Monday, March 31, 2008

Google Sitelinks - Observations and Recommendations

Ellen Ferlazzo, WebMama.com Content Optimization Specialist, on Google Sitelinks:

Barb recently asked me to take another look at sitelinks, those links on Google search results below your main entry. Sitelinks are now appearing in the SERPs for smaller sites as well as larger ones.

How do you get sitelinks to show up?

You seem most likely to get sitelinks when users search for your branded term and your home page ranks #1 for that term. But while branded terms are more common, I know some sites that have sitelinks on non-branded terms. This seems to occur most often when the home page rather than an internal page is ranked #1 for that non-branded term. But I have also seen internal pages that are getting sitelinks so it’s not a hard and fast rule. I suspect the algorithms are being tweaked and tested.

As to getting sitelinks, I think the basics are still the key. Make sure you have:

  • Clear navigation for the user
  • Appropriate title tags, H1s, etc.
  • Internal linking on or near key terms pointing to your important pages

Which pages show up in the sitelinks?

Google says the selection is totally automated. Some sitelinks pages are popular pages but others are not. They do not have to be linked to directly from the home page but all the ones I have seen are linked to quite often. Speculation is that Google is analyzing user behavior as well as site navigation to select these. One of my clients has two different sitelinks with slightly different text going to slightly different pages. I suspect one will disappear soon as it doesn’t seem very useful. Once Google has selected sitelinks for you, you can log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and block a particular page from being used as a sitelink but you do not get say in what ones should be included; you can’t even make suggestions along that line.

What text is used in the sitelinks?

Matt Cutts said Google is varying the text used in sitelinks, sometimes a bit from the page title and other times from the link text, which is certainly what I’m seeing today. For one of my clients, they’re picking up the text near a link placed underneath the Flash for those who have Flash disabled. One of their other text links exists nowhere on the home page, but it is a common call to action in one section of the site. Again though, Google is not using the actual linked text here. At one point they were picking up part of a title tag but they’ve changed that to be just part of the link text at this point.

Something else new: a new search button below sitelinks

Several of my client sites now have a search field and customized button “Search theirsite.com”) underneath their sitelinks. On one of them, Google reduced the number of sitelinks from 8 to 6. The other stayed at 8. Experimentation is definitely the name of the game at this point. [note from Barb – this box is a bad things for our clients. Searchers use the box thinking they will be sent to results inside the site, but no, they are sent to another Google page with more ads. Bad user experience and if you ask nicely, Google is taking it down.]

More blogs on sitelinks

Matt Cutts video from Nov 2007
Vanessa Fox from Nov 2007
SeoPedia FAQ from March 2008

blah,blah technology from Feb 2008

More about the Google Patent that relates to sitelinks:

From SEO By the Sea:
Google filed a patent talking about how they "might" use these. Best guesses are that Google is accessing:

* how often the page is accessed
* how long people stay on the page
* the likelihood of making a purchase there

The patent application suggests they're using toolbar-gathered info as well as general SEO practices. The patent also suggests they might eventually present personalized sitelinks based on your past behavior but this does not seem to be happening now.

How links are generated

http://searchengineland.com/070212-093435.php suggests it's mainly based on internal link structure and the popularity of internal pages.
http://www.threadwatch.org/node/8704 suggests actionable web pages get higher value (downloads, contact us, buy.) I suspect Google is trying to provide a mix of information pages and action pages.

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posted by Barbara 'webmama' Coll @ 8:27 AM     Permanent Link