SEO How-to, Part 8: Architecture and Internal Linking

Editor’s note: This post continues our weekly primer in SEO, touching on all the foundational aspects. In the end, you’ll be able to practice SEO more confidently and converse about its challenges and opportunities.

The way in which you cobble your site together — how you categorize products, which categories you choose to make most prominent, and how you name them — has an enormous impact on your ability to rank and drive traffic and revenue from natural search.

This is the eighth installment in my “SEO How-to” series. Previous installments are:

Architecture determines what pages exist, how they’ll be linked, and how well they’ll be able to rank. Yes, your site’s architecture directly impacts your ability to rank for the products that your site sells.

Architecture Targets Searchers’ Desires

Think about it this way. In order to rank, a page has to exist to target rankings for important search phrases your customers use. If you sell jewelry, you probably have engagement rings. And halo rings are a popular style today, so you probably have some of those. But unless you have a page that aggregates all the halo-style rings and labels them “halo engagement rings,” you probably won’t sell many halo engagement rings through natural search.

If you don’t have those categories and subcategories that aggregate products in the ways that people are searching for, you won’t be able to rank for the products types for which they search. That’s what I mean by architecture determining your ability to rank.

Use the keyword research discussed in “SEO How-to, Part 4: Keyword Research Concepts” and “SEO How-to, Part 5: Keyword Research in Action” to help identify areas of optimization for your architecture. Which keyword topics could suggest new ways of organizing products to better meet the needs of your customers? Consider creating those. Which categories of products on your site aren’t found in keyword research at all? Consider testing those to determine if customers are using them on the site or if they could be removed to streamline the experience.

For search engine optimization, architecture’s impact is a marrying of the importance of content relevance (what a page is called and how well it’s optimized for that ideal phrase), and link authority (the worthiness of a page to rank based on linking structures).

Juicy Link Authority

I’ve discussed, in an earlier post, content relevance and optimization. In this article, I’ll discuss authority as it relates to internal linking and architecture.

Google’s patented PageRank is a way to calculate a web page’s authority based on links from other sites to that page. The more links from other sites that shared the same topical relevance and were themselves authoritative sites, the more authoritative a web page was said to be.

Today, Google says that PageRank has been subsumed by other, more complex algorithm updates, but the concept is still useful in understanding authority in SEO. In SEO jargon, we think of link authority like glasses of delicious juice. You want more juice flowing into your site. Every drop of juice (or link from a relevant, authoritative site) makes the pages on your site plumper and juicier — more attractive for search engines to rank.

Link authority trickles from one page to the next. Most of your site’s juice is likely pooled at the home page and trickles down through the categories and subcategories into the product pages. The closer a page is to the home page, the more juice will pool there — and the better chance it will have to rank.

Sitewide Navigational Elements

We can’t just have every page linking from your home page to collect the maximum authority, though. It would detract immeasurably from the customer experience. That’s where header navigation and mega-navigational structures come into play for usability and for SEO.

Internal linking and navigation tell search engines what you value on your site. Like the PageRank algorithm that measures the value of external links, search engines also pay attention to what you link to on your own site. If every page links to one page, it sends signals that that one page is very important on your site. Header and footer navigation do just that.

Your sitewide header and footer are used on every page on your site. That means that the pages that are linked to in the header and footer are linked to from every page on the site. That’s a powerful SEO tool, as well as critical for user experience. Consider carefully what you need to rank for — based on the keyword research you’ve done — and then consider how you can optimize your navigational elements for those phrases. links directly to an optimized page for halo engagement rings. links directly to an optimized page for halo engagement rings.

For example, ranks number one in Google U.S. for the phrase “engagement rings halo.” Why? It’s not because it’s the top ranker for “engagement rings” as well, because it’s not. It’s because the sites uses the header navigation to link to the “Halo Engagement Rings” page, and because that page is optimized for the phrase “engagement rings halo.” This deeper linking from the header, paired with an optimized landing page populated with only halo ring products, is an irresistible combination for search engines. It successfully pairs optimized relevance with optimized authority signals.

Remember with internal linking authority, it’s not about how deep in the site the page actually lives. It’s not about being two levels deep versus five levels deep in the site.

The click path is the most important concept. If you can shortcut the traditional hierarchical linking structure to link to deeper pages that have more value to more searchers, creating links to pages like a “halo engagement rings” page, that’s more important than how deep the page actually lives in the site’s hierarchy.

Sitewide navigation isn’t the only powerful linking element on the site, however.

Most ecommerce sites have an additional navigation or filtering element on the left side of the page or at the top of the product browse grid that helps customers navigate within a chosen category. If coded so that they’re accessible to search engine crawlers, those navigational elements can also pass link juice effectively throughout all the pages within a single category.

Read the next installment of our “SEO How-to” series: “SEO How-to, Part 9: Diagnosing Crawler Issues.”

Jill Kocher Brown

Jill Kocher Brown

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