Everywhere you go on the Internet, you get to via a link. A link may either be a little bit of text, or a link may be an image. Whenever you click on something that takes you someplace else, you are clicking on a link. If you look to the left of this page, you will see the collection of links we’ve put together as a menu. These are text links. If you click on our company logo at the top of this page, it will take you back to the homepage of our site. That’s an image link. The main way a person uses the Internet is by clicking on links that take them where they want to go, so, links are pretty important!
The way you choose to design your site basically revolves around how you want to present your links, whether they are links to your products, to pages of information, or a link to your shopping cart so that people can buy things. The way you structure this can result in a website that ranks well or ranks poorly, and has a vast effect on how much traffic you will get to your site and how many sales you will make. The code of a basic link looks like this:
Where do you need to have links on your website?
It’s essential that you understand that it isn’t just people who use links to get around the Internet – the search engines use them, too. Search engines use automated programs called spiders or bots. The job of these programs is to ‘crawl’ through all of the links the Internet contains and then create an index of the pages and documents they discover in this process. In effect, Google, Yahoo!, MSN and other search engines are simply big indexes of pages that have been collected by the bots, as they crawled the web via the links they encountered on their journey.
In order for a search engine to bring up your page when someone makes an inquiry by typing words into a search box, the bots need to be able to reach that page on your web site. So, obviously, it’s going to be hugely important that the bot finds your link leading to the page you’ve built. Without a link pointing to a page, the bot cannot get there! Think of a house with no doors going into it or inside of it, and you’ll have a perfect picture in your mind of what a website without a good linking structure is like. It’s estimated that the Internet contains about 20 billion pages, but that the search engines have only crawled less than half of these. Though the bots’ job is to try to crawl deeper and deeper into the web, you want to make this as easy as possible for them. You want them to find ALL of your pages in a flash, so that they know you’ve got things on your site that people are looking for. So how do you do this?
When we talk about the Internal Links in a site, the first thing that comes to mind is the navigation menu (see example left). The purpose of the menu is two-fold. Firstly, it lets visitors to your website get from your homepage to the other pages of your site, and it lets the search engine bots do the same thing. To be effective, your navigation menu should, at the very least, list all of the main categories of your website, if it doesn’t list every page.
Often, a site will simply have too many products or pages to list in the menu. A good rule of thumb is that no page on your site should contain more than 100 links. So, if you’ve got more than 100 pages on your website, try to break them down into sensible categories which will lead to a sub-menu containing all of the pages in that category. Placement of the menu should be at the top or the left hand side of the page. This is what people are used to and will be able to use with the greatest ease. Often times, web designers try to be different and do weird, unexpected things with their menus. We strongly believe in formatting your web site in a way that people are accustomed to, so that they don’t have to learn some new skill, just to browse through your site.
An SEO-friendly navigation menu SHOULD:
An SEO-friendly navigation menu SHOULD NOT:
Let’s quickly clarify what keywords are
Keywords are the words you use to describe your pages, products or services. If you sell Handmade Ceramic Vases, then ‘Handmade Ceramic Vases’ is your accurate, correct keyword phrase and is what you should use as the title in your navigation menu, and elsewhere on your website. ‘Super, Awesome, #1, Fantastic, Holy Toledo’, are not your keywords.
When keywords are used as a link (as in a menu, or somewhere in the text content of your page), the words are called ‘Link Anchor Text’. Make the keywords/link anchor text in your menu completely specific. Deciding what to call the pages, products or services on your web site becomes a pretty exact science, because you are aiming to call these things exactly what the public will call them when they type an inquiry into a search engine search box.
If the link in your navigation menu says ‘handmade ceramic vases’, and I type ‘handmade ceramic vases’ into the search box in Google, your link will exactly match my inquiry. The more perfectly your link titles match inquiries, the better your chance is of being brought up in the results that Google delivers to the searcher to choose from. There are wonderful tools you can use to research exactly how people are phrasing the things that they search for, in order to make your link titles match as closely as possible. Researching and discovering all of the keywords people are using to describe the products or services you offer is one of your main tasks ins creating a search-engine-friendly, human-friendly website. For a free keyword research tool, we recommend, SEOBook’s Keyword Suggestion Tool.
Keyword research can be very complex and detailed, but for an introductory example, imagine you’re a toy seller. You sell those those wooden stick horses that children love, but you’re confused as to whether to call your product ‘stick horse’, or ‘hobby horse’. People call this toy both things. But do more people call the toy one thing than the other? By typing ‘hobby horse’ into SEOBook’s keyword tool, I see that an estimated 2312 people a month supposedly search for that term. When I type in ‘stick horse’, I see that 1247 people a month search for this toy by this name.
Having learned this from the tool, I would be inclined to call the product a ‘hobby horse’ in my link anchor text in my navigation menu. But, I would be sure to make use of both great keyword phrases throughout the hobby horse page, in the tags (to be discussed later) and in the text copy of the page. Apply this method to whatever your products or services are. Think of any phrases that people might connect with your product or service, use a keyword tool to see what the numbers look like, and base your choices on this information.
Moving Right Along
So, basically, you want to start out the design of your site by putting together a navigation menu, on the top or left side of your pages, that contains links that are titled using your most valuable keywords. This menu must be placed on each and every page of your website so that both human visitors and the bots can crawl from the homepage to all of the interior pages of the web site. As far as SEO is concerned, this is way more important than your company logo, your color scheme or the quality of your product photos. A visitor to your web site should be able to get to anything he or she wants to within the website in as few clicks as possible. Your most important pages should be only one click away from the homepage. Pages of lesser importance might be 2 or 3 clicks away, but the goal is to make everything easy for people and bots to reach, with as few clicks as possible.
Make the most of your keywords by devoting a separate page to each main product or service.
Failure to follow this rule is one of the most common mistakes we see in small business website. Take a look again at the navigation menu of this website (see upper left). Now, imagine if we’d decided to put the entire contents of the website on one single page. Not only would visitors have to scroll for miles and miles to find what they were looking for, but the length of the page would likely result in the search engines ignoring most of it.
Too often, web site owners make the mistake of cramming everything they’ve got onto a single page or a couple of pages, perhaps believing that this will save space. If you’ve purchased decent web site hosting, there is no need to worry about space. As a matter of fact, you are likely to see the best ranking results if you devote a separate page to each product or subject. Obviously, you don’t want to be redundant. If you sell one style of shirt in 30 colors, it’s not going to help you much to have the same page over and over again on your site for each different colored shirt. But, if you have short sleeved shirts and long sleeved shirts, give each style its own page on your site. Similarly, if you paint houses and build fences, devote an individual page to each service. This method will allow you to optimize each page individually for what it contains. The title of the page, the text on the page, can all be devoted to that individual subject, rather than 5 or 10 or 100 different subjects. This will result in a strong, keyword-oriented page for each product or service you offer, and your pages will stand a better chance of ranking well.
Where else should links be on my site?
On the individual pages of your site, you can choose to include more links that point to other pages of the site. For instance, if you are selling pants and have a matching scarf elsewhere on the web site, why not include a link to that scarf somewhere in the text of the pants page? Or, why not be very creative and include a link to another page you’ve written featuring an article about new styles of pants you’ll be carrying next season? Techniques like these enrich the Internal linking structure of your website and give the search engine spiders more places to crawl. The more links you point to a given page of a site, the more important that page will be deemed by the bots.
To explain this simply, if 20 of the pages on your website point links to your page on growing African violets but only 2 pages point to your page about lawn care, the bots will get it that your African violets page is more important than your lawn care page.
Another key place links should be on your site is on the sitemap page. This is a page you create which simply lists all the main sections or pages of your site, with links pointing to them. The sitemap provides a one-stop-page for the bots to visit to see what all the important links on your site are. For an example of our sitemap, see Solas Web Design’s sitemap. Don’t neglect to have a sitemap be a part of your web site. It’s important.
When images are links
As we’ve mentioned before, images read as a blank to the search engines. However, you can include a little bit of information about your photos for them by the use of an ‘alt’ tag in the image link. This would look like this:
I’ve made the above sample of code an image, so that you can mouse over and see how the little yellow box appears. The words in the box “Example of Alt Tag” are what I put inside the alt tag of this image. Search engines are able to read alt tags, so you will be improving the quality of your site by always including alt tags in your image links.
Beyond all of the Internal Links within your website, you may also wish to include outbound links, but we’ll be covering that later on. For now, you should simply concentrate on what we’ve learned here. Create an HTML navigation menu containing all of your important links and place it on each page of your site. Make sure that you are using your keywords as your links, instead of irrelevant words. Gently pepper further links throughout the site to enrich the linking structure of the site. Devote a separate page to each and every product or service you offer and enable your visitors and the search engines to reach it in as few clicks as possible. Use alt tags for your image links.
And, that sums up this most important aspect of building a SEO-friendly website. By basing your website on a sensible, thorough and keyword-rich internal linking structure, you will have taken excellent first steps to creating a winning web site for your small business. Next, we move on to optimizing your individual pages.