Internal navigation links on your site can dramatically and negatively impact search traffic referrals says SEO expert Alex Stein. Extra links lower the site authority that your transfer to other pages on your site. “It’s our job as SEO optimizers to optimize the flow of authority of a site,” noted Stein in aMozCon talk.
Alex Stein, who is the Senior Manager of SEO for adidas (formerly with Wayfair) spoke at a previous MozCon on the important reasons for removing internal links:
Project Whack-A-Mole: Reduce Links & Improve Authority
I’m going to be talking today about how to reduce the number of links in your internal navigation to help the pages you really care about rank even better. Over at Wayfarer, we call this project whack-a-mole because links are always popping up everywhere.
There are so many different things happening on websites from product releases to feature releases to site makeovers and a lot of times these have the unintended consequence of adding a lot of links to every single page, adding a lot of links to your navigation. It’s our job as SEO optimizers to optimize the flow of authority of a site.
If You Halve Your Links You Double Your Authority
I want to start off with a quick 10,000-foot view of how site authority works. You get authority from external links and then that authority passes through to your other pages through your internal links. For any given page its authority is divided amongst all of the links on that page and 15% of it just disappears.
One of the core ideas is that if you halve your links you double your authority. If you remove half the links from any given page the remaining links that you left there will get twice as much authority from that page. Halve your links, double your authority, it’s a surefire way to success.
My examples are going to cover the different forms of global navigation which are navigation that appears on every page, like the header. We did project whack-a-mole on our header and saw some great results. If you’re going to be removing links from your header I recommend using at least three main data points. You want to be using search volume, header click data, and page level revenue.
These three things can act as a system of checks and balances against each other so you’re making better data-driven decisions. There could be situations where a term in the header has a very low search volume but might have a very high click count. Alternatively, you can have situations where you have very low click count but very high page level revenue. Maybe it’s a high converting page or just a high ticket item but the benefit that you get from removing that link isn’t going to outweigh the revenue that you lose. So in both these situations, we’re leaving the links in the header where if we were just using one individual data point we might be inclined to remove them.
Removing Links at Wayfair Increased Traffic 10 Percent
We did this on our header, we looked critically at what really needed to be there and we were able to remove around 150 links. We actually A/B tested this at Wayfair in order to be extra careful and the variant with fewer links saw a decrease in internal searches as well as an increase in the overall conversion rate.
What was happening was that since we were removing options that people didn’t care about from the headers, they were able to find the pages that they wanted faster so they didn’t need to search for them. Additionally, they got put in front of product faster which improved our funnel metrics overall.
That’s just the cherry on top because when we pushed this out to the live site for the SEO benefit we saw increased rankings, in particular to the pages that we left in the header. We also received around a 5-10 percent increase in site traffic as a whole, which is a huge benefit for such a simple change.
It’s About Making Your Site Leaner and Meaner
All those links that we left in the header, they didn’t need to share the authority that they were getting from every single page on the site with an additional 150 links. Similarly all of the products and article pages that we have, they didn’t need to share the authority that they were getting from their parent pages with those 150 links that are usually in the header.
We’re just making the site leaner and meaner and giving our most important pages every single possible advantage that we can.
Footer Navigation Faces Project Whack-A-Mole
My second example covers the footer navigation. The footer is often a good place to start project whack-a-mole because a lot of times people put links in the footer because they don’t know where else to put them. Because of that, there’s a lot of unqualified links in the footer and by unqualified I mean links that don’t need to be accessible from every single page of your site.
As an example, SimilarWeb, here’s a site is that is not doing anything wrong but they just might have room for improvement. SimilarWeb now has 47 links in the footer, so it’s called project whack-a-mole for a reason. These things kind of just accumulate without you really paying attention, but do we really need individual links for Our Data and About Us and Our team or can we just have one link that leads to one page called Our Company?
Obviously, I’m giving these guys a hard time and there are a lot of good SEO reasons that you might put links in your footer. We too were once like them before we did project whack-a-mole. We had around 51 links in our footer. It was a lot of useful information, but information that didn’t necessarily need to be on every single page of the site. So we went in there and looked critically at it and we were able to reduce this number down to 20.
You Should Cut Out Sidebar Navigation Links Too
My third example is sidebar navigation. This is the left or right-hand menu, the global menu. Not all sites have this but some of them do. This is a problem that I see come up a lot more on smaller sites that are on CMS’s like WordPress.
A lot of the themes and designs that you can download for WordPress often use UX elements that can add a lot of links to every single page. These are things like tag clouds or recent post widgets or duplicate navigation or my favorite archived links.
A lot of times these all appear in combination on a site and they can easily add over a hundred links to every single page. My advice is always when I’m working with these sites is to whack-a-mole, cut it out.
Unless you have business data that’s really showing that people are engaging with these features and they’re driving business value such as driving signups or conversions. Cut it out and give your primary taxonomy, the pages that are really core to your site, what your site really is, as much of an advantage as you can. Don’t let these additional links detract from the authority that you can send them.