Google Sitelinks explained
Tuesday, 19 February 2008 — by Wayne Smallman
To some, Google Sitelinks are the ultimate endorsement of a website or ‘blog. While there are many clear advantages, knowing how to gain Sitelinks has always been something of a dark art — more guess work than hard work. But what if I said I knew a way?
During the middle of December 2007, I discovered that I’d gained Sitelinks for two client websites — the first being Kapitex Healthcare, a throat cancer specialist and the second being Trident Exhausts, a motorcycle exhaust and parts retailer.
This is a wonderful development, as you can image. But being the inquisitive type, I had to learn how I’d managed to gain Sitelinks for two very different websites in the first place.
Please note: due to datacenter-related propagation issues, some might while other might not see the Sitelinks mentioned above.
What is a Google Sitelink?
Here’s some information gleaned from Google’s Webmaster Tools:
“Sitelinks are additional links Google sometimes generates from site contents in order to help users navigate your site. Google generates these sitelinks periodically from your site’s contents.
Because we generate sitelinks dynamically, this list can change from time to time.”
As usual, Google isn’t entirely helpful, especially when it comes to explaining what a Sitelink is. So it’s left to the community to fill in the blanks.
Here’s a comment of mine taken from a Digital Point Forum thread on the subject of how many people have Google Sitelinks:
“Sitelinks are perceived added value, in that:
1. You dominate the #1 spot with anything up 13 links.
2. You’re mixing it with the bigger web properties.
3. If you’re running AdWords, you’re more likely to score a click, but the click will probably come from your Sitelink rather than the ad’, so you save money.
For more information on Sitelinks, read the SEO Book article on the subject.”
#3 is anecdotal, and I’ve not been able to back that claim up with actual evidence.
Sitelinks are in many ways an extension of your branding. Your name being your brand — should you be a business or an individual. But how does your name transform into a Sitelink?
» Want to know more about Google Webmaster Tools? You know what to do…
The anatomy of a Sitelink
Before we begin, you might want to take a look at Matt Cutt’s explanation of a search snippet, which for those of you who’re less familiar with Google’s search results page may find useful.
Based on an analysis of the Kapitex Healthcare and Trident Exhausts websites among others, I’ve managed to piece together what appears to be the fundamental aspects of a ‘blog or website which may contribute to a Sitelink being awarded:
1. Age of the web address — the older the better, since in age there’s trust.
Trident Exhausts (trident-exhausts.com) was registered on the 3rd of November 2004.
Kapitex Healthcare (kapitex.com) was registered on the 23rd of February 1999, making that domain name older than my own business by slightly more than 4 months.
2. The relative popularity of certain web pages, such as top products and / or services.
Having skimmed back to the period at which Google assigned the Sitelinks, the web pages which Google used are in the twenty most popular web pages.
In the case of Trident Exhausts, their “Contact Us” page is in 22nd place, but because that web page is an actionable resource, Google is smart enough to assign more relevance to it.
Trident Exhausts statistics
Kapitex Healthcare statistics
3. Most popular “Calls to Action”, such as “Contact Us”, “Support”, “Site Map” web pages.
As mentioned above, actionable web pages that encourage the visitor to do something are highly prized by Google.
So by including resources or points of references — such as a downloads page, for example — you’re increasing the likelihood of a Sitelink for that web page.
4. The name of company matching the words in the name of the web address.
This is absolutely at the heart of Google’s Sitelinks.
Notice that my two Sitelinks only work when you perform a search by company name?
Furthermore, the company name and the domain names are an exact match. I’ll be discussing the possible implications of that later on.
5. A correlation between the top search query and the keyword parts of the web address.
In both instances, both websites are in 1st place for searches of their company names. Which, when coupled with the above point, makes even more sense.
Trident Exhausts statistics
Kapitex Healthcare statistics
Those factors that have little relevance:
- Google PageRank — Trident Exhausts has a PageRank of 1 and Kapitex Healthcare has a PageRank of 4.
- Navigation — Trident Exhausts really only has a product menu and a footer. And having looked at other websites and ‘blogs with Sitelinks, I can’t find any substantial common ground to their navigation.
- The volume of web traffic — neither websites are getting more than 300 visits per day.
- Compliance with web standards — some websites are using code concepts that are several years out of date, which isn’t the case with either of mine, I hasten to add!
- Number of back-links — both Trident Exhausts and Kapitex Healthcare have sub 1,000 back-link counts.
What’s the real benefit of a Google Sitelink?
From a pure perception point of view, if you’re running a Google AdWords campaign, a top listing for your adverts along with a Sitelink significantly increases your coverage on the search results page.
As you can see, for the Sitelink, there are more relevant clickable objects than the nearest competitor. Indeed, the majority of clickable objects are “free”, whereas the AdWords are paid-for.
While there’s no supportive evidence, I’d be willing to wager that more than enough people click on one of the Sitelink listings. Why? Because the Sitelinks unearthed may well be more specific / relevant than the AdWords advert.
But by having an AdWords listing, you’re adding to the overall link coverage.
I must again stress that I found no evidence to back this idea up. Though I imagine it would make an interesting test, none the less.
Is a Sitelink a direct endorsement from Google? Well, yes and no. Certain factors will contribute to Google assigning a Sitelink.
In fact, in some cases, the opposite could easily be argued — with complex and deeply hierarchical websites, certain web pages and actions are drawn to the surface as part of the Sitelink structure.
Those products and / or services that are most popular are then uncovered and added as a Sitelink to aid with navigation.
Think of it this way: Google can’t stop a website from being legitimately successful, unless the website isn’t legitimate!
But what if the website has poor navigation and deeply nested content? That’s where Google Sitelinks actively aid the visitor — they expose popular but maybe hard to find content.
So while Sitelinks are always good to have, they’re not necessarily a doff of Google’s cap to your web developers!
I think it’s more a question of being mindful of best practices; such as keeping the layout and the mechanical structure of website simple.
Sitelinks for SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
Sitelinks are all about brand, which is good in one respect, but bad in another.
If you’re the likes of Nike, Ford or British Petroleum, then you’re going to dominate organic searches for both “Nike” and “Ford” and “British Petroleum” from here to eternity. But what’s the value to small business whose name has little actual brand value?
In those situations, the value is negligible. The value is in the product or service name and not the brand.
Sitelinks — in detail
1. Generic versus Specific
As an aside, based on my initial examination, Apple doesn’t have a Sitelink. Maybe the reason is that the word “Apple” is much too generic, not entirely attributable to a brand?
Well just to confuse matters further, Orange do have a Sitelink.
However, this is when performing a search on Google UK. When performing the same search on Google global, Apple do have a Sitelink.
And guess what? Orange doesn’t.
Read into that as you will.
2. Internationalized Sitelinks
Out of this seemingly chaotic listing lunacy is a shard of light — Orange is a British-based business and Apple is US-based. That could be the reason for the “nationality” of the Sitelinks.
If this is the case, there’s some sanctuary to be had in that your brand may be offered some “protection” by Google from those hoping to capitalize on your brand in some way, as you stand a greater chance of owning the Sitelink in your country of origin.
This is the case with both of my client websites — neither work on Google global, but work fine on Google UK.
And for Google to determine your country of origin, this is accomplished by either: 1. the TLD (Top Level Domain) part of your web address; which is the .it, .ie, .ro part at the end, 2. an actual postal address in one or more of your “contact” web pages, or 3. a combination of 1 & 2.
3. Weaknesses in web design
Interestingly, I couldn’t find a Sitelink for Daewoo, either for Google global or Google Korea. But once I began to look around the website, all became apparent:
- All bar one of the main navigation items points to some web page that requires of the visitor to enter something; post / zip code, email address et cetera.
Daewoo’s main website is for their autos, though they have a hand in everything from TV’s, home entertainment and earth-moving equipment, to helicopters and super oil tankers.
So the diversity of their business empire and their propensity for traffic-jamming navigation on their website aren’t doing them any favours.
3. Weak Sitelinks
Going back to the generic search terms for a second, “TV” delivers a surprisingly weak Sitelink.
It’s typical for a website with a Sitelink to dominate the top 3 search results at the very least, but not so for TV.com.
As you can see, this particular Sitelink is actually running second to what looks like a Sitelink for Google News, while being followed by some Yahoo! property.
Additionally, the Sponsored Links areas are littered with adverts for television and home entertainment products.
4. Acronyms as Sitelinks
So I typed in “tea” on Google global, expecting to see a Wikipedia article take the top spot, explaining the venerable beverage. Not so — the Wikipedia article is second to the Texas Education Agency.
On the face of it, this seems really weird. I really can’t imagine how an education authority can beat out tea the beverage in terms of organic search traffic, especially on Google global with an acronym, but there it is for all to see.
What’s even more bizarre is that there’s another US education authority, this time the Tennessee Education Association. So between Tennessee and Texas, they’re the only two non-beverage related link resources on that search results page.
However, if you perform the same search on Google UK, then you’ll find the UK Tea Council, but not as a Sitelink.
Perform the same search again on Google India, and guess what? A Wikipedia article takes the top spot, explaining the venerable beverage.
One thing strikes me as being very obvious — Google needs to manually manage the allocation of their Sitelinks and stop generic terms being taken spuriously, which could be argued for some of the above examples.
Yes, there’s the addition of related searches to help diversify search results, but it’s not enough.
Also, as a branding exercise, Sitelinks are much more of a benefit to larger businesses or organizations with very considerable brand penetration.
One could argue that building a branded website around a product or service could help out in this regard, but yet again, it’s a case of he who pays most wins.
There’s no doubt that the presence of a Sitelink at the top of the search results page draws visitors towards clicking there much more readily than anywhere else. But given the extra weight being metered out here, I don’t believe this is something that can exist as an automated process alone.
Gaining a Sitelink isn’t exactly an endorsement of someone’s web design and SEO skills. Instead, it’s more an acknowledgment of those websites and ‘blogs by way of trust based on their age.
What would be great is if someone was take the information gathered here and use it to snag themselves a Google Sitelink. I’d be very pleased to hear from anyone who manages to do just that…
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