Internal Linking Review During a Website Migration

Internal Linking Review During a Website Migration

Internal Linking Review (of your Staging site) During a Website Migration

As previously mentioned in this series, site structure, navigation and internal linking are critically important in terms of SEO implementation for a number of reasons:

  1. Logical site structure and internal linking structures help to spread link equity (page authority) throughout your site
  2. Logical site structure and internal linking structures ensure that crawlers can efficiently find all of the pages on your site without working too hard (and avoid crawl budget issues)
  3. Logical site structure and internal linking structures (in the form of content clusters, specifically) help Google to understand the context of related content pieces and boost your site’s authority (and chances of ranking) on specific topics

You should review your site structure and internal linking at two stages during your website design and development process:

  1. Design stage - you should review initial designs to make sure the site appears to be logically structured and internal linking structures appear comprehensive and facilitate content clustering.
  2. Staging / UAT stage - you should not rely on designs alone. Crawling your staging site to ensure that Google is able to correctly find and understand relationships between your content is also important.

Reviewing Designs

While well designed internal linking structures don’t always translate into internal linking structures that crawlers can easily navigate, you can tell whether you're on the right path by looking at preliminary designs.

Things to look out for at this stage:

  1. Logical, well-planned site structure with evenly sized categories and subcategories. If a category has 100’s of products, consider dividing it further into subcategories.
  2. Primary navigation (Main Menu) that contains links to all top level product category pages.
  3. Secondary navigation / internal linking structures within top level product category sections with links to all subcategories within that section.

Review Staging / UAT Site

Now that you've reviewed your designs, you'll want to test whether your internal linking is actually behaving as expected in the designs. You can test this by clicking through the site and ensuring that everything behaves as expected as per points 1-3 in the Reviewing Designs section above. You can also use a crawling tool like Screaming Frog to verify that:

  1. None of your pages have extremely high crawl depths (this suggests that internal linking should be improved)
  2. Groups of related content around a similar topic / category are clustered together optimally via internal links 

A. Checking for High Crawl Depths

What is crawl depth?

Crawl depth refers to the number of clicks you need to reach a specific page from the homepage using the shortest path. A page directly linked to the homepage is at depth 1 (the homepage itself is always at depth 0).

Note: a crawler obviously  won’t always enter your website via the homepage, in which case crawl depth starts from the point that they enter. However, for simplicity we use the homepage which is more often than not one of the primary entry points to your website.

Why is high crawl depth an issue?

There are two reasons why pages with high crawl depth are problematic:

  1. If a page is hard to find, crawlers won’t check it as often as they will check pages at depth 1 and so, these pages will have a lower chance of being ranked. Pages contained deep within a website, over four or five clicks from the homepage, may never be found or crawled by Google and therefore, never indexed. 
  2. Deep pages also tend to have a lower “authority” (pagerank) due to their distance from more important pages on your site. This means that even if the page is indexed, it may never rank well against authoritative competitors.

How to check crawl depth with Screaming Frog?

If you want to check the crawl depth of all the pages on your site, you can use the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool. 

Steps to check crawl depth with Screaming Frog:

1. Simply enter your website's URL and click "Start." The report will take a few minutes to generate.

2. Once your site has been crawled, click the “HTML” tab under “Internal” and then “Export” the report.

3. Open the exported spreadsheet and freeze the first row then find the “Crawl Depth” column and sort descending.

If you see a lot of pages with a high crawl depth (e.g. 5+), then you will need to review your internal linking structures and ensure that these groups of pages are linked to from pages at a lower depth; this change will help mitigate against the risk that Google will never find them. 

Ideas for reducing crawl depths via better internal linking:

  • - Optimized pagination (e.g. include links for five individual paginated pages instead of three)
  • - “Related products” links
  • - “Customers also like” links
  • - “Related blog posts” links
  • - HTML sitemaps

B. Reviewing Content Clusters

What are content clusters?

Content clusters are groups of related content on a website, organized via internal links into a cluster around a central topic. Typically, these clusters follow a Hub and Spoke model. The Hub page will be the main page about a broad topic, which links off to other related pages / posts on related sub-topics, which in turn link back to the Hub page.

Why are content clusters important?

In a nutshell, content clusters around a single related topic indicate to Google that a website is an authority on a specific subject. 

Content clusters help to improve the organic rankings of all the content within that cluster in  two key ways:

  1. Content clusters help Google to understand relationships between content and subtopics on your website and encourage its algorithms to see you as an expert on the broader topic as well as its subtopics
  2. Content clusters help to pass authority / PageRank around your site - if one page in a cluster receives valuable links - the value from these links is evenly spread across the cluster

Organizing content into topical clusters not only tells Google that your pages are relevant to a specific topic but also that they are more likely to be authoritative than the content produced by your competitors. They also tend to keep your crawl depths low!

How to review content clusters with Screaming Frog?

In Screaming Frog, the force-directed crawl diagrams are like a heat-map, with the start URL represented by the darkest green, largest node (the circles) in the middle. This is generally the homepage if you started the crawl there. The lines (known as ‘edges’) represent the link between one URL and another (by shortest path, if you’ve been listening).

Right away when looking at this visualization, you’ll be able to see whether your content is structured in clusters with higher level Hub pages linking off to lots of related spoke pages.


If you notice that nodes (pages) are generally structured in a hub and spoke manner, then your content is more than likely to be optimally clustered around topics. You can focus on specific HUB pages to view Spoke pages that they link to. 

By default, nodes are scaled based on crawl depth - pages with lower crawl depth are represented by larger nodes whilst pages with higher crawl depth are represented by smaller nodes. 

If you notice lots of small outlier nodes in this diagram, you should review each of them and decide whether they can be better integrated into an existing content cluster to reduce crawl depth and attract a larger share of link value from related pages.

What's Next?

Now that you’ve reviewed your staging site for internal linking, you’re almost ready to go live! Your final step before go-live is a quick Staging Site Performance Review.

Check out the other blog posts in this series on SEO for a Website Migration:

  1. Technical SEO Checklist for a Website Migration
  2. Keyword Research and Existing Content Audit for a Website Migration
  3. 301 Redirect Planning and Redirect Mapping for a Website Migration
  4. Crawl Depth and Internal Linking Review (of your UAT site) for a Website Migration
  5. Staging Site Performance Review for a Website Migration
  6. SEO Go Live Checkup for a Website Migration
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