Internal Links - Are You Making the Most of Yours? ~ Encyclopedia - Online Marketing With Google Yahoo MSN

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Internal Links - Are You Making the Most of Yours?

Are you yielding the highest possible return in search engines from optimizing your pages internal links? If not, then maybe it’s time for a link audit.

With so much time spent being myopic over link building and external links (development of one-way,reciprocal links or building your blog roll), people often forget that they have the most relevant authority site sitting right under their nose - their own pages.

Instead of looking past your own site, how could anything be more on-topic than the pages you have complete control over. If the pages are aged and already have page rank, then it’s just icing on the cake. By tweaking the structure of how your pages pass rank, you can essentially mold how search engines treat the content on those pages.

Did you know that ranking for highly competitive terms has more to do with website structure and internal links than external links? probably not, because so many schools of thought want you to think otherwise or simply go against the grain.

In fact a new site set up properly, themed and topically structured to reach a targeted or specific series of keywords, has a much greater chance of dominating the top 10 than an older site by comparison (in reference to content, internal links, the code in the pages, the naming conventions of the folders and filenames).

So let’s get started with tidying up the On-Page SEO factors that you ultimately have control over before you even consider Off Page SEO strategy. But just in case it’s too late and your site is seasoned and stuck in a rut, you can still apply any of the 10 methods below to clean house a bit and lighten the load to make each page more relevant.

When starting over is not an option, there are a few things you could do to salvage an older site by performing a content and link audit.

1. Make all of your links absolute, remove secondary keywords that are NOT RELEVANT.

Replace /pagename.html with this way when the pages age, they pull each other up in the search engine result pages. In addition, if your content gets scraped (copied) then at least the are pointing links back to your pages (so you get the back link).

2. Cap all out-bound links (links leaving the page to no more than 10 per page) or create a new page to keep the focus laser-like.

Less outbound links mean that each page has more link juice to pass to it’s own keywords and less energy being transfused or hemorrhaging away from the page. This becomes more apparent when you start building external links, how quickly the pages rise in the SERPs (search engine result pages).

3. Optimize your anchor text (the text in the link). Make sure your main keyword/phrase is on the page (at least one time) as well as in the title.

Use each link wisely as this will augment your page in search engines, anchor text is essentially screaming “hey, this is what this page is all about” so if used wisely you can literally anchor the context of the page and cement 4 or 5 choice terms that you would like to predominantly show up for “exact match style” when people are conducting searches.

4. Don’t try to optimize a page for more than 3 terms / keywords.

If you want to aim high and rank for competitive terms and variations of competitive keywords, keep the information on topic. Once a page reaches 750 words is enough, then create another page if you must with another variation of the keyword (this is also a great way to get a double listing in search engines, using two pages that dovetail off the others keywords). This tactic is for creating a ranking blockbuster, it is not to say that you cannot exceed that, but the term optimization also applies to the page size, so keep it lean and mean.

5. Use contextual links in the content, the higher on the page the better as links higher in the page are known to carry more weight in search engines vs. footer links.

If you are using contextual links (links from one page to other pages in the site, instead of navigation to pass page rank and flow) then make sure that you are using the main keywords for the page that you are trying to rank with. For example say I had page (a) and the link (1 of the 10 on the optimized page) was pointing to page (b) then make sure the anchor text (the text in the link) from page (a) was using the keywords for page (b) that you are trying to rank for. That way when it ages, it becomes the perfect back link for page (b) while in the meantime it creates relevance for your entire site. By linking your pages this way, each page supports the next like a dynamo (with the ideal link / anchor text to boot).

6. Keep your pages lean 20k or less (optimization also means loading time), this includes images and code bloat.

If you have Adobe Photoshop, open your images and use shift+control+alt+S then resize your images using jpeg compression. The jpeg format was designed not to lose resolution visually, but you can drastically reduce loading time, which definitely impacts where you rank.

7. Optimize your in-line code. Keep all of your java script and other programming code off page (in their own respective files and hyper-linked to the page like a style sheet).

CSS (cascading style sheets) are ideal, since they separate the content from the images and essentially provide the search engines what they want with the least amount of clutter and fuss. But if you must go old school and use tables and java script, then at least keep the java script off the page in a .js file and the link to it (using the same line of code that you would use for a style sheet). Here is an excellent css based (flash / java script looking DHTML menus that look great and are extremely lean)

8. Hone the focus of the page - Make sure your main keyword appears at least 2-4 times on the page and once in the h1 and a slight variation in an H2 tag.

This assures the person that they have found what they are looking for and allows them to quickly find the information they were originally looking for. Remember with so many options, the back button is only one click away.

Now you could go into advanced SEO where you can actually build deep links to pages and then the keywords transcend that page and eventually you start seeing the homepage appear in search engines (which may or may not have the keywords on the page). Or you could simply have a themed site (with highly relevant information) and build external links to the page (even though the keywords are not present on the page) and still rank for those terms.

So, just because you see people stuffing titles and overusing keywords doesn’t mean that is the only way to rank higher in search engines, sometimes less is more. But for the sake of the audit, let’s stick with the basics and use the time tested method (once in the title, once in the description, a few times on the page and once in the h1/h2 tags).

9. Augment your pages through the buddy system - Have at least 5 of your strongest pages concentrating their collective internal link-juice towards your newest rock star page (the page you wish to elevate and send forth as your messenger in the SERPs).

Sounds simple enough, this alone can determine which page is returned for which keywords. Aside from this, this is a great tactic when you are launching a new page.

10. Clean out pages that are off topic, rewrite them for present-tense relevance or remove all but a few links, rewrite the titles (65 characters or less) and the descriptions (2 sentences tops using the keywords only one time each) then republish the page and wait for the spiders to re-index your content. From there you can start building links to gain more elevation in the SERPs.

If none of these options seem industrial strength enough then you can always opt for;

1) Deleting off topic pages and using a 301 redirect to the homepage or a page that has the most relevance (if those pages were indexed).

2) Purchasing a new domain name comprised prominently of your main keywords, then 301 your old site to the new one (allow up to 30 days for the rankings to recover) build links and when it comes back in full force it will be stronger than ever, granted you utilized the basic fundamentals above.

This option is a last resort, ideally you could just add a blog on a subdirectory (with impeccable code) get it listed in blog directories and start generating new content frequently to increase spider activity until it revives your whole site through all of the increased pinging and spidering activity.

Make sure you give the spiders something juicy to chew on, otherwise you can’t really expect a reward. Even combining a title and description audit and removing the verbose words can be enough to bump your page up 10-20 positions, from there you can focus on off-page SEO to accomplish the rest.

These tips are essentially for non-content management systems as most CMS systems already have themed architecture and internal linking built in to the structure (at least to the degree where you can personalize it with a few custom plug-ins).

I have always been under the impression that it is good to have a combination of static and dynamic pages, but that is just my personal preference (that way you can control the prominent pages/internal links and page rank flow easier when you start building link externally). If your content is all withing a content management system (like word press), each page gets the equal amount of link juice, which can be a plus or a minus depending on your ranking strategy.

This is why I mentioned briefly that in a nutshell by adding a blog to an older static site, sometimes that can be enough with a few tweaks to the pages to jump start the search engine ascension process, however each site is unique and has it’s own internal and external link threshold.


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