Linking effectively inside your web page to other pages in the site is a direct benefit to the User eXperience (UX) and the User Interface (UI), often expressed as UI/UX optimisation. But because it benefits the user, you can assume it also does well to help SEO factors as well. Internal links are usually categorised into two main types: Menu Links and Contextual Anchor Links, and structurally these are represented quite differently on the website. This section will cover some strategies you can use to create effective linking and navigation to your content for SEO & UI/UX at the same time.
MENU BASED NAVIGATION FOR SEO:
Navigation links from menu structures in your website are probably going to be used on every page in your site. This is important because it allows your users to find what they are looking for, right? Well, what’s good for your user is also good for SEO purposes. This is because if all pages on your site can be accessed from a single menu, and that menu appears on every single page, then no matter what page they enter the website on, the search engine’s crawler bots can access and crawl every page – with one proviso, that you have the pages set to allow bots (also known as ‘spiders’, ‘robots’ or ‘crawlers’). Sounds a little creepy, but for the arachnophobe there’s nothing to fear. These are the automated browsers from search engines like Google (and many others) that surf the web looking for new pages and content. They are not creepy at all. The more links that they can follow to your page, the sooner your content will gain its rank position in their indexes. Note that linking within your website is different to building links from elsewhere to your website. I’ll cover that in the How to do SEO Step 8.
To optimise a menu structure, you should ideally represent every page in the menu if you can, but sometimes this makes the menu overwhelmingly complex and ends up creating a negative effect on UI/UX and also SEO. For example, if you have an eCommerce store with 30 different product lines and several subcategories within those, your ‘Products’ or ‘Shop’ menu item will be 30+ lines deep to show all of your categories, which may cause the bottom items in the list to extend below the bottom of the user’s screen when the menu drops open. Search engines can still enter, and maybe your user can too, but both will see this as a slightly negative result, and sometimes the categories at the bottom of the list miss out on clicks. In such cases, it’s best to split your menu into easy-to-view sections. Maybe by placing subcategory menu items only into pages that are dedicated to the parent category, or by lifting the categories into the primary menu and bypassing the first ‘Products’ or ‘Shop’ parent link. If you’re unsure about how to best structure your menu, consider hiring SEO services for a consultation and some great tips on how to build the ideal for both UI/UX and SEO.
LINK ANCHORS IN MAIN NAVIGATION:
Link Anchors are words or other elements that carry the link and can be clicked to navigate to the next page. While you can link from images, they don’t really pass on much (if anything) in SEO value to the page they link to. The ideal is when you create a text link that uses the main keyword phrase for which the destination page is optimised. This is a way of passing SEO relevance to the linked page, and of course, it makes it obvious to your user what they will find if they click on the link. If you have a 10 page website, and use the same menu on every page, then every page will have 10 links to it. This represents 10 opportunities to reinforce relevance of the link anchor text to the destination page.
LINK ANCHORS IN CONTEXT:
These are the links you can place in your main texts on any page in your site. You can select whatever words or images you think are relevant to use as the link anchor. The best way to figure out what to link in your body texts is to think about how you can be helping your user. If your user is reading a paragraph and you mention something there that can provide more relevant information, then you should consider linking to that info. Remember that the text in the anchor can pass relevance to the page it links to, so select your linking text with that in mind. It’s also perfectly fine if you want to link to another page in your site without passing anchor text relevance, and in those cases you can simply use a ‘click here’ as an anchor.
Commonly, contextual link anchors are text, but sometimes they might be an image like a button for example. Calls to Action buttons like ‘Get a Quote’ are part of your Conversion Pathway and every page should have some kind of conversion strategy in place. How and where you place these on your pages is important for Conversion Rate Optimisation.
LINKING WITHIN A SINGLE PAGE:
You can also use links to link to other places within the same page. You’d only really need to do this if your page was longer than a single screen view, i.e. if your user has to scroll a long way down to see the rest of your content, consider how to best use this type of link to make the rest of the content more accessible. You could do that as a small bullet list type menu, or simply link to later or (or earlier) sections from contextual link anchors. Again, this is another opportunity to pass SEO relevance, but don’t do this unless it improves your UI/UX in some way.
LINKS TO NON-HTML PAGES:
If you need to link to resources in your website like PDF documents for example, avoid having the PDF open in the same browser tab that the page is currently using, because users may inadvertently close the document tab and also close off from browsing your site. That’s a bad result for UI/UX leading to possible frustration and may lose you the visitor and the business they bring. Target all links to resources to a new tab. If your user closes the tab, they will still be on your website. Also consider what software your user may or may not have to view certain resources on your site. Not everyone uses Mircosoft Office, so if you have Word documents, convert them to PDF first and then upload to your site. PDFs are more universally readable than Word documents. Always think of what’s best for your user. The content in PDF documents can also be crawled by search engines, so they can positively add to your search engine optimised content.
LINKS EXITING YOUR SITE:
Only link to page outside your website if your user could genuinely benefit from following the link, and always use a blank tab as the link target, unless the outbound link is part of your conversion (like when you want to refer them to a place where conversions are more desirable for you). If you want to link to someone else’s site because the content is helpful, ask permission from the content owner to reproduce that content on your own site. To avoid issues in regards to duplicate content, just set the duplicated page content to no-index. This is a request to search engines to not show this page in search results and not count it toward your SEO and pagerank assessments. It allows you to have the duplicated content, provide your user with what they want, and maintain SEO integrity.
If you link out of your site you may: 1. Pass relevance of the link anchor text to the other website, 2. Lose your user. Outbound links will gain your site no pagerank or SEO power. They are one-way only. Some affiliated website owners may ask you to ‘swap’ links with them. This is where you place a link to their site, and they place a link to your site. Usually, links pass relevance, but reciprocal linking cancels out any SEO benefit. Only do this if it makes sense for your UI/UX.
This is a link parameter that requests that the search engine does not pass through the link. You can use it on any link to prevent the search engine crawlers from being able to go through the link. It has no effect on UI/UX so your users are completely unaware this parameter is placed on the link and will be able to pass through it to the next page without any problem at all. This doesn’t guarantee that the linked-to page won’t be crawled by Google. It just means they won’t enter from that specific link. If other ‘followed’ links exist to the same linked-to page, then the linked-to page will still get crawled and may get indexed in search results. There is some differing opinion in regards to no-follow links and whether they can provide any SEO power at all, and I am of the side that believes they can, but this is better covered off on the next step, Step 8 of How to do SEO.