All About Content

Google’s One-Line Sitelinks Explained

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 8:12 am

Last Thursday (April 2), Google unveiled new shortcuts in their SERPS, displaying a single line of four links that take search engine users deeper into a site, bypassing the page shown in the results. These new shortcut links are being called “One-Line Sitelinks”, or alternatively “Mini Sitelinks”.

(I prefer One-Line Sitelinks, as I think it’s more descriptive. While traditional Sitelinks often contain 8 links displayed across 4 lines, I’ve seen a number of sites that have only 3-7 links listed, so those could theoretically be called as “mini Sitelinks” as well.)

Among the most obvious differences between these so called One-Line Sitelinks and the regular Sitelinks we’re already used to:

  • Display of this abbreviated version of Sitelinks is not limited to “branded” searches
  • One-Line Sitelinks are not just reserved for the #1 result and can appear in results at the bottom of the SERPs
  • One-Line Sitelinks are appearing on more than one result at a time
  • A single domain can have more than one set of Sitelinks per page

Mini Sitelinks Chosen Similarly to Regular Sitelinks

Below is a screenshot of One-line Sitelinks (aka “mini sitelinks”) in the #1 position, followed by an indented position, and then again in the #3 position:

The above example hints at an algorithm for pulling One-Line mini sitelinks that matches the full-fledged Sitelinks usually displayed for “brand matches”, except One-Line Sitelinks pull only four links — and as far as I can see, not fewer than four.

In the case of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) (the first result in the screenshot above), the One-Line Sitelinks match the first four links displayed in the regular 8-link version of the full-size Sitelinks. These four links are not necessarily the main navigation items, and the titles come from a combination of anchor text and page titles.

In the case of KidsHealth.org (result #3 in the screenshot above), the main page is an unfriendly Flash page with three main buttons: Parents, Kids, Teens. “How the Body Works” is one of over a dozen submenu items within the “Kids” subdirectory. These four links, in this same order, are the first four Sitelinks in the full-size version of this site’s Sitelinks when you do a query on [Kids Health]. It’s not entirely clear at first glance where exactly the Sitelinks names are pulling from, since they are not an exact match for on-page anchor text, page titles or alt attributes. Most likely it is using a combination of those factors, but then stripping out “stop words.”

For my previous observations on how Google is determining which Sitelinks to display and what text it uses to describe them, please see: What Info is Google Using to Display Sitelinks?

Sitelinks Near Bottom of Page

One-line Sitelinks are not just reserved for the top of the results. The screenshot below shows One-Line Sitelinks as low as the #7 position:

It really makes you wonder why the results displayed in positions #1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are good enough to outrank KidsHealth.org, but not good enough to get a line of Sitelinks.

How Many Sites Will Show Sitelinks On a Single SERP?

I’ve seen up to 3 results displaying these inline sitelinks for a single results page. In this example for a search on [find a job], results #1, #2, and #3 all show the set of four links below the snippet:

Given that Google is displaying these links on multiple results on a single page and on results near the bottom of the page, there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t theoretically include One-Line Sitelinks with every result.

Sitelinks are Query Dependent

Here you can see that One-Line Sitelinks are not site-specific. InsureKidsNow.org gets the new One-Line Sitelinks in the #1 spot when you search [children health coverage]:

… but gets the four-link, two-line version on the search query [children health insurance], where it also occupies the #1 spot:

In both cases, the site is in the #1 position for the query and in both cases the Sitelinks listed are the same (they match the four links displayed for a “brand query”: [Insure Kids Now] — In this case, the site does not have a full 8-pack of links, even when searching on the site’s exact name).

Interestingly, when you further refine your search to include any of the keywords mentioned in the Sitelinks, the Sitelinks disappear. (E.g., a search on [children health insurance state’s programs] does not pull up any results with One-Line Sitelinks, even though that keyword was part of the InsureKidsNow.gov result previously.)

Having 1-Line Sitelinks appear underneath your results for one search query, does not guarantee that you’ll see 1-Line Sitelinks for your site on other search queries, but it’s logical that similar search queries would improve the odds.

Check out this example where Google is perhaps trying to calculate just how close to a “brand” fit, the site might be.

1. A search for [health care] brings up the full set of eight Sitelinks plus an internal search box:

2. A slightly longer-tail search phrase ([kids health insurance]) brings up traditional Sitelinks, but this time with only four links instead of all eight, and no site search box:

3. The long-tail search phrase [kids health insurance program] brings up One-Line Sitelinks (in the #2 position):

Mixing Regular Sitelinks with One-Line Sitelinks

So now we’ve seen queries that bring back traditional Sitelinks and queries that bring back the new abbreviated Sitelinks. But will Google show both traditional and abbreviated Sitelinks together? Yep.

Here you can see that Google is mixing regular Sitelinks and One-Line Sitelinks in the same results:

(The fact that the first result has only 5 links, rather than the usual 8 is not related to One-Line Sitelinks. That particular results hasn’t displayed a full set of 8 Sitelinks in many months. How or why Google is deciding to display “regular Sitelinks” with fewer than 8 links is probably worthy of a separate blog post. It’s also worth noting, while we’re on the subject of Sitelinks for All-About-Content.com, that for a while the first link was actually called “Washington DC SEO”, thanks to a few choice inbound links with that anchor text. It then reverted back to using the predominant anchor text to the page from within the site’s template.)

One-Line Sitelinks Not Just for Domains

In fact, not only is Google mixing regular Sitelinks with One-Line Sitelinks, but in rare cases it’s doing so for the same domain:

It’s surprising to see a single domain get two sets of Sitelinks here, as you’d expect there to be overlap (thus wasting valuable SERP real estate), but in the above screenshot, only one link is repeated, and that’s because the Sitelinks for the second result are specific to the subdirectory.

In this next example, you can see One-Line Sitelinks for a subdomain in the #2 position:

As you can see, much like the examples I posted previously of Sitelinks showing up on subdomains and subdirectories, these new One-Line Sitelinks are not reserved just for “homepages” or domains; One-Line Sitelinks show up at the folder and subdomain-level as well.

Parting Observations

Based on what I’ve observed so far, it’s hard to predict where these One-Line Sitelinks will show up, but the same rules seem to apply as getting regular Sitelinks: a site needs to have some amount of authority for the query (although clearly not as much as before) and also have strong internal navigation/site architecture that Google can use to determine which links get displayed; Sitelinks links frequently are those high-level pages most prominent in the navigation.

But then there’s always the exception that proves the rule (h/t to Terry for this example):

One thing’s for sure, Google is always testing these SERP enhancements, so don’t be surprised if you see fluctuations and tweaks in the coming weeks. If you want to improve your chances of getting additional links into your SERP listing, work on building strong internal navigation with optimized internal anchor text, and get high-quality inbound links to your internal pages with anchor text that matches your target keywords. Since Google is tracking those links, I’m probably not going out on a limb by saying that it doesn’t hurt to drive traffic to those internal pages either 😉

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Category: Google