Improving Internal Link Structure on E-Commerce Sites

Ever since I entered the SEO industry, it has become increasingly impossible for me to look at a website without analyzing – even on a top level – its optimization and structure.

“Boy-o-boy,” I say to myself, “this site is a mess!” or “Would you just look at this URL structure?!?!” or “This site would benefit from a navigation overhaul…”

It’s really getting bad – I’m trying to find an SEO support group. How am I supposed to remember what I went to a site for in the first place when I end up analyzing their title and meta tags?

When I was in college, and SEO was in its embryonic stages, I wrote a rather lengthy paper comparing the site structures of middle-end fashion sites, such as J.Crew and the Gap, to high-end fashion sites like Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani. Ignoring search engines completely, I had launched into a theoretic and slightly pretentious analysis of social assumptions and equality, accessibility issues, and rhetoric, not knowing that in a few short years, I would be working for Oneupweb and would have a different perspective.

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Nowadays, browsing through a website like Gap.com gives me great ideas for other e-commerce websites, not only to sell product but also improve their internal linking structure.

Many times, large e-commerce sites have a very top-heavy link structure – meaning, the deeper you navigate into the site, the less incoming links those pages have from other site pages.

A feature that the Gap and other e-commerce clothing sites have implemented is the “You may also like…” suggestion. This feature essentially outlines a handful of other products that the user may like in addition to the product they’re currently viewing.

The image below demonstrates this feature on Gap.com. From an SEO perspective, the Gap has it right, too. The images are links, and have descriptive and accurate ALT text. The text below each image is also a link.

From this one product level page there are four additional links pointing to other product level pages. These links not only provide the user with a helpful pathway to other product pages, but also give the search engine web crawlers additional links to other product level pages.

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Other considerations that can be taken to improve internal linking on a large e-commerce site include implementing text-based navigation on all site pages to help search engines and users navigate easily among products and categories (especially if the main navigation is in Flash or other non-indexable format.) Also, make sure to utilize unique descriptions on the product level, and search friendly URLs with limited dynamic parameters. Social media enhancements like blogs and message boards also provide opportunities for adding links to those deep product pages.