For anyone with a website, linking can be a confounding process. Part science, part art, questions of when to link and how to do so are not easily answered. Indeed, the practice of linking is a field unto itself within the often confusing world of SEO.
After a recent review of iMedia's own linking policy (something all websites should do from time to time), we formulated a series of seven questions for a panel of linking experts. Here are their answers, as well as some additional free resources they were gracious enough to provide.
There is significant natural search ranking value with respect to a website's link profile, for example, the quality and quantity of inbound links. What, if any, ranking value exists within a website's internal linking structure?
Seth Besmertnik, CEO, Conductor
A site's internal linking structure plays a significant role in establishing and improving visibility in organic search results. Think of the internet as a vast plumbing system, with individual domains representing a city's homes, shops, and offices. Link authority flows throughout the internet like water through the city's pipes. Just like buildings route water to the rooms that need it, marketers must route link authority to the appropriate pages in order for them to rank well.
Rand Fishkin, CEO, SEOMoz
While a large portion of search engine algorithms do focus on external links, I'd certainly say that internal linking is a big part of a successful search engine optimization campaign. The basic theory with internal linking is to focus on both relevance and breadth. In general, you want a site with a flat link architecture, not just for search engines, but for users as well (so few clicks are required to reach any given piece of content). From there, you want to use relevant anchor text and a sensible site structure, leveraging category and sub-category pages to link to deeper content pages.
We've written several posts on these topics at SEOMoz, including: "PageRank, Link Patterns & The New Flow of Link Juice," "Link and Ranking Strategies for Enterprise Sites," and "Diagrams That Can Help You Define the Proper Anchor Text of Internal Links."
Todd D. Malicoat, founder, Stuntdubl.com
Internal link structure is probably in the top three most important variables to optimal site creation for rankings. Internal link text, along with a sitemap and navigation, create the foundation of a site and its meaning. It's based on this taxonomy that rankings will occur within a specific keyword and industry set.
Eric Ward, president, EricWard.com
The search ranking value of internal linking structure is far greater for sites that have shown the ability to attracting links and publicity organically. In fact, to borrow from the artist formally known as Prince, I'm pretty comfortable saying that if the engines like you and trust you, you can optimize your site like it's 1999. The tricky thing is recognizing that internal linking is a slippery slope even for trusted sites. You don't want to abuse the trust you've earned.
Debra Mastaler, president of Alliance-Link
There is some value to on-page links from a content standpoint, anchor text using keywords can be considered on-page content and weighted as such. Well linked pages allow for search engine spiders to easily navigate and index pages. It also allows for the flow of link popularity to internal pages, which is needed to keep pages in the main search indexes.
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