Internal Link Analysis: How to Conduct and Choice between Follow and Nofollow

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Preface: the link intended as a link between two resources is one of the fundamental characteristics of the Internet, a complex structure where a link leads to a content. Therefore it is not at all conceivable to eliminate links as it would give rise to unconnected entities that do not provide a complete experience to users.

Internal links: how to manage links

Links continue to be an important factor in Google Search algorithms. SEOs focus (often) a lot of attention on external links and little on internal links, external links in most cases have a cost while the addition/management of internal links has no cost and allows you to have full control. It is wrong to consider internal links useful only for navigation and use of keywords in the link text. Internal links, before the SEO side have a relevance on the user experience as they allow to optimise and conclude the customer journey.

Internal Links: Some Reflections

Most URLs don't have Backlinks

Google Search boots require individual pages and follow the links leading to them. A high percentage of scanned pages are only accessible from internal and not external links. The access points to a website are multiple and the crawler does not access only from the home page, so a good internal linking system allows the bot, on any page it is located, to move freely and reach as many pages as possible.

Million Pages Directory: How does Google Search behave?

Let's suppose to conduct an SEO analysis on a Real Estate portal with 15,000 cities (municipalities+cities of Italy and other states), 100 possible combinations of properties and 750,000 properties (assuming 50 properties per city). Elaborating all the possible combinations of city+property-type of property, each combination corresponds to one page, reaching millions of pages. Search engines, searching only on external links (backlinks) would never be able to analyse all of them, if they do it is thanks to a correct management of Information Architecture (AI) and internal linking (IL). External links increase Google Search's trust in the domain, the more Google trusts external links (link profile) the more it will trust internal links. For this reason the two types of links should be considered with extreme importance. Internal links also provide Linkjuice but the only thing that internal links cannot increase is the number of different domains that link to the website.

Internal Linking: How much does the type of link/anchor count?

During internal linking analysis one step to take is the choice of:
  • type of link:
    • textual;
    • image.
  • position of the link
    • in the main content;
    • after the content;
    • in sidebar;
    • in the footer bar sticky.
  • How to display the link:
    • clearly visible both as position and font/color, e.g. do not use white font on white background;
    • differentiate the colour of the link from the page text
  • type of anchor text to use:
    • strong keyword;
    • navigational;
    • landing page URL.
  • words/phrases before and after the link;
  • link contextualization and correlation-relevance between the text hosting the link and landing page. Conceptual correlation between link and page context. Regarding the last point, in an e-commerce it is a good rule to create a strong internal linking between daughter-categories and mother-categories, then add linking systems (such as sliders) within the mother-categories (with greater authority) that push the daughter-categories.
As the link type changes, the SEO weight we are giving to the destination page changes. A link placed in the main content with anchor text, will have a very strong weight while a link placed in sidebar (or in general in boilerplate position) has a much lower weight. The importance/strength of an internal link does not depend only on the position/anchor but also on other factors such as "the probability that that link is clicked by the user" (this is an Google patent a few years ago). In general, as usual, there are no rules dictated by anyone, but when you add internal links or plan a strategy to do so, you have to think about the user and the usefulness that can derive from it: "if the user clicks on it, he gets useful information to fully satisfy his intent"? yes, then I add the link.

Internal links: Balancing and Do-Follow Vs No-Follow

During the steps of an internal linking analysis you have to check the balance of the number of links between all sections of the website. There must be no obvious imbalances between one section and another or the presence of branches of the information architecture with a very low percentage of internal links (or coming only from footer and main-menu). This does not mean that all areas must have the same number of internal links but that the number of links must be proportional to the value we give to the area; the home page must receive a higher number of internal links than a product sheet or product category. Brief Excursus: when designing the information architecture (AI) it is a good rule to focus also on how internal links could be used to increase the authoritativeness of a section. AI serves to organize the contents and make them more usable to the user in the shortest possible time, without errors by proposing in-depth links to satisfy his intent. A good AI might aim to guide the user from "General to Detail" and this is where a good internal linking system comes into play. Let's remember that the keyword concept is evolving into "User Intent" which cannot be satisfied (sometimes) with just a single article, so a good AI can help satisfy the user-intent. As for external links, the focus is on the do-follow and no-follow attribute. nofollow is a value assigned to the rel attribute of a link, for the user nothing changes as the link is always clickable but it changes for the website. In Google guidance is explained that those who choose to use this attribute clearly indicate to Google Search spiders not to follow the link, so they do not get any SEO value and do not receive as much as a do-follow link. Opposite to the no-follow attribute there is the do-follow which in reality does not need to be made explicit because inside the WYSIWYG editors of CMS, if the no-follow attribute is not added on the links, automatically they are do-follow, so they tell the search engine that outgoing links are to be followed. For the planning of an optimal internal linking strategy you must also provide for the management of do-follow and no-follow links, because if you add the do-follow to all the links you run the risk of dispersing internal pagerank. Links to purely informational pages such as cookie-policy law or, more generally, links to pages that are not relevant at the business level should have no-follow.

Tips

During the internal linking analysis it is recommended to isolate links from:
  • main menu;
  • footer menu;
  • sidebar;
  • other boilerplate positions.
and to add a cluster for each link, possibly corresponding to an AI branch (home, single product, category X etc) keeping the following column scheme on Excel:
  • URL From;
  • Cluster URL From;
  • URL To;
  • Cluster URL To;
  • Menu (for links coming from menu).
Having clusters we get an aggregate data easier to process, for example in pivot tables or on data visualisation tools like " https://rawgraphs.io/", to name one free and easy to use. To locate links from menus, you can use Screaming Frog by setting Xpaths and processing the data with Excel. See the official documentation here: https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/web-scraping/ sometimes it can happen that the only internal links are those coming from the menus (top menu and footer menu), in this case (except JS issues) you can provide the creation of page templates, indicating for each template how to manage the internal links and which ones to add. Example:
  • Home" page template:
    • add a slider with links to product categories;
    • add a slider with links to blog categories.
  • Product Category" page template:
    • add a system of links to sub-product categories;
    • ...


Roberto Paolucci

SEO Specialist

Anno 1990. Mi sono laureato in Economia Aziendale presso l’Università degli Studi della Tuscia. Prima SEO e sviluppatore freelancer, poi presso la concessionaria d’auto “Centro Auto VT”, le mie esperienze lavorative hanno spaziato in differenti settori. Il mio interesse nel Digital Marketing inizia grazie ad alcuni corsi professionali come PHP e Database relazioni MySQL, programmazione Wordpress e partecipando a numerosi convegni e workshop di settore. In ByTek sono SEO Specialist e utilizzo ogni giorno strumenti di Web Analytics. Running e mountainbike nel tempo libero.

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