A clear structure makes a website much easier for visitors to navigate. It also ensures a clear information hierarchy and the link juice is better distributed across the entire website. In this article, I will discuss all the important ins and outs and I give you some concrete tips.
A difficult to navigate website can be very frustrating. A deal-breaker, in fact. If you, as a visitor, have to make an effort to find certain information or content, then something is wrong. A website should be intuitive and clear. You can compare it with a metro station. Although you may be in an unfamiliar environment, expect to see signs with arrows pointing you to the location of important facilities. Without these signs, traveling on the metro becomes a frustrating experience.
So it is essential to have clear navigation on your website. Visitors should know or see almost immediately how they can get back from an article to the homepage, how they can contact or find products and articles. An intuitive website is a great website. In practice this means the following:
All tabs are clearly labeled. Visitors must know exactly what to expect when clicking a navigation link.
The navigation bar is in a clear, intuitive place (usually at the top of the page or on the left). If you choose to place it in a different place, make sure that visitors do not have to do too much puzzle work to find their way on the website.
The navigation bar is not cluttered with links. Too busy navigation is confusing and overwhelming. Try to divide your website into clear main categories. Not every page has to be accessible directly from your homepage.
Be careful with creating websites. A website that stands out and is ‘different’ from the rest is nice, but make sure that this does not come at the expense of user-friendliness.
Most websites use the so-called pyramid structure. The homepage is often at the top and has a navigation menu to several main categories. These categories can then contain articles or products (content) or be divided into subcategories.
It is often recommended not to remove this content more than 2 to 3 clicks from the homepage. This is not a strict rule, if the navigation makes sense, people are willing to click more often without getting frustrated (think of the filter functions of large online stores, for example).
The hierarchy of a website has a number of important tasks. First, it tells Google’s crawlers (bots) which pages are important (and less important) and what your website is about. It also ensures that pages on your website do not have to compete with each other.
If someone enters ‘buy winter coat’ in Google, you naturally want this visitor to end up on the ‘winter coats’ category page, where all winter coats are, and not on the product page of a specific winter coat. Both pages may seem equally relevant to Google for those looking for a winter coat unless you clearly state which page is actually more important.
Another advantage of a clear hierarchy in the link structure is sitelinks . Google sets up a number of site links when analyzing your website. Ideally (and if the link structure is good) this will contain the main categories of your website so that visitors can navigate even more easily.
Each link on your website carries some link juice value to the landing page (excluding nofollow links and sometimes 302 redirects). Link juice is a non-technical term that indicates the SEO value of a link. It is important to mention that Google regularly updates this information. This means that the value of links changes constantly, but also that it can take a while before changes to your website have an effect on the link values (this does not happen immediately).
Google uses link juice to rank websites and pages in the search engine, among other things. If many other websites link to your homepage, this will bring in a certain amount of link juice. This will only spread over your entire website if you actually link to other important pages from your homepage. These pages in turn often link to smaller pages and the link juice ‘flows’ through the entire website. As a result, your site will rank higher as a whole, instead of just the main page.
The number of link juices passed through a page depends on a whole series of variables:
If a page is not indexed or has no value, it obviously cannot pass on anything. The more value the page has, the more juice it can pass through links. It’s common for a website’s home page to get the most value.
A page divides its link juice among all outgoing links. The more links, the less value is passed per individual link. A page that is full of links (such as a home page) will therefore give less value per link than an identical page with a lot fewer links.
Google also uses the location of a link to determine value. Links in headers, sidebar, and footers are worth less than links in the middle of the page, in the text of an article for example. Links in content are valuable because they better match the content of the article (for example, a source or reference).
The header, sidebar or footer often contains navigation links, paid links or links that are not very relevant (disclaimer of terms of service ). These pass on less value.
While this factor is especially relevant with external pages linking to your website, it is still useful to remember this question when setting up your internal link structure. Google determines the relevance of a resource based on the domain (you don’t have to worry about an internal link), the specific page, and the surrounding text. So, if possible, make sure that the page and the text around the link match the page that is being linked to.
Google attaches great importance to reliable websites (read: no spam) and has developed a system to identify reliable websites. In short, Google has a certain selection of domains it trusts (such as major news and government sites). The reliability of a website is determined by its distance from these reliable sites.
If a trustworthy website links to your website, you are just one link from that website and you are likely to get a high trust factor. These reliable websites are intensively managed and moderated, and the chances are therefore very small that they would link to spam sites. The further away your website is from these trustworthy sites, the more likely your page is spam. Of course, this does not mean that a remote website actually contains spam, but the chance is higher. This factor is especially relevant when it comes to external links to your website.
The anchor text of a link is important. These link texts, usually underlined in blue, tell Google what the linked page is about. When I link to hedgehogs in a text, Google concludes that the landing page is likely related to the spiny creatures that roam your backyard every fall. This ensures that the landing page is seen as (more) relevant to the search results when someone searches for ‘hedgehogs’ in Google.
In fact, an internal page can rank by itself on a keyword of an anchor text that doesn’t even appear on the landing page. This indicates that the anchor text gives the receiving page a boost in the rankings of the keywords that have been provided.
So make sure that these match the receiving page, so that the page is better found with the correct search terms. However, be careful not to use the same term for every anchor text. Google has found that when linking to a page, it is very uncommon for the exact same anchor text to be used every time.
Links are worth more when handed out unilaterally. This is easy to explain from an external perspective. This measure was devised to combat large-scale link swapping. Before Google intervened, links were exchanged between site administrators on a massive scale to get a better ranking as a website.
In many cases, website administrators do not put links on their website to improve the content, but only to get a link back. As a website administrator, you should not worry too much about this internally. It makes sense to have several ‘exchange links’ within your website, for example from your homepage to your contact page and vice versa. What you should pay particular attention to is that it ‘is correct’ from the perspective of the visitor.
If you follow a link, you basically ensure that the link cannot be followed by Google’s crawlers. As a result, this link will not pass any link juice to the landing page. One reason to do this is, for example, to ensure that ‘unimportant’ pages such as the general terms and conditions do not get high (er) value in the search engine, since most visitors will not be interested in this page.
With a no-index, the link will still pass link juice, but Google will no longer index the page. One reason to use no-index could be that you don’t want a page to appear in site links, but you want the page to pass a value to the rest of your website.
Also, be aware that certain links may inadvertently not be properly indexed by Google. Links that require you to take certain actions, such as filling out a form or even a simple drop-down menu in your navigation bar, remain invisible to the Google crawler. Also, links that can only be reached via a search bar on the site are not found.
The dynamics of a link structure are well and good, but how can you improve the internal link structure of your website in practice? Here are 8 concrete tips:
Do this from the important categories to the smallest or least important pages. It helps to visualize this structure for yourself. You can use one of the many paid programs on the internet for this or just use pen and paper.
The main page (homepage) of the website links to the different categories and then to subcategories. An example of a web store would be that the homepage links to women’s, men’s and children’s clothing. These then link to different clothing categories for women (Home> Women> Jeans, etc…).
Often a breadcrumb structure is used . This small bar clearly shows where you are on a website. A good example of a website that uses this navigation visualization is theiconic.com:
Using this strategy, each page below the home page links back to the home page, and each page within a category link back to the overarching category.
To check how your website is doing, you can enter the URL in Screaming Frog‘s SEO spider tool (free up to 500 URLs per website). Here you can see how many internal links each page on your website receives.
If you have articles or blogs on your website, try to link in the text (where possible) to other relevant content on the site. Make sure you do this in moderation. Too many links can appear spammy.
If a link no longer works, you will get a ‘404 error’. You can also find these broken links in the SEO spider tool (under the response tab).
Avoid these links if you already have them in the navigation menu or a breadcrumb line, unless it clearly contributes to a positive user experience.
Do you have pages on your website that bring in a lot of customers? Try to give some more attention to these pages with internal links. These references serve as a subtle signpost for directing potential customers to high-performing pages. Consult Google Analytics to see which pages yield a lot of conversion or long-term website visits.
If you have a page in your domain that is not linked to, it cannot be found by Google’s crawlers. Visitors will also not find this orphan page unless they type the specific URL in the address bar.
A perfect website stands like a house (or a pyramid, in this case) from an SEO point of view, while also providing an intuitive, user-friendly structure to the website visitors. It is sometimes difficult to find the right balance between good search engine optimization and ease of use. Hopefully, this article has given you some concrete tools. Let us know in the comments what you are doing to optimize your internal website structure.