by Doug Platts
Brand marketers cannot afford to be passive in their online marketing efforts in today’s search culture. One of the most important aspects of today’s online marketing is in the search engine results page (SERP). Google Sitelinks are arguably the best feature to come to the search engine results page (SERP) for brands in the past 5 years. The evolution and growth of Sitelinks has been especially interesting for brand marketers to watch, and the latest changes to Sitelinks offers a very real chance for your brand to directly benefit in a big way.
We cheered when they first appeared and for the most part cheered louder and louder up through where we stand today. The cheering came mostly out of the excitement stemming from being able to affect brand search results to some degree. The latest changes have given brands the gift of dominating the SERP for searches on their brand name.
Google rolled out an update, on August 16th, to the layout of Sitelinks as they appear within SERPs. These changes include:
- The number of Sitelinks has also increased from a maximum of 8 to 12.
- Sitelinks increased in size and now have snippets including a brief description and URL.
- More pages are eligible. No longer limits Sitelink-eligible pages to those that are 1 directory off the root directory. Many more pages are now potential Sitelinks.
- The amount of space given to a site within SERPs for branded searches has greatly increased with this change (iCrossing expects to see increased click-through rates for brand terms as a result of this change)
In this situation less is not more. More is more.
Until recently, the only pages that were eligible to be Sitelinks were pages that were pages 1 level down from the root directory. This blocked the possibility of seeing product-level pages appear as Sitelinks. This can get a site visitor deeper into your site where the majority of conversions occur.
Users now have more options within your brand’s set of Sitelinks. A variety of additional mid-level pages can now appear as Sitelinks, which can be a strategic way to guide users toward category-level pages when these pages have proven to be strong performers.
Internal Linking is now more important than ever. Descriptive naming conventions within anchor text and link attributes will be even more important to ensure accurate, useful Sitelinks.
Search engines use your internal linking to determine the names of Sitelink results by determining what anchor text is used to point to the Sitelink-eligible pages. So if a Sitelink is appearing for a page you’d like to be featured but the title isn’t what you’d prefer, then look at your universal navigation files and modify the related anchor text in those files.
Reputation Management is another business element that can be affected by smart use of Sitelinks. One application of this concept is to allow your site’s main Customer Service page to remain eligible as a Sitelink by not demoting it. If the Customer Service page is already a live Sitelink, you may want to keep it there. Sure, it’ll cost you one of the 12 Sitelink slots where you otherwise could feature a conversion-friendly page, but giving users easy access to customer service will win you some favor.
It’s common to hear that people are fed-up by how difficult it is to find out how to contact a brand. Be the exception, sacrifice a Sitelink, and have a competent customer service staff to win over users for the long-term.
Not getting your full brand coverage
Whilst these new Sitelinks are appear for the majority of brands there are still some instances of where they are not appear, Where we have noticed this is when there is more than one domain that could be the primary brand domain for that query.
For example DKNY has multiple domains, and so far Google has not determined which is the right brand domain to display Sitelinks for:
Hugo Boss on the other hand does have the site links as there is no confusion
Similarly where there is ambiguity around whether the search query is a brand term or not, for example ‘mac’ could be either the makeup brand or the Apple product
I’m sure as Google analysis click-through data it will start to refine this updated and single out specific domains.
WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
Brand marketers cannot control all aspects of Sitelinks, but Google does give us the ability to essentially block, or “demote,” specific pages from appearing as Sitelinks.
Your Google Webmaster Tools account (sign-up here) gives you access to a list of pages from your site Google considers eligible to be a Sitelink. Even though you cannot choose which pages will appear, you can affect which page will not appear.
In the past, Google has had the policy of allowing one block per page without the possibility of reinstatement. That no longer is the case as demotions can be turned off to allow the page to once again be eligible to appear as a Sitelink. This is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of seasonality changes in the popularity of your pages. While you can’t explicitly choose a Sitelink, you can demote pages that aren’t vital to your business goals in the current season. Google doesn’t guarantee that it will follow your wishes, and it can take time to see the changes live in search results, so we don’t recommend making drastic changes on a frequent basis.
Here at iCrossing, we’ve taken a look at the brands of our clients to see if more or less traffic is going to their sites from search engines since the change to Sitelinks, and they are definitely showing a significant uplift in organic click-throughs for traffic across the board.
Any increase in organic search traffic begs the question of how branded PPC results might be affected by this change. Initial iCrossing PPC findings are forthcoming soon, but you should consider the specifics of your current branded efforts and evaluate performance before and after this launch.
Traffic increases are great, we’re all for them, but these surges don’t mean much if a quality site experience is missing on the other side of the click. Trends such as Google Sitelinks still require foundational best practices for your brand’s website. Take some time to examine the user experience on the pages that are eligible to appear as Sitelinks. Some fine tuning could unclog the pipes of traffic coming your way.
Sitelinks should give you a great start by getting users to deeper pages more quickly, but it’s (as always) up to you to close the deal.
This post was written by Doug Platts, head of Natural Search at iCrossing.