SEO at the Whole Website Level

Internal linking strategies, sitemaps, and HTTPS

This is part of my Entreprenerd: Marketing for Programmers book, which is currently available to read for free online.

Generate a Sitemap

When Google is unaware of the existence of some page on your website, then they cannot index it, and consequently you stand absolutely no chance of ranking for the content within. In short, its SEO potential is completely squandered. Not all pages are equally vulnerable to being overlooked by Googlebot. Pages linked to from other pages (on the same domain or on external domains) are fairly likely to be indexed. But pages only accessible through form submissions, on-site searching, or Javascript/Flash manoeuvring, are likely to be missed.

These problems can be overcome with a sitemap, a humble yet often overlooked tool for improving a website’s exposure in search engines. It works by simply listing all the URLs that ought to be indexed, thereby alerting search engines to pages that might otherwise be missed.

You can submit sitemaps for alternative types of content too, such as images, videos, and even microdata (PageMap sitemaps).

Internal links are the selfie sticks of the linking world. They are the links you apportion to a web page from other parts of your website (i.e., links originating from the same domain). The bog standard example goes as follows: Your homepage (selling electronic devices) links to 10 product-category pages (e.g., “/cameras” and “/speakers”), and each of these product-category pages links to 20 product pages (e.g., “/speakers/ue-boom”, “/speakers/bose-soundlink-mini”), which themselves complete the circle by linking back to both their parent product-category page (“/speakers”) and to the homepage (“/”). This web of interlinking pages, intentionally configured by you, constitutes your internal linking strategy.

Internal linking strategies are useful for SEO because Google’s algorithm perceives the web in terms of individual pages, and links from page to page on the same domain count as valid ranking signals. Sure, an internal link might not be as strong a signal as one coming from an external, third-party website, but it still counts for something. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that every page on your website is linked to at least once by another page.

This isn’t a licence to overdo it with internal linking. There is a limit to how many links Google will crawl on a given page, roughly about 150. Moreover, Google views pages containing hundreds of links as sorts of seedy internet slums deserving of penalisation in their rankings. You can avoid coming across as overzealous in internal linking by sticking with a simple strategy, like the tree structure we saw above (“category > sub-category > sub-category”).

The mere presence of internal links is only half of what is needed in your internal linking strategy; the other half involves getting the anchor text right. This is because anchor text counts as a ranking signal, so you’ll need to write something meaningful, ideally containing your keyword.

Imagine I was linking to this very marketing book from another web page. Here are a few anchor text options I could have chosen, some better and some worse:

(The words in italics are the links.)

  1. “learn more about my marketing strategy here

By anchoring only on the keyword “here”, I throw my SEO juice down the toilet. No one in their right mind will be searching for the keyword “here”, not least an audience interested in reading my marketing book.

  1. “read about marketing-driven development

This approach is better, in that I use descriptive anchor text. However, it falters in that “marketing-driven development” is a term I just came up with, and a typical member of my target audience couldn’t possibly be searching something I just invented. This anchor text thus fails as a signpost to those who haven’t yet encountered my ideas. (Of course, there is potentially a longer-term play if my strategy were to colonise and brand the term).

  1. “read my guide to online marketing

At last, a sensible and conservative choice of anchor text. This works because I described what I was linking to in the language of everyday use, helping my link show up in random searches made by my potential readership.

Use HTTPS Encryption

When someone asks you to write out the full internet address into your browser’s URL field, you begin with “http://”. These letters mean that the website is reachable over a particular technological protocol known as Hypertext Transfer.

This technology, however, is insecure because it isn’t encrypted. As a result, malicious hackers can easily read the data you send over HTTP. For this reason, more and more professional websites prefer to communicate over an alternative protocol, HTTPS, which has heightened security. HTTPS websites are accessed by typing “https://” into the browser, where the added “s” stands for “secure”.

Google wants the whole web to use HTTPS, and, to this end, they officially announced that websites using HTTPS will receive a ranking bonus in their search results.1

This means that you should ensure that you have HTTPS installed, and also that it’s turned on for every page of your website (not just the credit card and login pages, as is default with many HTTPS installations). Because your old visitors may have bookmarked your website as “http://”, you may also need to redirect any “http://” traffic to its “https://” counterpart.


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