Ever wondered how search engines like Google rank web pages?
In a process known as indexing, search engines utilize a special type of software called crawlers. These navigate the web through links and evaluate the rank worthiness or PageRank of every content they come across.
That’s why link building — the process of generating backlinks from authoritative domains to your website — is often considered the bread and butter of SEO.
However, there are other links you need to worry about aside from the inbound links you get from external sources.
As advanced as search engine crawlers seem, they’re unfortunately not smart enough to explore an entire domain by themselves. They need you, the website owner, to establish an internal link structure to help them discover your content in a thorough and efficient way.
In this post, we’ll discuss the best link structure practices for a more crawlable website. You can also take a look at the results we help to achieve in terms of crawlability on some of our partners’ sites with our solution.
Flat Site Architecture
When designing your website’s link structure, you start with your homepage at the very top of the architecture and work your way down to related pages and posts.
This often creates a deep chain of links that pass through category pages and branch out to dozens of related content pieces. That’s why most site link structures may resemble a pyramid that links pages across multiple levels.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Don’t worry — there’s a catch.
When evaluating the relevance of pages, search engine crawlers pay attention to the number of clicks needed to access them.
The fewer clicks needed, the more priority a page gets during the indexing process. On the flip side, deeper pages that require more clicks to get to may not be regarded as important.
This is where a flat website architecture steps in.
What is a Flat Website Architecture?
Rather than creating a deep link structure with several sublevels, a flat site architecture extends horizontally by linking to more pages straight from your homepage.
This means all of your pages are accessible from the homepage within one to three links.
From a user perspective, finding the content you need with fewer clicks makes for a positive experience. For search engine crawlers, this means most pages on a website will be treated with equal importance.
In the past, the only rule you need to remember when constructing a flat website architecture is to keep it well below 100 links per page. But ever since Google Panda rolled out, website owners now need to focus on the implications of links on the user experience.
You see, a flat website architecture often breeds keyword-stuffed homepages. Not only may it confuse users, but it also goes against Google’s direction for the past few years, which is to improve user experience and pour website optimization efforts on content quality.
If, however, you can implement a flat architecture while keeping the navigation intuitive and convenient, then you can definitely make it work for your site.
For example, if you sell a cloud-based service on your website, then it only makes sense to link to key pages from the get-go, including your “About” page, contact page, and services page.
It’s also important to focus on forging backlinks that make sense and helps users find posts that match their objectives.
This leads us to the next strategy you need to remember when planning your website link structure.
Good Internal Linking
What qualifies as a good internal link?
In a nutshell, a good internal link should accomplish the following objectives:
- Improves website navigation
In the eyes of search engines, links aren’t supposed to be tools for manipulating search engine rankings. Their purpose should be to help users navigate a website and find the content they need.
- Passes on link juice
When determining the PageRank of content, search engines consider the authority of the link source. This is often referred to as page authority, and it can be distributed over multiple pieces of content with the help of links.
- Establishes website hierarchy
Hierarchy may not be important if you chose to go with a flat website architecture. But for other link structures like silos, which will be discussed later in this post, it’s the key to better page crawlability, improved user experience, and consistent search engine rankings.
If you’re starting from scratch, SEO experts will probably recommend that you plan your website hierarchy and link structure ahead of time. But if your website has been around for a while with a mess of posts with little to no organization, you can still establish a logical link structure using the right tools.
WordPress users, for example, can take advantage of the Yoast SEO plugin to spot internal link opportunities based on prominent words in your content.
Just remember the following tips when weaving internal links into your content:
Use Keyword-Oriented Anchor Texts
To help establish hierarchy and contextual relevance between pages, be sure to use keywords in your anchor texts.
Put simply, an anchor text could be a word, phrase, or even sentence where you embed the actual hyperlink.
By smartly incorporating keywords into your anchor texts, you can help users understand where the link leads to. It also elevates the linked content’s chance of ranking in organic search listings.
Create “Dofollow” Links
In most website platforms and content management systems, links are automatically set to have the “dofollow” attribute by default. These links are generally called by the SEO community as “follow links.”
As opposed to links with a “nofollow” attribute, follow links instruct search engine crawlers that it should influence the linked content’s PageRank. These attributes can be added to a link using the “rel” tag.
To help you understand this, here is what a follow link looks like in HTML:
<a href=”www.example.com” rel=”dofollow”> Anchor Text </a>
Don’t Force or Spam Internal Links
If there’s one thing you ought to remember from flat website architectures, it’s the fact that too many links on a single page spell trouble.
To preserve the user experience and abide by Google’s quality guidelines, there should only be a reasonable quantity of links found on each page.
How many links can you add before you reach an “unreasonable” amount?
The answer is, it depends on the length of your content and the need for additional information.
A rule of thumb is to only add an internal link where it’s relevant. If a link won’t offer any benefit whatsoever to users, then you’re probably better off omitting it.
The Link Silo Structure
Now that you know what constitutes a good link, it’s time to put them into practice.
A link silo structure is all about organizing your website’s content into categories.
For example, let’s say you own a tech blog that reviews the latest gadgets. Some of the top-level categories you can start with are:
- Personal Computers
In a silo structure, these categories must be represented by static pages that link out to all related subcategories and posts.
With this in mind, here’s what the skeleton of your website may look like with the silo structure.
Of course, this is an oversimplified implementation of the link silo structure. But it should give you a clear idea on how to plan your content and create internal links between them.
Enforcing Your Link Silo
Take note that most content management systems have built-in taxonomies that encourage the link silo structure by design.
For example, WordPress clearly distinguishes between the static pages you can use for categories and the actual posts. You can even use categories editor to add new categories as well as set their hierarchy.
To make sure these categories improve the usability factor on your website, don’t forget to add them as items in a custom menu.
After you complete your link structure, the next step is to create an XML sitemap and submit it to search engines.
An XML sitemap is a document that aggregates all the URLs found on your website. Unlike an HTML sitemap that’s readable for humans, an XML sitemap is designed specifically for search engines.
Submitting your XML sitemap to a search engine accelerates the indexation process since crawlers will know exactly where to look for content.
A tool like the XML Sitemaps Generator can make this process a breeze. All you need to do is head over to their site, enter your website URL, and click “Start.”
Depending on the size of your website, the tool may take anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes to generate your XML sitemap. When done, verify that the sitemap contains all the links to your pages and click “Download Your XML Sitemap File” to proceed.
You then have to upload your sitemap to the root folder of your domain and manually add it to the Google Search Console.
That’s it — the top four strategies that will enable you to create a more crawlable website architecture.
As easy as they may seem, none of the steps above are meant to yield overnight results.
Just like with anything else in SEO, it will take time before internal linking efforts affect your search engine rankings. So, be patient and focus on one step at a time. Good luck!