Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why You MUST have Internal Links and How to Format the Pages

street signs

Internal links are kind of like street signs which point to all the parts of your site.

This is based on another one of those questions that one of our clients e-mailed to us. He wanted to know if internal links between the main domain and the subdomain “solve anything.” He also wanted to know how to properly format subdomains and subpages. In both cases, these are very important basics in the world of SEO and need to be addressed fully.

By the way, before we get into discussing this question allow me to just make an open invitation to our readers: if you have questions about how something works in the world of SEO, feel free to check below and look for the contact us button. Yasir will be happy to help you and he will also often pass along interesting questions to me to write a blog post about them.

So Just What Are Internal Links Anyway?

On the Internet, you have links. From this very web page, you can click on something and get to any number of other pages. Some of these pages are part of our website and some of them are completely separate websites which may even have absolutely nothing to do with Quantum SEO labs or the world of SEO.

Links are rightly described in point of fact as the very lifeblood of the Internet. They were originally created as a method of allowing you to find other things that may be of interest once you happened to find yourself a page which sounded interesting. So for example if you found a page on Wikipedia about George Washington interesting, you might also want to see a link there to the Revolutionary War.

Now, there are two basic kinds of links. They are internal links and external links. Internal links are those which point to another page within the site. So in the example above, we have a page on Wikipedia with information about the first president of the United States and we also have links there which point to the war he fought in order to be able to be that first president.

Those are internal links. In essence, this means that they are links which link between different pages or even different subdomains or subdirectories on a single main website.

External links by comparison point to a website outside of the website that you are in fact looking at. They may be related or they may be completely unrelated (again, using the example above, George Washington has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the world of SEO, but a link to say Google’s Webmaster page does have to do with SEO).

Why Bother with Internal Links?

So, why should you include your internal links in your website? Wouldn’t that be pointless? After all, it’s not like you get any kind of link juice flowing from one page to another on your website. Well, first and foremost, that is not entirely true as we’ll see in just a moment. Second and more importantly, there are other good reasons for including internal links.

Okay, first let us deal with the links between different pages. While it’s true that such links provide no “link juice” (an industry slang term meaning that it provides some benefit within Google’s system of rankings), they do provide two other benefits which are well worth using them for.

First and foremost, by including internal links, you actually keep people on your website that much longer. This means that you are much more likely to make a sale to them, which after all is the ultimate reason why you created your website to begin with (one can assume that you are not being purely altruistic – at least not if you are paying for SEO services from us).

Studies have shown that those who spend more time on a website and explore other parts of the site are much more likely to make a purchase and they are much more likely to actually keep coming back to your website, which means that you have the potential to get repeat business from these people.

In addition to this, Google will provide you with an additional benefit if you keep plenty of good internal links on your website. Remember that Google doesn’t actually ask you for a list of all the pages on your website. All they actually do is to follow links.

The Google spider bot will follow along the different links on your site and if you have links which point to every single page on your site, you are more likely to see all the pages indexed.

Plus, I have heard some anecdotal evidence from people that say that Google even gives better rankings in the SERPs to sites which have good internal link structure, but this may well be because of the fact that these sites are better indexed.

All this is also to say nothing of the fact that by keeping people looking through your website for a longer time and clicking on internal links, you actually reduce your bounce rate (the number of people who come to visit your site and then immediately click away) and the total time on site. Both of these numbers do tend to be noted by Google and used in weighting your site’s rankings in the SERPs.

The Difference Between Subdomains, Subdirectories and Subpages

blog in a subdirectory

Putting your blog in a subdirectory is like putting it in a separate folder on your computer.

Now, I have written recently about the difference between these kinds of different features of a website but a bit of a refresher is useful for those who just found this article through Google and are wondering why I said that link juice may actually flow to different pages even with internal links. Those who know all about this already can skip to the next part of this article.

Basically, there are three different ways to index things on your website. There are subdomains, which basically means something along the lines of blog.mysite.com. Then there are subdirectories meaning something like mysite.com/blog. There are also subpages which means something like mysite.com/mypage.htm.

Until around 2007 or so, Google used to treat subdirectories and subdomains as completely separate websites and this meant that you were able to get some good link juice merely but putting in internal links between different subdomains and or subdirectories of your site (subpages have always been treated as being on the same site).

These days, Google’s algorithm is much more sophisticated and it doesn’t actually treat these as completely separate sites anymore. However, from what I have read elsewhere, Google still treats such things as subdirectories and subdomains as “pseudo” separate sites.

What this means exactly, I’m not 100% certain. However, what I do know is that other SEO experts have noted that while the value of internal links from subdirectories and subdomains is much less than it used to be, there is a certain amount of link juice which actually does flow from them, though it is not something very important in the grand scheme of things.

So the bottom line here (and I have more to say, but this is the bottom line of the link juice question) is that you may get some small link juice benefit from links between subdomains and subdirectories though it’s nothing earth shattering as is not going to help you nearly as much, from that perspective as incoming links from other sites.

Formatting of Subpages, Subdirectories and Subdomains

Another part of this question was whether or not it makes a difference if you use keywords in the name of the subdirectories, subpages and subdomains. The answer is a definite…maybe. Well okay, it’s a yes, but it’s a qualified yes.

Again, it used to be that Google’s system paid a lot of attention to exact match domain names and the like and that this in turn meant that even an exact match subdomain, subpage or subdirectory made a big difference in terms of your rankings. These days, Google’s system doesn’t put nearly as much weight onto this as it once did. However, it definitely still does help.

By the way, while we’re on the subject of formatting your subdomain/subdirectory/subpage URLs, it’s useful to discuss the concept of SEO slugs. These are common words which have no value in SEO. Words such as “and,” “the,” “between,” etc. tend to be things which cause your website to be indexed somewhat less than optimally.

I believe that these days, Google has gotten to the point where their algorithm tends to ignore these “slugs” and as such, it’s not as big of a deal to include them in the name of your pages, however it’s another one of those little tricks that we do try to apply to help you optimize your content so that it will get the maximum benefit from an SEO perspective.

Doing the JobGetting the job done of setting up internal links

Okay, so you know that you need to have internal links and you know that you also need to have your URLs properly formatted. Now, the question is, how do you do it? Do you have to go through the hundreds or even thousands of pages of your site and start manually adding in internal links one by one? The answer is, of course not. Unless you have nothing better to do and are thoroughly masochistic that is.

If you use a content management system such as WordPress (most other systems actually have similar features available for them, but I happen to be well familiar with WordPress which is why I bring it up), you can use any number of different plugins which will allow you to automatically add in related posts to your articles/blog comments and even pages.

The system that I personally am partial to is called, very aptly “Yet another related posts plugin.”I find the name deliciously ironic because of the fact that there are actually relatively few such plugins which do the job better than this one does.

Yet another related posts plugin doesn’t just allow you to have related posts found and displayed automatically on your WordPress based website using keywords. It also has a sliding scale which allows you to decide just how related the various other posts will be.

This means that you find that the plugin is saying that your post on coffee makers is somehow related to your post on the best mattresses (both of them may have the term “waking up” for example), you can turn down the total number on your related posts system and it should find only the most relevant stuff and not just pretty much everything on your blog.

You can also tell the system to limit the number of related posts that it publishes for you and you can even tell it to exclude specific pages from your related posts (so for example the search page doesn’t have to end up with a related posts listing about search for the best hotel in New York City).

Another Way to Do the Job

Another method for doing this is to use a plugin which will actually find specific keywords and relate it to specific posts. So for example, you may tell the plugin to find every time you mention the word “bank” and then include a link to your recommended list of banks which your customers may like. Personally, I don’t like such system as much because they’re not as intelligent, but it is another possibility.

An example of such a plugin is AFlinker. That plugin is however designed to also allow you to create affiliate links which basically means that you link to external sites where you can hopefully make money by having them sell something to your customers.

Bottom Line

Okay, bottom line, you absolutely positively must have internal links in your website if you intend to succeed fully from an SEO perspective. You should also try to format the URL for your various pages and subdomains/subdirectories with keywords whenever possible, but it’s not as vital. And finally, there are plugins which can help automate the process for you.

Does PR Flow Between the Main Domain and Subdomain at All?

Does PR flow like a river?

So does PR flow like a river to the sea or is it more like a dam to a lake?

So this was another question sent in to us by a client who wanted to better understand how the whole SEO thing works. In essence, what he wants to know is whether or not there is any relationship whatsoever between the PR rank of the main domain on your site (i.e. mysite.com) and subdomains (i.e. blog.mysite.com). Not mentioned but implied is also the question of subdirectories (i.e. mysite.com/blog).

Just What Is PR Anyway?

The first time I ever heard the term PR applied to websites, I thought it was referring to putting out news releases and getting your website mentioned in various kinds of media. In a way I was right, but I was also very, very wrong.

The kind of PR I was thinking of refers to “Public Relations” which has been around for decades. This is in essence the act of trying to get your company noticed by the public at large by non advertising means. In other words, by getting press interviews, by putting out news releases, running publicity stunts and all manner of other efforts to be noticed.

Now I say that I was in a way right because the PR we refer to in SEO is actually Page Rank. This refers to a value which Google attributes to particular websites or really pages (by the way, in spite of what you may think, it’s not named for the pages that it ranks. It is named for Larry Page, the cofounder of Google who came up with the algorithm initially) on the Internet.

Page rank can range from a 0 all the way to a 10. The vast, vast, vast majority of pages on the Internet rank a 0, meaning that they tend to have precious little value as a place to get a link from. Mind you, it’s not that they have no value whatsoever. It’s just that you need a whole heck of a lot of such links in order to equal the value of a link from a higher PR page.

There are also by contrast precious few PR10 pages on the Internet. These are pages which are referenced constantly and which pretty much everyone has heard of. The homepage of Google and Facebook for example are in fact PR10 pages.

Most web pages in fact which we develop links from tend to be in the solid range of PR rankings (anywhere from around 2-7) but they will not actually be from PR10 websites and anyone who tells you that they are going to offer you hundreds of such links is generally trying to pull a fast one on you.

The High School Analogy

PR is just like high school

Just as you don't want to be the geek who thinks the Harry Potter look goes well with the Tom Cruise look, you don't want a website which looks awkward and which nobody links to.

Now, I have used this analogy before to explain exactly why and how PR works, but it’s worth repeating here because it is extremely pertinent. In essence, SEO is a lot like being in high school. Your goal in high school, other than getting a good grade on your report card is generally to climb the social ladder.

This means that ideally, you want to be dating the captain of the football team or the head cheerleader, depending on who you are and that everyone knows who you are and considers you to be “cool” whatever that ephemeral concept actually means.

The way that you do this is by starting out with yourself. You dress nicely, you make sure that whatever it is that you’re wearing is in fashion (actually, I recently read in the New York Times that this year kids are taking it to new extremes which make me worry about the future of America, but that’s for another discussion entirely).

The next thing that you do is to try to make friends, preferably with the “cool” kids, but if not then with anyone you can find whom you can find some way to get an “in” with so that you will be considered to have been noticed.

Google’s Page rank in essence works the same way as this – it checks to see who you “know” and who knows you. If your page is linked to by lots and lots of high ranking website and or has thousands of links from lesser known websites, then your PR rank will be that much higher because you are considered to be one of the “cool” kids by association.

A Common Misconception about PR

Now before I get into answering the question above (which is slightly more complicated than you might imagine it to be initially), I need to make sure to dispel one of the common myths that people tend to cling to regarding Page rank.

Just because a particular website has a particular page rank (for example, our blog here at Quantum SEO Labs has a page rank of 3. However, if you dig down and find a random page in our blog such as this one, which I wrote recently has a Page rank of 0. This means that just because you have a business page on Facebook for example, it doesn’t mean that you have a PR10 link.

Now the thing is, many unscrupulous SEO “experts” (I use the term very loosely because these guys are nothing but crooks) will tell you that they get you links on very high PR sites, things like PR6-9 for example. However, what they don’t tell you is that your link will appear on a page with PR0 or even worse, with PRN/A (meaning the page wasn’t indexed and your link is completely worthless). Thus it’s important to work with an SEO expert who is reputable and knows what they’re doing.

Another Thing to Remember about PR

Google tends to be pretty darn mysterious in the way they do their rankings. We have seen on numerous occasions that many of our clients would manage to get pages well ranked even though they happen to have low PR rankings on these pages while other pages, which have a higher PR ranking would not in fact get ranked nearly as highly.

There are several reasons for this apparent anomaly. The first and most obvious reason is that Google’s algorithm is massively complex. While Larry Page and Eric Schmidt did develop the basics of it back when they were broke college students with nothing but a dream, the algorithm has been changed thousands upon thousands of times since then.

In most cases, the changes are fairly minor and have precious little impact on the way that the web works on what the SERPs say about a particular page. However, in other cases, such as the recent Penguin update, the changes are pretty big and affect massive numbers of websites. Thus PR is only one of a great many factors which determine where you will rank.

Another reason why the PR issue is not necessarily such a big deal is that while Google’s SERPs are updated on a daily basis, the PR of any given website is actually updated only once per quarter. This means that Google may well have dropped the PR rank of a given website in the interim, but you wouldn’t happen to know about that change for months.

Bottom line of this is that while PR does make a difference in the world of SEO, it’s not the be all end all and it should not actually be relied upon as a way to figure out whether or not a particular page is going to rank well or not.

One More Point about Page Rank

Just one more point I want to make about Page rank before I finally get to actually discussing the question that was mentioned above (yes, I really am getting to it). As SEO experts, as I mentioned, we tend to ignore PR and focus instead on the quality of the links that you get. We don’t ignore it for the links that we set up, but we do tend to ignore it when it comes to your own ranking.

In point of fact, there has been talk on and off that I’ve noticed over the years of various SEO people saying that Google was planning to phase out the whole concept altogether because it’s been so misunderstood. I personally don’t believe that this will occur, however it is definitely true that people tend to pay way too much attention to this and too little attention to other factors which make you rank well.

Now about that Question

Question about PR rankings

It's actually a bit more complicated than you might initially think.

Okay, now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s discuss the question above, which is actually much more complicated than it may seem at first. First of all, there is a bit of a difference from an SEO perspective between a subdomain and a subdirectory. I wrote about this recently and explained why we generally recommend that you keep your blog in a subdirectory.

As a general rule, Google does treat both subdomains and subdirectories as a pseudo separate website. In some cases, it really is (for example, if you use a service like WordPress.com – a terrible idea BTW if that’s your only blog, but you can read more about that in my previous post).

It used to be that Google treated the subdomain or subdirectory as an entirely separate entity, however a few years ago, they changed their algorithm and now it’s kind of a pseudo separate website. It’s also worth noting that even a truly separate website (i.e. one which has a completely separate domain name) on the same IP address is only treated as a pseudo separate site.

However, for the purposes of our discussion, in theory at least, the answer is no – PR doesn’t flow from the main site to the subpages, subdirectories, subdomains at all. However, there is a very big “but” involved here which we need to talk about.

The “But”

Ah that “but.” You see, even though the PR doesn’t naturally flow from one to the other, there is a flow of what we SEO folks call “link juice” from one site to another if there is a link between them. In essence, what this means is that if you were to create a link from your main page to a subpage (or subdomain or subdirectory) then it would actually provide you with a certain amount of PR flowing from one to the other.

This is actually why we always tell our clients that they need to have internal links, but that is a discussion for another day.

What I will say here however is that you should not completely and totally discount the value of a link from a PR0 page on a high PR website. This has nothing to do with the links and has more to do with the fact that high PR webpages tend to attract more visitors.

Even though you may not actually derive benefit from the PR flowing from the main domain down to the subdomain, people may well find your page on the site simply because there are so many people who actually spend the time to visit the site in question.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, PR can flow from the main domain name to a subdomain or to a subdirectory. However, it will not flow unless you create the links to allow it to flow because Google will treat it, at least for these purposes as a completely separate entity and not as one big website.

It’s also important to note that while this is my understanding of how PR works, Google doesn’t actually make public exactly how it is that their system does its rankings.

Thus, while it’s generally known that for PR purposes, Google tend to treat the subdomain or subdirectory or subpage as a separate entity, it is possible that there is some minor amount of link juice which will flow to a subdomain from the PR of the main page. So don’t go ignoring your Facebook page just yet, even though it may technically not be a PR10 page and may really be just a PR0.

Should Your Blog be on a Subdomain or in a Subdirectory?

a blog is like a diary?

No, a blog doesn't have to be only your personal thoughts about how you love chocolate. Unless you run a website about chocolate that is...

A customer of ours recently sent us a series of questions. The first of which is, should your blog be on a subdomain or in subdirectory? Not mentioned here, though I will discuss them below are two other options: You could also have a separate domain entirely or you could host your blog with a third party such as Blogger or WordPress.com. So, what’s the best option? Read on to find out.

Why Have a Blog Anyway?

Before we answer this question, we need to discuss from an SEO perspective why you need a blog to begin with. After all, isn’t a blog supposed to be just personal reflections about things? That’s a question I get asked all the time when I tell people I write professionally for several different blogs.

The answer in short is that you want links and you want to keep your site looking fresh for Google’s search bots. The first point will become more relevant as I discuss the various options above but let’s focus on the second point for a moment.

SEO involves a handful of different things. First and foremost, you need to ensure that your website is properly optimized, which means that you need to check on the on page SEO factors such as keywords, meta tags, subheadings, etc. All these things are extremely important and they tend to be the very first thing we check for when we meet a new client who needs SEO services.

The second part of SEO is of course link building. This is the spice of the Internet and it’s what make Google decide that your website is worth ranking high up in the SERPs as opposed to someone else’s. As I’ve explained numerous times, it’s kind of being in high school. You want to make your way to the top of the popularity ladder in school and so you need to build up friendships with lots of people (lots of the right people) to do it.

There is however a third part to SEO which many people tend to ignore. That’s freshness. You could have the best damn website on the planet, but if it hasn’t been updated in years, Google will consider it stale and will rank it lower than other similar websites. That’s where blogs really shine – because they are updated on a fairly regular basis, blogs allow you to have that freshness factor.

Now, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options:

Blog on a Subdirectory

blog in a subdirectory

Putting your blog in a subdirectory is like putting it in a separate folder on your computer.

The first and most popular option for most people is a blog on a subdirectory. This means that your blog would generally be: mywebsite.com/blog. In essence, what this means is that your blog is completely separate from your main website.

If you think of your computer and how it’s organized, you have the C: drive (assuming you use a Windows computer that is – I’m not sure how Mac is organized, though Linux is fairly similar) and then branching off from that are various folders. These folders can of course have folders within them and they can have folders within them and so on.

When your blog is located on a subdirectory, it is in essence in a separate folder just as it may appear on your computer. It is self contained and in theory at least is almost like a completely separate website.

The big advantage here is that you can use different technology to run your blog as opposed to running your main website. Let’s say for example that you really like Drupal for your main website because it’s able to be customized more than WordPress. You can then set up your main site using Drupal and then set up your blog using WordPress in a subdomain.

Generally, Google does treat the subdomain of a blog as being an extension of your main website too, so you needn’t worry too much about Google considering it as if your main site is not being updated and your subsite (i.e. your blog) is not being updated.

On the other hand, while Google will provide your main site with some additional advantage of being considered “fresh” for having your blog in a subdirectory, it also considers this to be a pseudo separate site which means that it grants you the advantage of being able to offer you some additional backlink juice, though really it’s not a great deal (on the other hand, any backlink juice does help).

The disadvantage to this is of course similar to the big advantage of doing it. In essence, when you have your blog on a completely separate subdirectory, you have two different websites that need to be maintained. This creates significantly more work for you as a webmaster.

Mind you, WordPress does offer the option to set up your blog and website so that it appears as if it’s in a subdirectory even though it is in reality all on one directory, however there is no real reason to do this from an SEO standpoint.

Setting Up the Blog in a Subdomain

The other option which is quite popular is to set up your blog as a subdomain of your website. In essence, this would mean that your blog appears as blog.mysite.com. This is known as a subdomain and there really is no comparative system which I can point to in order to explain it from a computer perspective. Suffice to say that it’s basically considered all one website.

There are a few advantages to this system as well. The most obvious advantage is that when you set up your website and blog this way, you will always have just one site to manage. You’ll have your main site’s static pages (i.e. pages which don’t change) and you’ll then have your blog’s pages which do change on a regular basis.

The other big advantage is that because it’s more like it’s on the same site than when it’s in a subdirectory, the link juice from links which point to your blog posts tends to flow more directly to your main website and thus allows you to get slightly (and I emphasize slightly) better “bang for your buck” from whichever links people point at your blog.

The big disadvantage is that Google does technically consider a subdirectory (as opposed to a subdomain) to be a separate website which in essence allows you to have links pointing back to your main website.

This is not however a massive issue these days because Google’s system doesn’t count links from the same IP address as being worth much. Even less so, they don’t count links for a subdomain much. However, it does provide a little bit of link juice pointing to your main website and as I said above, even a bit of link juice can make a difference.

Separate Domain

A third option is to host your blog on a completely separate domain. In essence, this means that your blog is hosted on mysiteblog.com. This is not a particularly popular option, mostly because it’s an extra expense which doesn’t necessarily convey a whole lot of additional benefit. However, it can do so if you do it right.

In essence, the issue is that if you were to purchase two domains, one for your main site and the other one for your blog, both of those domains would end up being considered brand new by Google. Thus you will not get a tremendous amount of benefit, at least at first from having the blog on a completely separate domain name.

On other hand, after a few years, if both build up link portfolios, they can potentially provide you with some additional benefit from a link building perspective because they are considered to be completely separate websites as far as Google is concerned.

The bad news however is that if you really want to do this correctly, it’s not enough to merely have a separate domain. You need to actually have separate hosting. That’s because Google tends to give a lot less credence to links which come from the same server or even different servers from the same hosting company.

To put this into terms like our high school analogy, it’s basically like getting two siblings from the same family who have roughly the same social status to like you. Yeah, it can help to have an extra friend, but it’s not like it’s that big of a deal in climbing the social ladder since they are after all siblings and they do share similar interests and mostly have the same friends in common.

On the other hand, if you were to put your blog site on a separate hosting service and you also bought an aged domain, preferably one which has some PR value, you could potentially see some decent link juice from that, though again, it’s not as much as you might think and it’s generally not worth the extra expense and effort of maintaining.

A word of caution though about this option. Because Google will consider it to be a completely separate domain, it means that you will not get any of the “freshness” affect that you get with the two options above and this can affect the ranking of your main website. This is another reason most people don’t bother with this.

Third Party Hosting

hosting your blog on a third party

Hosting your blog exclusively on a third party service is a boneheaded idea.

Finally, some people choose to host their blogs on a third part service such as Weebly, TypePad, WordPress or Blogger. In essence, what this means is that you’ll get a domain for your blog which looks kind of like mysite.blogger.com. There are several reasons however why you generally don’t want to do something like this. At least not for your primary blog.

The biggest reason not to do this is that it simply looks unprofessional. You are trying to generate trust in your customers and you’re too cheap to host your blog on your own server? I know that if I saw that, I’d think twice and three times about working with a company like that.

From an SEO perspective, this can also be quite bad because link juice is now flowing to a third party website instead of to your own domain name and this means that you are wasting the value of the links you can get. Not to mention that you get no benefit whatsoever for having your main website updated on a regular basis.

However, while it’s generally not recommended to keep your main blog on these kinds of services, there is a very, very good reason to open up blogs on these services and maintain them in a semi automated manner. In essence, what you want to do is to create accounts on all these services and then use something like Seesmic.com or WP Syndicator to load them with content and links back to your website.

The reason is really simple – you can largely automate the process of sending content to these kinds of sites by simply copying what you have on your main site or even using spintax on it and as such, you create an instant web of additional backlinks back to your main website. This provides you with a huge advantage and is one of the “tricks” of the SEO trade.

So Which Is Best?

From a pure SEO perspective, the general advice we tend to give is to have your blog located on a subdirectory rather than a subdomain. Since Google gives these kinds of blogs a pseudo status of being a separate entity while at the same time giving them some additional link juice flowing back to the main website, they generally are best.

On the other hand, the other options may have some advantages to them. For example, if you expect your blog for whatever reason to attract major link juice, it’s possible that you will want it on a subdomain. You may also want to add in a blog on a separate domain entirely, though it’s generally not recommend to maintain your own blog on a separate domain for the reasons outlined above.

by EricHammer, on       5 comments