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 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.
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 the use of keywords in the link text. Internal links, before the SEO side, have relevance on the user experience as they allow to optimize and conclude the customer journey.
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.
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 analyze all of them, if they do it is thanks to the 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.
During internal linking analysis, one step to take is the choice of:
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 the 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 link is clicked by the user” (this is a 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.
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 the 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.
During the internal linking analysis it is recommended to isolate links from:
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:
Having clusters we get aggregate data easier to process, for example in pivot tables or on data visualization 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: