Internal Architecture SEO : Navigation Menu Versus In-Content Links

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The SEO power of in-content (or “Wikipedia-style”) links may be up for debate but from theory, practice, and experience webmasters know that a link in a context is much more powerful than an isolated (sitewide) link in a sidebar. It is logical to think that internal linking should also be done with the help of in-text link rather than navigation menu.

What’s the difference?

Navigation Menu In-Content Links
Consists of sitewide isolated links that carry less SEO weight.
Are links in context that allows search engines to learn more about the destination page.
Offers more control over website internal structure: you don’t need to think much of internal interlinking once you set up your navigation.
Are more spontaneous (more difficult to manage) but offer full control over internal anchor text.

Why to choose anyway? Can’t we just use both?

Well, that’s what most of webmasters have been doing until now: using both navigation menu and in-content links. The question itself is: would it be more effective if they choose one (for example excluding navigation menu from crawling with something like iframe and managing the whole internal linking with in-text linking)?

Besides, recent SEO experiments (I tend to believe though they were debated) show that you should always take care that your “best”, most targeted anchor text comes first on the page; so we should seriously think how to achieve that: your sitewide navigation links might leave no chance to any other anchor text you want your page to rank for.

So what’s the solution?

To my mind, in-content links are not going to replace navigation menu completely (after all, there is nothing better from usability point of view and it can be easily and thus effectively managed). The point of this post is to encourage webmasters to experiment moving some of your links from the navigation menu into the content area and also to try the following:

  • breadcrumbs;
  • “related categories” and “related articles” blocks;
  • different navigation menu for different page types; etc.
Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
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  • I think that you can use the header menu for the top pages, e.g. French wines, and have some words in the content like Bordeaux, which could be located under the index.html/frenchwines/bordeaux.
    Your anchor text goes more specific while the links in the menus are more generic.
    Ann ?!

  • good ideas here. we use a combination of both on most sites.

  • One way to manage the PR inheritance and maximize the value passed is through a navigation menu. If you have only a little to start using only contextual you will have exhausted that quickly. The biggest mistakes SEO make is they get stuck on this idea that they must get IBLs to increase PR. That is a complete fallacy as with a few IBL you can generate a lot of internal PR if the PR managed within the site. The only reason to remove navigation menus is because you think you are decreasing the PR passed with more links on the page. True, but having the nav menu on a few thousand pages sure makes up for a slight savings from eliminating the nav links.

  • Great post Ann –

    One thing we have been experimenting with is NOT relying on navigation to SEO a site. Instead we are completely separating our SEO concerns from our navigation. We still build them in CSS, but we dont RELY on them to pass “Juice” so our navigation doesnt have to link to every page on the site – from every page – ICK! The other downfall we run into when trying to use nav to pass “juice” is you cant use great keywords in the nav links for the most part. We work in travel and the phrases are somewhat long tail and a bit long for a navigation menu. “Gulf Shores Vacation Rentals” is too verbose to fit nicely in a navigation – but I can for sure get this in a text link on the page.

    Instead we build 2nd and 3rd tier navigation so related pages are linked together via navigation for the user. In a way this is SEO friendly as we’re grouping pages of a site togther that are related.

    For most of our SEO concerns we’re relying on contextual links and our sitemap to move juice around the page.

    Like I said, we’re experimenting – but it seems to be working quite well. Thanks for the post!


  • Hey,

    Thanks for sharing.

    I am always on a look for such a good & useful resource.

  • Momchil Milev

    Yeah, great post.
    But won’t we make a great mistake taking the main navigation out of the picture. After all it’s so user-friendly and we should optimize for the user, not for search engines?
    What are your thoughts about this, Ann, or enyone?
    Thanks in advance!

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