The classic way of setting out all the content on your website is as a giant pyramid. So the home page has a bunch of sections listed, and each of these has a bunch more, and so on. That’s fine in making it clear to search engine crawlers what’s on the site, but to be honest, your sitemap – a simple list of pages – does that job. What this plain arrangement doesn’t do well is to help the search engines understand your site, which is becoming increasingly important.
Suppose you have a page on your site about a blue widget, a really good background article about blue widget technology and a case study about how your blue widget is being used. If these pages are linked tightly, the search engines will understand that you’re offering a potentially interesting resource on blue widgets.
But in a real missed opportunity, many sites don’t present things this way. The blue widget page is reached from the home page by clicking ‘products’, then ‘widgets’, then ‘blue widget’. The background article is reached by clicking a woolly link like ‘resources’, then ‘technical articles’, then ‘how does a blue widget work?’. The case study is under another unhelpful label such as ‘blog’ or ‘press releases’. Everything’s a long way from each other, even if those home page links are repeated site-wide in the navigation.
However, if the relevant articles link to each other from within their main body text, like this, the search engines instantly start to group them in the way they should be. So the product page gives you a reference link in the text to the background article, and both reference the case study …you get the drift.
Overall, internal linking isn’t as important as it used to be. If anyone tells you that SEO concepts such as ‘link sculpting’ still exist, I’d suggest they’re out of date. But useful non-navigation internal linking such as described above – which also happens to help visitors – is considered to have a role to play. And it’s easy to add to your site in the odd spare moment.