Whenever a website has gone through the “SEO Optimisation treatment” you are almost guarenteed that the number of internal links pointing to particular pages will skyrocket. Internal linking of exact match phrases to pages that are required to rank highly seems to be one of the most overused techniques by SEO agencies and practioners who perhaps don’t know the industry as well as they think they do.
I’m seeing this technique used more and more whenever a website goes through a re-design where SEO has been one of the main goals of the website.
Last week I was asked about this technique by a business owner who had been given a brief from an SEO agency. They were planning to introduce exact match interlinks throughout his website as part of re-writing his copy to improve the optimisation of his website. He asked me, “Will this really have such a big effect?”.
Unfortunately I couldn’t give him an exact answer because I didn’t know myself. My initial thoughts were that this technique would probably have a small positive effect if used appropriatly, but over-use of the technique would probably have a negative effect not only in the eyes of Search Engines, but also to the users he was trying to convert into customers.
In order to answer his question fully, I did a bit of research which I’d like to share with you in today’s post.
My initial thoughts
Although I couldn’t give an exact answer, I could give my thoughts and assumptions on the effectiveness of this technique from my view of SEO techniques that do work. Although I’m by no means a total expert in SEO, I do know what is right and what is wrong and how the industry has evolved over the years. Many of the techniques that were effective yesterday are no longer effective today and could actually have a negative effect on the website.
As a whole I’m against any artificial or manipulative tactics in order to improve Search Engine Optimisation. I do see the value in SEO, but I believe it should be based upon creating good quality websites and not techniques to try and game the system. It is Google’s goal to provide the best quality results for their users, and so I believe that a good quality website will rise to the top whereas a website that is employing the latest trick will eventually be demoted and have their time and money wasted.
It is this view that lead me to answer, “I think interlinking will have a marginal positive effect if used where appropriate, but over-use could have a negative effect. I’ll do a bit of research and get back to you!”.
With the hypothesis in mind, I set about doing my research.
Finding trustworthy evidence
The SEO industry has been blighted with Black Hat practioners who use minipulative techniques in order to game Search Engine results. Unfortantely many of these techniques are thought of as standard optimisation techniques by unsuspecting clients or non-technical website owners. There is also a huge wealth of Black Hat SEO websites, blogs and articles that dominate much of the available content on the subject. It is with this in mind that I started my research with the requirement to only use evidence from companies and individuals that I know who are completely White Hat, experienced and trustworthy.
Fortunately I already follow the SEO industry reasonably closly so I was able to pick a number of sources to consult in order to find my answer.
If you would like to start learning more about Search Engine Optimisation, I would recommend the following sources:
SEOMoz is a Search Engine and Online Marketing Software as a Service application that allows anyone to track and analyse their websites performance and SEO optimisation. SEOMoz was founded by Rand Fishkin. SEOMoz is an established name in the SEO community through their SEO and social monitoring software that allows SEO professionals and business owners to track, analyse and improve their SEO efforts. SEOMoz have been around for a number of years now and have grown to be a credible source of SEO help and guidance within the community and to the wider public who are just getting started. At $99 a month SEOMoz is not going to be within everyone’s budget, but the software will be very valuable if you are looking to optimise your website yourself rather than pay someone specifically to do the job.
If you are a Twitter user, I’d follow Rand Fishkin as he regular tweets blog posts from the SEO industry that you will find interesting.
Joost de Valk is a web developer, SEO and online marketer and is seen as a leading authority in the SEO and WordPress communities. Joost makes the very popular WordPress plugin WordPress SEO. Again, if you are looking to either learn more about SEO or do much of the work yourself yoast.com will be a valuable resource. Also if you are a WordPress user, Joost range of plugins are extremely useful for getting the most out of your blog or website with very little effort.
Matt Cutts is a Google software engineer and is currently the head of Google’s Webspam team. His blog features a lot of great advice on what you can do to improve your SEO efforts in the eyes of Google and he regular writes about the latest techniques for improving your site.
HubSpot is an online marketing tool that allows business owners to analyse and improve their websites. HubSpot’s blog provides regular high quality blog posts on the latest trends and techniques for improving your website and online marketing efforts.
After a couple of hours of reading content from all over the web and from a wide variety of sources (some White Hat and even some Black / Grey Hat) I found the advice from SEOMoz in the following two videos to be the best, clearest and most concise answer to my question.
Advice from SEOMoz
Rand makes the following points;
#1 Link for humans / users first, engines second
It’s important to only interlink pages where it will make sense to your users and not just to please Search Engine Spiders. For example, it is completely legitimate to link two of your sites together if one site references something on the other because this would make sense to a user as these two pages are related.
#2 Be wary of footers, over-optimised anchor text and “unrelated links”
However, interlinking your websites can have a detrimental effect on your SEO performance if you start linking unrelated pages together. For example, say you want to rank for “business photocopiers”. By having this anchor text link on every page on all your websites will have a negative effect on your future performance because this is trying to game the system. Google is smart enough to realise when a link does not fit in with the flow of the page. You also risk that someone will report your website for spam links if you are repeatidly including links that don’t make sense to users. Either way, it’s not worth the risk for the short term marginal positive effect.
#3 Google “knows” when websites are owned by a single entity. Don’t work too hard to “fool them”, just be authentic
Google knows a lot about who owns websites through hosting, domain registrations, Google Analytics, Webmaster tools, Feedburner accounts and many more different sources. If you are running multiple websites, it’s highly likely that Google will make the connection and so it won’t value links between your website quite as highly. Trying to hide the fact that you own these different websites is really a waste of your time, and so it’s important to remember to just do the right thing and not try to build a interlinking network of websites to try and game the system.
Rand’s main point of this video is, it’s fine to interlink your websites. Don’t be afraid to interlink pages of your websites incase you get punished. Interlinking pages and websites is a natural part of website design, development and SEO, just remember to do it in a transparent and authentic way. Over-interlinking your website however will have a negative effect on your long-term SEO performance.
Once you start learning about Search Engine Optimisation, it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of “over-optimising” your websites. This could involve any number of well known techniques that are not bad if used correctly, but if you try to use these techniques to game the system, could have a negative effect on your website.
Once again Rand from SEOMoz takes us through what you need to stay away from in his video 6 Changes Every SEO Should Make BEFORE the Over-Optimization Penalty Hits.
Here are the important points to consider from this video;
#1 Authentic, non-spammy titles
One of the most over-optimised areas of a website is the title tag. This is often stuffed with keywords in the vain attempt to rank highly for that phrase.
Web design services, Web design firm, brandname Web Design
This is an example of a really bad spammy title tag. The title contains the phrase “web design” three times and has clearly been written for a Search Engine and not an end user. Whilst a spammy title tag may get your ahead in the short run, you will likely get punished for it at some point down the line. When writing title tags it’s important to write the title of your pages so that it makes sense to a human first, and a Search Engine second. Forget about using this opportunity to try and beat the competition and simply name your pages the way they should naturally be named.
#2 Minipulative internal links
Minipulating internal links is where you take every instance of an exact match phrase and link to the same page. Generally speaking, only the first link will pass any value to the linked page so this is really just a waste of time. However, the negative effects of using this technique can be dangerous to your performance. Firstly, users will quickly pick up on the fact that your are interlinking your pages in a spammy way and so they will not believe you are a credible company. Secondly you make it incredibly obvious that you are trying to manipulate Search Engine results. Instead of using exact match phrases repeatidibly on every page, link less frequently but in more relevant places for much better, authentic results that fit naturally into your copy.
#3 Cruddy link-filled footers
Don’t fill your footer will exact match links to every page on your site. Use your footer to link to the most relevant sections of your site and not just your sales pages or pages that you want to rank. If you want to link your pages, find natural ways of doing it within your navigation, sidebar or copy. Yet again, stuffing your footer is a well out-of-date technique that will only get your punished in the long run.
#4 Text content blogs built primarily for the engines
Don’t waste your hard efforts of crafting great copy by stuffing in a paragraph at the bottom of the page with the sole purpose of getting keywords and phrases on to the page. If the keywords you want to target don’t fit into your copy, you need to re-write it rather than tacking something on to the end. Again this is minipulating at it’s worse. You are likely to get caught and punished by the Search Engines and you will ruin your website in the eyes of your potential new customers.
#5 Backlinks from penelty-likely sources
If you’ve ever tried to build backlinks yourself, or you’ve employed an SEO company to build links for you, you could potentially get punished in the future. Penelty-likely websites are link networks, article websites or blogs that have really poor content and are primarily there just to build links. Comment spam, forum posts, or links from websites that are also doing black hat minipulation can also get you into trouble in the future. Instead of wasting your time and money building poor quality links from questionable sources, focus your time and energy on building credible links and relationships with websites in your niche. Not only will this provide better links, but you will also get a good supply of highly qualified traffic that will be much better for your conversion rates.
#6 Large amounts of pages targeting similar keyword intents with slight variations
This relates to having a number of pages that are stuffing very similar keywords and phrases into the content and tags of each page then interlinking them.
An example could be;
- Newcastle Upon Tyne Web Design
- Web Design Newcastle Upon Tyne
- Design Newcastle Upon Tyne Web Design
Instead of having three pages with extremely similar targeting, it is far better to have one page. Again for a user, this looks spammy and does not make for a good user experience because there should only be one page. Also once again, algorythmically, this is easy to pick up on. If you employ this kind of tactic, you will get punished in the future.
The problem with Search Engine Optimisation is that for the most part, we can never know the exact effectiveness of any technique, or how long any particular technique will remain effective. One thing that you can take for certain is Google wants to provide it’s users with the best possible results and so they will continue to tweak their algorythm to do just that.
Because no individual technique can be relied upon to deliver results, it is far more important to have a strategy based on overall vision and not on one particular area. For example, if you only concentrate on onsite optimisation, when those techniques become less authoritive all your hard work will be wasted. But if you have a strategy that is based upon just providing the best possible content for your audience, any algorythmic changes will only benefit you in the long run.
Interlinking your pages is not a bad technique on the surface, but over-doing it will have negative effects on your website. It’s important to remember that only the first link from one page to another will transfer value, so any other references are just a waste of time. Like I said, any particular technique should not be relied upon to gain significant results, and so you should not go over-board with interlinking your pages.
Although you might not be punished by Search Engine Spiders, your users will have a negative opinion of your website if you stuff it full of interlinks that do not fit natually into the page or if your copy has been specifically written to game SEO. It doesn’t take a savvy SEO specialist to spot bad copy or notice that the written content of a site sounds spammy or not from a credible source. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many people you get to your website through organic search results if none of them convert because you have a poor quality website with sleazy content.
A lot of companies waste their time by writing a blog with the sole intention of linking back to their website with exact match keyphrases. This is a waste of time because this will only have a very marginal positive effect because all the links will be coming from the same domain. Secondly you aren’t going to build an audience if all your blog is looking to achieve is build as many interlinks as possible. Having a highly engaged, qualified audience is far more valuable than building a huge amount of very low quality links. Focus your time and energy on building the best audience you possibly can in order to build good quality links and convert subscribes into customers.
After doing this research I was finally able to answer the original question of will interlinking have a big effect on the company’s website. My response was;
- Have a marginal benefit
- Be useful for customers if used correctly
- Aids the natural indexing of the site
But if over-used…
- It will have a negative effect on the website
- The website will seem sleazy and untrustworthy
- Conversions will probably go down
- It will be harder to build an audience
- You could possibly get punished
- It is a short-term tactic that is not really worth the effort
The SEO agency in question wanted to charge £1500 to re-write the copy of the site and then £1000 a month to build incoming links. After doing some investigative work on the agency’s current and previous clients I advised the company owner to not go ahead with their services because the agency was seriously over-using interlinking and creating very sleazy content that would have a detrimental effect on the company website. Furthermore, they were building very poor quality links from link networks, spammy blogs and other questionable sources.
If you are about to employ an SEO agency, or you are currently in a contract, check their work and ensure they don’t over-optimise your site with sleazy content that has too many internal links and they are building good quality links. In the future you will get punished for it and all your time and money will be wasted.