Google Sitelinks are a strange, automated and entirely arcane aspect of search that has changed several times over the years, resulting in its variation from tiny one-line links to half-page jumbo links, all of which are seemingly chosen at random. That’s the problem, right there; all too often the links seem to be picked from a hat, with no connection to the site or the query.
What are Sitelinks?
First, a little bit of information to help less in-the-know readers catch up. What precisely are sitelinks? Google uses this image to display them: https://www.google.com/help/hc/images/webmasters/webmasters_47334_sitelinks.png
On this image, the number 1 indicates the primary search result. The number two are indented mini-results that are algorithmically selected subpages of the primary search result. Usually these are common pages, popular pages or about/contact pages. The exact content of the sitelinks is up to the algorithm. It’s also up to the algorithm whether or not sitelinks appear at all.
When Google Displays Sitelinks
Google is not very transparent with their sitelinks algorithm. There’s very little advice from the mothership about what affects your chances to get them, or what content they display. The only advice they offer is fairly simple; make sure your page has a clear hierarchy and navigation. After all, if Google can’t logically determine which pages are the best for general navigation, it won’t create sitelinks for your page.
That said, webmasters have been poking at the problem for years now, and some factors have come to light. For one thing, sitelinks are variable by query. You only ever have a chance of having sitelinks for queries where your site is the number one result, typically when the query is specifically searching for your page.
For example, searching for the flashlight maker “maglite” gets the Maglite homepage as the number one result, with six sitelink snippets beneath. Even for Maglite, you can see some oddities. The six results are the catalog, warranty service page, customer service page, product page for one of their most popular flashlights, the spare parts page and… another link to the homepage.
The factors webmasters have come up with so far include:
• The site absolutely must be the obvious target of the query and rank number one.
• The site must have easy to spider navigation, possibly through a sitemap.
• The site must have reasonably high search traffic; small sites are out of luck.
• The site must have a strong clickthrough rate.
• The site must have several popular internal pages, which are targets for sitelinks.
• The site must customize the titles and meta descriptions of the internal pages.
• The content of these internal pages must be robust and valuable, not to mention unique.
Of course, all of these are just characteristics shared by the sites that receive sitelinks; there’s no confirmation on Google’s part whether they’re actually part of the algorithm.
How You Get Sitelinks
With Google remaining close-lipped about sitelinks, the best you can do is extend these factors to actionable points if you want to get sitelinks for your site.
- Make sure your navigation is easy to parse by robots. The easiest way to see if it is would be to use Google Webmaster Tools and use the fetch as Googlebot tool. This shows you how your site looks without all of the excess scripts and elements you include for usability. Some webmasters recommend a navigation structure using HTML5 nav tags, spiced up with CSS and links.
- Make sure your navigation is organized to present a nicely ordered list of pages. Specifically, you’re looking to apply quality over quantity; a few valuable pages as top-level links are better than a wide array of mid-level links.
- Make sure your website has a unique brand name. The presence of sitelinks relies on being the clear, obvious choice for the destination of a query. If you share a brand name with another site, or if your band name is something too generic to pick out specifically, you’re going to have issues.
- Make sure each page on your site has a unique meta title and description. This is just good SEO practice. Google won’t display sitelinks if the titles and descriptions of all of those sitelinks are identical.
- Make sure the content of each page is unique and valuable. Google provides sitelinks to enhance the user experience by directing them to the pages they want to see, rather than forcing them to go through your homepage. If there are no pages they want to see, there will be no sitelinks.
Additionally, your site needs to meet certain minimum thresholds of popularity. If you don’t have a certain level of interested users, you’re not going to be in the running for sitelinks. You need traffic volume to make traffic funneling a worthwhile investment.
How You Pick Sitelinks
Unfortunately, sitelinks are entirely controlled by the algorithm. You cannot, in any way, manually choose to have sitelinks on your site. All you can do is take as many steps as possible to maximize your chances of them appearing.
Likewise, you cannot choose what pages show up in your sitelinks. In fact, it has been established through testing that sitelinks can even vary from location to location; the sitelinks you see at work might not be the same as the sitelinks you see from a home computer.
There is only one way you can affect your sitelinks at all, and that’s to demote pages. Which, not coincidentally, brings us back to the initial topic of this post. When you have weird sitelinks – like Maglite’s homepage sitelink – you need some way to control them. Google allows you to set specific links to be demoted. Essentially, you tell Google that you don’t think that specific link is valuable as a sitelink, and you shouldn’t have it displayed.
To demote sitelinks, all you need to do is log in to the Google webmaster tools page. Under the search appearance section, click the link labeled sitelinks. In this page, you will be presented with a box labeled “for this search result.” Add in the URL of the page you don’t want showing up in sitelinks. Click to submit the demotion and wait for it to go through.
There are some restrictions on demoting sitelinks. First of all, it can take days or weeks to process your order. Eventually your sitelink will be removed, unless that link is simply too useful and too highly ranked to demote. Secondly, demotions are only active for 90 days from the last time you check the page; if you ignore your sitelinks for too long, Google will revert the demotion. Third, you can only demote up to 100 URLs. For most sites this will be more than enough, but some large sites might find it restrictive.
If you have sitelinks, be sure to check them occasionally to make sure the pages Google chooses make sense. If they don’t, be proactive with demoting them; otherwise you may be losing out on traffic.