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Internal Linking & Mobile First: Large Site Crawl Paths in 2018 & Beyond

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Internal Linking & Mobile First: Large Site Crawl Paths in 2018 & Beyond

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By now, you’ve probably heard around you can bear about mobile first indexing. For me personally, there’s been one topic that’s been conspicuously missing from all this discussion, though, and that’s the impact on internal linking and previous internal linking best practices.

In the past, there were a couple of popular methods for providing crawl paths for search engines — bulky main navigations, HTML sitemap-style pages that exist purely for internal linking, or blocks of links at the bottom of indexed pages. Larger sites have typically used at least two or often three of these methods. I’ll explain in this post why most of these are now actually looking pretty shaky, and what It is best to do about it.

Quick refresher: WTF are “internal linking” & “mobile-first,” Tom?
Internal linking is and always is a vital element of SEO — it’s easy to forget in all of the noise about external link building that a few of our strongest tools to affect the web link graph are right under our noses. If you’re trying to brush on internal linking generally, it is a topic that gets pretty complex pretty quickly, but there are a number of resources I can recommend to get started:

 

I’ve also written in the past that links might be mattering less and less as a ranking factor for the absolute most competitive terms, and though that could be true, they’re still the primary way you qualify for that competition.

A good example I’ve seen recently of what happens if you don’t have comprehensive internal linking is eflorist.co.uk. (Disclaimer: eFlorist is not really a client or prospective client of Distilled, nor are any sites mentioned in this post)

eFlorist has local landing pages for all sorts of locations, targeting queries like “Flower delivery in [town].” However, although these pages are indexed, they’re not connected to internally. As a result, if you look for something such as “flower delivery in London,” despite eFlorist having a typical page geared towards this specific query (which is found more or less only through use of advanced search operators), they wind up ranking on page 2 with their “flowers under £30” category page:

If you’re buying a reminder of what mobile-first indexing is and why it matters, these are a couple of good posts to create you up to speed:

 

In a nutshell, though, Google is increasingly considering pages as they appear on mobile for all your things it once was using desktop pages for — namely, establishing ranking factors, the web link graph, and SEO directives. You might well have seen an alert from Google Search Console telling you your site has been moved over to primarily mobile indexing, but when not, it’s likely not far off.

Get to the level: What am I doing wrong?
When you yourself have higher than a handful of landing pages on your site, you’ve probably given some thought in the past to how Google can see them and steps to make sure they get yourself a good chunk of one’s site’s link equity. A rule of thumb often used by SEOs is how many clicks a landing page is from the homepage, also referred to as “crawl depth.”

Mobile-first indexing impacts this on two fronts:

 

  • Some of one’s links aren’t present on mobile (as is common), so that your internal linking simply won’t work in a global where Google is certainly going primarily with the mobile-version of one’s page
  • If your links are visible on mobile, they may be hideous or overwhelming to users, given the reduced on-screen property vs. desktop

If that you do not trust in me on the very first point, check out this Twitter conversation between Will Critchlow and John Mueller:

 

Particularly, that section I’ve underlined in red should be of concern — it’s unclear just how much time we’ve, but eventually, if your internal linking on the mobile version of your site doesn’t cut it from an SEO perspective, neither does your site.

And for the links that remain visible, an internal linking structure which can be rationalized on desktop can quickly look overbearing on mobile. Check out this example from Expedia.co.uk’s “flights to London” landing page:

A number of these links are area of the site-wide footer, but they vary according as to the page you’re on. For instance, on the “flights to Australia” page, you obtain different links, allowing a tree-like structure of internal linking. This can be a common tactic for larger sites.

In this example, there’s more unstructured linking both above and below the section screenshotted. For what it’s worth, though it isn’t pretty, I don’t think that is terrible, but it’s also not the type of thing I could be particularly happy with when I go to explain to a client’s UX team why I’ve asked them to ruin their beautiful page design for SEO reasons.

I mentioned earlier that there are three main ways of establishing crawl paths on large sites: bulky main navigations, HTML-sitemap-style pages that exist purely for internal linking, or blocks of links at the bottom of indexed pages. I’ll now go through these consequently, and take a look at where they stand in 2018.

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