Improve your site’s structure in 4 simple steps

Optimizing your site structure should be an important aspect of your SEO strategy. Structuring your site is of crucial importance for your SEO. But how does one improve a site’s structure? Where do you start and how do you keep an eye on the structure of your site if your site is growing? In this post, I’ll teach you to improve your site’s structure in 4 simple steps. 

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Yoast SEO site structure features

We spent the past year thinking about how to translate the advice we give on improving your site’s structure into useful features for our plugin. This resulted in three new features (and we’re already thinking about new ones). The first feature we released was the internal linking feature. The internal linking tool helps you to figure out which articles you should be linking to. Our second feature on site structure, the cornerstone content analysis, will help you write awesome cornerstone content articles and get those articles in a central position in your linking structure. And the third feature, the text link counter allows you to check which articles need more internal links. Combined, these three site structure features are a powerful toolset for improving your site structure.

Step 1: Update and improve your Cornerstones

Your cornerstone content consists of the most important articles on your site. The ones you want people to read. The ones you want to rank with in Google. For all cornerstones, you should check the box in the snippet preview meta box.

Once you’ve checked that box, your content will be assessed more strictly by our readability analysis. You may wonder why we’re being so fussy about cornerstone content. The answer to that question is this: for cornerstone articles you should raise the bar, because they’re very important! They should be better than your other articles and therefore, demand more of your writing skills. Our cornerstone analysis will help you to raise your standards (and stick to them). It will be harder to score that green bullet. You have to do all important things right!

Step 2: Link to those cornerstones!

The second step to improving your site’s structure is to ensure that blogposts surrounding a certain topic all link to your most important article about that topic. Use the text link counter to see whether your cornerstones have enough links. In your post-overview, you can select your cornerstone articles.

In our example, the Ultimate guide to small business SEO has fewer links than our other two ultimate guides. You should open the cornerstone post with few links and check the Yoast internal linking feature.

The articles our internal linking tool suggests are great suggestions to link from to your cornerstones. You should go to these articles one by one and add links to your cornerstones (that’s a bit of work!).

If you aren’t using Yoast SEO premium (and do not have access to our internal linking feature), use your internal search function and search for the keyword of your cornerstone article. The post that’ll come up in this search query should be linking to your cornerstones.

Step 3: Improve the structure of orphaned articles

Once you’ve improved your cornerstone articles and made sure you’ve added links from all of your posts to those cornerstones, it’s time to make sure that there are no orphaned articles on your site. Orphaned articles are posts or pages that hardly any other posts link to. They are hard to find on your site, both by your audience and by Google. In order to identify orphaned articles, you can use our text link counter. Sort the posts by the number of internal links linking to the post.

Posts with fewest links will appear at the top of the list. Open these posts and (again, if you use Yoast SEO Premium) check the suggestions of the internal linking tool. Using the tool, you can make a list of posts that should be linking to your orphaned posts. After that, you can open those similar posts and add links to your orphaned posts. You can also use the search function to find posts to link to your orphaned article.

Step 4: Improve those dead ends!

Every post should have suggestions for further reading. After all, you want people to stay on your website. Suggestions should always be on topic. People reading about ballet shoes are probably interested in ballet shoes. So, offer them more reading material on ballet or on ballet shoes, but don’t bore them with karate.

Open your post overview and sort your posts by the number of internal links in the post, using our text link counter.

Open the posts with fewest internal links. Add links to similar posts using our internal linking tool, in the same way as described above. It’s so easy and it will increase the time people spend on your site considerably.

Read more: ‘Internal linking for SEO: why and how’ »

Conclusion

Agreed, it is a bit of work. But if you set to mind to it, follow these 4 steps and use the Yoast SEO site structure features, you’ll be able to improve your site’s structure significantly. And that is most definitely going to result in longer visits by your readers and in higher rankings in Google.

Keep reading: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

How to use the text link counter‎

In the latest release of Yoast SEO, we’ve added a text link counter. It consists of two counters, the first counts the number of internal text links you’ve put in your post. And the other counter counts the number of internal links to a post. These counters can be a huge help in improving the structure of your site. I’ve already explained why you should use the text link counter. Here, I’ll show you how to use our new text link counter.

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Where do I find the text link counter?

From now on, checking the number of internal links in a post and the number of links to a certain post is very easy. You can find the two counters in your post overview:yoast seo 5.0 text link counter
Look a bit closer:

text links counter

This functionality is very actionable. If you want to improve your site structure and your SEO, the text link counter will help you do that. You can go through your post with few links and improve your site’s structure step by step. We’re already thinking of ways to make this experience even smoother.

Find and resolve: ‘Orphaned articles’

Some articles don’t get many links from other posts; we often refer to them as ‘orphaned articles.’ These pages are hard to find, both by Google as well as the user. With the help of our text link counter, these articles are easy to detect. If you want to check which articles don’t receive many links, you can sort the articles by number in the second link counter column. Articles with 0 posts linking to them, will appear on top of the list.

The next step is to open those posts or pages with few links. Is it a page you don’t find useful anymore? Just delete and redirect it to another relevant page. If you do think it’s still a valid page on your site, figure out which other posts could link to it. Our internal linking tool (only for Yoast SEO premium) could help you to figure out which posts are linking candidates. Go to those similar post and insert links from these posts to your ‘orphaned’ post. That strategy could very well result in a small boost in your rankings.

Improve site structure by adding links

The other counter – the first column – counts the number of text links to other posts and pages on your website. You’ll want your post to link to other posts and pages with similar content, as it helps your readers to figure out other posts to read. If you link to similar content, the time people spend on your website will go up.

To find blog posts with few links to other posts, order the posts by the number of links. The posts with the fewest links will appear on top of your list. Adding links is incredibly easy with our internal linking tool. In our internal linking tool, we’ll suggest which post to link to based on similar content. You can add the suggestions, and you’re ready to go to the next blog post with few links.

Improve those cornerstone articles

An excellent way to use the text link counter is to use it for the cornerstone content articles. These are your most important articles. You’ll need to have your other posts linking to these particular relevant posts. To check whether you’re linking sufficiently to these cornerstones, you should select your cornerstone articles in your post overview. You can indicate which posts are your cornerstones in the Yoast SEO meta box (just beneath the snippet preview).  If one of your cornerstones has very few links, you’ll have work to do! Our internal linking tool will help you to figure out which articles to start linking to.

Conclusion on the text link counter

The new text link counter is a beneficial tool to improve your site’s structure actively. It’ll show you which posts need linking. If you combine this text link counter with our internal linking tool and the cornerstone content check, you’ll be able to bring your site’s structure to the next level. That will instantly increase the time people spend on your page and eventually will result in higher rankings in Google.

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Why you should use the Yoast SEO text link counter

In the 5.0 release of Yoast SEO we’ve added the Yoast SEO text link counter. This new functionality counts the number of internal links in a post and the number of internal links to a post. It sounds really simple, but it’s extremely useful and actionable. It’ll really make it so much easier to improve the structure of your site. Why is that? Why is site structure even an issue? And why is our new text link counter useful? Here, I’ll explain all about that. 

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What does the text link counter do?

The text link counter counts the internal text links in your posts. It consists of two counters: The first counter counts the number of links in your post and the second counter counts number of links to your post.

You can find the Yoast SEO text link counter in your post overview. In this overview you’ll see two additional columns. The first column shows the first counter – internal links in your post – and the second one shows the second counter – internal links to your post:

yoast seo 5.0 text link counter

Site structure and SEO

The structure of a site is a very important aspect of SEO. After all, Google follows links. The result of Google following links is that the internal linking structure of your site determines how Google crawls your site. Posts and pages that are linked to more often, are crawled more frequently than post and pages with few (internal) links. Same goes for visitors: pages and posts that have many links referring to them, get more visitors. If you forget to link to a specific blog post, nobody (Google included) will find it.

An internal linking structure that makes sense is therefore crucial for SEO. That’s why, for the past year, we’ve added some really nice features to Yoast SEO Premium that’ll help you to keep your site’s structure up to date: the internal linking functionality and the cornerstone content checks. The text link counter, available for everyone in the free version of Yoast SEO, is another great feature that’ll help you to improve your site’s structure.

Why should I use Yoast’s text link counter?

Find articles with few links

The text link counter will allow you to assess the number of internal links each post receives and the number of links each post contains. This is important stuff. You’ll be able to instantly see which posts are hardly linked to at all. If these are important posts in your opinion, you can take action and link to these from other (similar posts). This will help your most valuable posts and pages to rank higher.

Actionable! Improve your SEO

You should use the text link counter because it is a very actionable feature. It allows you to really get started with working on your SEO. The text link counter indicates which articles have fewest links. These are the articles that need your attention! This feature really points to weak points in your site’s SEO. It tells you where to start optimizing.

Conclusion: Indispensable new feature

The new text link counter is an indispensable feature for everyone who takes SEO seriously. It’ll give you feedback on those articles that need attention in internal linking. Use our text link counter in combination with the internal linking tool. That’ll make it so easy to take your internal linking structure to the next level!

Read more: ‘Internal linking for SEO: why and how’ »

Avoid these site structure mistakes!

If you take your SEO – and users – seriously, you’ll be working on a kick-ass site structure. Setting up a decent site structure is rather hard. Maintaining a solid site structure if your site is growing is even harder. Mistakes are easily made. In this post, I will share 5 common site structure mistakes people often make. Make sure to avoid all of these! 

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#1 Hiding your cornerstones

Your most important articles – your cornerstones – should not be hidden away. Cornerstone articles are the articles that your most proud of, that most clearly reflect the mission of your website. Some people forget to link to their most precious articles. If an article receives no or few internal links, search engines will find it less easily (as search engines follow links). Google will regard articles with few internal links as less important, and rank them accordingly.

Solution: link to those cornerstones

Ideally, you should be able to navigate to your cornerstone articles in one or two clicks from the homepage. Make sure they’re visible for your visitors, so people can easily find them.

Most importantly, link to those cornerstone articles. Don’t forget to mention them in your other blog posts! Our internal linking tool can really help you to remember your cornerstones at all times!

#2 No breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are important for both the user experience and the SEO of your website. And yet, some people do not use them. Breadcrumbs show how the current page fits into the structure of your site, which allows your users to easily navigate your site. They also allow search engines to determine the structure of your site without difficulty.

Solution: add those breadcrumbs

No excuses here! Just add those breadcrumbs. Yoast SEO can help you do that!

#3 HUGE categories

Categories should be relatively similar in size. But without even noticing it, people will sometimes write about one subject much more than about another. As a result, one category can slowly grow much larger than other categories. When one category is significantly larger than other ones, your site becomes unbalanced. You’ll have a hard time ranking with blog posts within a very large category.

Solution: split categories

If you’ve created a huge category, split it in two (or three). You should check the size of your categories every now and then, especially if you write a lot of blog posts.

#4 Using too many tags

Don’t create too many tags. Some people want to make tags really specific. But if every post receives yet another new unique tag, you are not structuring anything, because posts don’t become grouped or linked. So that’s pretty much useless.

Solution: use tags in moderation

Make sure that tags are used more than once or twice and that tags group articles together that really belong together. You should also ensure that your tags are in fact available to your visitors somewhere, preferably at the bottom of your article. Tags are useful for your visitors (and not just for Google) to read more about the same topic.

Read more: ‘Using category and tag pages for SEO’ »

#5 Not visualizing your site structure

A final site structure mistake people make is forgetting to visualize the site structure. Visitors want to be able to find stuff on your website with ease. The main categories of your blog should all have a place in the menu on your homepage. But don’t create too many categories, or your menu will get cluttered. A menu should give a clear overview and reflect the structure of your site. Ideally, the menu helps visitors understand how your website is structured.

Solution: dive into UX

In order to create a good and clear overview of your site, you should really dive into some aspects of User eXperience (UX). Think about what your visitors are looking for and how you could help them to navigate through your website. You could, for instance, start with reading our blog posts about User eXperience (UX).

Fix your site structure mistakes!

Site structure is an essential aspect of an SEO strategy. The structure of your website shows Google what articles and pages are most important. With your site’s structure, you can influence which articles will rank highest in the search engine. So, it’s important to do it right. Especially if you’re adding a lot of content, the structure of your site could be changing quickly. Try to stay on top!

Did we forget a site structure mistake that you encounter often? Please share it with us in the comments!

Keep reading: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

How do I determine what my cornerstone articles are?

Cornerstone articles are those articles that are most important to your website. These are the articles you would like to rank high in the search engines. Cornerstone articles are usually explainers; relatively long articles combining insights from different blog posts.

Perhaps you never thought about cornerstone articles before, even if you have your website for quite some time already. Still, you have a few articles that do really well in the search engines. How should you decide which articles are your cornerstones? And once you’ve identified your cornerstone content, what should you do to optimize these articles? Here, I’ll help you to determine which articles are your cornerstones and I’ll give some tips to optimize them to increase their chance of ranking. 

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5 steps towards a pragmatic cornerstone approach

Ideally, you should do extensive keyword research, after which you can produce really awesome, long, informative and beautifully written cornerstone articles. But you’ve probably written tons of articles already. Follow these five steps to turn some into killer cornerstone content:

Step 1: Think about your keywords

You have to determine the essential keywords you want to rank for. Make sure you use the words your audience search for. Trying to rank for words nobody uses, is utterly useless. Your cornerstone articles should be optimized for the most ‘head’ or most competitive keywords you’re aiming for.

Read more: ‘Keyword research: the complete guide’ »

Step 2: Choose the best post

Go through the posts that are optimized for keywords closest to the most important, most competitive keywords. Which post do you think is the best? That’ll be your cornerstone from now on!

Step 3: Rewrite it

Rewrite your cornerstone article. Make it awesome and SEO-friendly. Expand it and make sure it’s totally up to date. You should check it and expand that article regularly. Make sure that this article covers all the information that is relevant to that topic.

Also, make sure the article is incredibly nice and easy to read. Reading from a screen is challenging. Cornerstone articles tend to be longer than regular articles. You should, therefore, focus even more on readability. Think about the structure of your text, present topics in a logical order, write clear and short paragraphs.

Keep reading: ‘5 tips for a readable blogpost’ »

Step 4: Optimize your other posts on long tail variants

Once you’ve chosen and improved your cornerstone content article, you should pay some attention to the blog posts that are about similar topics as your cornerstone article. These other blog posts should be optimized for long tail variants of the ‘head’ keyword you’re focusing on in your cornerstone article. So, if the keyword of your cornerstone article is ‘ballet shoes’, the keywords of the other blog post could be: ‘ballet shoes for kids’, ‘cheap ballet shoes’, ‘classical ballet shoes’ and ‘ballet shoes for men’.

Read on: ‘Why you should focus on long tail keywords’ »

Step 5: Linking from those tails to your head

An important reason why you should use a cornerstone content approach is because you do not want to compete with your own content for ranking in Google. That’s why you have to tell Google that your new cornerstone article is the most important one on your site. You can do that by linking from all the long tail articles to your cornerstone article!

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Internal linking for SEO: Why and how?

Before your content can rank, it needs links. Google finds your posts and pages best when they’re linked to from somewhere on the web. Internal links also connect your content and give Google an idea of the structure of your website. They can establish a hierarchy on your site, allowing you to give the most important pages and posts more link value than other, less valuable, pages. So using the right internal linking strategy can boost your SEO!

Did you know our Site structure training can help you figure out how to build the best possible structure for your site? You’ll learn all about cornerstone content, taxonomies, internal linking and much more. Try it out, you’ll love it!

Why are links important to Google?

Google uses links to find out what content on your site is related and the value of that content.

Relationships between content

Google crawls websites by following links, internal and external, using a bot called Google bot. This bot arrives at the homepage of a website, starts to render the page and follows the first link. By following links Google can work out the relationship between the various pages, posts and other content. This way Google finds out which pages on your site cover similar subject matter.

On top of this post, for example, you’ll see links to the ‘Content SEO’, ‘Internal linking’ and ‘Site structure’ tags. We make sure Google understands that the content on those pages is related to the content of this post by adding these links.

Link value

In addition to understanding the relationship between content, Google divides link value between all links on a web page. Often, the homepage of a website has the greatest link value because it has the most backlinks. That link value will be shared between all the links found on that homepage. The link value passed to the following page will be divided between the links on that page, and so on.

Therefore, your newest blog posts will get more link value if you link to them from the homepage, instead of only on the category page. And Google will find new posts quicker if they’re linked to from the homepage.

When you get the concept that links pass their link value on, you’ll understand that more links to a post mean more value. Because Google deems a page that gets lots of valuable links as more important, you’ll increase the chance of that page ranking. 

Setting up an internal linking strategy

Internal links vs external links

Every website consists of internal and external links. Internal links connect pages and posts on your own website and external links connect your pages to other websites. In this post, we’ve focus on internal links and what they mean for SEO. If you want to get more external links pointing to your site, see our posts on link building.

It’s crucial for your site’s SEO to evaluate and improve internal linking strategy on a regular basis. By adding the right internal links you make sure Google understands:

  • the relevance of pages;
  • the relationship between pages;
  • and the value of pages.

First: the ideal structure for your site

We always advise website owners to imagine their website to be a pyramid. On top of it is your homepage, below that there are some sections or categories, and further down there are individual posts and pages (possibly with subcategories in between).

ideal site structure pyramid

If you do it well, your website’s menu should reflect this structure. In our Ultimate guide to site structure you can read how to create the best site structure for your site.

What is your most important content?

Then, you should determine what your most important content is. If you’re not sure, please read our article on cornerstone content. In short, it’s your best and most complete content; it’s about the core of your business. It’s the content you want people to find when they’re searching for a topics or products that you specialize in.

Because you want to let Google know that this is your most essential content, you need to add many links to it. There are various spots from where you can link to your cornerstone content. Here, we’ll give the most common options, from your post’s copy to your navigation.

Add contextual links

When you’ve written various articles about a certain topic you should link them with each other. This will show Google – and users! – that those articles are topically related. You can link directly from sentences in your copy or add links at the end of your post.

Moreover, you want to show Google which of those articles is your cornerstone: your most complete article on this topic. To do so, you have to add a link to the cornerstone in all of the articles on this topic. And don’t forget to link back from the cornerstone to the individual posts.

Contextual linking: an example

On our blog, there’s a cornerstone content article called ‘The ultimate guide to keyword research’. We want this post to rank for all related search queries about [keyword research] in Google search results.

So we’ve added links from other relevant articles, such as ‘7 keyword research mistakes to avoid‘, ‘ What is keyword research‘ or ‘Focus on long tail keywords‘ to the main article. And we link back from the main article to these posts. In doing so, Google will understand that the ultimate guide contains most information about [keyword research]. So in the end, Google will rank the ultimate guide above the other, shorter posts about keyword research.

Add a related post section?

There are many plugins and modules that add complete related posts sections to your posts. If you use one, we recommend testing whether the related posts actually are related posts. If you’re not sure, linking to posts manually is probably best. That’s what we do on Yoast.com – we select a related post manually (or with a little help from our internal linking tool – more on that later) and place a link to that post at the bottom of the article.

Michiel explains this in detail in this post about linking to related posts.

Add navigational links

Besides linking from topically-related posts and pages, it’s possible to make your cornerstone content more authoritative by adding links to it from the homepage or the top navigation. You should do this with the posts and pages that are most important to your business. This will give these posts or pages a lot of link value and makes them stronger in Google’s eyes.

Add links to your taxonomies

Taxonomies, like categories and tags, help you organize your site and help users and Google to understand what your content is about. If you have a blog it could be beneficial to add internal links to the taxonomies the post belongs to. Adding links to the category and tags helps Google to understand the structure of your blog and helps visitors to more easily navigate to related posts.

Add links to popular or recent posts

The last option to mention is creating internal links to the most popular or newest posts on your website. Preferably create these sections in the sidebar or the footer of your website to have them appear on all pages and posts.

As link value passes to these most popular/recent posts from many different pages and posts they really get a boost. Besides that, the posts will be easier for visitors to access, which will increase traffic – and more traffic is a positive sign to Google.

More on internal links

No-follow links

You also probably have links that aren’t important for SEO on your website. If you have a login link for your clients on the homepage, for example, you don’t want to leak link value to your login page – that page doesn’t need to rank high in the search results.

You used to be able to prevent losing link value to unimportant links by giving them a ‘no-follow’ tag. A ‘no-follow’ tag asks Google not to follow the link: so no link value is lost. Now you might think: “I’m going to ‘no-follow’ less important links to give the most important links more link value.” While this worked in the past, Google has become smarter. Now it seems that the link value for the whole page completely disappears when you add a ‘no-follow’ tag to a link on it. Therefore it makes more sense to have fewer links on a page instead of ‘no-following’ some of the links.

Note that adding a ‘no-follow’ tag doesn’t mean that those target pages can’t be found in Google’s search results. If you don’t want pages or posts to show up in the search results you should give them a ‘no-index’ tag as well. The ‘no-index’ tag means that Google shouldn’t render the page and shouldn’t give the content a place in the Google index to show up in the search results.

Anchor texts

Once you have decided which links should be on a page and which pages should get link value, it’s important to use the right anchor text. The anchor text is the clickable text that visitors see. For example, the anchor text of the two internal links in the example below are ‘link schemes’ and ‘paid links’:

Anchor texts
You can see the anchor text containing the link in this image.

If you over-optimize anchor text you might hurt your website. And by over-optimizing, we mean keyword stuffing. Previously, you could give all anchor texts the same keyword and Google made your website rank higher for that keyword. Nowadays, Google is smart enough to understand that the content around the anchor text says more about the relevancy of a keyword than the anchor text itself. So make sure the anchor text looks natural in your copy: it’s fine to use keywords but don’t add the exact same keywords to every link’s anchor text. 

Read more: The context of internal links »

Easy internal linking with Yoast SEO Premium

Our Yoast SEO Premium plugin helps improve your internal link structure with its internal linking suggestion tool, which helps you to find related posts to link to. When you’re writing a post, you can immediately link to a related post by dragging the link into the editor.

The plugin also includes an option to mark your most important articles as cornerstone content, which tells the suggestion tool to show those cornerstone content articles at the top of the list, so you’ll never forget to link to them! Read more about using the Yoast SEO internal linking tool.

In the free version of Yoast SEO, you’ll also find a handy tool called the text link counter. This tool counts the internal links in a post and the internal links pointing to a post. This visualizes which posts could use a few more links or which ones should receive more links. This will all help you work purposely on your site structure.

To make it even easier to find posts that aren’t linked to, Yoast SEO Premium has the orphaned content filter. This feature allows you to see which posts and pages aren’t linked to at all, by other posts and pages on your website. Using the filter, finding important posts that need more inbound internal links is a piece of cake!

Did you know you can get a monthly or yearly subscription to all Yoast SEO plugins and courses? This way you can get the internal linking tool and access to the site structure training, for as long as you need. Learn more about the best deal for Yoast fans.

Go link your content

Without links, your content can’t rank! With a solid internal linking strategy, you can show which content is related and which of your articles are most informative and valuable. If you follow the guidelines in this post both Google and your users will understand your site better, which will, in turn, increase your chance of ranking.

Keep reading: Site structure: the ultimate guide »

The post Internal linking for SEO: Why and how? appeared first on Yoast.

What is cornerstone content?

Cornerstone content pieces are those articles on your website you’re most proud of. They reflect your business, communicate your mission and are extremely well written. These are the articles you would like to rank high in the search engines. Cornerstone articles are usually explainers; these articles combine insights from different blog posts.

Here, I’ll explain all about cornerstone content. I’ll tell you what cornerstone content is, why it’s important for SEO, how to write this type of content and how you should link from your posts to your cornerstone articles.

Which articles are my cornerstones?

Choose your cornerstones carefully. Think of four or five pages you would like someone to read if they first visit your website. These articles should be the cornerstones of your site. Which articles are most precious to you? Which articles are the most complete and authoritative? You should write cornerstone articles about the keywords you definitely want to rank for.

As of now, Yoast SEO will ask you to indicate whether or not an article is a cornerstone article. By marking articles as cornerstone, Yoast SEO can help you build a solid internal linking structure. Our link suggestion tool will give priority to the articles that you mark as cornerstone content.

Learn how to write awesome and SEO friendly articles in our SEO Copywriting training »

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If your website is enormous, you’ll have more cornerstones than if your website is small. You’ll probably write about more than one topic, so make sure to choose a cornerstone article in each category.

Why are cornerstone articles important for SEO?

Cornerstone content plays a significant role in any SEO strategy. It can be rather hard to rank for search terms that are very popular. A cornerstone approach could help you tackle those competitive search terms. If you write a lot of articles about similar blog posts, you need to tell Google which one is the most important. Otherwise, you’ll be competing with your content for a place in the search results. If you provide the proper internal linking structure between your posts, you can show Google which article is the most important.

Linking structure surrounding cornerstones

Cornerstone articles should appear very high in your site’s pyramid. Ideally, one would be able to click from your homepage to your cornerstone articles instantly. You should link all your other posts about similar topics to that particular article. Subsequently, you will write tons of new blog posts focussing on new angles of the topic of your cornerstone article. From every single one of those blog posts, you’ll link to your original cornerstone article. Such an internal linking structure will increase the chance of your cornerstone content article ranking in Google.

For instance, I write a lot of different posts about SEO copywriting. All these posts focus on a different aspect of SEO copywriting. One of my articles is my cornerstone article, in this case, the Ultimate Guide to SEO Copywriting. I will make sure to link from all of my posts about SEO copywriting to that one important cornerstone article.

Internal linking in Yoast SEO

In Yoast SEO Premium, we offer internal linking functionality. We analyze the text you are writing and use the prominent words in that text to determine which articles are of a similar topic. These are the articles you should be linking to. Cornerstone articles are treated differently in our calculation of internal linking suggestions. They are more important and will receive a higher value. To give these articles some visible weight as well, we place the cornerstone articles above the list of the internal linking suggestions. That’ll make it much easier for you to link to your critical articles.

Type of content of cornerstone pages

Cornerstone content should always be content pages. It could be a blog post, but you could also make a page out of it. The content should be updated very regularly. Cornerstone articles should be explainers, so these should definitely be informative articles. In your cornerstone article, you should aim to rank for the most competing keywords.

Cornerstone articles are usually rather long. Everything that’s important about a certain topic should be covered in your cornerstone article. That’ll ask quite a bit of your writing skills. Lengthy articles are usually hard to read, especially from a screen. Make sure to use sufficient headings. An index at the beginning of a long cornerstone article is also a great idea.

5 steps towards a pragmatic cornerstone approach

Ideally, you should do extensive keyword research. After that, you can produce really awesome, long, informative and beautifully written cornerstone articles. But what if you do not have that much time? And what if you’ve already written tons of articles? Follow these five steps to make killer cornerstone content.

Step 1: Think about your keywords

You have to determine the essential keywords you want to rank for. Your cornerstone articles should be optimized for the ‘head’ or most competitive keywords. Be sure to carry out keyword research.

Step 2: Choose the best post

Go through the posts that are optimized for keywords surrounding the most important keywords. Which post do you think is the best? That’ll be your cornerstone from now on!

Step 3: Rewrite it

Rewrite your cornerstone article. Make it awesome and SEO-friendly. Expand it and make sure it’s totally up to date. You should rewrite and expand that article regularly.

Step 4: Optimize your other posts on long tail variants

The other blog posts about similar topics as your cornerstone article should be optimized on long tail variants of the ‘head’ keyword you’re attacking in your cornerstone article.

Step 5: Linking from those tails to your head

You have to tell Google that your new cornerstone article is the most important one on your site. Don’t forget to link from all the long tail articles to your cornerstone article!

Yoast’s plans for cornerstone content

Site structure is important for SEO. Having a solid site structure means both search engines and visitors can effortlessly navigate your site to find what they want. To help you with this, we are currently working on many more features in Yoast SEO that’ll improve the structure of your website.

Read more: ‘SEO Copywriting: the complete guide’ »

Ask Yoast: Too many links in navigation menu?

Doing your internal linking well has quite a few SEO benefits. Connecting related posts with each other lets Google know that you’ve created content on various aspects of a certain topic. This can make you a stronger candidate to rank for that topic. But, can internal links also be detrimental to your site? Is it possible to create too many internal links, for example by having lots of links in your navigation? That’s what this Ask Yoast is about!

Jeroen Custers of Agrifirm emailed us with a question regarding navigation links:

“We have a top menu with a sub menu on every page of our online shop and in Google Search Console I see that some pages are linked more than 15,000 times. And our homepage is linked 25,000 times. Is this a problem?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

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Navigation links and SEO

Well yes and no. If your menu structure, overall, is so big and it’s loaded in the top of your page, then that might not always be the best idea for your SEO. One of the things that we used to do in the old days – that I still like to do sometimes now – is load the menu at the bottom of the page. Why?

Because that means that you’re showing the content first and you’re showing the links in the content to Google first, and then you’re showing them the entire menu. Not even thinking about page rank, this order of things makes slightly more sense to Google. And it might also make more sense to blind people and other people that visit your website. So, if you can do that, then that would be beneficial.

Also, if your menu is too big, I don’t always really appreciate that as a customer. But that’s something that you have to test with your customers and visitors. Investigate what works best and whether your navigation menu isn’t too big and cumbersome to work with. But that’s more of a UX question, than really an SEO question.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Why you should use Yoast internal linking

Yesterday we released our new internal linking tool in Yoast SEO Premium. The internal linking tool will help you to link to related content. It will find related posts for you, and it will become much easier to link from your post to these related articles. Using our tool systematically will help you improve the structure of your website.

Optimize your site for search & social media and keep it optimized with Yoast SEO Premium »

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Why is internal linking important?

Internal linking is important for SEO. In order to make sure your content is findable, content just needs to be linked to. In the original PageRank algorithm, internal and external links were both equally important. This algorithm will probably have changed over time. Nevertheless, internal links are still an important ranking factor.

In addition, linking related content also serves another goal. It shows Google that that certain content on your site is related. You can even tell Google what’s the most important article, on this particular topic, that you have on your site. You can do so by linking to this main article from all your other articles on the same topic. We call this main article cornerstone content, and we also wrote about how to incorporate it on your site. Smart internal linking can push this article up in the search results.

On top of that – or perhaps in the first place – linking related content simply makes sense to do for your visitor. If they’re interested in a particular topic, chances are that they’d like to read more about the same topic on your site.

Why every writer will benefit from our tool

While writing one of my previous post, I literally stumbled upon our new tool in the WordPress backend. The suggestions of the internal link tool really surprised me. I know the importance of links, but I usually link to my own articles (as I know these articles best). I also tend to link to the most recent articles, and often forget about articles I wrote some time ago.

The internal linking feature of Yoast SEO Premium gave me the suggestion to link to one of Michiel’s articles and to one of my own articles I almost forgot about. Both of these articles were better matches to the blog post I was writing, than the posts I would have linked to if I had not used our new tool.

If your website becomes large, it’s just not possible to remember everything you and your colleagues wrote. The internal linking tool is a great help in picking those articles that fit your new post best. In the end, it’ll help you to set up a great site structure by connecting related content to each other.

In my case, it’ll help me to link to those articles written by Joost or Michiel. It’ll remind me of a related blog post I wrote some time ago. It’ll improve the structure of the website, which will have it’s impact on the ranking of our site. And, it’ll improve the User eXperience, because our audience will easily find the most relevant content to them!

Optimize your site for search & social media and keep it optimized with Yoast SEO Premium »

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How does it work?

In the sidebar of your WordPress backend, you’ll find our suggestions for internal links:

Yoast internal linking tool

You either click on these links and check out the article (it’ll open in a new tab), but you can also easily copy and paste these links into your text. In most browsers, you’ll even be able to drag and drop as well. Check out our screencast if you want to see for yourself how easy it is:

 

So go ahead and start interlinking your posts!

Do you want to make sure you’re linking your posts well, and that your complete site structure is optimized for search engines and users? Then our Site structure training is what you need!

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Site structure: the ultimate guide

Your site needs to have a defined structure, because without it, it’ll just be a random collection of pages and blog posts. Your users need this structure to navigate on your site, to click from one page to another. Google also uses the structure of your site to determine what content is important and what is less relevant. This guide tells you everything you need to know about site structure.

Table of contents

Why is your site structure important?

Structuring your website is crucial for both its usability and findability. Many sites lack a sound structure to guide visitors to the information they’re looking for. Having a clear site structure also leads to a better understanding of your site by Google, so it’s incredibly important for your SEO. Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

Importance for usability

The structure of your website has a significant impact on the experience for your visitors (UX). If visitors can’t find the products and information they’re looking for, it’s not very likely they’ll become regular visitors or customers. In other words, you should help them navigate your site. A good site structure will help with this.

Navigating should be easy. You need to categorize and link your posts and products so they are easy to find. New visitors should be able to instantly grasp what you’re writing about or selling.

Importance for SEO

A solid site structure vastly improves your chances of ranking in search engines. There are three main reasons for this:

a. It helps Google ‘understand’ your site

The way you structure your site will give Google vital clues about where to find the most valuable content on your site. It helps search engines understand what your site mainly is about or what you’re selling. A decent site structure also enables search engines to find and index content quickly. A good structure should, therefore, lead to a higher ranking in Google.

b. It prevents you from competing with yourself

On your site, you might have blog posts that are quite similar. If, for example, you write a lot about SEO, you could have multiple blog posts about site structure, each covering a different aspect. Consequently, Google won’t be able to tell which of these pages is the most important, so you’ll be competing with your own content for a high ranking in Google. You should let Google know which page you think is most important. You need a good internal linking and taxonomy structure to do this, so all those pages can work for you, instead of against you.

c. It deals with changes on your website

The products you sell in your shop likely evolve over time. So does the content you’re writing. You probably add new product lines as old stock sells out. Or you write new articles that make old ones redundant. You don’t want Google to show outdated products or deleted blog posts, so you need to deal with these kinds of changes in the structure of your site.

Are you struggling with setting up your site’s structure? Don’t know what the best strategy is to link from one post to another? Consider taking our Site structure training, so you’ll be able to improve your rankings by creating the best structure for your site.

How to set up the structure of your site

So, how do you construct a solid site structure? First, we’ll look at an ideal site structure; then we’ll explain how to achieve this for your own site.

Ideal site structure

Let’s start by looking at an ideal situation: if you’re starting from scratch, how should you organize your site? We think a well-organized website looks like a pyramid with a number of levels:

1. Homepage

2. Categories (or sections)

3. Subcategories (only for larger sites)

4. Individual pages and posts

The homepage should be all the way at the top. Then, you have some sections or category pages beneath it. You should be able to file all of your content under one of these categories. If your site is larger, you can divide these sections or categories into subcategories as well. Beneath your categories or subcategories are your individual pages and posts.

ideal site structure

An ideal site structure looks like a pyramid. On top you’ll find the homepage, right below that the main sections or categories, possibly followed by subcategories. On the ground you’ll find all the individual posts and pages.

Your homepage

On top of the pyramid is the homepage. Your homepage should act as a navigation hub for your visitors. This means, amongst others, that you should link to your most important pages from your homepage. By doing this:

  1. Your visitors are more likely to end up on the pages you want them to end up on;
  2. You show Google that these pages are important.

Further down this article, we’ll help you determine which of your pages are essential to your business.

Beware not to try to link to too many pages from your homepage, because that will cause clutter. And a cluttered homepage doesn’t guide your visitors anywhere. If you want to optimize your homepage further, there are a lot of other things you can do. Read Michiel’s article on homepage SEO to find out what.

In addition to having a well-structured homepage, it’s also important to create a clear navigation path on your site. Your site-wide navigation consists of two main elements: the menu and the breadcrumbs.

The menu

First, let’s take a look at the menu. The website menu is the most common aid for navigation on your website and you want to make the best possible use of it. Visitors use your menu to find things on your website. It helps them understand the structure of your website. That’s why the main categories on your site should all have a place in the menu on your homepage.

Furthermore, it’s not always necessary to put everything in just one menu. If you have a big site with lots of categories, this may clutter your website and makes your main menu a poor reflection of the rest of your site. Where it makes sense, it’s perfectly fine to create a second menu.

For instance, eBay has one menu at the top of the page – also called the top bar menu – and in addition to that, a main menu. This top bar menu links to important pages that aren’t categories in the shop, like pages that have to do with the visitor’s personal account on the site. The main menu reflects the most important product categories on eBay.

2 layer navigation

Finally, just like on your homepage, you shouldn’t add too many links to your menu. If you do, they will become less valuable, both for your users and for search engines.

Read all about optimizing your website’s menu here or take our site structure training that includes lots of examples!

Breadcrumb trail

You can make your site’s structure even clearer by adding breadcrumbs to your pages. Breadcrumbs are clickable links that are usually visible at the top of a page or post. Breadcrumbs reflect the structure of your site. They help visitors determine where they are on your site. They improve both the user experience as well as the SEO of your site, as you can read in Edwin’s guide on breadcrumbs.

If you use a WordPress site, you can use one of the many breadcrumb plugins that are available. You can also use our Yoast SEO plugin, as we’ve implemented a breadcrumb functionality in our plugin as well.

Taxonomies

WordPress uses so-called taxonomies to group content (other CMSs often have similar systems). The word ‘taxonomy’ is basically a fancy term for a group of things – website pages, in this case – that have something in common. This is convenient because people looking for more information on the same topic will be able to find similar articles more easily. You can group content in different ways. The default taxonomies in WordPress are categories and tags.

Categories

You should divide the blog posts or products on your site into a number of categories. If these categories grow too big, you should divide these categories into subcategories, to clear things up again. For example, if you have a clothing store and you sell shoes, you can decide to divide this category into a number of subcategories: ‘boots’, ‘heels’, and ‘flats’. All of these subcategories contain products, in this case shoes, of that specific type.

Adding this hierarchy and categorizing to your pages helps your user and Google make sense of every single page you write. When implementing your category structure, make sure to add your main categories to the main menu of your site.

Read more: Using category and tag pages for SEO »

Tags

Your site’s structure will also benefit from adding tags. The difference between a category and a tag mostly has to do with structure. Categories are hierarchical: you can have subcategories and even sub-subcategories. Tags, however, don’t have that hierarchy. Tags just say: “Hey, this article or product has a certain property that might be interesting for a visitor.” Think of it like this: categories are the table of contents of your website, and tags are the index. A tag for the online clothing store mentioned above could be a brand, for instance, Timberlands.

Keep reading: What is the difference between tags and categories? »

Try not to create too many tags. If you add a new unique tag to every post or article, you’re not structuring anything. Make sure each tag is used at least twice, and that your tags group articles that genuinely belong together.

Some WordPress themes display tags with each post, but some don’t. Make sure your tags are available to your visitors somewhere, preferably at the bottom of your article or in the sidebar. Google isn’t the only one that likes tags: they are useful for your visitors too, who may want to read more about the same topic.

Read on: Tagging post properly for users and SEO »

Contextual internal linking

Site structure is all about grouping and linking the content on your site. Until now, we mostly discussed so-called classifying links: links on your homepage, in your navigation and taxonomies. Contextual links, on the other hand, are internal links within the copy on your pages that refer to other pages within your site. For a link to be contextual, the page you link to should be relevant for someone reading the current page. If you look at the previous paragraph, for instance, we link to a post about tagging, so people can learn more about it if they’re interested.

Your most important pages are probably often very relevant to mention on several pages across your site, so you’ll link to them most often. Just remember that not only the page you’re linking to is relevant, the context of the link is important as well.

Google uses the context of your links to gather information about the page you’re linking to. It always used the anchor text (or link text) to understand what the page you’re linking to is about. But the anchor text isn’t the only thing Google looks at. Nowadays, it also considers the content around the link to gather extra information. Google is becoming better at recognizing related words and concepts. Adding links from a meaningful context allows Google to properly value and rank your pages.

Contextual linking for blogs

For blogs you should write extensively on the topics you’d like to rank for. You should write some main articles (your cornerstone articles) and write various posts about subtopics of that topic. Then link from these related posts to your cornerstone articles, and from the cornerstone articles back to related posts. In this way, you’ll make sure that your most important pages have both the most links and the most relevant links.

The following metaphor might help you understand this principle: Imagine you’re looking at a map of a state or country. You’ll probably see many small towns and some bigger cities. All towns and cities will be interconnected somehow. You’ll notice that small towns often have roads leading to the big cities. Those cities are your cornerstones, receiving the most links. The small towns are your posts on more specific topics. There are some roads (links) leading to these smaller towns, but not as much as to the big cities.

internal links metaphor roads

Keep on reading: Internal linking why and how »

Contextual linking opportunities for online shops

Contextual internal linking works differently on an online shop with very few to no pages that are exclusively meant to inform. You don’t explore a specific topic on your product pages: you’re selling a product. Therefore, on product pages, you mostly want to keep people on a page and convince them to buy the product. Consequently, contextual linking is far less prominent in this context. You generally shouldn’t add contextual links to your product descriptions, because it could lead to people clicking away from the page.

There are just a couple of meaningful ways of adding contextual links to your product pages:

  1. link from a product bundle page to the individual products
  2. a ‘related items’ or ‘compare with similar items’ section
  3. a ‘customers also bought’ section
  4. a ‘product bundles’ or ‘frequently bought together’ section.

Learn all about setting up a great (internal linking) structure for your online store with our Site structure training. We’ve included lots of examples from real websites!

Landing pages

Landing pages are the pages you want your audience to find when they search for specific keywords you’ve optimized for. For instance, we want people who search for ‘free SEO training’ to end up on the page about our free training called ‘SEO for beginners’. You need to approach the content of your most important landing pages differently than your other, regular pages.

Here, we’ll discuss two types of landing pages: cornerstone pages and product landing pages. They’re both pages you’d like people to land on from the search engines, but they require quite a different approach. But first, we’ll shortly go into search intent, because you have to know what your audience is really looking for.

Search intent

When setting up your site structure, you need to think about search intent. It’s about what you think people are looking for when they enter a query into a search engine. What do people want to find? And: what do they expect to find?

Take the time to think about different possibilities in search intent, as you might want to cater to different types on your site. Are people just looking for an answer to a question or a definition? Are they comparing products before purchase? Or, are they intending to buy something right away? This is often reflected in the type of query they make.

When you have idea of the search intent it’s essential to make sure your landing page fits the search intent of your audience. Pages can answer more than one search intent, but you need a clear view for at least your most important pages.

Read all about search intent and why it’s important for SEO.

Cornerstone content pages

Cornerstone articles are the most important informational articles on your website. Their focus is to provide the best and most complete information on a particular topic, their main goal is not to sell products.

Because of this focus, we usually think of blogs when talking about cornerstone content. Of course, that doesn’t mean it can only be a blog post. All different kinds of websites have cornerstone articles! Rule of thumb: if an article brings everything you know about a broad topic together, it’s a cornerstone content article.

In this article, Marieke explains what cornerstone content is and how to create it.

Product landing pages

Product landing pages significantly differ from cornerstone articles. The latter are lengthy, where product landing pages shouldn’t be that long. Rather than complete articles, they should be focused. These pages only need to show what your visitors need to know to be convinced. They don’t need to hold all the information.

You obviously want to rank with these pages though, and that means they need content. Enough content for Google to understand what the page is about and what keyword it should rank for. Where cornerstone articles could be made up by thousands of words, a couple of hundreds could be enough for product landing pages. The main focus of the content should be on your products.

Michiel listed all the essentials of your product landing page here.

Maintaining your site structure

Structuring or restructuring your content doesn’t always have high priority within everything you have to do. Especially when you blog a lot, or add other content regularly, it might feel like a chore. Although it isn’t always fun, you have to do it, or your website might become a mess. To prevent that from happening, you need to not only fix your site structure but keep an eye on it while adding new content. Site structure should definitely be part of your long-term SEO strategy.

When your business goal or website changes, your menu also needs to change. When you start thinking about restructuring your site, planning things visually will pay off. Make a flowchart.

Start with your new menu one or two levels deep and see if you can fit in more of the pages you have created over the years. You’ll find that some pages are still valid, but don’t seem relevant for your menu anymore. No problem, just be sure to link to them on related pages and in your sitemaps, so that Google and your visitors can still find these pages. The flowchart will also show you any gaps in the site structure.

Read more: Optimizing your website menu »

Rethink your taxonomy

Creating an overview of your categories, subcategories and products or posts will also help you to rethink your site’s taxonomy. This could be a simple spreadsheet, but you can use more visual tools like LucidChart or MindNode too.

Do your product categories and subcategories still provide a logical overview of your product range or your posts and pages? Perhaps you’ve noticed somewhere down the line that one category has been far more successful than others, or maybe you wrote a lot of blog posts on one subject and very few on others.

If one category grows much larger than others, your site’s pyramid could be thrown off balance. Think about splitting this category into different categories. But, if some product lines end up much smaller than others, you might want to merge them. Don’t forget to redirect the ones you delete.

In the unlikely event you have built your HTML sitemap manually, update that sitemap after changing your site structure. In the far more likely event you have an XML sitemapre-submit it to Google Search Console.

Keep reading: The structure of a growing blog »

Clean up outdated content

Some outdated articles you might be able to update and republish, to make them relevant again. If an article is outdated but no one reads it anyway, you might opt for getting rid of it altogether. This could clean up your site nicely.

What you should know in that case, is that you should never just delete a page or article. If Google cannot find the page it serves your user a 404 error page. Both the search engine and your visitor will see this error message saying the page doesn’t exist, and that is a bad experience and thus, bad for your SEO.

Be smart about this! You need to properly redirect the URL of the page you’re deleting, so your user (and Google) lands on a different page that is relevant to them. That could even improve your SEO!

Avoid keyword cannibalization

Your website is about a specific topic, which could be quite broad or rather specific. While adding content, you should be aware of keyword cannibalization. If you’re optimizing your articles for keywords that are all too similar, you’ll be devouring your own chances of ranking in Google. If you optimize different articles for similar key terms, you’ll be competing with yourself, and it’ll make both pages rank lower.

If you suffer from keyword cannibilization you’ll have some work to do. In short, you should research the performance of your content, and probably merge and redirect some of it.  Read this guide on content maintenance by Joost to learn how to go about this.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all this advice? Yoast SEO has some handy tools to make internal linking so much easier.

Yoast SEO’s text link counter visualizes your links so you can optimize them. It shows the internal links in a post and the internal links to a post. You can use this tool to enhance your site structure, by improving the links between your related posts. Make sure your cornerstones get the most (relevant) links!

text link counter

Yoast SEO Premium helps you with your internal linking as well. Our internal linking suggestions tool will show you which articles are related to the one you’re writing, so you can easily link to them: just by dragging the link into your editor!

internal linking tool

Moreover, our tool allows you to indicate which articles you consider to be cornerstone content on your site. This way those articles will be shown on top of the internal linking suggestions. You’ll never forget to link to them again.

Read on: How to use Yoast SEO for your cornerstone content strategy »

Site structure: in short

As we have seen, there are several reasons why site structure is important. Good site structure helps both your visitors and Google navigate your site. It makes it easier to implement changes and prevents competing with your own content. So use the tips and pointers in this guide to check and improve your site structure. That way, you’ll stay on top of things and keep your website from growing out of control!

Want to get improve your site structure, but don’t know where to start? Get our Site structure training! We’ll guide you through the process step by step. 

Keep on reading: Avoid these site structure mistakes! »

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