Importance of link architecture

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In Day 2 of links week, we'd like to discuss the importance of link architecture and answer more advanced questions on the topic. Link architecture—the method of internal linking on your site—is a crucial step in site design if you want your site indexed by search engines. It plays a critical role in Googlebot's ability to find your site's pages and ensures that your visitors can navigate and enjoy your site.

Keep important pages within several clicks from the home page

Although you may believe that users prefer a search box on your site rather than category navigation, it's uncommon for search engine crawlers to type into search boxes or navigate via pulldown menus. So make sure your important pages are clickable from the home page and for easy for Googlebot to find throughout your site. It's best to create a link architecture that's intuitive for users and crawlable for search engines. Here are more ideas to get started:

Intuitive navigation for users

Create common user scenarios, get "in character," then try working through your site. For example, if your site is about basketball, imagine being a visitor (in this case a "baller" :) trying to learn the best dribbling technique.

  • Starting at the home page, if the user doesn't use the search box on your site or a pulldown menu, can they easily find the desired information (ball handling like a superstar) from the navigation links?
  • Let's say a user found your site through an external link, but they didn't land on the home page. Starting from any (sub-/child) page on your site, make sure they can easily find their way to the home page and/or other relevant sections. In other words, make sure users aren't trapped or stuck. Was the "best dribbling technique" easy for your imaginary user to find? Often breadcrumbs such as "Home > Techniques > Dribbling" help users to understand where they are.
  • Text links are easily discovered by search engines and are often the safest bet if your priority is having your content crawled. While you're welcome to try the latest technologies, keep-in-mind that when text-based links are available and easily navigable for users, chances are that search engines can crawl your site as well.
    This <a href="new-page">text link</a> is easy for search engines to find.
  • Sitemap submission is also helpful for major search engines, though it shouldn't be a substitute for crawlable link architecture. If your site utilizes newer techniques, such as AJAX, see "Verify that Googlebot finds your internal links" below.

Use descriptive anchor text

Writing descriptive anchor text, the clickable words in a link, is a useful signal to help search engines and users alike to better understand your content. The more Google knows about your site—through your content, page titles, anchor text, etc.—the more relevant results we can return for users (and your potential search visitors). For example, if you run a basketball site and you have videos to accompany the textual content, a not-very-optimal way of linking would be:

To see all our basketball videos, <a href="videos">click here</a> for the entire listing.

However, instead of the generic "click here," you could rewrite the anchor text more descriptively as:

You can browse all of our <a href="videos">basketball videos</a>.

For verified site owners, Webmaster Tools has the feature "Links > Pages with internal links that's great for verifying that Googlebot finds most of the links you'd expect. This is especially useful if your site uses navigation involving JavaScript (which Googlebot doesn't always execute)—you'll want to make sure that Googlebot is finding other internal links as expected.

Here's an abridged snapshot of our internal links to the introductory post for " 404 week at Webmaster Central". Our internal links are discovered as we had hoped.

webmaster tools internal links report

You can ask more internal linking questions

Here are some to get you started...

Q: What about using rel="nofollow" for maximizing PageRank flow in my internal link architecture (such as PageRank sculpting, or PageRank siloing)?
A: It's not something we, as webmasters who also work at Google, would really spend time or energy on. In other words, if your site already has strong link architecture, it's far more productive to work on keeping users happy with fresh and compelling content rather than to worry about PageRank sculpting.

Matt Cutts answered more questions about "appropriate uses of nofollow" in our webmaster discussion group.

Q: Let's say my website is about my favorite hobbies: biking and camping. Should I keep my internal linking architecture "themed" and not cross-link between the two?
A: We haven't found a case where a webmaster would benefit by intentionally "theming" their link architecture for search engines. And, keep-in-mind, if a visitor to one part of your site can't easily reach other parts of your site, that may be a problem for search engines as well.

Perhaps it's cliche, but at the end of the day, and at the end of this post, :) it's best to create solid link architecture (