In the early days of SEO, it was all about the “backlink” — and while there is significant evidence that backlinks are still valuable, there’s another search engine optimization strategy you may be overlooking.
Backlinks vs. internal links
Back in the early days of search engines, backlinks were a huge part of search engine optimization strategy — so much so that Google was actually originally called “Backrub,” a reference to the idea that the quality of a page could be judged by the number of other sites or pages that link to it.
That said, there is also a significant advantage in building internal links. Much of this is driven by similar concepts of external backlinks — namely the ability to “pass along” ranking power from one page to another.
In addition, internal links can also help search engine spiders “crawl” your site better, understand your site structure, and help send keyword signals to search engines.
Internal links in Shopify themes
While backlink building can still be a valuable strategy, you should also explore and implement the use of a comprehensive internal linking strategy within your Shopify store.
As its name suggests, an internal link is when one page on your site links to another page on your site (in this case we’re defining “site” as a single Shopify store on your domain name or myshopify.com subdomain).
Internal links come in a variety of forms — from the main navigation, mega menu links, and footer links — as well as links within collection and product descriptions, blog articles, and other pages.
Links themselves have three distinct parts: Anchor text, title text and the URL:
Anchor text: Named after the HTML vernacular that refers to links as “anchors” (hence the <a> tag), this is the text that actually links to another page or site and is what users click on to visit that page. Anchor text can play a role in SEO since it can be an indicator of what the content is being linked to.
In the navigation, you’ll want to make sure the menu item accurately and clearly describes the content it links to.
In general, a good rule of thumb is that users should be able to tell, at a quick glance, what to expect when clicking a menu item. A good example of this straightforward approach are the “Tops” and “Bottoms” links in the Portland Turbo Shopify theme style.
That said, it is worth considering, from both an internal SEO and user experience standpoint, that you may want to consider adding an extra word or two alternative names or synonyms in the link name. For example, in the Chicago Turbo Shopify theme style, “Caps” could be expanded to read “Caps and Hats.”
Be careful to not overdo it with strategy, especially in your site’s main header navigation since a lot of words can create a cluttered look that makes it hard to scan quickly.
That said, footer links can be a good opportunity to place a secondary navigation menu that uses alternative names in addition to your policy, contact and other “utility” pages.
In-content links in Shopify stores
In addition to navigation menus, a huge opportunity that often goes unrealized is to include links within the text in collection and product descriptions as well as blog posts and other page content:
When writing blog posts that mention specific products or collections, considering linking appropriate anchor text in your article to the corresponding page. Not only does this make it easier for a reader to dive into shopping and explore your products, but it’s also a great way to use internal links to optimize a specific page.
In product descriptions, linking key words to other relevant products or collections in your store can also be a good strategy. This is a great way to not only enhance your internal link structure but it can help encourage shoppers to explore and engage more with your store — and also discover alternative products that might be a better fit.
Collection descriptions can also be used to include links with key anchor text in the copy. This can be a good way to point users to different collections that might include related or alternative products and creates more internal links.
Blog posts can also be linked to from within product and collection descriptions.
It’s also worth noting that many Shopify themes can automatically add a list of collection names, tags, vendors, and product types as well as breadcrumbs, which are all also considered internal links and can encourage users to browse your site more in-depth.
In addition to the obvious pages, there are some “hidden” internal link structures that you can leverage.
First, consider linking to blog post tag pages. These pages are located at /blogs/blog-handle/tagged/tag-handle and will display every blog post that has the corresponding tag. Just edit the bold text to match your needs using the handle syntax Shopify uses. This can be a great way to maximize your investment in blog posts by encouraging users to engage in this content.
Link to collection tag URLs to narrow down what users see when clicking a link and also introduce additional keywords into your links. To do this, use /collections/collection-handle/tag-handle. This will only show products in a particular collection that are tagged with a specific tag.
You can also link users to a page that only shows products from a specific vendor using this format: /collections/vendors?q=Vendor+Name. In these URLs, spaces are replaced with the “plus sign” rather than hyphens.
Similarly, you can also link to specific product type URLs using this pattern: /collections/types?q=Product+Type+Name.
Another option is to link users to search result pages. This type of feature uses this pattern: /search?type=product&q=Search+Term*. In this URL pattern, “product” can be changed to “all” to search all site content. You can also remove the asterisk from the end if you want to disable the “wildcard” search.
When creating internal links — no matter what kind — there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
Carefully consider what text is used as the anchor text for your link. Ideally, the text should contain target key words but also accurately describe what is being linked to.
However, it’s also important to keep anchor text simple — and not overly “packed” with keywords just for the sake of them.
Be sure to avoid “over linking.” Search engines typically compare the number of links on a page compared to the overall amount of text on the page. Having too many links can also make for undesirable user experience if almost every word is clickable.
When creating in-content links, use Shopify’s title tag tool to include additional or alternative keywords. It can often be a good strategy to use words that don’t appear in the anchor text or URL handle you’re linking to.
When creating link titles, however, be sure to keep the text straightforward but still accurately describe the content being linked to.
When building any kind of link for SEO purposes, there’s also a concept known as “stuffing” that should be avoided. Stuffing can involve purposefully trying to include a large number of keywords or links within a page’s content for the sole purpose of SEO.
While it can be a fine line between “clever” SEO strategy and stuffing, in general, a good rule of thumb is to consider if the internal link you’re adding — as well as the anchor text and title tag — are relevant and useful to both search engines and a human user.
That’s not to say that “pushing the envelope” a bit can’t deliver results — but ultimately given that every site and page is unique, exactly how hard you can “push” will vary.
Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn. While comments and feedback are always appreciated, Michael regrets that, due to the volume of inquires received, personal responses are not possible. For specific assistance or support with Out of the Sandbox themes, visit the help center.