Cross-linking, or internal link architecture, refers to how you inter-link various pages within your own website. This is seen as key to helping users quickly and easily navigate through your website to related content topics. It’s pretty easy to integrate when building a new website, too, provided you’ve planed your work in advance.
If your site is already established, it’ll just require some good-old fashioned grunt work to edit a couple words on various pages to include some links. New sites can be planned on paper; many folks use cue cards to list all the pages on, and then spread them on a table to visualize the whole site. This makes it very easy to get a feel for all the content groups and individual pages you’re going to build. This big-picture approach will allow you to compile a list of pages you will want to cross-link as well. Back to our red delicious apple example used elsewhere: If the site is about apples overall, one section will be “red delicious”, another “granny smiths”, “gala”, etc., etc.
Each of the pages within these sections talking about how to plant the seeds to grow trees can be linked back to a page on how to control pests, what type of tools will typically be needed to plant the seeds or to a seed suppliers page. The idea is to link to other areas of your site where it makes sense to. The engines appreciate this touch as it shows a commitment to your user’s experience. You’ll appreciate it as a way to increase page views from users on a page.
Keep this cross-linking contained to only things that are related, not to things you want to promote. And, as with all things in life, moderation is key, don’t try to link to every other page of your site FROM every page of your site, this is a no-no. Your goal is to help users, not build a spammy internal link network.
Internal Link Architecture
In any website, there will be links from one page to another. Cross-linking makes up one portion of a website’s internal link architecture. The navigational links make up another portion of this structure, both are important to your users and to the success of your website. Think of this topic as a way to politely guide spiders to other, related areas of your website and of a way to help encourage users to generate more page views.
Navigation & Linking
The main reason for your website’s navigation is to let users find all your content. It also helps organize your content into logical groups for users. While there are many forms of navigational links available, the best for SEO purposes remains the plain old text link. They can be made to blend in with most simple websites, or tarted up to match more elaborate designs. Text-based links will also help pass some Page Rank value between your pages, so they’re well worth considering.
Next on the selection list is linked images. Many websites offer this, you click on the button to go to that page or section. These images can be made to look nice, blend perfectly with pretty much any design and, when optimized for size, can be very fast to load. While they won’t pass the same value to a page as a text link, this small gain is often outweighed by the look & feel image-based navigation can afford a website. Make sure, if you’re using linked images for your navigation, to enter the right info for the attribute tags. We cover this in detail elsewhere in the section on images and alt tags.
Remember not to stuff the alt tags with keywords, just accurately describe the image. In this case it could be a description (with a relevant keyword) describing the content the user will see when they land after the click.
Many sites opt to add “bread-crumb” navigation to help out. This type of nav aid is very useful for spiders and your human users will appreciate being able to jump to any previous point in their current path quickly and easily. This item typically looks like this: Home >> Gardening >> Tools >> Rakes In this example, it’s easy to see where you are, and easy to find your way back a topic or two without having to sort through the full website nav options again. And you’ll note that you can use keywords to describe the content group for each jump, so it’s helpful to spiders in understanding what the content of the page is, in this case, it’s clear to expect content about “Garden Rakes”.
Importance of Internal Link Architecture
As mentioned above, there are a couple of important reasons for making sure your ILA is sound. First, you’d like your users to easily find content they’re after, and to also find content related to what they are immediately reading through. Here, placing links within articles makes perfect sense. If the user is reading about gardening, for example, it makes sense when you mention specific tools for specific jobs, to link to your section or pages about those specific items. It helps the user gain a fuller understanding on the topic, and your sites appears helpful by offering relevant, related material to the user when they needed it.
The second reason that ILA is important is for the search engines. A well cross-linked website shows the engines you are interested in providing your users with the most relevant content on a given topic. It also allows pages achieving some level of trust to pass along some of that value to other pages within the website. If your main page has a PR value of 5, and internal pages are lower, you could share some of the main page’s value with internal pages through proper cross-linking. Over time, this builds up and can help the entire website rank better for targeted terms.
Don’t go crazy on the cross linking, though. That’s an obvious, and abusive, tactic that will do your site no good. The best rule of thumb is this: If you’re speaking about a topic, and mention something that is obviously related to it, place one text link (using the appropriate keyword in the anchor text of the link) to the other content. That’s it. One link from page to page in your site. And don’t think every site needs to be cross-linked to every other page, do it where it makes sense and don’t go overboard.
This is more of a housekeeping item, but won’t hurt to include in your optimization mix. Spiders prefer simple URLs, and using keywords in the URL is an old seo trick. Thankfully, it’s still an acceptable practice today. You can get carried away with this one, but there’s really no need to. Using the appropriate keywords when naming your files and folder will also help keep your server clean and let you find the file you’re looking to edit very quickly.
The use of your keywords as folder and file names will allow you to get the keyword you’re targeting for each page into the URL, too, a nice, but not necessary bonus. This is the type of thing that you can do when starting a new site, but if you’ve already got an established website, don’t sweat it, just optimize the pages themselves as well as possible. In our continuing apple example, this is how things might look: http://www.newsite.com/seeds/red-delicious-seeds.html In this example, the domain is www.newsite.com. The file (or actual web page) is called red-delicious-seeds.html, and it resides in a folder called seeds.
An important item to note is how multiple words are connected in a URL. Always use a hyphen ( – ) to connect words you want spaced apart. Don’t use underscores. Underscores used to be the hot-ticket years ago, but not so much anymore. You could leave all the words written together as one long word, but some engines look at this as one word first, then multiple words. This means you’ll rank better for that one big made-up word than for the actual phrase you wanted.
It’s advisable to keep the number of folders used to a minimum as well. This means that most of your pages should reside on the ROOT of your directory. Right where your index page sits. Burying pages inside multiple folder just to get more keywords in the URL is not a good idea. The spiders/engines know this trick, and, more to the point, there is simply no need.