Matt Cutts on Internal Lnking SEO - Image from MattCutts.com

In today’s Post-Penguin world we find ourselves focusing on Onsite SEO more and more and one important aspect of which is Internal Linking.  Since links pass both PageRank and Relevance it is important to make sure that your Internal Links are optimized to conduct PR throughout your site and to optimize the anchortext of those links so that they’re targeted to the topic of the content and that of the destination page.

Many SEOs may be hesitant to delve deeper into Internal Linking because they’re not sure what is allowed and what the differences are between Internal Links and External Backlinks.
There are certainly some big distinctions between the two.

Here we review what Matt Cutts has to say and add some of our own interpretations:

Exact-Match Anchortext

Is EM Anchortext ok?  Well in a word... yes.  EM Anchortext is allowed in Internal Links without fear of a Penguin slap.  Many sites, especially dynamic database driven sites place links automatically and it is intuitive to name the link in a manner that expresses the topic of the link’s destination page. 
The big caveat to that is abuse or Spamming.  Do EM Anchortext links in a way that is natural. 

http://youtu.be/6ybpXU0ckKQ

Hyphens-or_Underscores

There has been a lot of concern about whether to use hyphens or underscores in your URLs which you utilize in Internal Links.  Here Matt talks about which they prefer and why.  In summary, they prefer hyphens overall but if you want to be specific then hyphens are considered separators while underscores conglomerate terms.  So if you’re doing a page for “Search Engine Optimization” then you could use underscores (search_engine_optimization) because it is a term while if you’re doing a page for the 2015 Honda Accord then you’d use hyphens (2015-honda-accord).

http://youtu.be/AQcSFsQyct8

Do Image Links Matter?  Yes they do!

Image Search can generate some decent traffic and without having the topic clearly stated in text in the image itself – the Search Engines require certain data, found in and around the image, to determine the context and topic.  Naming of the image and the location of it (the directory names) can help to define the image’s topic especially if the Alt attribute doesn’t specifically do so.  Google can look at the source of the link to help and this gives an opportunity to provide additional keywords to aid them in doing so.

As with any method you have to avoid Spamming – so don’t create an image at “website.com/keyword/keyword/ keyword/keyword.jpg” or you risk the wrath of Penguin. 

http://youtu.be/h2SWuUobbr0

Follow or NoFollow

The question of using NoFollow attributes in Internal Links has been discussed over and over.  Many use this for PR Sculpting while others simply don’t want certain pages indexed.  Matt says to just leave off the NoFollow on all Internal Links but if you listen carefully to what he says you can see that PR Sculpting can provide some benefit.  He just doesn’t like to openly discuss it.  What he does stress, and rightly so, is to include the NoFollow on User-Generated-Content such as reviews and comments.  Unless you can personally vouch for each link placed on your site by a user, you should add the NoFollow so you don’t get penalized for other people’s link practices.

http://youtu.be/86GHCVRReJs

Hansel & Gretel SEO

Breadcrumb Menus are important and beneficial.   Matt states it best: “Have a set of delimited links that accurately reflect your site’s hierarchy”.  I’ve seen many sites that use different pages in their breadcurmbs that don’t naturally exist in their sites hierarchy because they either don’t have a certain category page or they don’t want that page to be hit primarily.  It’s best to create a solid hierarchical page structure and stick to it.  Using EM in your breadcrumb is also acceptable and advised.

http://youtu.be/-LH5eyufqH0

Multiple Links to the Same Page

Multiple links to the same page with different Anchortext?  This is a great one.   What if you have multiple links to a page from another page?  Do they transfer PageRank or Relevance?  Yes they do!
Multiple links transfer multiple amounts of PageRank.  This means that if you have a header, footer, image and text link to your homepage then it should transfer 4 links-worth of PR to that page, which is determined by those four pages percentage of the total links on the page. 

If you listen closely though, Matt refers to the original PageRank paper submitted by Google’s founders.  It’s a sneaky way to say, that was how we did it then but it may not be how we do it now.  I think by his answering this way though that it is in a lot of ways valid.  I believe that they’ve taken that into consideration and likely downgrade some of the PR passed when duplicated.  Their ability to do so is illustrated in the next part of the question pertaining to the transference of Relevance.

While link extraction takes the anchor text keywords and connects them with the destination page it doesn’t it, necessarily, always for all of the links.  This means that Google clearly has the ability to pick and choose in an automated fashion so I wouldn’t doubt that they’re doing that with PR transference as well.  However, with the transference of keywords/relevance it is good to make sure the link has the right keywords that truly describe the content of the destination page and that link should be within relevant editorial content on the source page.

http://youtu.be/5AsLWIuNNMU

How many links on a page is OK?

Here Matt tells us that It used to be around 100 links per page but this has changed to allow for more.  The amount of links was based on the size of the document (in kb) but they’ve since increased the amount of data that they accept, read, cache, etc.  They also realize that it can be common to have aggregators of links, directories, etc so they have no stated limit.  There is the ever-present caveat of “do it naturally”.  Again here Matt says that the PR is divided by the total outlinks but once again he quotes the original PageRank paper; not current policy.  Though the caveat tells us not to spam links, Matt says that 200 to 400 links isn’t bad however the content length should somewhat match.

http://youtu.be/QHG6BkmzDEM

Non-Link References (Mentions) as a Signal

Here Matt says that mere mentions aren’t necessarily considered a signal because they could be abused.  On this I call “shenanigans”!  This would go in stark contrast to a number of different aspects of Google’s approach to branding and to their focus on linguistic semantics.  The mention of a domain or brand would naturally increase that company’s relevance to its keywords if that brand or domain is consistently connected to those keywords within content.  In other words using something that Matt admits is an actual Google Signal; Proximity.  If the brand or domain is connected by proximity to the keywords on a myriad of sites then Google would determine that that brand or domain is relevant to the keywords.  This may not help as far as Penguin goes but it would definitely help as far as Hummingbird goes.  In fact this predates Hummingbird considerably because Google’s old Wonder Wheel showed that Google did connect mentions as part of their Wonder Wheel graph.  They got rid of it (probably in part for this reason) but it can be seen, to some extent, in the Keyword Planner’s Adgroup Ideas section.  It is likely part of their Brand algo as well.  Either way, here’s what Matt has to say:

http://youtu.be/nlByfISlj5w

Links in Footers versus Editorial Content

Footer links might not carry the same weight as in Editorial Content so Google reserves the right to downgrade links in non-editorial content like footers but it’s not guaranteed.  This has been shown, IMO, to be the case.  Footers have grown in size and many links are to be found in many a footer these days.  Most of these are now dynamically generated.  It is not a bad idea, by any stretch, to not use links in footers but since content is king it is still advised to have a good amount of Editorial Content in which you can include topically relevant links that point to further topically related Editorial Content.  That’s Penguin Food right there!

http://youtu.be/D0fgh5RIHdE

Tag Clouds

Tag clouds can be beneficial because they are actually a list of links so the same rules apply for linking; don’t over-stuff them.  If it’s a small number then it likely won’t hurt but you’ll have PR flow out through those links as well.  In this case it may be good to have a tag cloud with really topically related links that point to great content.  Don’t have these links go to dynamically generated pages that have no content (especially on platforms that have this automated like Wordpress).  Consider creating a custom tag cloud so you can control the links and content being linked to.

Matt doesn’t have them on his blog.

http://youtu.be/bYPX_ZmhLqg

So?

So Internal Linking is obviously important because it transfer PageRank and Relevance/Keywords and it can be done within content or in menus so it can help with building and fine-tuning the relevance of your site and help to transfer that necessary PR that new content pages need.  It also can help, especially in menus, to increase conversions by directing people to where they need to go (or rather where you want them to go). 

I recommend that every SEO review their current Internal Linking structure to see if there are ways you can optimize it to better reflect your topic or direct your visitors.  This will also give you a great opportunity to leverage existing content by reviewing that content and rewriting it based on new Editorial Content Optimization techniques for Panda and Hummingbird.  Don’t hesitate to use mentions on your own site or on other sites and PR sculpting can be valuable especially on end-pages which are those pages at the bottom of your site that only link upwards or sideways.  Do some testing and let others know your results.

Best of luck!