Sitelinks are those little clustered links to the inside pages of a top search result on a query term considered by the search engine to be navigational in nature. They are links under the main listing that deep link into a site by category or topic. So, for example, if you did a search for “IT Itch” in Google a few weeks ago, you would have seen our website in the top spot, with a link to our homepage and underneath it you would have seen six sitelinks -SEO, Marketing, About, Web Design, Contact, Web Hosting – and “more results from IT Itch”. See picture below.
Not all websites generate sitelinks and many people wonder how sitelinks appear. Like many things search related, sitelinks are algorithmically determined – the search engine programmers wrote special commands into their software to create sitelinks and they are not going to tell us the criteria they use to decide who gets them. Google took out a US patent in 2006 under the name “Systems and methods for providing search results” which is thought to cover the generation of sitelinks. Luis Castro, Walt Lin, and Benedict Gomes are credited with the invention of the system and it is described as follows:
A method includes generating search results in response to a user query, where at least one of the search results includes a group of links. The group of links may represent links to web pages within a same web site and may be identified based on at least one factor associated with the links. The method may also include providing the search results to the user.
Having links underneath the main search result helps users to get a better understanding of what the site is about before they visit and provides a shortcut to the most valuable content on the site. Sitelinks can increase a site’s reputation as they are only given to the top listing of a search result. From an SEO perspective, there is an obvious benefit in terms of visibility. They give your website more real estate in the SERPs, pushing your competitiors further down the page. While you may not see increased traffic to the specific sub pages that have sitelinks, it is largely agreed that these types of “enhanced listings” garner higher click through rates than non-enhanced listings.
How are pages chosen to appear as sitelinks?
In Googles own words, sitelinks are:
This is determined by analysing user behaviour and site structure. Google collects data on user behaviour by placing a tracking cookie on your web browser every time you use a Google product. Pages that have enough traffic to generate meaningful data, give Google the ability to asign quality scores to web pages. Log file information is used to generate a quality measures, such as the popularity of the web page, the likelihood that the information will be accessed by a user, the likelihood that the information will be useful to a user submitting a search query and other factors associated with web page quality. Pages with a higher overall quality score are likely to rank higher in the sitelink profile.
Linking structure seems to be an important factor for sitelinks, especially the number of internal links pointing to a page. To rank highly in search engines, it is widely known that gaining a high number of external links is the most important determinant of how well you rank. Links are like votes, and the more votes you get, the higher your chances of winning the race to the top of the Google search engine results pages (SERPs). To rehash an old trick, it appears that Google uses the same system for sitelinks, but with a slight twist – it’s internal links that count, not external links.
To test this theory, we manipulated the internal linking structure of our website. We bumped up one of our pages with a lot of internal links – our “Web Hosting” page. What happened? It went straight to the top of the sitelinks (see picture below).
Note: the sitelink to our contact page can also be expected when we examine the Google analytics data. Our contact page was the most popular page that users navigate to after getting to our site. Thus, these sitelinks are determined by a mixture of internal links and user behaviour, with internal linking being the top factor.
In Google’s own words:
To improve the quality of your sitelinks, Google recommends that your internal links use anchor text and alt text that is informative, compact and avoids repetition.
Another trick up the sleeve of webmasters is the ability to demote a URL for a sitelink when you think a sitelink URL is inappropriate or incorrect. Say, for instance, an outdated post pops up on your sitelink profile and you feel it isn’t a good candidate for a sitelink. In this instance you can go into Google webmaster tools and tell Google that you want to demote the link. Google isn’t abliged to take the sitelink away, but a demotion is usually a strong hint that they try to honour when determining sitelinks. In Google Webmaster Tools you can demote a link as follows:
Demote a sitelink URL:
- On the Webmaster Tools Home page, click the site you want.
- Under Site configuration, click Sitelinks.
- In the For this search result box, complete the URL for which you don’t want a specific sitelink URL to appear. (How to find the right URL.)
- In the Demote this sitelink URL box, complete the URL of the sitelink you want to demote.
If you want to start getting sitelinks for your website, or want them looking great, contact the SEO team at IT Itch and we’ll help you out.