What are Site Links?
Site links are the useful additional links that you sometimes see as part of your search results. In the vast majority of cases, your sitelinks will appear through branded search terms (i.e people typing in your brand name). For example, when you Google ‘Yellowball’ you not only see the link to our homepage but also links to inner pages on the site:
Why are they useful for SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation is not just about being top of Google (read more here). In fact, truly valuable SEO is about providing an ROI for clients, or yourself, which usually refers to an increase in enquiries for your product or service. In turn, this increase in enquiries should provide more conversions and therefore increased revenue over and above the investment in SEO – whether that be time, money or resource.
Therefore, if you consider the main objective of an SEO campaign to be increased conversions, a great campaign should take into account more than just content, links and rankings. You should be addressing all aspects of the user journey and sales funnel, from researching via search engines through to the purchasing decision and beyond. Sitelinks affect the way your website is displayed in the SERPs and as such should be considered an influencing factor in the user journey.
They’re Great for Click Through Rates
Whilst sitelinks usually only appear for branded or navigational search terms they can still be highly useful for improving click through rates. They provide the user with additional options for your site, with the ability for users to click directly through to internal pages that may be of more value to them than the homepage. There are a number of other reasons as to why sitelinks can help with CTR:
People trust Google to provide them with the most valuable and relevant result for their search term. Users do not just click on the results at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) because they do not want to trawl through pages of results (this is a large factor), they also trust that Google is providing them with the best results at the top. The user assumes (or presumes, depending how pedantic you want to be) that the result at the top of the page is the best one for them. This assumed authority of a website at the top of search results is therefore increased if Google is providing the searcher with what is essentially an expanded result, with multiple click through options. It is a method of further improving your authority with the searcher.
Less Visibility for other Search Results
Sitelinks take up more real estate on the SERP. As you can see from the screenshot above, the user can now only see one other result above the fold whereas in normal searches they are able to see 4-5 results. Yes this argument is somewhat weakened by the fact that sitelinks usually only appear for branded or navigational searches and as such the user is likely to be looking for your website anyway. However, should you have a brand name that could also be considered a transactional search term, gaining sitelinks can push your competitors down the search results and out of sight.
Reduced User Journeys
Sitelinks were designed by Google to display more useful information to the user. Again it all comes down to relevance and value. There are instances where you may want the searcher to click directly on a sitelink. For example, if you are a business like ours where we offer multiple services, a searcher may have entered a branded search term in order to find our website, but may only be looking for a website design. As such, the sitelink enables them to click straight through to that page, focussing their intent and reducing their user journey. They can navigate straight to the content that they are really looking for!
How do you get sitelinks?
Google is notoriously coy when it comes to giving information on how to get sitelinks. What we do know is that there is no way to specifically request for sitelinks to be added to your search result, nor are you able to define which sitelinks appear in results….just like you cannot request to be top of the organic results. On the other hand, just like SEO, there are techniques which will significantly improve your website’s chances of displaying sitelinks.
Clear Information Architecture
A major factor for Google when determining which sitelinks to display (aside from value to the user) is a website’s structure. If Google struggles to understand how your website is structured then you can presume that Google will also be reluctant to display sitelinks to their searchers – without clear information, the information displayed may be inaccurate and lack value which is no bueno.
Clear information architecture, or site hierarchy is the way that the pages on your website are laid out. A primary component of this is producing an xml sitemap and uploading this to your Google Search Console, thereby giving clear instruction to Google with regards to your website structure.
In addition to this, taking the user into account (Google’s main priority) you also need to have a clear menu structure which should reflect the XML sitemap.
Informative Internal Anchor Text
Your menu link text (a.k.a internal anchor text) should be accurate and descriptive of the page it is linking to. Anchor text is a useful indicator of the content of the destination page but be aware that overuse of anchor text, whether that be internal or external, can land in you in trouble with Google. Ensuring that your menu items are relevant to the destination page will give Google a clearer view of your site’s content and layout, in turn improving your chances of sitelinks displaying the search results.
Can you demote Sitelinks?
Whilst you are not able to specifically request which pages show up as sitelinks, for a number of years webmasters were able to ‘demote’ sitelinks via their Search Console. This meant that webmasters could tell Google which sitelinks they did not want to appear in the search results and therefore by default increase the chances of the pages they did want to be shown appearing in the results. Combine this with the factors listed above and you could make it reasonably clear to Google which pages you wanted to appear as sitelinks.
However, after the better part of a decade (2007 – 2016) Google removed the ‘Demote Sitelinks’ function from the Search Console stating that their algorithm had continually been improving in its ability to find, create and display relevant sitelinks and as such appeared to have reached a tipping point at which the function was no longer required. Whilst not an ideal solution, you can always prevent a page from appearing in your website’s sitelinks through placing Robots ‘No Index’ on the page. This does mean that the page will not turn up anywhere in Google’s search result, hence why it is not ideal.
In the aftermath, Google did give a few tips in improving your sitelinks including ensuring that the desired page(s) can be rendered by Google via their ‘fetch as Google’ function on Search Console as well as the no index and structure mentioned previously.
“The way to influence them is the same as other web pages”
Finally, when announcing the removal of sitelinks Google did also mentioned that the methods by which Google identifies sitelinks is based upon ‘traditional web ranking’. Therefore, if you stick to the theory of providing relevant and valuable content to the user on your prized pages it should stand you in good stead to have a list of high achieving sitelinks, providing you with another SEO factor to help you convert traffic into customers.