In a March 4 episode of Google’s SEO Office Hours, John Mueller answered a question regarding internal linking:
“If you have structured data for breadcrumbs set up is internal linking still important for SEO?”
What is breadcrumb structured data? According to Google:
A breadcrumb trail on a page indicates the page’s position in the site hierarchy, and it may help users understand and explore a site effectively. A user can navigate all the way up in the site hierarchy, one level at a time, by starting from the last breadcrumb in the breadcrumb trail.
Here is John’s response:
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.”
Watch the video at the 25:14 minute mark: