The Google Sitelinks Guide
00:00 on Tue, 13 Jan 2009 | SEO | 9 Comments
Sitelinks, those little extra links Google sometimes pops under website results have been around for a while now, but there’s a few things you should know about them, such as how you get them, what prevents Sitelinks appearing, the impact they have on your website and their place in search as a whole.
Google’s Vertical Mission
Google’s core mission for their search engine is improving relevancy and increasing how useful search results are. Generally speaking, Google does an excellent job of returning a fairly decent set of web pages on a user query, you can usually find what you’re looking for without a lot of hassle.
However, what about when you’re looking for something really specific? Job listings, plumbers, book reviews, would you use Google? Or would you go straight to Monster.co.uk for jobs, Yell.co.uk for plumbers and Amazon.co.uk for books? Google has to compete with specialist search verticals, which have a much easier time returning more relevant results. Specialist search vertical sites don’t have to second-guess user intent, a user has come to their site for a specific reason and they know what it is. Google, has the much harder job of trying to establish what exactly that user is looking for and what information they want. To get over this, Google has to include a variety of different type of results in the SERPs.
Let’s try this result (simply because it gives a good example, honest) for “posh spice”
Lets look at these results in a bit more detail:
a. Search Suggestions
User behaviour over the last 5 years or so has changed when it comes to search. Whereas the average number of words used in a query used to be 2, this has gone up to 3-4 as searchers have realised that the more specific they are, the better results they get. Google now uses common search data to suggest searches so users can refine their search and Google can use comparative data to return the most relevant search results. So in this case, lots of people that search for “Posh Spice” are also looking for information on how she does her hair and what styles she has, as well as users commonly searching for pictures of her.
b. Image Results
Google has been providing search verticals such as images, maps, businesses, products, video, blogs and documents (to name a few) for a long time. Unfortunately, the majority of searchers either don’t know these verticals exist, or simply can’t be bothered to use them and rely on Google “universal” search to return them the results they are looking for. So, if there’s a good chance people are looking for images of Victoria – why not give them immediately and allow people to jump straight into image search with some previews?
Everyone knows that Google absolutely loves Wikipedia, it has some kind of ranking for just about every search term. Without entering into a dissection of why Wikipedia ranks so well, it is a good example of a non-profit, purely factual information page which contains just about any bit of information you’d want to know about Victoria Beckham in this instance.
d. Video Rankings
After launching Google Video, the powers that be decided to take the leap and Google purchased YouTube, whereas Google Video has become a portal to search a host of different video sites. Similar to images, it is not uncommon for rich media to appear right in search results with a preview as well.
e. Web Pages / News Results
Normally, there is another search vertical – Google News listed for Victoria Beckham (she obviously hasn’t done anything worthwhile of late). Google News listing look like this:
News results, again, are ranked differently to regular SERP results. News results, like Blog results tend to be strongly ranked in chronological order; as Google is well aware freshness is one of the most important factors in news results.
So this one results page gives you:
• Search refinements to make sure you weren’t looking for something specific
• Easy access to pictures of Posh Spice
• Rich media (videos) on Posh Spice
• A page with (as near to) factual information on Posh Spice, all the facts and figures you could want
• Chronological news results, which tell you what she’s been up to recently
• A host of general fan pages, screensavers and websites about Posh Spice
It’s quite obvious that Google’s integration of their search verticals are drastically improving the relevance of their universal search.
How do Sitelinks fit into this?
Going along this line of thinking, it is obvious that Google is trying to reduce the amount of clicks from their search page for the user trying to find what they are looking for. Yet another example of this, is the widely popular Internet Movie Database (IMDB), where people can go and get the latest information about films playing and more importantly, hundreds of user reviews and rating for just about every film that’s ever made the big screen.
A search for “IMDB” gives you this result:
Fairly recently, Google added an “in site” search feature to their results pages. It is highly likely that when a user goes to IMDB, one of their first actions will be to search for the film they want to find out about. Google is aware of this, and aware that on many sites (there’s loads of examples of “in site” search if you have a look about) the first action of a user will be to perform another search.
Above the search box, you have the Google Sitelinks listed. These are pages that Google believes are important on your website and are algorithmically selected to be displayed below your search result. For IMDB, you have Search, Now Playing, Top Movies, New Releases, News, as well as the latest hot topics like The Dark Knight film.
What Sitelinks do for your website
It is common knowledge that the lion’s share of searchers click go to the top 3 results, so you’d think that dominating another few inches of premium search real estate would have a good increase in traffic.
There are really two types of Sitelinks you can get hold of, the first is a “navigational query” block and the other is a “keyword query” block, both are slightly different.
“Keyword Query” Sitelink blocks vs “Navigational Query” Sitelink blocks
Keyword query Sitelink blocks are much harder to achieve than their navigational query block brothers. A keyword query block is when your site is given Sitelinks under their search result for a main keyword search. So for instance, searching for “trainers” gives you this result:
Aside from some sneaky Google shopping results, JD Sports have Sitelinks for this high volume search term, which gives users direct access to the sale items, new trainers, men’s and women’s trainers and the store finder.
The key here is user intent, if a user is searching for “trainers”, it is no way safe to assume that they were specifically looking for JD Sports, however Google has given them direct access to various parts of their site and over double the normal space a 1st place search result would get.
So what extra traffic can you expect from this? Earlier this year, Further scooped a set of keyword block Sitelinks for a website we were performing SEO for. The results were quite astounding:
Achieving Google Sitelinks in mid-February, I have compared the traffic from the month of January (where we had #1 position, with no Sitelinks) to the month of March (where we had #1 position, with 8 Sitelinks), we saw a massive 30% increase in organic visitors from Google, for this one key phrase.
I’ve blanked out the key phrase to protect the client, but it is a non-seasonal search term which we see steady traffic for, regardless of the time of year.
This is in stark contrast to “navigational block” Sitelinks. Achieving Sitelinks for a search term that matches your domain name or company name is relatively easy, but the results are nowhere near as amazing. On average we would notice a 2-5% increase in traffic after achieving a navigational Sitelink block.
This demonstrates the importance of user intent. If a searcher is specifically looking for your website, they’ll likely visit you whether you have Sitelinks or not. Still, an extra 2-5% increase in traffic is nothing to be scoffed at.
How do you get Sitelinks?
While there is no “secret” to getting Google Sitelinks, there are definitely some guidelines you need to follow to make sure you are eligible for the honour.
Make sure your site has clean, crawlable navigation in a logical hierarchical structure
As this is a pretty basic requirement of any half good website, I’d hope it would be something everyone has before going to deep into SEO territory. Basic site design and coding rules apply; having clean HTML links to clearly marked pages (good use of titles & header tags), working down from your homepage, to general sections, down to the specific pages.
You must have a healthy and diverse backlink profile
When dishing out Sitelinks for a key phrase, Google is going to be looking carefully at your internal pages. A healthy link profile will include lots of links to these “deep” pages, not just your homepage. If 99% of your links are pointing at your homepage, it might well suggest to Google that your internal content isn’t that great. Remember; Google focuses on ranking pages, not just sites. If your internal pages have a pathetic amount of links to them, they’re not going to be deemed important enough to warrant Sitelinks.
Incoming anchor text
As you would expect, like with any link building campaign, the anchor text used in links to your website which other webmasters or web users are essentially “tagging” your page with, are important. Anchor text plays a main part in having your site achieve a Sitelinks search query block.
Domain authority & ranking
Needless to say, before you get close to achieving Sitelinks, you are going to have to rank #1 for the term you are targeting. It is not impossible to outrank a site which currently has Sitelinks. I have personally seen e-commerce sites ranking for a specific product, being outranked by the official product website (which had Sitelinks for their product name) and eventually take the number 1 spot in Google, moving the official site down and removing their Sitelinks.
Google must be sure
I recently saw an interesting SERP whereby two different companies shares the same domain name, but with different TLDs (one .com and one .co.uk). Doing a search for the domain name brought back two standard SERP results. One of the companies removed their site from Google’s index and as soon as it was gone, the other company was promoted to Sitelink status. When the other company was reindexed and included again, the company with Sitelinks, lost them. This would bring you to the conclusion that Google must be absolutely sure you are the authority on the search term, whether it’s a keyword search or a company search. For keywords, this means improving your backlinks with targeted anchor text and for domains, it means making sure you own the different variations (it’s less confusing for visitors too!).
In summary, any user-friendly and SEO friendly practise is going to help you attain special listings in Google, whether they are Sitelinks, search boxes or whatever Google will bring into their search results next. Following basic SEO and usability standards for your websites will aid your users and Google will recognise and reward this behaviour. Sitelinks can provide you with a large traffic boost and as with many things SEO, link profiles and link quality play a large part in achieving these listings.
With this under your belt, Further wishes you the best of luck on your road to Sitelinks.