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What Info is Google Using to Display Sitelinks?

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 at 12:03 am

Over many months, I’ve noticed that Google Sitelinks (the list of internal or secondary links that display under the first result of a search) can differ dramatically. Sitelinks seem like one of the most inconsistent result types being displayed.

Following are some examples.

A search on “Sears” brings up the Sears homepage with Sitelinks that match the general navigation. Aside from the fact that no second page from the Sears.com domain shows up on the first page of results, this search engine result is displaying precisely as one would expect: Sitelink destinations match the main navigation and the anchor text for the links match the alt attributes for the navigation images (since the nav is not plain text).

sears-sitelinks

In this next example, two results show up for a search on “Drs. Foster and Smith” (a pet supply web site). Second result is a duplicate of one of the Sitelinks, which makes sense. Interestingly, the anchor text within the Sitelinks portion of the results is inconsistent.

The link to “Cat Supplies” matches the destination page’s title tag, whereas the “Dog Supplies” link matches the anchor text of the navigation link. The “Fish” Sitelink matches neither the anchor text of the site’s navigation nor the page’s title tag, though the second result, which goes to the same fish page, does use the title tag. The final Sitelink, Clearance Outlet, is not a link found in the site’s main navigation, though it is on the main page of the site.

drsfostersmith-sitelinks

A search on “drsfostersmith”, which is the domain name of the previous company, brings up the same result and the same sitelinks, but with a different Title link for the main result! The second result following the Sitelinks was not from this domain.

drsfostersmith-sitelinks2

A search on the brand name “T-Mobile” brings up two results from the http://www.t-mobile.com/ domain — neither of which uses the respective pages’ title tags in the results display. As would be expected, the Sitelinks go to pages that are located on t-mobile.com’s main navigation and uses text that is either anchor text or alt tag text for those links.

The second result, however, is NOT one of the Sitelinks, and is actually a 302 redirect to another domain. Neither the page titles, nor Sitelinks anchor text, are pulling from Page Title tag (in either the first or second result):

tmobile-sitelinks

For a search on the brand name “Wirefly,” two results from the wirefly.com domain are displayed. The second result is also one of the Sitelinks, with all but one of the Sitelinks being ones found in the the site’s main navigation.

Both the Sitelink anchor text and the title of the second result appear to be pulling the page’s Meta Title, again as expected; however, in the case of the former, the Meta Title isn’t current and doesn’t match what was indexed in the general results (note use of Cingular versus AT&T):

wirefly-sitelinks

Conclusions, Conjecture and SWAGs about Google Sitelinks:

  • Google explains that Sitelinks are created by “analyz[ing] the link structure of your site to find shortcuts that will save users time.”
  • However, Google Sitelinks are not necessarily the pages with the most internal links pointing to them (i.e., pages from the main navigation). It’s not entirely implausible that Google is analyzing user behavior (via the Google Toolbar) to determine which “shortcuts” are most likely to help users locate the information they are seeking. (Take a look, for example, at the Sitelinks that show up for a search on “Yellow Pages”; the pages that are displayed –pages about New York and LA — aren’t favored by the site’s structure, but are very likely heavily trafficked pages.)
  • Anchor text of the Sitelinks results may or may not match the text used to link to those pages within the domain.
  • Anchor text of Sitelinks may or may not be pulled from the pages’ meta title tags.
  • The data for Sitelinks appears to be pulling from a different “index” than the main results, since title tag changes are updated in the main results more quickly than in Sitelinks.
  • Your site does not need to have two of its pages showing up for a brand-name search in order to have Sitelinks displayed.
  • Conversely, having two pages from a domain show up for a branded-keyword search does not guarantee display of Sitelinks.
  • Short of re-architecting your site, there doesn’t seem to be a way to control which pages will show up in Sitelinks or what the anchor text for those links will be.
  • Sitelinks tend to show up most often for searches on brand names, but not exclusively. I’ve seen examples where generic search phrases result in Sitelinks being displayed for the top result, but the keywords have tended to be used as part of the domain name.

More info about Google Sitelinks can be found on SEObytheSea.com, where Bill Slawski looks at Google’s patent application.

Updated: March 12, 2008
New post about additional search boxes now being displayed within the SERPS, inside the Google Sitelinks area.

Comments (2)

Category: Google

2 Comments

Comment by Sunil Pathak

Made Friday, 3 of April , 2009 at 9:45 am

Excellent explanation of Google site link Melanie

one question.

how much traffic do you need to have site link for your domain, or what PR is minimum for SL?

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Friday, 3 of April , 2009 at 10:11 am

Good question, but one I don’t have an answer to. I don’t think it’s as straightforward or simple as just how much traffic or what TBPR your site has. I see Sitelinks on low-TBPR sites and sites that have only a few dozen unique views a day. I think it has more to do with how authoritative your site is for a particular keyword query.

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