How to audit your site’s internal linking (I am the very model of a modern site – in general)

scaffold against a blue sky

It can be tough at the top – with SEO more commonly a part of digital businesses than ever before, the performance in SERPs of your competitors will likely have improved across the board. While it is vital for brands to be keeping up with new trends in search marketing, it is important that SEOs also remember to follow the basics – basics such as internal linking and site structure.

One reason for this blog is that people (like me for example) persistently bang on about AMP, AI and voice search (among other things) while often overlooking the fact that audiences new to SEO may often miss the decades of tinkering that have gone in to search marketing prior to Amazon’s Alexa.

The other reason is that I’m currently in the process of auditing site flow and user journey for a site and it has run over into the time I’d allotted to write this article – so I’m killing two birds with one stone, so you don’t have to.

Why internal linking is important

Navigability is an important part of the customer journey and crawler indexing, but internal linking is also vital to the flow of domain authority (DA), page authority (PA) and, as a result of all these, to website conversions.

Even a relatively simple journey and authority flow (such as the agency I work for) is a web of sprawling interconnectivity when visualised.

rough top level site map
A rough, top level visualisation of click.co.uk

With this branching complexity in mind, it is vital for brands to perform regular audits of their site structure for both user experience (UX) and authority flow in order for their site to be performing at the level it should be.

How to begin auditing your structure

The first step, while laborious, is to create a flow chart of your current site – which can be done by following and recording links from your home page (it is better for visibility to do this in levels – so choose a level at which each flow chart will cut off). Once you have done this, you can then create new charts beginning at each sub level.

These flow charts will serve to illustrate where your site is at present, but should also reveal potential opportunities for both linking and possible new pages – these should be recorded in an action table which you can then implement when you’ve finished the audit.

For your actions table, you should bear in mind the two differing types of intention that will be behind navigation of your site – there is the brands intention (to funnel users through to conversion) and there is user intention (to answer queries and research potential purchases). If it helps, you can add separate columns for actions that would benefit the brand’s aim and for the aim of the consumer – but you should always try to blend these wherever possible.

action table example
Example action table

How to see where your consumers want to go

Provided you have site search reports enabled in analytics, you can gather a lot of information as to possible consumer led linking opportunities from the report.

To view this report, under behaviour in Google Analytics, select the ‘Site Search’ option and then ‘Search Pages’, then add ‘Search Term’ as a secondary dimension. This will give you the page from which the search was made and also the search term that was used. Provided you have content which matches the search term, you can look to place a link to the content from the start page.

This is the closest brands can really come to adopting what, in urban planning, is called ‘desire paths’ – a consumer led shortcut from one point to another.

Desire path
A desire path in a park

There’s a fantastic blog over at Moz on how to optimise your on-site search – which, according to a study quoted therein, 84% of brands fail to do. Ongoing testing and optimisation should be factored in to work flow for all such tasks – it is absolutely insufficient to do this only once.

How to optimise for authority flow

Your site mapping from earlier in the process will help here, as it will give you the direction and flow of authority. While your homepage will almost always have the majority of your inbound links pointed to it, there will no doubt be some better performing pages lower down in the substrata of your site.

Authority, even internally, is passed through links so to ensure the pages you want to earn that authority are receiving their share, it is necessary to run a content report in whichever tool you presently use (Search Console has one if you don’t use any third party tools).

Once you have downloaded your top performing content (Search Traffic > Links to Your Site in Search Console), you can select the best performing 10-20 pages as a start to factor in to your linking strategy.

Ideally, you want each link to pass authority to the largest proportion of the site it can – therefore, these pages should be explored in the context of the whole site, with links placed on each of the pages, the higher up the chain you can link to naturally, the more pages it will trickle down to. However, these top performing pages can provide a ranking boost to relevant blogs and product pages by linking appropriately to folders further downstream.

Page structure

As a bit of a bonus link – let me point you to a great discussion of page structure and flow in this week’s Whiteboard Friday. Not only does it offer some fantastic and actionable information on the topic, but there is a section in there titled ‘5 big goals that matter’ which could just as easily apply to internal linking and site structure as to the content on a page.

Ongoing maintenance

The most important thing to do following this process is to ensure that there is a plan in place that keeps future content and pages in line with the brand’s internal linking strategy and which is capable of responding to changes in an agile manner. As with all things in search marketing, nothing is ever truly finished – so it’s important to set aside time to keep your internal linking up to date.

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John Warner

About John Warner

John is an internal marketer at Click Consult where he spends his time accruing industry certifications, tinkering with code, plotting strategy and writing articles on all aspects of search marketing.

  • 0311

    Yoast has been preaching internal linking and their pyramid structure for some time but they’re the only ones for the last few months I’ve seen talking about it. It’s good to see a recent article from a different source. My question is, does linking cancel out authority? If a page with authority links to a ton of other pages does it lose juice? If it links to more pages than pages link to it, does it lose authority? Every new blog we publish gets on our home page “recent” news for the company, does all the domain juice flow to the page or is it quantity of links to it over authoritative links to it?

    • John Warner

      Not sure I’d agree with a pyramidal structure (though I haven’t seen the specific post, so it may be more complicated), as while link building efforts from some people are still focused on the home page, the home page is becoming less important to consumers (especially for those operating a successful content strategy).

      Think of internal linking in the same way as external – your site (or page) retains the authority, but rather than receiving all of the authority, the linked to page has the linking page as a signal in its own authority. To try to make that sentence more simple – links inbound make authority but outbound links don’t diminish authority unless the links are low quality or lack relevance or usefulness (as in the case of link farms).

      In a lot of tools, a recent news box will cause the new blogs to be overrated in authority – but that won’t stay once they’ve been bumped off the recent articles.

      Hope that answers the question – sorry for the delay, it’s Christmas play season for the children!

      • Walter Avalos

        Thanks, John. That’s a good way to look at, internal linking like external linking. For professional business such as medical or law with specific practices the home page is definitely losing a purpose. Google ranks pages, not domains, and most conversions happen when they land on the page for their specific need and call/email for a consultation. They probably didn’t venture to the home page, but the homepage does get the bulk of back links.

        • John Warner

          Definitely – service led businesses are definitely going to need to rethink where their link building priorities lie. It may be different for large retailers, but even some smaller retailers may need to have a think about earning links for top sellers rather than home pages – especially as voice and natural language search begins to bypass homepages.

  • Great Post John Warner. Really Helpful stuff here.