Internal links at the enterprise level rarely get the love, attention, or optimization they deserve.
Though inbound links have a solid reputation for helping to quickly build a site’s authority and ability to rank, they are also one of the few link-based resources that enterprise SEO professionals have at their disposal to move users, crawlers, and link equity around their own site efficiently and at scale.
(For the “why” of internal linking, this is a great primer.)
Exceptional enterprise sites? They master internal link optimization which helps Google discover new content and index it quickly.
In this guide, we’ll cover tips on where to start with enterprise internal link building and optimization, what you can ignore, and pushing content with a quick checklist.
Don’t Forget About Breadcrumbs, Seriously
These are some of the easiest but least implemented and most-overlooked, natural places to put links that help connect content between categories, and various site sections.
Plus, it can be automated and helps users easily navigate through content without the back button.
Ideally, your middle “crumb” should be a mid-value page. Something like:
Home > Subcategory > Product
Primary category and core product pages naturally aggregate a lot of links and attention. Use this as an opportunity to spread it to your middleweight pages while keeping it functional.
Fix Your (Broken) Internal Links First
A little clean-up can go a long way towards optimization. So many sites worry about building new links before fixing their broken ones.
Broken links don’t do their intended job, and it’s worth running an audit of existing links to find and fix those first before creating more that ultimately need to be managed.
For sites that generate a lot of content or have seasonal products, making this a part of a quarterly checklist can help you manage this before it gets out of hand.
Identify & Re-Redirect Your Chains
It happens to the best-intentioned sites, and it’s especially true of sites with a lot of product sprawl.
One product goes out of inventory, you redirect to its replacement, and the cycle goes on ad nauseum until you have a redirect chain 10 products deep.
A fast but occasionally clunky fix is to redirect back to the master category page.
A cleaner fix, but one that requires maintenance, is a redirect to the closest related product that holds inventory.
Put Your Links Into an Organized Map
One of the best ways to build visibility into the different link families you’ve got is to organize them pen-to-paper style (or, you know, text to Google Sheet).
Each page in your map could also include a column to its primary internal link family so you have a single organized point of reference about what your link trees actually look like.
This will also help you easily identify orphan pages and ones that are over/under-linked (Search Console has an easy report for internally linked page identification).
Fix Your Click Depth
This one is pretty self-explanatory but overlooked. It’s also a particular problem of large niche-product retailers.
If it takes a bunch of clicks to get to a given product page, it’s worth seeing how you can shorten the path to encounter.
The general guidance is under three clicks, but this can somewhat obscure content relevance in that not every page on the site is equally relevant.
Three clicks from home is a good guide, but a page is not unrankable if it’s five clicks, for example.
Ensure there are clear user journeys and that business-critical pages are immediately accessible (top products, top categories, most-requested, etc). Build down click depth from there.
Play Navigational Defense
Sometimes SEO professionals over-engineer a solution to a problem and inadvertently create another.
Conserve space in your most powerful, far-reaching link real estate (headers, footers, main and side navigations) for the highest value business pages (which is not necessarily tied to search).
Search matters, but so does usability and the consumer journey. Resist the urge to dump links into these key spaces unless they have clear consumer or business value.
Generally, key entry, conversion, and info pages belong, and new content for quick indexing doesn’t.
Note: Powerful links are great, but obscuring the path to conversion for the sake of links isn’t.
Half Your Links, Double Your Authority
This is not exactly a common scenario, but hear me out.
Pages with hundreds of links eat away at each one’s ability to pass PageRank and move people efficiently. At the minimum, you might lose users from click paralysis.
In addition, the more Pagerank is taken from each link, the less it ultimately passes. You can learn more about this in Google PageRank, Simplified.
Ask yourself: is each link essential? Does it add to, or confuse the user’s ideal end action? Is it serving a defined business purpose?
Remove what doesn’t serve the site or user in the immediate term.
Push Content Live With a Quick Checklist
Great content often gets lost in the details of the go-live.
Hit these key items to ensure the basics are done and you don’t need to spend hours later doing clean-up:
- Benchmark your keyword data for the new page’s terms.
- Insert relevant internal links into the body copy.
- Update link map.
- Quick anchor text QA (no “read more’s,” “click here’s,” or “book a consultation”).
Automate Internal Link Building Where You Can
Building links across thousands – or hundreds of thousands – of pages, is no small feat.
“I want to manually build 100,000 links,” said no one, ever.
The more you can automate the internal link generation process, the better.
Whether automatic internal links are built into the CMS function, or a custom bit of script inserts them into related category content, being able to scale internal link efforts is critical.
For what it’s worth, the amount of manual sitemaps that are still (still!) out there is startling.
This is a no-brainer place to start to keep that always-fresh if you’ve inherited an older site that wasn’t built with automation in mind.
Other common places to find (or begin to build) automatic links: breadcrumbs (see above), related category and product suggestions, and “read next” blog suggestions.
Designate Links When You Publish Content
Each new piece of content should have links pointing to it from relevant, meaningful pages.
Whether category pages, related blogs, or pages that rank for adjacent high-value keywords, no page should go live without a family of links behind it.
This most often happens to stale blog content (before SEO or enterprise content generation went full steam ahead), or new-to-market products that got a PR push, but had no real SEO housekeeping.
Bonus: Get Cross-Departmental Buy-In
This honestly needs a conversation all on its own, but communication about link optimization and the internal education efforts go a long way towards progressing enterprise options and not having your work undone.
Many well-thought-out efforts have gone awry because a well-meaning department undid another one’s work.
Across major initiatives, getting buy-in, communicating tech changes, and doing this before (perhaps especially) it impacts the product is essential.
Internal links are an owned, powerful tool for SEO, but only if they are used correctly and consistently.
For enterprise sites, finding ways to manage scale is especially important. With routine maintenance and thoughtful automation, it’s possible to build a strategy that uses your own content to your advantage.