On Internal Linking & Mobile First

On Internal Linking & Mobile First

Nick Fitzgerald Mobile, News, SEO, Tips & Tricks

This topic is particularly tender in the perpetual tension between site design and SEO. Site design calls for clean and simple pathways. SEO keeps tapping your shoulder and whispering, “You know what will really bump up your search ranking? More internal links” or whatever other element that is beneficial for improving rankings but has little reward for the user, often even detracting from the customer’s digital experience.

Google is on the user’s side

Don’t forget that Google’s web crawlers often side with the little guy. And we don’t mean the small business. We mean the user experience. The person sitting at home, browsing their phone, and shopping for products on your site. Google, all search engines, want that experience to be as top-notch as possible. In this way, we have to always design first with the user in mind and then negotiate our SEO strategy accordingly. They can truly exist in peaceful harmony, but it can be a tough line to toe.

Why internal linking matters

Internal linking 101 states that these links make the accessibility of your content more visible to crawlers and ultimately, users. These are the links used on your page to your content. They’re important because they give your site a structure and hierarchy. By increasing links of content, you’re designating that content as inherently more important. For instance, by linking to the home page on most of your pages, Google will then prioritize the home page of your site above most of the other pages. These are called ‘backlinks.’

These internal links are like the ‘streets’ of your page for web crawlers. They give them the direction and navigation necessary to infer the overall content and framework for how the site functions. This is also why dead links should be eliminated often and how duplicate content is discovered by crawlers. The long and short: use internal links to give them a clean map with well designated landmarks!

What is mobile first?

Everyone’s buzzing about mobile first ranking. It’s part of the continuation to improve user experience and reflects the data that much of our web experience is now in fact, entirely mobile. So, what does that mean? It’s called mobile first because crawlers begin with the mobile version of your site. This is a huge paradigm shift from even a few years ago, when mobile was still considered a secondary application. Now, Google is acting as though the initial site entryway is mobile, and cataloguing the desktop version of your website as a secondary component.

The intersection of internal linking and mobile first

Here’s where things get sticky. We already spoke about user friendliness and utilitarianism of site design. When we talk about internal linking on a mobile version, there is so much more room for messiness as a result of clutter. This is a result of changing screen size from spacious to compact.

Imagine living in a 4,000 square foot house and downsizing to a modest 1400 square foot two bedroom. Where does all your stuff go? You’d need to clean house, streamline, get rid of a few things. The same goes for shifting focus from desktop to mobile with an eye on internal linking.

Behemoths are the exception

The behemoths can get away with all sorts of crazy site navigation, including gratuitous internal linking. Don’t compare your site structure to Amazon or Walmart. Web crawlers aren’t giving them much of a pass when it comes to ding-ing them on the messiness of this, they’re held as accountable for it as a small site bulking up their SEO with gratuitous internal linking. However, the difference here is that their size and popularity — thus high ranking — might tempt you to try and get away with it. If your reasoning is ever, “But Amazon does that!” consider your ‘proof’ to be paper-thin.

Make it natural

The natural tree link structure is ultimately what will work best for your page. Remember, we are still thinking first and foremost about the way a user encounters your page. Having extraneous, non-intentional links for the sake of SEO is cutting off your nose to spite your face. It creates a messy and confusing space for customers, particularly when we’re talking about a mobile view. Rather, a thoughtful categorization of helpful links makes a site infinitely easier and more pleasing to use, in addition to bumping up the internal linking rank.

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