If you’re running an ecommerce site and you haven’t taken the time to stop and really think about your internal linking strategy, you could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table in lost potential revenue from organic search.
That’s because internal linking is probably one of the most overlooked and underutilized SEO tools that business owners and marketing pros have.
Internal linking is a vital ranking tool that brings huge benefits to your site, and one that most ecommerce sites fail to fully leverage.
Today, we’re going to run through what a great ecommerce internal linking strategy looks like by looking at some real examples, and show you how your ecommerce website can benefit from better internal linking too.
Let’s get into it.
How can internal linking help my ecommerce site to rank better?
A great internal linking strategy can help your ecommerce site:
- Rank higher for its target keywords (be those product related, category related or informational/research based).
- Rank for more keywords.
- Ensure that the “correct” page on your website is ranking for a given keyword.
These are all things that can obviously have a direct impact on sales.
But why and how does that happen?
Well…there are a few different SEO benefits to great internal linking for ecommerce sites.
Let’s start by breaking each one down, so we can all understand why internal links are important and how they can feed into our wider SEO strategies.
Distribution of Authority
Let’s start with the big one.
To a large extent, authority flows through links.
Your site has a certain amount of authority, based on the backlinks it has from other websites.
But it’s up to your internal links to distribute that authority around to the appropriate pages on your website, so that they can have a chance at ranking.
Let’s say for example that you have an ecommerce site selling baby clothes.
One day, you write a blog post all about the best halloween outfits for babies.
It’s a really well researched and well put together article. You’ve covered the topic deeply, clearly, engagingly and with expertise.
It gets shared on social media and in some big groups and parenting forums, and you naturally start to get backlinks to that article from lots of mum bloggers. Maybe it even gets picked up by an industry media outlet or two because they loved that picture you included of a baby dressed up as a witch.
But there’s a problem.
All those new links and all that authority, is coming into that one single blog article.
Your rankings for search terms like “best halloween outfits for babies” are going through the roof.
But the rest of your site isn’t seeing much of the benefit.
Because you’re not distributing that new authority around the site effectively.
Internal links are the solution.
If a page has external links coming into it, it has authority. That authority will then either stay on that page, or flow on to other pages through links (ideally, internal ones 😉 ), or some balance of the two.
Finding ways to insert internal links within that article back to product pages or category pages, will help to distribute some of that new authority to those pages too, helping them rank higher for their target keyword terms.
Informing Content Understanding
This one’s a little more complex, but it’s important to understand.
We mentioned earlier that authority flows through links.
What we haven’t talked about yet, is how the anchor texts that we use on those links can help to sculpt the focus of that authority.
It’s important to understand this, as there are a couple of key ways that it can affect your rankings.
Let’s use a new example.
Let’s say you have an ecommerce site in the pet space, and you have an awesome new hair loss treatment product for cats.
You’ve tested it out on some Sphynx cats, and they’ve all come out looking like towel dried Persians.
Your product page has gone viral, bald cats everywhere are being renamed Fluffy, and you’ve picked up some serious press coverage to your innovative new product page.
And because you’re a good ecommerce business owner who cares about average basket spend (and authority distribution!), you decide to add some links on that page to some other products that cat owners might find useful, like brushes, shampoos and pet hair rollers.
The anchor text you use for those links, tells the search engine crawlers a lot about the page you’re linking to.
Remember, authority passes through the link.
So if you add a link like: “This product works so well, you’ll probably also need to check out this, this and this”…. Well… you’re not giving the algorithm much to work with.
But if you add a link like this: “This product works so well, you’ll probably also need to check out these cat hair brushes, our collection of the best cat shampoos under $100 and this incredible pet hair roller for removing cat fur from your sofa” … well, now you’re helping the algorithms to understand what each of the pages you’re linking to is about.
And the more the algorithm understands what a page is about, the higher the chances are of it ranking for those terms in the search results.
So now that we understand how anchor text plays a role in internal links, let’s have a think about how we can use it to improve our ecommerce sites SEO.
There are two main things that you want to keep in mind here.
We mentioned them earlier in the article, but to save you the scroll, here they are again:
- Rank for more keywords.
- Ensure that the “correct” page on your website is ranking for a given keyword.
Let’s start with the first one.
“Rank for more keywords”
Sounds nice, right?
Well, the anchors you choose when designing your internal linking strategy are one of the easiest ways to do exactly that.
Jumping back to our miracle cat balding cure above, that link out to our cat shampoo page could be a great opportunity to help the cat shampoo product page rank for some new keywords that it wasn’t ranking for before.
You see, the thing is, there’s almost always dozens, hundreds, or sometimes even thousands of different ways people might search on Google for a cat shampoo product.
Here’s a few examples of keywords that, if you were selling cat shampoo, you’d probably want to be ranking for:
If you always link to your cat shampoo page using the anchor text “cat shampoo”, you’re missing out on an opportunity to help the search engines understand that your product is also a great “cat flea shampoo” or a “cat dandruff shampoo” or a “waterless cat shampoo” or a fancy “cat shampoo and conditioner” combo.
Varying your anchor text gives you opportunities to rank for more keywords. And ranking for more keywords increases the number of searchers and potential customers you can get in front of in the search results.
Alrighty, now for the 2nd part of this, which is similar but slightly different.
“Ensure that the “correct” page on your website is ranking for a given keyword.”
Every now and again, you’ll find your site ranking for a great keyword, only to discover that the page that Google chose to rank, isn’t actually the page you were hoping would rank for that keyword.
Or, as a variation on the same problem, you’ll see that rankings for a particular keyword have dropped because Google all of a sudden decided that a different page on your site is better suited to be returned in the search results for that query.
We see both of these things happening fairly frequently – particularly with larger ecommerce sites.
Your internal linking could either be the cause of this, or the potential solution.
Let us explain…
If Google decided that a different / “wrong” page on your site is the best landing page for a given keyword, that likely happened for 2 broad reasons:
- The other page has more authority, or
- The other page is more relevant to that search term
Number 1 is an easy fix.
Dial down the internal linking to the wrong page or increase the links to the right page. Or both. Being mindful of the anchors you’re using to each page too.
Number 2 is a little more complicated, but still something you can likely work on.
The relevancy of a page for a given keyword is calculated by weighing lots of factors. Search intent being a big one, and you can read more about that in our guide to keyword research here.
But one thing you can easily control is how you influence relevancy through the internal links you use.
Let’s say you have a blog post on the “best cheap beard trimmers under $50” and you also have a product page targeting the term “precision beard trimmer”.
You’d want to be really careful here not to use the term “precision beard trimmer” as an anchor to link to your best cheap beard trimmers under $50 article.
If you do that, you’re passing authority through the “precision beard trimmer” anchor to your blog post. And you create something called keyword cannibalization between your product page and your blog post. If you do that enough, you create confusion for the algorithms and rankings will suffer, and you may even end up with the blog post ranking instead of your product page.
Aid Discovery of New Content
Adding new products regularly?
Strategically placed internal links can help speed up the discovery of new content by search engine crawlers.
That’s why a lot of successful ecommerce sites have a “new products” or “recently added” section on the home page or as a sidebar or section in key category pages.
Main pages on your site that get crawled frequently, are great places to add links to new pages that you want to get discovered and indexed quickly.
As well as all of these SEO benefits of internal linking, there are also some UX advantages too.
Relevant internal links with descriptive anchor texts help users to easily navigate around your site.
You’ll increase pageviews, keep users engaged with your site for longer and get them to where they want to be faster and easier.
All of these things are key components of a great user experience, and great user experience = more conversions and sales.
Recommended internal linking strategies for ecommerce sites
So now you know how internal linking can help your ecommerce site, let’s have a look at some specific and actionable strategies you can employ to start improving your internal linking today.
Some specific strategies for effective internal linking in e-commerce sites include:
– Linking to related products and categories on product pages
– Using breadcrumb navigation to show the user’s path through the site
– Including links to popular products or categories on the homepage
– Creating category pages that link to relevant subcategories and products
– Including links to related blog posts or resources on product pages
Best practices for internal linking in ecommerce sites
OK, so now that you understand how internal linking can help your ecommerce site rank, and you’re armed with some great starter strategies.
You’re probably keen to dive in and start adding those magical links in just the right pages.
But stick with us for just a few more minutes.
We need to run over some basic best practices and some things to keep in mind when you’re working on any kind of internal linking project.
- Use descriptive anchor text
We touched on this above, but non-descriptive anchor texts don’t help anyone – not users or search engines.
2. Link to relevant pages
If you have a broad ecommerce site, you need to make sure that the internal links you use are relevant to each other.
For example, if you have a product page for a “travel cheese grater”, adding a link on that page to a product page for a “90s disco themed ironing board cover” product, isn’t going to be super relevant or useful.
3. Avoid excessive linking
It’s easy to overdo it with internal linking too. So be careful. Just add a few strategic links at a time. You can always add more if you need to further boost a page. But if you add too many and they’re over optimized, they could end up doing you more harm than good.
4. Utilize internal linking tools
There are a few tools that can help make your life a whole lot easier when you’re starting a new internal linking project.
In the next section, we’ll look into one of our favorites in more detail and show you how you can use it to help you get up and running quicker and be more effective.
Tools for better internal linking
Ahrefs site explorer is our go to tool for spotting quick win internal linking opportunities with little manual intervention required.
Here’s how it works…
First off, load up the Site Auditor and run a fresh audit.
You’ll get an overview that looks something like this:
Go to the “internal link opportunities” section on the left sidebar.
What you’re looking at here, is all of the pages where the tool found the mention of a keyword for which your site already ranks, but that wasn’t linking to the page that ranks for that keyword.
So let’s look more closely at a real example…
What this is telling us is that the page:
Contains this text:
“Talk to a Google ads consultant to help you optimize your Google ads campaign!”
And this page:
Ranks in position 7 for the keyword “google ads consultant”, but the first page doesn’t contain an internal link to the 2nd page.
This is a quick and easy win, because the “Google ads consultant” keyword already exists naturally within the body of text in that article, so all I need to do is add a link from that page to our target landing page using that as the anchor text.
Common ecommerce internal linking mistakes to avoid
Finally, to wrap up, we wanted to quickly cover some common internal linking mistakes, so you know what to avoid and what to watch out for when applying your new internal link building knowledge to your online store.
Over-optimizing anchor text
This one’s a big no-no.
And a common mistake that less experienced SEOs will make.
Remember, more does not always equal more.
Adding a footer link using the anchor text “cheap blue widgets” and linking to your cheap blue widgets product page from every page on your site will carry a lot less weight than a handful of carefully inserted links on highly relevant pages with close match or variant anchor texts.
Linking to low-quality pages
Don’t waste that precious link equity on linking to low quality pages.
If a page isn’t good quality, it’ll likely never rank as there will be too many other factors holding it back. So don’t pass all your link equity to a page that’s not already set up for success.
Ignoring broken links
Broken internal links (links that go to 404 pages for example) are a big problem.
You’re sending link equity and authority to a black hole, which could instead either be distributed to a different page, or just retained in the original page by removing the link.
If you spot internal broken links on your site, update or remove them as soon as possible before building any further links.
Orphan pages are pages on your website that don’t have any internal links pointing to them.
These are common on larger sites or sites that are older or have changed over time.
As new sections get added, and old pages get removed, it’s common to see some pages remain that end up isolated and not linked to from anywhere on the site.
They might have external links pointing to them and maybe they’re still in your sitemap, so Google still knows that they exist and is able to get to them and send traffic to them, but the lack of any internal links points to a lack of importance in that page, and you’ll see orphan pages often struggling for rankings as a result.
Avoid this by keeping your site navigation up to date and ensuring that if you remove a parent page or a category page, that all of the child or product pages are linked to from elsewhere on the site.
Links to non canonical pages (www/non www etc)
Lastly, every time you add an internal link, ensure that you’re linking to the canonical version of that page.
Depending on how your sites .htaccess file is configured, you could have up to 4 different versions of each page.
If your site is built on one of the popular CMS solutions – wordpress, shopify, bigcommerce etc – each page will probably have something called a canonical tag in the code that helps search engines identify the 1 version out of those 4 that you actually want them to rank in the search results.
When you’re adding internal links, make sure you’re adding links to the right version of the page.
If you link to a page that contains a canonical tag that points to a different page, some of the link equity is lost and you’ll create confusion that could even result in Google choosing to ignore your canonical tag instruction, which will cause you some big issues.
Still with us?? :p
We know that was a long read and a lot of information to take in.
If you have any questions about any of the info above, or if you’re just looking for ways to take your ecommerce business to the next level, drop us a message today and one of our digital marketing specialists will be in touch.
Matt is Marwick Marketing's Division Leader for SEO & Web Development and has over a decade of digital marketing experience in everything from local to national and international campaigns. He's led high impact strategies for major brands and currently oversees Marwick's global SEO and Web services.