How to Get & Influence Google Sitelinks (Organic)

Getting Googe Sitelinks

You can’t ‘get’ them. Not the organic ones anyway. The algorithm is entirely automated. You can’t buy them like you can buy PPC Ad Sitelinks. And even then with PPC Ad Sitelinks (an ad extension at the campaign level), unless you are in the top 3 results above the organics – in many cases limited to the #1 position (so remember your high quality score requirement) – those Ad sitelinks may not show. But wait…

Some Sites Get Organic Sitelinks – Why and How…

Google has consistently – since 2006 - told us that:

  • The results must be useful to the user
  • The site structure must allow the algorithm to find good sitelinks
  • Your link anchor text/alt attributes must be “informative, compact and avoid repetition.”

In September of 2009 when they rolled out the one-line sitelinks (see second image below) Google told us this (and look at the post’s title – they’re telling us right there):

“First, ensure that long, multi-topic pages on your site are well-structured and broken into distinct logical sections. Second, ensure that each section has an associated anchor with a descriptive name (i.e., not just “Section 2.1″), and that your page includes a “table of contents” which links to the individual anchors. The new in-snippet links only appear for relevant queries, so you won’t see it on the results all the time — only when we think that a link to a section would be highly useful for a particular query.”

 While it is still only the first organic results that has the big ‘box’ of additional sitelinks (up to 8);

sitelinks organic listing 1

 

Lower ranked listings can show a smaller but still highly relevant horizontal list of up to 4 one-line sitelinks;Sitelinks Organic Listing Rank 2 

There are a few other factors that are thought to contribute to the display of these sitelinks including:

  • Relatively high organic traffic
  • High organic CTR

And…There is also the patent to consider (awesome resource – http://www.seobythesea.com/?p=406 ).

  • The patent application tells us that those pages are the ones that searchers might most likely want to access. 

My best advice based on everything you have read here and in the linked to resources, and based on my own experience, is to consider the following top 3 factors:

  1. It certainly appears as though user behavior plays a pretty big role in the algorithm, and that likely implies that the pages that ‘acquire’ these links have sufficient traffic to warrant a full analysis.
  2. The structure of your site is important in terms of topical relevance and unique, logically sequential content, so make use of unique title tags and other onpage elements.
  3. Your link structure (part of your structure) is vital. Use unique, relevant, descriptive concise anchor text/alt attributes in your navigation as well as in your body content.

Influencing/Optimizing for Google Sitelinks. Can I?

Yes, you can.

First; you can physically remove any you don’t want to show in webmastertools by ‘blocking’ them. BUT you can’t add or request any. You can attempt to optimize for them by legitimately reworking your site based on what little we know of the algorithm while you work at attempting to gain a significant amount of natural traffic to, as well as interest in, specific, deeper pages.

Block Sitelinks in GWMT 

Second; you can play around with key areas of your pages to change the text displayed. This is by no means an exact science and should be undertaken with care and the expectation that you may lose the sitelink by messing around with original text.

In my experience, the majority of sitelink text comes from the anchor text off your home page navigation (global or local). A secondary source is the alt attributes of images that get a lot of click throughs on your home page (hero images; banner campaigns etc). And thirdly, in some cases parts/all of the Title tag or the H1 tag have been the text displayed.

EDIT: March 9 2011 – The Title Tag is possibly the most influential.

The really cool thing about attempting to optimize these for the algorithm is that you are forced to optimize them for your human users, simply because regardless of how you go about it you HAVE to make them relevant, short (or they’ll be cut off) and descriptive. If you try to get spammy, you’ll probably lose the link. Play right and reap the rewards!

How to Optimize for Sitelinks – Getting Started

If you have sitelinks and want to try it out, first identify which element of your content the link is mirroring. Initially experiment with the sitelink you will least mind potentially losing. Then change the content. Take screen grabs before and after and see what happens. In some cases the attampt to change has worked. In others I’ve lost the link - not entirely, just to another page – and that only (frequently) temporarily.

While there are numerous tests I might share, the one that I’ve already included above makes a pretty good example. Explanation below:

Sitelinks Organic Listing Result

In many cases the display text is long and is cut off with an ellipsis ‘…’. Initially the text in the block above was the H1 tag on the landing page ‘HST Solutions for Business…from QuickBooks!’. It was cut off in the display and I am not fond of half-sentences personally unless it is in the meta description and it’s been specifically written to entice or encourage a click through. ( A new listing for us – which seems to be a result of a recent test – is the ‘QuickBooks vs’ text. I don’t like it, but it’s only 2 days post-crawl since test started and I’m waiting to see if that reverts or changes. I’ll also watch the analytics, and it may be that Google did us an unexpected favour :)

Case Study: sort-of

We changed the H1 Tag to ‘HST for Business’ (in case); changed the anchor text in the footer navigation to ‘HST QuickBooks’, changed the (then) alt attribute off the home page to ‘HST Solutions from QuickBooks’ ( a bit long but we’re experimenting) and changed the title tag to lead with ‘HST QuickBooks’ (I have seen parts of the title tag used in some instances, usually that before the pipe, but sometimes it’s the text after the pipe). Right after the next crawl, I went to check. The sitelink text was ‘HST QuickBooks’ (as in image above).

We reverted the H1 tag to its original text. Nothing changed. The image on the home page has since been removed. Nothing changed. The title tag continues to lead with ‘HST QuickBooks’, and the footer navigation remains as ‘HST QuickBooks’. It is often a different result in each test, but the basics of great anchor text in the navigation (first impact) and well written, topical, relevant, structured title tags win out every time. I left both the title and the footer navigation as they were working in this case for us, for our users and for the engine.  I ran a small intermediary test leaving the footer but changing the title, and the sitelink remained unchanged. I’m going with the footer as the mirror. But it was a short-term test and I’m not willing to stake my rep on the fact that the title is not playing a part.

Remember, as with anything to do with SEO, optimize legitimately – always keeping your human users top of mind. The search engines have their stakeholders (employees, customer and shareholders). They are required to be responsible them, and they are answerable to them. If you try to manipulate the engines, it will not be to your benefit as it is not to the benefit of the engines. Optimizing for the engines and their stakeholders is a very different practice and births from a different long-term mind-set. There is nothing wrong with optimization testing and technique refinement. There is a lot wrong with manipulation. Have fun!

 

 

In the spirit of this post, please accept my disclaimer; nothing I say here may or should be attached to any employer, current or previous. This is my personal blog. The views expressed on this page are mine alone and not those of my employer.


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