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Internal linking is important for SEO, according to Google's John Mueller, and he suggests a planned strategy. In response to a query concerning internal linking, John Mueller of Google stated that one of the "biggest things" a publisher can do to alert Google of the most important content is internal linking that extends beyond site breadcrumb navigation.
In children's literature, a hero may enter a forest and leave a trail of breadcrumbs that the reader might follow to stay on course.
In a similar way, a website offers a "breadcrumb" trail in the form of breadcrumb site navigation so that a visitor to the site can navigate back through the website's structure.
A breadcrumb often begins on the main page, moves to a category page, and then moves on to an article.
Structured data in the form of breadcrumbs is a mirror of internal navigation, which includes breadcrumb navigation.
Website users may easily navigate through a website by switching back and forth between its categories and subcategories to discover engaging content to read thanks to internal navigation.
Google is informed by breadcrumb structured data on the particular topic of a website category.
This category is all about x.
This category is all about y.
This category is dedicated to z.
Structured data, which is the context of what is being said, reflects breadcrumb site navigation.
The questioner wanted to know if implementing breadcrumb structured data navigation was enough for internal linking for SEO.
John Mueller replied if internal linking was important as under:
It’s something where internal linking is super critical for SEO.
I think it’s one of the biggest things that you can do on a website to kind of guide Google and guide visitors to the pages that you think are important.
And what you think is important is totally up to you.
You can decide to make things important where you earn the most money or you can make things important where you’re the strongest competitor or maybe you’re the weakest competitor.
With internal linking you can really kind of focus things on those directions and those parts of your site.
And that’s not something that you can just replace with structured data.
So just because there is a structured data in a page somewhere, I wouldn’t see that as a replacement for normal internal linking.
Even if in the structured data you also provide URLs, we don’t use those URLs in the same way as we would use normal internal links on a page.
So it’s definitely not the case that hreflang annotations replace links between country versions or breadcrumb annotations replace links between different levels of a website.
You should really have normal HTML links between the different parts of your website.
And ideally, you should not just have a basic set of links, but rather you should look at it in a strategic way and think about what do you care about the most and how can you highlight that with your internal linking.”
Internal linking was not mentioned by John Mueller as a ranking factor. He basically stated that it's a good strategy of informing Google which pages on a website are important.
Backtracking a bit, we can see that a standard website has a site structure that is shaped like a pyramid. A little point at the top of the pyramid typically contains an overview of the site's content and services.
The topics vary from being quite general (at the top) to becoming increasingly particular (far down), as you navigate through the layers of categories and subcategories using the site navigation. The larger the website, the more pages there are, and the more likely it is that a crucial page may be lost in the content avalanche and forgotten.
According to John Mueller, using strategic internal linking can help direct Google and site visitors to the most well-liked or significant topics.
Useful internal linking helps speed up access to important content for both Google and site users
As Mueller recommended:
“…you should look at it in a strategic way and think about what do you care about the most and how can you highlight that with your internal linking.”
Internal linking is crucial, but not so that you can "trickle" Google into thinking a page is important for XYZ.
It communicates to search engines the most critical pages. Internal linking is only a means to draw attention to your important content while ensuring that search engines can recognize it and rank it.
Take a look at the video at 25:14