Google Sitelinks for Directory-Level Pages

Just about a year ago, I wrote a couple articles about Google sitelinks -- one dealing with how Google was doing with their sitelink choices and the other a more instructive piece about how to get or adjust Google sitelinks.

Google has done a good job updating its sitelinks algorithm in the past year, although there are plenty of examples of "ugly" ones appearing for unwarranted sites, such as the search for "student bank accounts," which gives a slight advantage to the first site listed for broad terms that still shouldn't yield a sitelink-worthy result.

Bryson Meunier at Resolution media wrote a good post on the issue of unwarranted sitelinks, and the discussions and frustrations continue today at search forums across the SEO and developer communities.

Search Engine Strategies Results -- A Sitelinks Case Study

Searching for "SES San Jose" recently returned an interesting, and surprising, set of sitelinks.

Sitelinks are rarely assigned to a sub-directory of a root domain. At the time of this post, the URL that displays the sitelinks for the search is (deservedly) www.searchenginestrategies.com/sanjose/. Turns out that if you search for any of the major SES shows, such as SES Toronto, New York, or Chicago, each of the corresponding directory-level event "home pages" gets the sitelinks.

Monitoring important directory levels of a domain should become an immediate strategy consideration for all large companies performing SEO, not to mention anyone with a site that has the structure and authority to merit sitelinks at the root domain.

Other sites are enjoying directory level sitelinks to some degree. For example, when searching for "iPod," the number one result is Apple's iTunes directory level with sitelinks. However, when you search for Microsoft Windows, there are no sitelinks, although the second indented listing is the Microsoft.com/WINDOWS directory (yes, it seems MS uses all caps to yell at people at their URL directory level). This article focuses on directory-level issues, but subdomains are also capable of getting sitelinks, such as office.microsoft.com for the search "Microsoft Office."

The Problem with the SES Sitelinks

Most marketers who understand Google sitelinks would probably agree that having faulty sitelinks can be a negative experience. We recently dealt with a large client that had issues with sitelinks after relaunching due to some redirects not being fully implemented.

It took two times blocking the sitelinks to the old URLs before they "stayed blocked," and we still haven't been awarded the new sitelinks for branded results even though we suggested replacements in our removal requests.

A very unique and interesting problem from the SES perspective is related to the brand value of sitelinks. The list of sitelinks for the shows in San Jose, New York, and Toronto all show sitelinks to sponsor pages on the SES site.

This makes sense from a programmatic/algorithm perspective, as sitelinks are automatically generated primarily as a result of internal navigation link focus. This is good news for the sponsors, because it shows them that the way that SES features their sponsors within the site navigation is strong.

This is bad news for SES: they lose some brand value in the listing as a result of the sponsor-branded sitelinks. Incisive Media VP Matt McGowan and Web developer Rebecca Holz, both agreed with this conclusion.

The simple and obvious solution was to go into Google Webmaster Tools console and block the sitelinks, it seemed. However, there was a problem. When Holz tried to do that, she wasn't presented with the sitelinks because they weren't associated with the root domain http://www.searchenginestrategies.com -- rather the directory levels /sanjose, /newyork, and so forth.

Holz set up new individual directory-level Webmaster Tools accounts for each of the location-based directory levels, and they were activated and verified within a day. However, they didn't show any sitelinks immediately. A day later, the sitelinks showed up in the Webmaster Tools console (bravo Google and Rebecca!), and she was able to block them.

Now we'll see how long it takes to remove them from the SERPs. Based on recent experience, it should be within the next few weeks. Then, we'll see if they come back...

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Toronto, June 8-10, 2009, at the Sheraton Centre Toronto.

About the author

Chris has been a digital marketer since 2000, starting in-house in the insurance space and subsequently assuming growing leadership roles across large agencies and SEM firms. He recently founded Web Traffic Advisors, LLC, in upstate New York. Chris consults with and coaches business and agency teams ranging from senior executives to technical, brand, content, and legal groups; helping to improve validation, efficiency, internal acumen, and implementation. Chris has diverse experience across major e-commerce platforms, pharma, retail, and other industries.

Since 2004 he has been a highly rated speaker and moderator at conferences and partner events all over the world, covering search engine marketing, social media, analytics, and evolving tactics including the promotion of better SEO integration across marketing channels. He has served on the Global Board of Directors of SEMPO since 2006, and co-hosts the weekly podcast SEO Rockstars from Webmasterradio.fm. Chris blogs for various industry publications, but most of his writing involves analysis and recommendations for clients, while promoting integrated online marketing and branding to a qualified target audience.