The internal website liking structure of your website is vital to search engines looking to ingest your content, and it is equally important to those real humans that visit your website. Internal links differ from external links in that the links direct a user to another page on the same domain. This article describes how our SEO-optimised approach to linking structure is maintained in a graphical and tabular manner that is easy to understand and interpret, and we'll also introduce some considerations when designing or building an effective site link structure. We'll touch briefly on external links but the primary purpose of this article is to introduce Yabber features that provide the tactile feedback necessary in order to optimise your SEO and navigation linking structure for search engines and users.
We'll also introduce a secondary and proprietary feature of Belief's system that'll alter the content on each page based on a parameter passed in each link (part of our broad Conditional Content methodology). We introduce Yabber's link trigger features but the source article should be referenced to fully understanding how a powerful trigger system will supercharge your links, and how a user clicking on a link performs optional funnel-correcting and escalating actions as a result.
First and foremost it's important to note that our preferred method of creating links is via our linking shortcode. The shortcode will mitigate 404 (Not Found) errors, automatically populate title tags for internal and external links if not defined, and we'll add appropriate link markup if it's required (such as a
nofollow tag). In short, the shortcode ensures best-practice linking SEO is maintained.
After we introduce linking considerations we'll discuss Yabber's function in presenting your site structure back to you in a way that provides a visual and visceral way of understanding your page architecture.
Link SEO is a Science Padded with Speculation
It's important to recognise that much (but not all) of the SEO talk is nothing other than speculation. While we don't have definitive advice for much of what we advocate, our guidance is predicated on sound technical SEO compliance and quantifiable results derived from over 25 years working with the subject. However, after years of working and succeeding with SEO, Google and other search engines are starting to catch up with what SEO is really about - User Experience Optimisation. If we create lots of interesting content that attracts, engages, and converts our website audiences we'll likely see the same success with Search.
While Belief routinely works on the technical aspects of SEO, it's your own regular website and video content creation strategy that'll deliver consistent results. That said, your linking structure is still vital to your audience and crawlers.
Link Architecture and Hierarchy
Internal links build a site architecture or hierarchy framework that allows search engines to assign relative importance of one link to another - this Link Equity is a weighted model of link distribution via 'interlinking' that pairs pages and creates an association. Crawlers will index your website based on the freshness and dynamic nature of your content program so they don't necessarily crawl your website as often as others. As such, it's important to link to important or high-value pages wherever possible to ensure those pages are assigned the appropriate weighted value. It's this 'weighted' link-density model that we record in Yabber by way of a count of all links to and from a specific page, and the frequency that they're linked to from other areas of your website (we'll come back to this).
Avoid Top-Level Linking
First, it's your blog articles and nested information pages that should be linked more often than others - avoid linking to first-level pages such as a Contact page or your Home page. Search engines know where these pages are so any link to that page is wasted equity. Keep in mind that we provide a fully-integrated calendar opportunity on every page so linking to a Contact page is almost always wasted link juice.
Important Links are Above the Fold
The reference to 'above the fold' refers to the visible screen when a visitor enters your page. Basic elements presented to a user include the header, navigation menu, breadcrumbs (inherently an instruction on site structure), header links, content links, and footer links. In addition we also have image links and sidebar links. In general terms, the visibility and order of links is directly related to its value, and a link in bold or
heading tags will be assigned more value than a standard link (search engines read your page as a user, and the perception of a bold link means its more important than others).
The order of links is extremely important. The first link in your page content carries more rank-value than others, so it's important to weight the importance of links against the value that they provide to a user. If you're going to include a link ensure you ask yourself if it's really necessary.
The Number of links on a Page
For a long period of time we were led to believe that 100 links was about the maximum number you would ever want on a page. Then, in 2009, Google's Matt Cutts wrote an article describing the origins of that early link limitation (in the early days Google would only index 100kb of data for each page, and this limitation no longer applies). The limitation was published on Google's 'Design and Content' section for a long time after the origin was exposed but it was later removed suggesting that no such limitation currently applies.
Common sense has to prevail with how many links you include on any one page, and their inclusion should be a user-experience function rather than one of trying to create a linking structure (the former supports the latter).
The more links you include on each page, the less rank value each is assigned to the destination page since the Link Equity is divided among all those links on a single page, and this equity is predicated upon a Crawl Budget assigned to each page or website. It's believed that the budget varies depending upon the website's determined expertise and authoritativeness.
In an article on podcasting (in a section titled "Podcasting for Visually Impaired") we introduced accessibility issues associated with text-to-speech audio and multiple links on a single page; software such as ReadSpeaker will be interrupted by multiple links that'll invariably impact upon the experience of visually impaired readers.
Links are an Invitation to Leave
Keep in mind that any link may be interpreted by a search engine or user that what the 'other' page provides is more important than the page they're on; this makes linking a double-edged sword in that we want to provide access to other engaging content, but we also want to share the content they're currently consuming. We mitigate this issue on our client websites by providing an option to return to the article they were formerly reading; this way, if your linked page doesn't satisfy their information needs we have a clear path back to the original article. It's not a perfect method but it's certainly better than nothing.
While you may use
nofollow links as a means of instructing Google that any internal (or external) link shouldn't be followed, the use of the
nofollow code within your internal content is discouraged - a user should be able to freely navigate your website in the same way a search engine will evaluate it... so if a link isn't entirely relevant it's simply best to exclude it.
nofollowtag came about as a method to help stop automated blog comment, guestbook, and link injection spam , but has morphed over time into a way of instructing engines to discount any link value that would ordinarily be passed. Any link that includes nofollow is a way of telling search engines that you don't want the link to share any of the page link juice, or it might be used to inform a search engine that the destination page isn't endorsed, or you don't want to provide an editorial vote.
Our linking shortcode provides a tooltip facility which may be populated with text informing the visitor with details of the destination page. For example, a link to our link shortcode article (the link you've just read through) shows custom text on mouseover detailing the nature of the destination page meaning that the visitor can make a more informed decision before vacating the article they're reading.
Anchor Text, Link Title and Alt Tags
Anchor text is that text which is linked to another page or destination. The text provides content to the link and feeds search engines and users with information or "link relevance". We occasionally fall into the trap of linking the word "here" which provides search engines with no context whatsoever - it should be avoided.
title tags seemingly have very little to no effect on your SEO score directly, but appropriate care in their descriptive creation has a measurable improvement on the user experience. There's a long running debate on whether accessibility should be an SEO best-practice consideration (often orientated around the
title tag), but we take the approach that accessibility and SEO overlap in terms of the user experience, and the experience provided to all visitors are indisputable in terms of their value.
alt tags are necessary for effective image SEO. Fully supported by our own image shortcode, the alt tag should be a short descriptive string of text describing the image. You should construct the description as if you were describing it to a blind person in fewest words possible (and
alt tags are a genuine and much-needed accessibility inclusion).
The W3 Consortium have published a alt tag decision tree that describes when and how a
alt tag is best served. Shown below, the chart provides cases where W3 believes the
alt tag should be populated or left empty.
Pictured: The alt tag decision tree. Source: W3.org This decision tree describes how to use the alt attribute of the element in various situations. For some types of images, there are alternative approaches, such as using CSS background images for decorative images or web fonts instead of images of text.
Link to Deeply Nested Pages
While you shouldn't link to a page for the sake of linking, it's important to feed search engines with a full understanding of your website architecture, so linking to those pages that are nested deep within your website structure is an mechanism to help crawlers understand your site hierarchy.
Home Page Links
The majority of backlinks to your website will likely be your home page, so links on that page carry more 'link value' than those that are nested within your website. Google and other search engines will find your link more easily, they'll recognise the importance, and they'll reward the fresh content. The link value from a link on the home page will be shared between all the links found on that homepage, and the link value passed to the following page will be divided between the links on that page, and so on. The whole concepts is predicated on more links to any one page attracting more page ranking.
Keep in mind that external links are far more valuable from internal links (in terms of links from bad websites may degrade your page's value, and for this reason there's a 'disavow' feature within Webmaster Tools that allows you to disassociate your website from those sources.), and those external links are valued based on the rank of the site sharing a link to your site. Keep in mind that
UGC and Sponsored Attributes
In 2019 Google introduced two new tags to be used in links:
sponsored. The '
sponsored' attribute is used to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements, and the '
ugc' (or 'User Generated Content' attribute) is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.
Generally speaking, Google states that any link carrying either of these two new tags (including nofollow, of course) will not be followed. What the links will do is provide Google with hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search (along with other signals). The attributes should only be used in <a> tags since Google will only follow active links.
Supported by our own link shortcode in full, the attributes should be used when required to adhere to evolving best practice. As per Google's guidelines we support multiple attributes per link.
Yabber Link Management
Knowing your internal (and external) linking structure is vital to a full understanding of your web architecture. However, not unlike the Internet itself, your linking structure quickly becomes a messy and cluttered myriad of resources hanging together by bits of sticky tape, so it's easy to get lost in your own architecture.
In building a full-featured and powerful SEO module for Yabber (after we retired our brilliant website plugin) we looked at some of the leading SEO plugins for inspiration, including the popular Yoast plugin, and none of them came close to providing businesses with a true understanding of their website structure, and none included vital elements such as video counts. Yoast came close in that the plugin provides post link counts (the number of links on a page, and the number of pages linking to a page), but while valuable, the data is closed off to Yoast's plugin and doesn't contribute towards other website functions, such as highlighting trending posts.
When a page on any of your websites is published Yabber ingests the page and create a full analysis of readability, keywords, links, videos, and other objects. That data is all crunched up and returned in a number of aggregated graphs that visually inform you of how your website is connected.
Since all our websites are fully integrated, the data captured is extensive and without exclusion. A section within the SEO module titled "Structure" provides valuable feedback on your internal links, anchor tags, most linked pages, pages with most links, and external linking. Each section provides a link to a page with more comprehensive data for each of your registered websites.
Pictured: Link statistics for all your websites is accessed via the Websites -> SEO menu. Selecting 'Structure' returns a table with all your active websites carrying links to various statistics pages.
Pictured: Graph showing the number of links to each article on your website. Those listed first are deemed to be 'more important'. What the graph doesn't consider is the weight of each source link (based on the number of links on each origin page) and these are listed in the Post Graph. A number of similar graphs are returned for external links and link popularity.
The number of links to each page is not a direct signal of page importance. Consistent with the algorithms Google uses to assess page importance, we also assign a value to each unique link based on the number of links on the source page. This weighted model alters the above graph to show the perceived importance of a page based on the weighted value of each link.
Ordering of Links
Following on from the 'Link Data' information above, the order and positioning of links plays a part in determining the 'score' it should be assigned. We record this information and use it in our calculations to determine the 'value' of that link. So, a link might be shown on a small number of pages but appear at the top of the page before any other, while another link might be on a large number of pages but only shown towards the bottom of your article; the former link will likely inherit more link value.
Pictured: Yabber orders distinct links on a page based on the order in which they're shown. The figure to the left of the destination page title is the 'Brank' figure, or our means of assigning weighted value to each link based on their relevance and position. This is different to our BeRank figure which tends to be more generous with nested links (since it ignores the importance of the destination page). As a user these figures can generally be ignored.
Pictured above is a page that links the determined weight of each link on your page. The value is somewhat arbitrary since it's a value that we assign in order to parse it into our own style of 'Page Rank' algorithm.
Google Trends and Related Queries
At the heart of your anchor text is how your string of text compares against similar and competing anchor 'keywords'. Far from a single source of page content, the anchor text does provide significant link context, and it does contribute towards how that link is scored as part of your broader page matrix.
We link each anchor tag to a page with Google Trend information. Based on anchor text we query a number of sources for competing, long-tail, and more relevant keywords, and we return your single anchor text compared against other popular search terms.
Pictured: Based on the anchor text of 'home loans' we compare the data against other popular queries (in this pictured example 'home loan calculator', 'loan calculator', 'home loan rates', and 'home loan rate' are returned). Google Trends shows comparative data that'll guide us into our anchor decision making.
Linking Matrix (Network)
In reinventing how SEO would be represented to a user we completely automate the initial population of SEO tags (since most businesses simply don't bother), we automate all page snippet markup (necessary for rich-snippet results in search), and we create a true hierarchical map of your website and links so you're always informed of where your link juice is being assigned, and what pages will be deemed to be more important than others. Simply put, in order to understand how search engines see your website it's important to understand for you to see exactly what your linking matrix looks like.
Pictured: The link network matrix serves no overly valuable purpose. The graph will visually illustrate your site architecture and show how each link is connected to any other. The nodes are connected by a serious of lines that include a number which indicates the order the link appeared on your page.
The matrix is more of a pretty representation rather than a resource that'll guide your SEO efforts.
Other Yabber Link Features
Having a sound linking structure is obviously important if you endeavour to improve upon your SERP, but there's a certain juxtaposition in using links that actually contribute towards an optimised user experience. Bottom line: a linking architecture should shape your website connectivity, and assign hierarchical value to your core business services... but shouldn't be build at the expense of a user experience.
This section introduces how components of links are used to provide an enhanced visitor-facing experience, and we'll also talk about how we use links to measure the impact of your architecture on actual site navigation.
Link-Based Conditional Content
Each link click represents an escalation of commitment. That is, each link click is a signal of escalated interest, so it's an absurd proposition that we'd ignore the opportunity to capitalise on that action. The escalation and conditional methods are at the heart of our proprietary website framework, and it's what makes the website we provide our clients higher-performing that their competition. In essence, the website we provide clients has the capacity to change shape based on the declared and determined interest of the user browsing certain material - we can choose to show or hide specific elements in order to funnel a user into a conversion. It's an amazing feature that has a profound impact on the volume of business your website delivers.
We introduced a 'Better Way of Linking in WordPress' via an article that details link creation, link tooltips, and link modals. As part of that article we introduced how interest tags could optionally be assigned to each link, and how those interest tags might shape your website into showing more continually relevant information. Optionally created with each link, the tags represent one of the most powerful features ever introduced to the industry.
We introduced website link engagement statistics in an article on Website Statistics, and the information is supported by an article that details how Data-Driven Behavioural Insights underpins our digital decision making. In essence, both articles describe how each link interaction is recorded and then used to shape a true understanding of how our architecture guides user navigation.
Pictured: The nature of website statistics is very extensive. Multiple pages are returned so you may dive deep into the performance of all sites, any one site, any page or post (of any type), and links. The data is necessary so you're able to apply marketing resources into those assets that are performing better than others. The PSR (Page Subscription Ratio) is a term coined by BeliefMedia to accurately represent conversions (something other systems cannot do).
The most relevant part on our end when analyzing link data is matching up the architecture - or the goal of our architecture - against real-world interaction data. Having a website architecture is one thing, but supporting your plan with actual data is another (and it's a necessity that is seemingly lost of many that actually claim to provide an SEO service).
We introduce triggers in an article titled 'How Triggers Help Craft a True Marketing Funnel Journey. An absolutely essential component of a true marketing funnel (as opposed to the linear sales funnel generally sold as a solution to the industry), our link interactions (or a 'click') can guide a user's conditional journey, send the user an email or text message, or create business administration tasks (the list of available actions is extensive).
Pictured: Link Trigger panel showing basic options. The cutaways on the right show the trigger options for SMS text messaging, email, and Microsoft Planner task creation. The system is one that is fully integrated, so all links and options are simply chosen via select menus. No copying and pasting required.
Yabber is theconsumer-facing system available globally that provides link and website-page based triggers and actions finance-related actions as a result... and we built it because it literally explodes conversions.
We're often asked how we're able to return leading results to the industry. Ignoring our 25-years of applied experience we'll often fall back onto our deep understanding of data, and the vast array of features we introduce by way of that understanding. Far too often we see the industry rely on guesswork or assumptions - both of which shouldn't be part of any scientific-based understanding of your SEO efforts - and we'veseen an agency that shares our space come close to providing of the features this article describes. Simply put, it's part of the reason our active clients do better than their competitors.
In order for a linking structure to actually mean anything you will need a content creation program that supplies the content that'll carry links - this is the hard(ish) part. As part of this plan we provide tiers of content of varying types that carry links consistent with a big-picture anchor map (link) object.
Not all businesses will utilise links in the manner we've introduced in this article, but as your marketing matures, and you have the appropriate resources to assign to content creation and SEO, you'll invariably have a need to actually assess your anchor counts, related queries, and link strategy - there is absolutely no place for guesswork. When you need the information necessary to improve upon your SEO it'll be waiting for you.
It should be noted that Yabber is a Digital Marketing and Social Media Platform designed to provide highly functional one-click campaigns that deliver the highest conversions in the industry; the SEO components play just a small part. That said, despite being a minor module we still provide features that far exceed the performance of most premium SEO platforms.