Google’s John Mueller answered a question about internal linking and affirmed that internal linking that goes beyond site breadcrumb navigation is one of the “biggest things” a publisher can do tell Google what content is the most important.
In children’s stories a protagonist may venture into a forest and leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs they can follow in order to avoid getting lost.
A website similarly provides a “breadcrumb” trail in the form of a breadcrumb site navigation so that a site visitor can navigate back through the website structure of a website.
Typically a breadcrumb starts at the home page then goes to a category page and then goes to an article.
Home > Category > Article (You Are Here)
Breadcrumb Structured Data
Breadcrumb structured data is a reflection of the breadcrumb navigation which is a part of what’s called internal navigation.
Internal navigation makes it easy for site visitors to navigate through a website, going back and forth between the categories and sub-categories of a website to find interesting things to read.
Breadcrumb structured data tells Google what the topic of a website category is about.
- This category is about x.
- This category is about y.
- This category is about z.
Breadcrumb site navigation is reflected in structured data, which is the context of what is being discussed.
Is Breadcrumb Structured Data Enough for Internal Linking?
The person asking the question wanted to know if setting up breadcrumb structured data navigation is enough for internal linking for SEO.
This is the question:
“If you have structured data for breadcrumbs set up is internal linking still important for SEO?”
Internal Linking is Important
Google’s John Mueller responded by stating that internal linking is an opportunity to communicate to Google something more than what internal navigational links can communicate.
John Mueller answered if internal linking was important:
It’s something where internal linking is super critical for SEO.
I think it’s one of the biggest things that you can do on a website to kind of guide Google and guide visitors to the pages that you think are important.
And what you think is important is totally up to you.
You can decide to make things important where you earn the most money or you can make things important where you’re the strongest competitor or maybe you’re the weakest competitor.
With internal linking you can really kind of focus things on those directions and those parts of your site.
And that’s not something that you can just replace with structured data.
So just because there is a structured data in a page somewhere, I wouldn’t see that as a replacement for normal internal linking.
Even if in the structured data you also provide URLs, we don’t use those URLs in the same way as we would use normal internal links on a page.
So it’s definitely not the case that hreflang annotations replace links between country versions or breadcrumb annotations replace links between different levels of a website.
You should really have normal HTML links between the different parts of your website.
And ideally, you should not just have a basic set of links, but rather you should look at it in a strategic way and think about what do you care about the most and how can you highlight that with your internal linking.”
Why Internal Linking is Important
John Mueller didn’t say internal linking was a ranking factor. He just said that it’s a good way to tell Google which pages in a site are important.
If we backtrack a little and look at how a website is structured, in a traditional website the site structure resembles a pyramid.
The top of the pyramid is a small point that usually has general information about what the site is about and what it offers.
As you click through through the layers of categories and subcategories via the site navigation, the topics go from very general (at the top) to increasingly very specific, way at the bottom of that pyramidal site structure.
The bigger the site the more pages there are and the likelier that an important page can get buried and remain forgotten in the avalanche of content.
What John Mueller suggested is that strategic internal linking is a way to point Google and site visitors to the most popular or important topics.
A thoughtful use of internal linking can help Google and site visitors quickly get to important content.
As Mueller recommended:
“…you should look at it in a strategic way and think about what do you care about the most and how can you highlight that with your internal linking.”
The importance of internal linking is not for “tricking” Google into thinking that a web page is relevant for XYZ.
It tells search engines what pages are most important.
Internal linking is just a way to point to your important content and making sure that search engines can find it and rank it.
Internal Linking is Super Critical For SEO
Watch the video at the 25:14 minute mark:
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