On several occasions over the past few months, Google’s John Mueller has gone on record to settle the debate about the SEO value of internal linking. Not that there is really anything to debate, given how the value of internal linking has been common knowledge to most for some time.
In this instance, Mr Mueller was quizzed on whether setting up breadcrumb structured data navigation is sufficient to satisfy internal linking SEO requirements.
“If you have structured data for breadcrumbs set up is internal linking still important for SEO?” was the question presented to the Google search guru.
In response, Mr Mueller issued the same basic guidelines he shared several weeks back, when asked how Google reads a site’s pages and content based on internal linking:
“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.”
In a sense, Mr Mueller is once again stating that it is technically possible to manipulate the way Google crawls and reads a website in order to direct its spiders at pages of great value and importance.
Internal links can and should be used to point visitors at your most important and relevant pages as they have the same effect on Google’s crawlers.
Noticeably, he stopped short of stating outright whether internal linking is a major SEO ranking factor. However, the fact that it influences the way your pages are read by Google suggests that strategic internal linking is indeed of enormous value.
Though again, it is nothing Mr Mueller has not already clarified on several occasions as of late. If you want to tell the search engines which of your pages are most important, strategic internal linking is essential.