Here's an example which highlights the importance of internal linking and the creation of hub pages. 

To demonstrate this, I'll look at the Guardian and Mail Online's SEO and internal linking strategy, and the marked contrast between the two.

We're looking at publishers here, but the principles apply equally to any website. 

In the run up to the tournament, most major news sites created World Cup hub pages for the term, which is likely to be the most popular of 2014.

These hub pages gathered the World Cup content in one place, and should be the most useful for people searching on a generic term.

Ideally, publishers would want these pages to achieve a consistently high ranking over time for the term, allowing them to direct users to other areas of the site. 

World Cup hub pages and Google rankings

The screenshot below shows that, while the top few slots are taken by FIFA and Wikipedia (which would be almost impossible to shift), the BBC, Telegraph and Guardian all managed to rank on page one for 'World Cup'. 

For these news sites, the pages that rank are their World Cup hub/landing pages, containing tables, fixtures, latest news, links to other related content, and so on. 

These pages allow the publishers in question to direct traffic to one page over time, allowing it to rank more consistently and make the most of the extra search traffic before and during the tournament. 

One major news site is missing: Mail Online (The Sun and Times are too, but we know why). It ranks so well for many other terms, so why isn't it here? 

Given the sheer interest in the tournament (the spike peaks here around June 18) this represents a missed opportunity for the paper. 

Using charts provided by the PI Datametrics SEO platform, we've looked at the Google rankings of the Mail and Guardian in the four months up to and including the World Cup. 

The results reveal the importance of a co-ordinated SEO strategy which uses internal links and hub pages, and explain how the Guardian and others succeeded where the Mail failed. 

Mail Online and its failed World Cup hub page

The chart below shows the various pages on Mail Online which ranked on Google for the term 'World Cup' between February and June this year. 

The page labelled 'C" on the chart is the Mail's World Cup hub page, which is the one the publisher would want to rank for consistently. 

(Click on image for larger version)

 

The chart below shows how the Mail's Google rankings for 'World Cup' fluctuated over the four month period. 

Essentially, each new article published on the World Cup usurped the main landing page (shown in pink).

This landing page didn't manage to rank above page four on Google in the run-up to the World Cup which, as we know, is essentially nowhere. 

What's happening here is that Google is seeing lots of pages from Mail Online for this search term, and is unsure of which one should be ranked the highest.

Essentially, every new piece of content published on the World Cup is cannibalising the search ranking of other pages, and the hub page in particular. 

Mail Online is compounding the issue by failing to give any signal to Google to tell it which page it wants to rank for the search term in question. 

This has a lot to do with internal linking, or rather the lack of it. 

Mail Online could have linked back to the hub page from every article it wrote on the World Cup, which would have indicated to Google that this page was significant. 

However, despite many opportunities to link on that term (see below) the Mail didn't do so. 

The upshot is that, though it had a useful World Cup hub page, it just didn't manage to rank highly enough in the run up to the tournament. 

It is, of course, a very competitive term, but it wouldn't be hard for a publisher with the resources of Mail Online to rank for this, given the right strategy. 

According to Sam Silverwood-Cope, Director at PI Datametrics: 

What our intelligence shows is that The Daily Mail got the strategy right by publishing a landing page for the World Cup early in the year, but got the tactics wrong by not giving that page (and a subsequent canonical one) enough internal links and strength.

Daily tracking shows that the landing page was usurped by individual articles which, due to the Daily Mail's inherent strength, gained many external links as soon as they were published. This created significant and daily cannibalisation where Google was not sure which was the central World Cup page for the newspaper instead returning many different pages throughout the build-up to the tournament for that search term.  

So how did the Guardian succeed? 

It's about internal linking. In contrast to Mail Online, the Guardian links repeatedly to its hub page from World Cup related articles. 

The publisher clearly had a plan in mind when it created the hub page, and all subsequent content on the World Cup worked towards this plan. 

Here we can see a link in the opening paragraph of the article. This pattern was repeated elsewhere, a tactic the Guardian uses with success for many other topics. 

In we look at the chart for The Guardian's rankings for 'World Cup' over the same period as Mail Online one shown earlier, the effect is obvious. 

(Click on image for larger version)

This is almost the complete opposite of the Mail's chart. Its World Cup landing page dominates over all other pages on the site for this term.

The Guardian also achieves a consistent page one ranking on Google, which would have made a massive difference to traffic on what would have been one of the most popular search terms of the year. 

Mail Online had the same opportunity to rank for this term. The difference is that The Guardian had a co-ordinated SEO and content strategy. 

The importance of hub pages and internal linking

The stats and charts shown here are revealing, and do back up some of our own strategy, while also showing areas where we can improve. 

We do place an emphasis on internal linking, to help and encourage our readers to explore other content and products that we offer, and also to help our SEO strategy. 

To this end, while we don't have hub pages for all of the topics we cover, we do try to link consistently to one or two pages on a given term.

For example, for a generic term such as 'email marketing', we'll link to our best practice guide on the subject as this is the page we'd most like people to visit (and ideally go on to buy the report). 

In other cases, perhaps where we have no obvious paid content, we'll link to a particular blog article which we judge to be the most useful for searchers. 

The types of links used are important here. We do mix up the anchor text we use, and don't want links to seem at all contrived. 

The overall lesson is that a co-ordinated linking strategy where articles are produced not just for SEO, but with Google in mind, allows the articles we write to be given the best possible chance of success. 

In summary

These examples highlight a potential problem for publishers and other sites (ecommerce for one) which create multiple pages and content on the same topics. 

The Mail example shows that publishing lots of articles around the same topic can have the effect of cannibalising search rankings from other pages on its site. 

The lesson here is not to stop producing articles, but instead underlines the importance of a clear content strategy which is executed with a firm eye on SEO. 

In this situation, and for generic terms like 'World Cup' hub pages are vitally important, as they allow publishers to rank more consistently. Every article serves to boost or sustain the rankings of the hub page for that particular topic.

At the heart of this is an effective internal linking strategy in which writers and editors understand the SEO goals that the site is working towards. The rewards, for a high traffic term such as 'World Cup' are worth the effort. 

This is a lesson that websites of all types can learn from. Indeed, we've seen similar patterns from retailers, and our own site. This is something we'll look into in future posts. 

Graham Charlton

Published 10 September, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Karandeep Singh

Nice comparative study. It would be great to see what else (apart from hubpages) worked for Guardian in bringing their pages at top SERPs.

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Karandeep In general, they both get many of the basics right, and we can only show what we can see from the tool.

The main difference in this instance is the internal linking strategy. The Guardian linked religiously to its hub page from individual articles on the World Cup, the Daily Mail didn't.

If you look the other sites, like Telegraph, which ranked on page one, and look at a few world cup articles, you'll see the majority link to this hub page: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/

That gives a clear signal to Google and helps it to decide which page to rank for the term.

almost 3 years ago

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Nick

Hi Graham,
very interesting article. I wondered if this strategy should also be adopted by small businesses blogging frequently on topics relevant, but on a broad spread of keywords, to their inbound marketing efforts.

If so should we link back to the home page as it is effectively the hub or create hubs for the various landing/blog pages based on topic groups.

I can see this applies where the search term is highly competitive.
Thanks

almost 3 years ago

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Sam Silverwood-Cope, Director at Intelligent Positioning

Brilliant piece Graham.

@Nick - i think this is exactly the point. All sites are affected by cannibalisation and all sites pretty much need landing or hub-pages whatever the industry (but with good content).

If the main focus of your site is Grey Widgets, the home page will probably be themed around that. You'll probably have a Category page as well as perhaps some product pages themed around Grey Widgets. Plus you'll probably have a blog with multiple articles about Grey Widgets too (it's a fun site).

However, all pages need to link back to the single page that you want to appear for the short tail term "Grey Widgets" - if there is multiple internal links to separate pages, all with their own theming around "Grey Widgets" you'll suffer in the SERPs - that's cannibalisation.

However, a single focus from all those blog pages will definitely benefit.

The Guardian deal with this very well.

almost 3 years ago

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Gabriele

Interesting article as usual. I was just wondering how the anchor texts should be. I read the exact match should be provided but is it just this possibility? And as far as the anchor texts are concern, what should be their difference between internal and external links? Thanks

almost 3 years ago

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Andy Drinkwater

So nice to see such a detailed, yet easy to read, study on this. So many sites miss a huge opportunity with internal linking - despite being told about it time and time again.

-Andy

almost 3 years ago

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Alex Zilberstein

Hello Graham,

Very useful article. I wonder how it works for eCommerce site?
Probably the home page and category pages should be hubs for generic key words.

Let us consider a category page. I will build links from my blog articles, knowledge base, resources etc. to this category page.

Usually in eCommerce a category page contain only products.
Are internal links, which I build to this page, enough for this page to be the hub?
What else can I do for this page to earn and being qualified as a hub?

Thank you
Alex

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Alex The same applies to ecommerce sites, and we have examples of the same cannibalisation which I'll present in the next post.

Internal links are one thing, but you need to have the basics of on-page optimisation right to have a chance in the first place. It also depends on how competitive the keyword or phrase in question is.

More on on-page SEO here: https://econsultancy.com/blog/64264-seo-what-you-need-to-know-about-on-page-optimization

In the example here, Mail Online has plenty of traffic, links, social shares etc which meant that, if it got the internal linking right, it would stand a good chance of ranking on page one.

almost 3 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at toucanBox

Love the insight thanks Graham. Personally I'd rewrite the title but I'm not an editor :)

"... internal links and hub pages are the key to *on-site* SEO success..."

External factors still outweigh internal however that said, I'd say that internal linking and content hubs ARE indeed the key to on-site content success.

You hit the nail on the head with reference to signals. Search engines index pages and relate them to keywords for your site based on numerous factors of which the majority are within your control. And you can further guide them with internal linking via uber relevant content focussed around your target pages.

Out of your control is how the search engine views your site in relation to other similar sites (hence the off-site elements).

It's worth noting however that this has been well known of how search engines rank for over a decade; what's changed is the need to create highly relevant, user-friendly content, since spam detection has improved significantly from the earlier days of SEO.

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Depesh, thanks for the comments. You're right about the title, I've changed it.

almost 3 years ago

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Hermes Ma, Director at Maxket.com

I love this post. SEOs should actually learn how they should use the <article> tag in HTML5 and how important the first a couple of links are in this tag's domain.

almost 3 years ago

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Edmund Jones

Great little article that now provides empirical evidence for the hunch about the potential for cannabilsation of traffic and rank when there is no focused hub page that specific content is referenced to via internal and external links

almost 3 years ago

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Inaki Ramirez

Great Article!!

I agree totally with it. Most of times, we put all our SEO efforts in backlinkg, preparing great contet etc...and it is very important, but we forget one of the most important things, Where is our Internal Linking Strategy??

This internal links help not only with SEO but with the engagment of users (good, both closely related really)

Thanks you for the article
Inaki

almost 3 years ago

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Edmund Jones

Great little article that now provides empirical evidence for the hunch about the potential for cannabilsation of traffic and rank in the absence of a focused hub page that specific content is referenced to via internal and external links

almost 3 years ago

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Lexi Smith

Graham, interesting article!

I was wondering where you found the ranking image. as well, what tool you used for the ranking data?

Thanks!!

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Lexi It was provided to me by PI Datametrics.

almost 3 years ago

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Matt Cooper

Great article, I stumbled upon this whilst writing my own guide to internal linking. I have referenced this in it now as a great piece of supporting evidence: http://insideonline.co.uk/internal-linking-guide-bloggers-copywriters/

almost 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Thanks Matt, I've just commented on your article. Good advice.

almost 3 years ago

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Marco Panichi, Web Designer & Web Marketer at MarcoPanichi.com

Really interesting post!

But I'm not sure about your conclusions.

The two hub pages could be not comparable due to very different link profile:
> The Guardian world cup hub page: 6735 backlinks from 155 domains (page authority: 82)
> Mail online world cup hub page: 45.566 backlinks from 24 domains [awful!] (page authority: 73)

[source of these data: open site explorer]

So maybe, the internal linking didn't play an exclusive role.

Or maybe, all the backlinks that I listed above (measured on March 10, 2015) are the effect of the ranking (and not a cause)

Please tell me your opinion about that!

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Marco, I'm still pretty confident in my conclusions, having seen this trend on other sites, as well as on Econsultancy.

The fluctuation of the Mail's rankings for the term shown on the charts compared with the more consistent rankings for the Guardian (which had one hub page ranking all along) prove the point.

Besides, the article was written six months ago so the backlink numbers you quote were probably not the same then and, as you say, could be a result rather than a cause of the ranking.

over 2 years ago

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Jaap Rozemeijer, owner at adspecialist.nl

Thanks for the clarifying article. It really helps us focus. A question on choosing hub pages.
The Guardian did create a world-cup-2014 and a world-cup-football hub.
How should you decide whether a new hubpage is relevant? Do you decide this on search on volume or number of relevant articles?

about 2 years ago

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Neil Cheesman, Owner at LondonTheatre1

This what I don't understand regarding internal links
"The types of links used are important here. We do mix up the anchor text we use, and don't want links to seem at all contrived. "
Wikipedia is shown as a great example where it ranks VERY well... and generally the anchor text is EXACTLY the same... and Google is happy with that... it doesn't appear to be contrived... "World Cup 2014" is exactly that... so why link anything else... (and I doubt if The Guardian did use any other anchor text) So WHY vary the anchor text... as THAT seems to be contrived... doesn't it?

almost 2 years ago

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Neil Cheesman, Owner at LondonTheatre1

Re: "We do mix up the anchor text we use, and don't want links to seem at all contrived. "
I find this really interesting but am not sure why the need for variation in anchor text when sites such as Wikipedia and The Guardian etc use the EXACT anchor text. Surely by using various anchor text then THAT looks to be contrived?

almost 2 years ago

Dan Callis

Dan Callis, SEO Analyst at Further

Makes you wonder why more content gen sites don't use breadcrumbs.

over 1 year ago

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mario didier, manager at dma holdings pte ltd

i have a question.

when writing articles about the money keywords, for example, "website design"

do we optimize the articles for the money keywords, like title tags, meta description, focus keywords etc.. and STILL link to the hubpage/landing page?

i've found that even while linking the hub page with anchor text, the article is still ranking instead of the HUB page. (article is a 3000 word long form guide)

3 months ago

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