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Google Sitelinks explained

Tuesday, 19 February 2008 — by

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.

As of Friday, 15th of February 2008, those Sitelinks began to appear on Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for Kapitex Healthcare and Trident Exhausts in the UK.

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.”

Kapitex Healthcare Sitelinks


Trident Exhausts Sitelinks

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


Trident Exhausts statistics

Kapitex Healthcare 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 ranking


Trident Exhausts statistics

Kapitex Healthcare ranking


Kapitex Healthcare statistics


Those factors that have little relevance:

  1. Google PageRank — Trident Exhausts has a PageRank of 1 and Kapitex Healthcare has a PageRank of 4.
  2. 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.
  3. The volume of web traffic — neither websites are getting more than 300 visits per day.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.

adwords-sony

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

adwords-apple

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:

  1. The main navigation items are built up out of JavaScript, for no obvious or beneficial reason.
  2. 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.

tv-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.

Conclusion

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.

searches related to the phrase: 'tea'

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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Comment and be known


Matt Ridout → Tuesday, 19 February 2008 @ 18:18 BDT

Most in depth look of site links i’ve seen wayne – kudos, stumbled, sphunn etc

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 19 February 2008 @ 18:33 BDT

Hi Matt, I’d been looking round for information on Google Sitelinks for ages, mostly to no avail.

Then when I discovered that I’d picked up a couple just before the new year, I knew I was onto something.

it’s worth stressing that this article is observation and theory combined. I’m sure there’s room for more detail.

Hopefully this article will stir up some kind of discussion…

Adult → Friday, 22 February 2008 @ 14:36 BDT

Great article, my site has site links but I have only noticed them when you search the word “adult” on Google UK then they show up because for some reason it is considered an authority website there but not the US. If you search “webscutest” in the US then they show up. I have not noticed the actual site links pages gaining any traffic at all.

Alex → Friday, 22 February 2008 @ 15:59 BDT

What can I say? That was the most in-depth and informative article on Google Sitelinks I have ever read.
I have noticed that a few of my sites have got Sitelinks when I check in the webmasters tools – so now I just need to do some searching online to see when they start to appear.

Thanks again for the great article.

Alex

Peter → Saturday, 23 February 2008 @ 3:33 BDT

Very informative article on understanding Google Sitelinks.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 5 March 2008 @ 13:46 BDT

Hi guys, just to clarify the traffic volume, I’ve expanded given a more detailed explanation of which type of traffic contributes to gaining Sitelinks

webpixelkonsum → Saturday, 26 April 2008 @ 16:11 BDT

Amazing article. How many hours do you write on this article and we get it for free. Thank you.

Ralph

Wayne Smallman → Saturday, 26 April 2008 @ 17:07 BDT

Hi Ralph!

The trick is to write stuff that informs put doesn’t empower, unless you already know what needs to be done.

That way, people still have to pay me to do these things for them.

Speak soon and thanks for commenting…

HostingRef → Wednesday, 30 April 2008 @ 20:02 BDT

Excellent article on Google Sitemaps. I don’t think I have come across a better explanation or analysis anywhere, and I have been searching for a long time now.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 30 April 2008 @ 20:18 BDT

Well that’s the situation I was in, too!

Most of the stuff out there was very vague and unhelpful, so I decided to plan out some research over time to see what I could discover and what theories worked and what didn’t.

So in the end, we all benefited!

Colin → Tuesday, 27 May 2008 @ 14:44 BDT

Good work!

A couple of my sites have sitelinks – but unfortunately neither of them are sites you would search for by name… hence they aren’t seen very often…

paulos72 → Thursday, 12 June 2008 @ 23:09 BDT

1 – disagree, my site is less than 6 months domain registered
2 – partly agree – the spread of visits throughout my site is fairly even across the main categories
3 – disagree, evidence lacking, my site is mostly brochureware
4 – agree, strongly, my domain share the category keyword and is omnipresent in title+page content
5 – agree

i noticed sitelinks occuring the moment i received no1 ranking on msn (!), adn when i achieved top10 serps for a significant amount of my targeted terms. I also note that my proportion of non homepage entries is very high (like 85%+) – indeed my first sitelink is for the category section that has generated the most inbound traffic overall. I applause Google for the succint way it has scaleably obtained and edited the text for some of my sitelinks.

I agree traffic volumes are unimportant. I would be interested if the probability of receiving sitelinks is proportional to pagerank relative to non homepage entries ratio. If you think about it for a moment, if google thinks your site overall can earn high pagerank, but your traffic is mostly arriving via the back and side doors, then offering the visitor sitelinks for your brandname/domain name makes usability sense.

Enrique sanchez → Friday, 12 June 2009 @ 13:52 BDT

Thanks a lot. I’m trying to get Google Sitelinks on my website.

Nick Ramage → Tuesday, 25 August 2009 @ 15:16 BDT

woah..inspiring read.. for non-techie just starting our small firms site [going down the wordpress.com road]

our diminutive and ever humble starting point of a wordpress site with our domain cloaked on it seems to have hit a snag which I hoped you may be able to shed some light on wayne if possible – [even any forums that might have advice would be welcome] …its like this!

Our site we popped together last week thanks to wordpress.com CMS was enjoyable and no problem – we then sent over our domain name – neaglelawyers.com.au to wordpress for that domain mapping thing so as to cloak the site properly and keep adwords happy ..all good.. which it did for a few days – then come this morning i do a quick Google on neagle lawyers and instead of the normal home page blurb we had coming up with our .com.au domain name – there was our homepage blurb, but with a different longer URL pointing to what looks an archive of the wordpress homepage – neaglelawyers.com.au/author/neaglelawyers .. .like what is that – where would that have come from? Is this maybe a Google thing or a WordPress thing even tho’ I in fact paid for the domain upgrade??

Cheers for these great posts!! Many thanks!!

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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