Last time, we discussed Google sitelinks and suggested some improvements to the system.
Today, we'll explore some of the things Web site owners can do to affect changes to their selection of sitelinks, rather than stewing over how random sites are given sitelinks for terms like "auto insurance" and "fitness club." (I received an e-mail suggesting some sort of "deal" Google has with sites that receive sitelinks for non-branded terms like those I mentioned. There is, of course, no way to confirm this, unless Google comes out and says it.)
Have No Sitelinks?
Not all sites are blessed with Google sitelinks. In their Webmaster Help Center, Google states "We only show sitelinks for results when we think they'll be useful to the user. If the structure of your site doesn't allow our algorithms to find good sitelinks, or we don't think that the sitelinks for your site are relevant for the user's query, we won't show them."
Some Webmasters may come away almost insulted by this statement. I assume that when Google states, "we think they'll be useful," they aren't talking about the site's content in general, rather the navigational patterns of people within the site.
The lack of sitelinks due to "structure of the site" could cause great headaches, as well as serious redesign. Some of those sites, such as fully-Flash driven sites, would likely be given sitelinks relatively quickly by adding even the simplest of search engine-friendly navigation.
Coca-Cola, which now has sitelinks, is a great example. The home page has a basic navigation on the left, which forces regionalization. That alone is enough for Google to crawl deeper into the site and present at least some sitelinks, whether or not they can be approved.
Frito-Lay, Doritos' parent company, has sitelinks. Ironically, one of Frito-Lay's sitelinks is to a Doritos page that has more useful information about Doritos than you can find at Doritos.com. So, if you don't have sitelinks, first look at your site's structure.
Don't feel that you can be blessed like carinsurancerates.com into getting sitelinks for general terms, however. It appears that the majority of all results with sitelinks are brand-related.
There may be a problem if you aren't getting sitelinks for your brand, with one exception -- if you share that brand with another business that already has sitelinks. That would actually be an interesting battle to fight, and if anyone has tried wrestling sitelinks from another site with the same brand, we'd love to hear about it in the forum discussion on this topic.
Have "Ugly" Sitelinks?
Some examples of "ugly" sitelinks include links to dead pages, pages that are seasonal (e.g., "Valentine's Day Deals"), pages you don't want to be listed (e.g., "Catalog" if that's not something you want people to order), or any other page that isn't desirable based on organizational objectives. The good news? You can remove these links.
The first thing you or your SEM firm needs to do is setup a Google Webmaster Tools account. Once you've verified your account with Google, you'll have access to the tools and diagnostic capabilities that Webmaster Tools offers, including the "Sitelinks" tool within the "Links" tab on the left.
In response to Frank's complaint that Google doesn't offer much information on getting sitelinks within the FAQ, they offer much more detailed content within Webmaster Tools: "Sitelinks are additional links Google sometimes generates from site contents in order to help users navigate your site. Google generates these sitelinks periodically from your site's contents. Because we generate sitelinks dynamically, this list can change from time to time." OK, maybe not so detailed, but it's in BETA, Frank!
If you have sitelinks, you should be able to see the ones assigned to your brand on this page. Next to each, there's a link to "Block." If you click on this link, Google will ask you for more information.
This feature has been updated recently, and offers Webmasters a chance to give feedback as to why they want the link blocked: "Help us improve! Tell us why you want to block this sitelink." There's a dropdown list that includes: "The link is broken," "I don't want this page emphasized," "The Title is inaccurate," or "Other."
A comment box then allows you to submit additional information. I just tested it by pasting the entire content of this article up to this point, and there doesn't seem to be a word limitation.
For one client, we used the tool to request the removal of three sitelinks. In each case, we respectfully submitted an alternate, while describing the value of that page in comparison. We succeeded in getting two out of the three links we suggested to be included in the sitelinks when they were updated in March 2008, but the algorithm could have easily chosen them as replacements for the ones we blocked, since they were important pages. We're continuing to test the feedback form, however. You can "unblock" sitelinks within the same system, which lists the blocked pages below the live sitelinks.
The blocks took effect within days, but it took until Google updated sitelinks en masse for us to see the new ones. It would be interesting if someone could test "unblocking" and see how fast the unblocked ones would replace the existing sitelinks. In the case where the maximum of eight sitelinks was already assigned, it would also be interesting to see which ones Google would remove to allow room for the unblocked ones.
One last curious thing about the sitelinks tools within Webmaster Central is the handling of time limits of blocked sitelinks. The only other explanatory content on the page: "You have blocked 3 sitelinks. These will remain blocked until Aug 27, 2008. This date will be automatically extended each time you visit this page. If you change your mind, click 'Unblock' next to the sitelink you want included in Google search results."
Perhaps Google wants to limit the load on its system somehow, because they have to check for blocked sitelinks for all sites that use Webmaster Central. If someone isn't taking the time to visit the sitelinks tool that often, they may not be even paying attention any longer.
I look forward to further discussion on this topic and to hear from others who have tested this system, so join the discussion in the Search Engine Watch Forums.
Frank Watson Fires Back
This is a timely and handy article, Chris. There's been a lot of speculation about how these are chosen and you've done a great job giving us insight into the process.
Everyone wants them, but few understand how to possibly style their pages to get them. No doubt there should be a rush of new sitelinks following this post.
I'll have to start experimenting with this for a few of my clients. The next stage is to test how much more traffic these extra links on the Google top listing helps. It seems like they're pushing more traffic to these sites. Obviously any more links on a SERP means a division of possible clicks. I wonder who does the first study on traffic numbers around this one.