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
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.
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.
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.