Posted by Tom.Capper
By now, you’ve probably heard as much as you can bear about mobile first indexing. For me, 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 have been a few 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 all of these are now looking pretty shaky, and what I suggest you do about it.
Quick refresher: WTF are “internal linking” & “mobile-first,” Tom?
Internal linking is and always has been a vital component of SEO — it’s easy to forget in all the noise about external link building that some of our most powerful tools to affect the link graph are right under our noses. If you’re looking to brush up on internal linking in general, it’s a topic that gets pretty complex pretty quickly, but there are a couple of resources I can recommend to get started:
I’ve also written in the past that links may be mattering less and less as a ranking factor for the most competitive terms, and though that may be true, they’re still the primary way you qualify for that competition.
A great example I’ve seen recently of what happens if you don’t have comprehensive internal linking is eflorist.co.uk. (Disclaimer: eFlorist is not a client or prospective client of Distilled, nor are any other sites mentioned in this post)
eFlorist has local landing pages for all sorts of locations, targeting queries like “Flower delivery in [town].” However, even though these pages are indexed, they’re not linked to internally. As a result, if you search for something like “flower delivery in London,” despite eFlorist having a page targeted at this specific query (which can be found pretty much only through use of advanced search operators), they end up ranking on page 2 with their “flowers under £30” category page:
If you’re looking for a reminder of what mobile-first indexing is and why it matters, these are a couple of good posts to bring you up to speed:
- General guide to mobile-first indexing, by my former colleague Bridget Randolph
- How mobile-first indexing disrupts the link graph, by Russ Jones
In short, though, Google is increasingly looking at pages as they appear on mobile for all the things it was previously using desktop pages for — namely, establishing ranking factors, the link graph, and SEO directives. You may well have already seen an alert from Google Search Console telling you your site has been moved over to primarily mobile indexing, but if not, it’s likely not far off.
Get to the point: What am I doing wrong?
If you have more than a handful of landing pages on your site, you’ve probably given some thought in the past to how Google can find them and how to make sure they get a good chunk of your site’s link equity. A rule of thumb often used by SEOs is how many clicks a landing page is from the homepage, also known as “crawl depth.”
Mobile-first indexing impacts this on two fronts:
- Some of your links aren’t present on mobile (as is common), so your internal linking simply won’t work in a world where Google is going primarily with the mobile-version of your page
- If your links are visible on mobile, they may be hideous or overwhelming to users, given the reduced on-screen real estate vs. desktop
If you don’t believe me on the first point, check out this Twitter conversation between Will Critchlow and John Mueller: