.

Inbound links are also an important factor in Google’s assessment of how well you conform to E-A-T standards.

  • E — Expert
  • A — Authoritative
  • T — Trustworthy

That is how Google decides how well sites rate when it comes to answering user queries. The higher your E-A-T factor, the better your overall rankings in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

OK, now that you understand inbound links let’s switch the focus back to internal links…

How Do Internal Links Affect SEO?

Internal links also play a significant role in E-A-T. You strengthen the optimization of your site and make it easier for Google to assess how well you rate in responding to search requests. This helps Google more easily index your pages and, hopefully, result in better search rankings for your website.

If your analysis of your inbound links shows most of them coming to your homepage, that is a sign that your pages are not fully optimized. You want to see users coming to your internal pages and then making their way to your homepage. External links should target various pages around your site.

Strong internal linking creates better indexation and clear paths to relevant content around your site. It helps contribute to a pyramid-style structure of your website, meaning there are very few links (or pages) between your homepage and other site pages, helping them achieve stronger ranking power.

Tips on Improving Your Internal Linking

You should keep the following in mind when adding internal links to content throughout your website. Please note that you should no longer need to stuff internal links with keywords, a popular SEO method from prior years.

  1. Use Anchor Text instead of navigational text or images to increase the value of your internal links in search engines.
  2. Make Sure You Have a Lot of Content Pages around your site. The better your information, the longer users will linger.
  3. Link as Deeply as Possible and stay away from links to pages already included in your main navigation like your Home page. Make those links as natural as possible for a better content marketing strategy.
  4. Make Your Links Relevant to the information users need. Don’t send users to a page about red sneakers when they are interested in details on orthopedic inserts.
  5. Avoid Overkill. While internal linking can be a powerful SEO tool, adding too many can end up being less useful for the user. That means no blocks of link footers at the bottom of your page.

Summary

Keep the following in mind when it comes to internal linking.

  1. Make sure your internal links provide a clear path to relevant information for a user.
  2. Understand the difference between internal and inbound links. Both can be leveraged in improving your site SEO.
  3. Follow best practices when creating internal links. Avoid misleading links, keyword stuffing, and overloading of internal links within your content.

Want more tips to improve your search engine optimization? Click here to grab a copy of the “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

3 Fixes for Your Bad Brand Reputation That SEO Will Love

Bad brand reputation happens quickly on the web. Google urges SEOs to focus on building quality sites that provide a good user experience. Specifics on how exactly this is achieved are distilled into the acronym E-A-T, which stands for Expertise, Authority and Trust.

Bad brand reputation happens quickly on the web. Google urges SEOs to focus on building quality sites that provide a good user experience. Specifics on how exactly this is achieved are distilled into the acronym E-A-T, which stands for Expertise, Authority and Trust.

This simple acronym has a lot of complex elements bound into it. Instead of presenting an airy discourse on how Google defines quality, an exercise much like considering the medieval problem of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, let’s focus on three practical tactics you can do to improve your site’s quality score.

Show Your Credentials

Tout your expertise in the subject domain that your site represents. Today, SEO requires having lots of quality content. A definition of quality content is content written by subject domain experts.

Beware of creating content that has no whiff of expertise. This is surely going to be considered thin content. This means for evergreen content, tout either:

  • Your business’ expertise; or
  • The qualifications of the expert writing the content

Plan for Regular Link Hygiene

Links still matter and factor into search algorithms. Links have long been used as signals for authority.

Are you letting others corrupt your link profile? If you do not have in place a regular schedule for reviewing your backlinks, then bad links may be negatively impacting your search results.

Use the Google Search Console (GSC) to review and evaluate the sites that are linking to you. If you do not visit this regularly, you may be in for surprises.

Review Your ‘About Us’ Pages

If you don’t already have an “About Us” site section that is easily found via your navigation, then you may be hurting your reputation.

This information is important for building trust for your site. The absence of robust information about your business begs that you are trying to hide important information from users. The “About Us” section should state where you are located and have contact information readily available.

If the information is stale and has not been updated in years, perhaps it’s time to give it a look and refresh it. If you are a commerce site, don’t be tempted to bury this information; because savvy users, unfamiliar with your brand, will come looking for this information before they purchase.

Key Takeaway for Marketers

Follow these three simple tactics, and you will be on your way to improving how Google perceives your site’s quality.

Still No Magic Bullet for SEO

SEMrush’s “Ranking Factors Study 2.0” confirms yet again that there is no single “open sesame” tactic that will magically net your site’s URLs the top placements in the Google search results. I am sure that this is terribly disappointing for site owners and practitioners who have long-sought to replace solid valued and valuable content, technical excellence and a commitment to the user with a magic bullet tactic.

SEO
“SEO,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Global Panorama

SEMrush’s “Ranking Factors Study 2.0” confirms yet again that there is no single “open sesame” tactic that will magically net your site’s URLs the top placements in the Google search results. I am sure that this is terribly disappointing for site owners and practitioners who have long-sought to replace solid valued and valuable content, technical excellence and a commitment to the user with a magic bullet tactic.

This study and other similar studies that look for keys to unlocking the Google algorithm increasingly confirm the need for a holistic, user-centric approach to search.

The SEMrush study used a 600,000-keyword worldwide data set and examined the first 100 SERP positions for each keyword. To crunch this big data and reveal the importance of the ranking factors, it applied a machine-learning algorithm called Random Forest. This methodology is one of the most effective machine-learning regression models used for predictive analysis. As the name implies, random forest is decision-tree methodology that teases out the most significant factors. Those with a statistical interest will find SEMrush’s choice of this methodology interesting.

What Were the Results?

The study identified 17 factors that influence how a page ranks in the Google SERPs. The study found that direct website traffic is the most influential ranking factor. A high volume of users directly navigating to the site is a key indicator to Google that the domain has authority and value.

What drives an individual to directly navigate to a site? The answer is easy: content and presentation that users value. The study shows that user behavior signals, such as time on site, pages per session and bounce rate influence rankings. They are indicators of site quality and its relevance for users. It should be noted that the study authors point out that the factors are intertwined, so focusing on a single factor does not strongly influence the overall result. They all fit neatly together.

What About Links?

The study shows that backlinks and link profiles are still key factors in rankings. The volume of referring domains, volume of backlinks and referring IP addresses are key metrics. The authors caution that “all the metrics of the backlink portfolio are interconnected, and a blind manipulation of only one of them will not increase your rankings, unless you also work on the other metrics.”

A well-orchestrated digital marketing effort can yield a surprising number of quality links. It has been my practice to focus on quality, and let the quantity flow from the overall value of the site’s offering as enhanced and exposed through the total marketing effort.

Does Content Matter?

The research clearly shows that content is crucial to ranking. There is no magic bullet length. If the content is irrelevant to the user’s query, it doesn’t matter how long it is — it will still be irrelevant.

The message is clear that by creating relevant content, you can improve your ranking. The research indicates that pages that rank higher have longer content, on average. This is particularly important for high search volume competitive keywords. For long-tail keywords, don’t scrimp on the content. Narrow your focus and cover the topic in depth, and you will be rewarded.

The Key Takeaway

The study also looked at on-page optimization factors and the impact of Google’s push to make the Web more secure by rewarding secure sites and shaming insecure sites. The results make interesting reading and, in my opinion, this entire study is a must-read for search marketers.

The key takeaway for me is that given the importance of direct traffic and user experience, that building brand awareness and enhancing user experience is as important as a strong SEO program. A holistic approach to addressing the dynamics of generating search traffic is essential.

Link Spam — What’s Old Is New Again

Link spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

spamLink spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

Recently, Google noted an increase in spammy links contained in articles referred to as contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts. This new outbreak has been particularly virulent among sites publishing articles that are generally written by or in the name of one website, and published on a different one.

This informative blog post set my spidey-sense tingling. Should it be interpreted as more than a bland warning about the evils of link-building? Google usually signals major changes prior to implementation of what would, in this instance, be corrective action. Savvy SEOs know that these bland-seeming alerts should be heeded, for they give just enough time for alert site owners to correct any problems.

Link-Building — An Unusual Approach

In more than 15 years as a full-time SEO, link-building has always been the last effort on my list of must-do’s. Here are some reasons for my somewhat iconoclastic view:

• Links Are an Invitation for Your Visitor to Leave

Most of my clients are in the e-commerce space. Links, even links that open in a new window, still take a valuable visitor away from the site. If the information is essential, it should be on the page or somewhere on the site. Links should be references.

• Links Require Management

Links to and from outside sites can go bad, just like milk or fruit. There are tools available for managing links to make sure that your site does not have a load of dead links, but this just adds yet another line into an already too-long list of site maintenance tasks. For very large sites, this can become a non-trivial task; hence, it is too easy to let hygiene slip by the wayside. Just ask any email marketer about the problems and challenges of list maintenance.

• Good Content Attracts Links

A build-it-and-they-will-come approach has always been my recommendation. Content that is original, useful and highly targeted to your users will attract not only readers/users, but also links. This is completely congruent with Google’s recommendations.

What Are the Bad Links Google Is Targeting?

Google does not discourage linking in articles when they inform users, educate another site’s audience or bring awareness to a cause or company. This type of link can readily grow from quality content. Google is discouraging link-building schemes where the main intent is to build links in a large-scale way back to the author’s site. Google also indicates the traits of links in articles that violate their guidelines. These include:

  • Stuffing keyword-rich links to your site in your articles that appear on other sites.
  • Having the articles published across many different sites; alternatively, having a large number of articles on a few large, different sites.
  • Using or hiring article writers who aren’t knowledgeable about the topics they’re writing on.
  • Using the same or similar content across these articles; alternatively, duplicating the full content of articles found on your own site (in which case, use of rel=”canonical” in addition to rel=”nofollow” is advised).

Google notes that when the search engine detects such spammy links, it may alter its perception of the site and impact its ranking.

In short, punishment in the form of ranking demotion should be expected for those who do not heed this warning and clean up their acts. So, if you use contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts as part of your marketing, review how you are handling linking. Not sure of the value, but not ready to let them go, just “nofollow” the links.

Consider yourself warned, don’t persist, or you will be downgraded. Maybe not today, but sometime soon.

The Art of Quality Link Building

So much of SEO has changed over the past 20 years. These days, search engine algorithms penalize keyword stuffing and ignore meta keywords, and having a website that displays on mobile devices is arguably more important than desktop performance. As technology evolves, more about SEO will continue to evolve. But the importance of links hasn’t changed.

Link building? What are you, a blacksmith?So much of SEO has changed over the past 20 years. These days, search engine algorithms penalize keyword stuffing and ignore meta keywords, and having a website that displays on mobile devices is arguably more important than desktop performance. As technology evolves, more about SEO will continue to evolve. But the importance of link building hasn’t changed.

While other aspects of SEO either get your website indexed or clarify its relevance, links will determine your website’s reputation and popularity. If your website is linked by trade publications, business partners or scores of customers, then the search engines will view your site in a positive light and increase your rankings. On the other hand, a website with very few inbound links — or, worse, inbound links from spam websites — is more likely to be penalized in favor of more popular competitors.

Remember, a search engine’s worth is its ability to provide users with the content that’s likely to be most relevant to their needs. Trusted, popular websites are most likely to have that content. So if you want to get the most out of SEO, then you’ll need to work on building links.

How Do Search Engines Evaluate Links?

As stated above, not all links are equal. Understanding how search engines evaluate links can help you know which links to pursue. Here are some of the more important link factors:

  • Overall popularity: The most popular websites tend to have the most valuable links. Truly popular websites on regional, state, national or global levels tend to have scores of reputable links and strong social media signals.
  • Topic relevance: Look for links from other businesses, publications and associations that are relevant to your line of work. If you run an auto mechanic business, then you won’t get much value from a link about sporting goods.
  • Spam: The Internet is filled with spam sites that aren’t useful for anyone. Search engine algorithms are continually adjusted to devalue spam links.
  • Relevant anchor text: The text that makes up a contextual hyperlink is referred to as anchor text. If several websites link to a site using the same or similar anchor text, then search engines will be more likely to view the linked site as an authority for that keyword term.

Search engines evaluate all these factors and more when determining link quality. Links from social media are also becoming more important, although SEO experts are divided on exactly how search engines value these links.

How to Get Links

Now that you know what search engines look for, the next step is getting others to link to your site — and this doesn’t need to be a struggle. Here, we’ll review five ways to build a network of reputable links.

  1. Ask Customers and Business Partners
    Your greatest supporters are likely to link to your website if you ask. You can make it easy by giving them badges, logos or icons that link back to your site. Many of your customers won’t have actual websites, but people who have blogs can post about your business and include links (with relevant anchor text for bonus points). You can also ask customers and partners to connect with your business on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.
  2. Start a Blog
    Blogging has several benefits in the world of SEO. At the very least, blogging is an easy way to populate your site with fresh, relevant, local content. Do a good enough job, and customers and business partners will link to your blog and provide you with a wealth of quality links. Don’t limit your blog to writing about what’s happening in your business; write about your industry and your community, or even write seasonal do-it-yourself pieces that appeal to your customers’ needs. Make your blog a valuable resource and others are likely to build your links for you. You can also send your most interesting blog entries to bloggers, trade associations and others who might want to publish your posts with links.
  3. Do Something Special
    Get others to write about your business by doing something special in your community. Host a charitable event, launch a contest or spread the word about an innovative new service, product or technology. Local reporters, bloggers and publicists for political organizations and trade associations are always looking for good stories.
  4. Register With Site Directories
    Take advantage of popular business review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List that allow you to place a link to your website. You should also create a profile in Google My Business. Registering your business with these well-known directories has numerous other SEO benefits in addition to being quick-and-easy links.
  5. Leave Comments
    Commenting on blogs, forums, news articles and other content is a quick way to expand your link network. However, largely as a result of spammers, search engine algorithms have evolved to minimize the value of content links. But while this tactic is less productive than other link-building options, a high volume of content links on quality sites can still positively impact your SEO.

3 Ways to Avoid Costly SEO Mistakes

In organic search marketing, even a small mistake can translate into substantial business losses. Have you considered what impact an SEO mistake might have on your business? Do you have an alternative/disaster plan? What measures do you regularly take to prevent business-lethal SEO mistakes?

In organic search marketing, even a small mistake can translate into substantial business losses. Have you considered what impact an SEO mistake might have on your business? Do you have an alternative/disaster plan? What measures do you regularly take to prevent business-lethal SEO mistakes?

A short example with some scary calculations will show why you must plan to avoid mistakes. Let’s say for the sake of an example that your site receives a robust 50 percent of its traffic from search and, due to an SEO misstep, is penalized with the result that, overnight, you suffer a 30 to 50 percent loss of search traffic. (As a math student, I hated word problems, so hang tough. We won’t do too much heavy math.) This means that your traffic would drop 20 to 30 percent overnight. If the bulk of your search traffic comes from just a few highly desirable top placements on business-essential keyword phrases, then the gash might be even deeper. There is no denying that humans do SEO, and to err is part of the human condition. So expect at some time, no matter how competent your SEO practitioners are, a mistake will occur. As they say in football, the best offense is a great defense. Here are a couple of ways to avoid mistakes.

1. Monitor Your Search Results — Don’t just watch your overall traffic. It is simple to just look at the top line and not look very deeply until it is too late. Watch your search traffic for anomalies that might signal a problem. If you do not regularly review your Google Webmaster Tools, you may find that you could have headed off a drop by taking remedial actions. For example, if your site is throwing errors or your servers have not been available for Google’s crawlers, you can expect to see your results drop. If you are flagged for having a large number of missing Titles and duplicate Descriptions, check into what is causing the problem. With large database-driven sites, a minor miscue on a template revision can create huge problems. They are often easy to fix, if caught in a timely manner.

2. Revisit the Best Practices for On-page SEO and Follow Them — On-page SEO tactics have been much-maligned and denigrated in recent years; however, best practice still puts Titles and Descriptions high on the list of simple must-dos. As Google continues to wage war against duplicate content, unique content becomes more important, and the Title and Description are a clear signal that a page is unique. If you do not create a unique Title and Description for every page, you are courting disaster. Screen for duplicate content and root it out before the Google Panda slaps you down.

By the way, it goes without saying that errors of omission can be avoided by keeping current on what are the current points of emphasis in search. Unique, high-quality content is the currency for top rankings. So focus on good-quality content, and you will not be making a mistake.

3. Don’t Buy Links — Although this admonition is part of the best practices, it is important enough to highlight on its own. Buying links is a mistake in two directions. First, you are wasting your money on the purchase, and second they are a mistake that can be easily avoided. Also, neat little reciprocal link exchanges can be problematic, too. Beware of any scheme that creates links unnaturally or in great numbers in a brief span of time. Link growth velocity is quite easy for search engines to measure and once caught, rapid growth will be punished.

Bonus: Get Your Site Audited — Periodically have your site reviewed and your SEO practices audited by an outside SEO professional. Even if your team is on top of what has to be done, it is very easy to get too close and miss a potential pitfall. It is well worth the fees, even if the yield is simply peace of mind.

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 1: Email

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

Over the years, I’ve absorbed studies about the ventricles of the brain and how it performs distinctly different cognitive processes. I’ve read color studies, the anatomy of eye movement, how words and numbers trigger comprehension and reaction, fonts and their role in evoking an emotional reaction, persuasion psychology and unconscious motivation—the list goes on and on—all in an effort to apply these learnings in order to help our clients get the maximum response to their marketing efforts.

While I have a laundry list of “must-do’s” for every medium, I thought I’d share a few digital best practices as Part 1 in a series, and I’d love to hear why you’re NOT following these proven techniques:

  • Test Your Subject Lines: According to a 2014 poll by Howling Mad’s Parry Malm, marketers ranked subject lines among the top variable that affected email response rates however 25% ever conducted any testing. Parry (one of the leading experts on email subject lines) has learned that ‘Sale’ delivers 23.2% opens while ‘Save’ only gets 3.4%. He also found that if the subject line is personalized but the email content isn’t, you gain opens but don’t drive clicks. I put that insight in my ‘Duh!’ file.
  • Buttons Will Get More Clicks Than Text Links: Many have tested this theory (myself included) and the answer seems to always conclude that buttons will outperform text links. AWeber conducted a series of button/text links, and their findings are fascinating as they determined that, over time, text links outperformed the buttons—but they also concluded that what works today, may not work tomorrow. Again, test and keep testing.
  • Text Links Should Be in Color: While this might seem like a ‘Duh!’ I’m always surprised when I accidently hover my finger or mouse over a block of text and discover “there’s a hyperlink in them there hills!” If you want me to take an action (like clicking on something) then lead my horse to the water.
  • A Button Needs to Look Like a Button: Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, owns the button testing world hands down and he concludes that the digital button that gets the most clicks is shaped like a button (rounded corners, slight drop shadow) and is colored (or at least in contrast to the rest of the page of copy in order to stand out—duh). Try NOT to match the color of your button to other call-out boxes on the page as the distraction prevents the action.
  • Button Copy Should Be in First Person: Try this test yourself. If your action button is written in third person (“Start now” or “Try Product X Free”) try testing it against copy in the 1st person (“Help Me Work Faster” or “End My Headaches”). It’s highly likely you’ll see a lift of at least 25% in clicks, at least according to Ashtyn Douglas and Joanna Wiebe who conducted similar tests.
  • Fonts Matter: While many designers will argue this topic endlessly, the current consensus is that sans serif fonts are superior for body text and serif fonts are best for headlines. Of course if you have a newer display, it doesn’t make much difference. But not everyone has the newest technology and some work on displays that are 10+ years old, so if you target a senior audience (yes, that includes senior managers in small companies who cannot afford to regularly upgrade their hardware), you may want to design for maximum legibility. Make sure your font is a system font (most likely to be supported by the majority of email clients and web browsers) like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Geneva or Trebuchet MS, and large enough for people to read without any effort—at least 10 if not 12 pt. Even though Google is now providing supposedly supported modern web fonts, it’s a little too early to tell whether every email client and web browser will be able to properly display them.

In summary, if all of these marketers have already done all the testing for you, why wouldn’t you at least consider these insights and apply them to your own email marketing efforts? Tell me. I’m all ears.