How Google 'Sitelinks' Can Improve Your SEO
Sitelinks are a powerful way to dominate the SERPs (search engine results pages), increase trust and direct targeted traffic to your site’s internal pages. But what if you don’t have sitelinks? How do you get them?
In this article, I’ll explain step-by-step how to get Google sitelinks for your site.
Before explaining how to get sitelinks, I’m going to briefly explain what sitelinks are and why they matter.
Sitelinks are a listing format in the SERPs that show a website’s main page as well as several targeted internal links indented below the main entry, and organized into two columns. In the diagram below, (1) indicates the main page listing, and (2) indicate the internal site links:
Here is a screenshot of a SERP displaying sitelinks for Quicksprout.com.
Sitelinks only display for branded or navigational queries. For example, when users search for “quicksprout,” they are probably trying to get to my site, www.quicksprout.com. Because Google algorithmically intuits this, they deliver not only Quicksprout.com as the main result, but also additional options that point users to internal pages.
In the screenshot above, I searched just “quicksprout.” Below, I search for “quicksprout blog.” Because it’s a branded/navigational search with keywords, I get the same website, but a different URL for the main result: quicksprout.com/blog/. The sitelinks are different, too.
There are variations within sitelink displays. For many branded searches, Google may display both knowledge graph and sitelink results. Here are a few of these.
Some of the world’s largest brand search queries don’t have sitelinks. Take “coca cola” for instance.
The absence of sitelinks is probably due to the fact that most queries for “coca cola” aren’t necessarily looking for the website of the company, but rather for news, locations or brand information. The search, then, is notnavigational. The knowledge graph results -- map, images, news, etc. -- are focused on delivering relevant results.
Queries for brands with local brick-and-mortar locations feature both sitelinks combined with knowledge graph results. This SERP for a steak restaurant demonstrates this.
Why are Google sitelinks important?
Google explains why sitelinks are important. They “are meant to help users navigate your site...to save users time and allow them to quickly find the information they're looking for.” In other words, sitelinks give users the best results in the shortest amount of time.
As Google explains, “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.”
Beyond just timeliness and relevance, sitelinks can improve your website in the following ways:
- Establish brand reputation
- Increase trust
- Cover more SERP space
- Increase CTR
- Shorten the conversion funnel
- Improve the strength of internal pages
There is no form or coding that will produce sitelink listings.
It is not possible to simply create sitelinks. Here’s why:
Sitelinks are automated. There is no Google-given process for creating sitelinks. You don’t get to stipulate what links are featured and when. You can, however, indicate that a sitelink is not important or relevant by demoting it.
Sitelinks are created through website best practices. The process of creating sitelinks may sound like website development 101. That’s because the process of creating sitelinks is simply about following industry-standard practices in the creation and development of a site.
Google doesn’t tell you how to create sitelinks. In Google’s support page for sitelinks, they do not explain how to generate sitelinks on your own site, other than to mention that “at the moment, sitelinks are automated.” Sitelinks, like most of the search engine world, are dominated by the algorithm.
Thus, creating sitelinks is about learning from the algorithm’s behavior, following best practices and hoping for the best results.
Getting Google Sitelinks: A Step-by-Step Guide
Even though you can’t actually use a plugin, wizard or tool to create sitelinks, you can follow a process that increases your likelihood of having sitelinks. Here are the steps you should follow.
1. Use a unique brand name.
At the core, sitelinks depend upon your choice in the naming of your business or website. Your site will not rank for navigational search unless it has something that differentiates it from generic head terms or common queries.
In several rare cases, brand names will gain first-page results with sitemaps. Apple is a good example. Based on user intent and behavior, Google knows that most queries containing the single word “apple” are queries actually searching for Apple the company. That’s why you see this in the SERPs when you type in “apple”:
By contrast, if your site is called “The Hardware Store” or “The Ice Cream Shop” it’s probably not going gain first page results, except for localized search.
If you’re in the early stages of business creation, I recommend checking out my article on choosing a brandable domain name.
2. Create a clear site hierarchy and structure.
Websites with a clear hierarchy are easy to crawl, easy to navigate and much more likely to get sitelinks. When you develop your site navigation, make sure that it possesses a clear and logical sequence.
Your navigation bar will be the main way to display your site structure. Here’s how Google explains:
All sites have a home or "root" page. It’s usually the most visited page on a site and the starting place of navigation for visitors. From the home page, help visitors find other pages on your site by creating a navigation bar. A good navigation bar calls out important sections of your site, is clear about where it’ll take visitors, and follows a logical structure. Intuitive and organized navigational categories include ‘Home’, ‘News’, and ‘Contact Us.’ You can place the navigation bar on the top or side of each page for easy access.
3. Create a sitemap.xml
In order to enhance the crawling of your website, also create a sitemap. Not only does this facilitate crawling, but it also helps Google to “increase...coverage of your webpages.” By building out your sitemap.xml in an accurate and comprehensive way, you will be able to increase the likelihood of more targeted and numerous sitelinks.
4. Create useful, relevant and information-rich content.
Everything depends upon content. Google’s goal in providing sitelinks is to give users the most relevant information. There can only be relevant information where there is sufficient content. All of your pages need to have content, and lots of it.
Sometimes, websites have skimpy content on the main navigational pages. This is a mistake. By featuring plenty of solid content on these pages, you’ll improve SEO on many fronts, including having the right sitelinks.
5. Use internal text linking.
How does the algorithm know which pages to display as sitelinks? Much of it seems to depend on internal linking. The best types of links are text links as opposed to image links. Some websites use images as the navigation buttons. For example, a clickable jpg. image that says “home” or “contact us.” Buttons like these are not the best way to create internal linking, especially for navigational menus. Instead, use normal text links.
The links that I’m referring to are, of course, navigational links. But you should also be doing internal linking throughout your website’s content. A strong internal linking strategy means that you are creating links to deep pages using natural anchor text.
6. Develop accurate page titles.
The most important SEO feature of any page is the page title. Google depends on these titles to provide sitelink information. The simple point to keep in mind here is that the page titles should be descriptive of the pages themselves.
7. Gain traffic and be patient.
In a video from Google’s Matt Cutts, he explained that you must “be patient.” He also remarked that “enough people [need to] know about your website”, and “people [need to] to find out about your website.” This suggests that Google’s algorithm awards sitelinks based on sufficient amount of traffic.
8. Be No. 1.
The only websites that receive sitelinks are those that are already number one in the SERPs. There’s just no such thing as a number two position SERP entry that has sitelinks. You must be No. 1.
It’s difficult to rank No. 1 for head term queries, such as “SEO” or “Content marketing.” It can even be challenging to gain rank for longtail queries such as “how to start a content marketing campaign,” or “how to safely guest blog.” But the easiest terms to rank for are branded terms -- your company name, URL or brand.
Assuming you have a unique brand or company name, your chance of being No. 1 for branded or navigational searches is very high. Therefore, your chance at having sitelinks is high, too.
Sitelinks will undoubtedly improve your traffic, reputation, and CTRs. Getting sitelinks isn’t a result of luck, but of website and SEO best practices. Follow these steps, mix in a little patience, and you’ll start seeing sitelinks soon enough.
What is your experience with sitelinks?