If you’re ever feeling masochistic, try to look up someone famous who is younger than you on Wikipedia and marvel at how much they’ve achieved compared to you. I did that when I was reading about the tennis prodigy Alexander ‘Sascha’ Zverev, who at the age of 21 and ranked fifth in the world is the youngest player in the top 10. Even at such a young age, his Wikipedia entry is longer than mine ever would, assuming that I would even have a Wikipedia entry of my own, which is not very likely.
To further cement the point, Sascha’s Wikipedia entry also has a link to a page containing the details of his career so far. If I’d like to, I could actually spend the entire day tracking his entire career from his Wikipedia page, made possible by the generous amount of links Wikipedia has kindly provided. This is what is referred to as internal linking, in which links to pages from the same website are spread throughout a certain page, enticing users to click through those various links to catch up on the whole story, so to speak. For marketers and SEO services, internal linking is an essential process in optimizing a website.
SEO and internal linking
Links, specifically backlinks, are an integral part of SEO. In fact, the first algorithm that Google use to evaluate pages for their search engine, PageRank, named after co-founder Larry Page, uses the number and quality of backlinks as a primary criteria. Now that the ubiquitous search engine has two decades of progress on its back, links are just one of many, yet still important, part of the equation.
By comparison, internal links don’t directly impact how certain websites might rank in a given search engine results page, which is why sometimes, they are overlooked in the whole SEO process. In reality, internal links do have a direct effect on SEO, but not in the same way that backlinks do. Rather, internal links are integral during the process of web crawling and indexing, in which search engines identify and evaluate websites to be included in their search results.
Determining how link values are distributed across your website
Link value is closely related to the issue of information architecture but they’re not completely interchangeable. When search engines crawl and index your website, they look to your website’s sitemap for information on how your site is organized, its topology for a lack of a better word. For the most part, this topology will closely correlate to the link of value of your website pages, the homepage sitting at the top and the various contents at the bottom.
This is partly because in most cases, links to your homepage will be almost always included in every single page of your website. By the same token, contents that are linked only within the category page will carry less link value and therefore ranked less prominently. This idea can be manipulated by having sections for most recent and/or popular contents within your main page to boost the link value of those contents.
Content structure and the relationships between content
By now, you should be aware of the use of ‘tags’ within various sections of the internet. These tags are what web admins use to categorize pages based on the type of contents. Navigate to the ‘Royal Family’ section on the Sydney Morning Herald for example and you’ll be taken to a page featuring a collection of stories from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’ ongoing visit to Australia. These section pages occupy the middle ground between the main page of your website and your main contents.
When search engine crawls through your website, these tags help them understand how pages within your website are related to each other. As with most things in life, few things are ever simply one thing, so a post about the dress the Duchess wore on a particular day would be tagged as both ‘Fashion’ and ‘Royal Family’. In each of the articles within the ‘Royal Family’ section, there would be a link to the section page itself, which acts as a signpost to web crawlers which pages that cover similar subject matter.
These tags could also be used to establish content structure by working hand in hand with the link values described above. Normally, websites operate under a pyramid-esque structure. At the top is the main page of the website itself, linked from every page of the website. Underneath that, we have the section pages, linked from every page of the related section. At the bottom sit the actual contents, linked from the section page and often other related contents but not as much as the section pages.
The recent trend is that websites are no longer using section pages simply as a collection of links, rather we’re now seeing more and more of what I like to call headlining contents or what the internet refers to as cornerstone contents. This type of content serves as a more-focused section page but with the added touch of a narrative. Instead of simply listing articles within that section, cornerstone contents attempt to create a narrative that binds those articles together.
For example, say you’re trying to do a piece on the history of electric car development from its infancy in the early 20th century to the now infamous General Motors EV1 and the burgeoning industry of electric cars in the current climate thanks to Tesla and the Nissan Leaf. Instead of presenting this as one article, you can divide this piece into several articles but with one overarching outline serving as the cornerstone content. As such, when search engines crawl and index your website, this cornerstone will be given more prominence above the other smaller articles.
The phenomenon of Wikipedia wormhole
Other than for the purpose of crawling and indexing, internal linking can also be used to the purpose of making your website more attractive to readers by this thing we call Wikipedia wormhole. For those unaware, Wikipedia wormhole is the phenomenon in which an unsuspecting reader begins his day reading about Nick Kyrgios only to end up on the page for Kosovo War solely through Wikipedia’s internal links.
By using internal links and recommendations on your contents, you can entice your visitors to an extended stay in your website. Always keep in mind that while SEO is for search engines, it’s your actual human visitors that should serve as the ultimate goal and proper use of internal linking works on both counts.