Matthew Bruce Team : Web Production Tags : Web Development SEO Online Trends

Understanding Google Sitelinks

Matthew Bruce Team : Web Production Tags : Web Development SEO Online Trends

Google sitelinks have been around for a few years, but it seems there is still a bit of mystery surrounding them, how they work and importantly, how to land them for your own site.

Recently, a couple of my clients discovered Sitelinks appearing under their search listings, and in both instances, the first question was ‘who put the menu under my Google listing… and how can I change it?’. Reasonable questions since from my client’s perspective, they had not engaged any recent SEO work, nor had they paid Wiliam to setup links in this fashion. Not fully understanding the concept, from their point of view somebody must have put them there, right? Hence I thought a quick blog might go a way to explaining the feature, and also give some insight into where it’s heading.

What are Google Sitelinks?

Simply - those sub-links that look like a secondary site menu, that appear under a search listing when doing a Google search. When displayed below your search listing, you will see anywhere between 3-8 links, taking users directly into the deeper areas of your site, without having to navigate to there through your regular menu structure.

How do I get Sitelinks?

You can’t ask, or apply them manually; Google has an automated algorithm that bestows them upon particular sites, triggered by certain keywords. In typical fashion, Google is very protective of the formula but it is speculated that good SEO practices have a lot to do with it, as does user behaviour (time spent on site, number of times a page is accessed) and of course the page content itself. Popularity alone is not enough to guarantee sitelinks. Generally your site will need to rank in the top spot for a particular search term, though this is not set in stone.

Are sitelinks based on my website’s primary navigation?

It’s logical to think this might be the case, but in reality, Google has no interest in simply duplicating your site navigational structure. Google is all about relevancy of information to the user, and so you need to think along these lines in relation to your sitelinks. Google is pushing content upfront that it thinks will likely appeal to the user. It makes sense – drop more traffic directly to internal pages, based on past trends and user behaviour. You can see how this would be extremely beneficial for larger sites, or sites with poor navigation but important features buried in the navigation structure.

Can I control my sitelinks?

Not in a true sense, though it is possible to influence them via a couple of means. For one, even though you can’t manually add or suggest sitelinks (because that would go directly against Google’s view that their algorithm ‘knows better than you do’ what people want, based on their keywords) what you can do, is block individual sitelinks if you don’t want Google to suggest them to a user. Effectively this results in demoting the particular link for a period of 90 days.

The other thing you can ensure is that your navigation structure is clear and intuitive, that all important pages are described and optimised well for search, and it’s also been suggested that a good sitemap might be useful. It goes without saying, but don’t use flash or images containing text. It’s all about giving Google the information it needs, and at the very least, even though you can’t control exactly what pages it may sitelink, at least you can control page titles, descriptive text, etc.

My sitelinks have disappeared!

SEO experts consider sitelinks an important measure of how ‘trusted’ your site is, in the eyes of Google. In saying that, you don’t have to do something wrong to affect the display of sitelinks. Google are constantly tweaking their ranking algorithms and it’s reasonable to expect they do the same for sitelinks.

Another quirk you will notice, is that a website may have sitelinks applied for certain keywords, but not for others. A good example is a ( search for ‘sharks’, which results in the official website of the Cronulla Sharks NRL team. It ranks in the number 1 spot, though it’s not until I type in a more specific search for ‘sharks NRL’ that I see Google has applied sitelinks underneath the main result (still sitting in first ranking).

How will I benefit from Sitelinks?

In many ways! For starters, think about all that extra screen real estate that Google is giving you for free. Not only this, but your competitors have just been pushed further down the page – all to your benefit! Sitelinks go a long way to promote your site as being somewhat more important or authoritive than other search results – remember that for any particular keyword or combination of, only a very small number of websites will show sitelinks. This makes your site stand out from the crowd.

Even if a user does not end up clicking through to your site from the Google search results page, they’ve been exposed to much more of your company than they would have otherwise. A quick glance at Wiliam’s sitelinks will tell you that we do “Web Design & Development”, specialise in “Content Management Systems” and have a very active “Blog”. Our contact details and Google reviews are also brought to the fore.

At the end of the day, there’s much more of a chance that a user will visit – sitelinks naturally point to internal pages and you’ll probably see a rise in traffic directly to those pages when you next check your analytics.

What’s in store for sitelinks?

There is speculation out there that Google may soon be releasing a ‘tabbed’ version of the sitelinks layout. Since around July 2012, several commentators out in the blogosphere have reported seeing this new presentation live during testing periods. This opens up even more possibilities for presenting internal pages or entire sections of websites that fall within the top search results.

Naturally Google are always looking at ways to innovate and present data to better engage users. Exploring tabs seems like a natural step, and this constant evolution is sure to keep web developers and SEO strategists guessing as to how best optimise websites to gain the best market share possible.