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Google Sitelinks: The Ultimate FAQ

Google SitelinksI have been testing these Sitelinks for quite some time now on several websites, from new to very old, from few to zounds of visitors.


What are Sitelinks ? They are a collection of links, automatically chosen by Google’s algorithm, to appear below the result of website, linking to main pages of your website. They are randomly chosen, although you can block any link from appearing. We will discuss more about Sitelinks in the Google Sitelinks FAQ section below.


Recently, some of my websites got Sitelinks whilst I tried different ways of reaching this milestone.


Some time ago, Vanessa Fox, from the Webmaster’s Central blog, wrote that the page from the Google Help describing these Sitelinks, has been updated to reflect “information on how Google generates these links”. That’s crap to say the least, because that Google Help page about Sitelinks, just states that they exist, are automatically generated and nothing more.


Although no official explanation except this very basic page is offered by Google, I will try and write down a few of my own ideas, about when and how to get these Sitelinks for your website. Whilst I can’t promise you guys that ALL of the procedures below are involved in the process of making Sitelinks appear for your website, I can definitely guarantee you that SOME are.


The above are true mainly because I have always (during months / years) tried 4 to 6 procedures at a time so I can’t really know which one had the most important contribution to the appearance of Sitelinks.

The number of links pointing to your website’s index page, using the several main keywords of your website as anchor. For example, for my blog, the two main keywords are “Cristian Mezei”, my name, and “SeoPedia” the name of my blog. Sitelinks appear only for a few main keywords, not for every keyword your website ranks for.The number of searches and SERP clicks for the main keywords I described above. you have to have a certain number of clicks for that keyword, to be able to reach a minimum requirement for the appearance of Sitelinks. This makes keywords which are not searched enough, to never have Sitelinks. Although some of my coleagues have mentioned that traffic has nothing to do or has everything to do with Sitelinks, I firmly believe that traffic for a particular keyword or keyphrase is very important.The number of indexed pages for the keyword you are targeting is also important. Please keep in mind that I am not discussing about the number of indexed pages for your website, but for the number of results shown in Google for that particular keyword.The age of the website is definitely an aspect when deciding how and when Sitelinks appear. As far as my tests go, and using a naturally and organically built website (no extensive or forced SEO), you can NOT have Sitelinks if the website is younger than 18-24 months, varying from case to case.You have to rank #1 for that particular keyword (and the ranking has to be stable) to be able to have any Sitelinks at all. This is very important and it has been proven true in 100% of times.

Whilst many other specialists and/or bloggers from the industry around the Internet have tried to help you figure out some ways to get Sitelinks, I will try to contradict them because some of those advices might not have a contribution to your effort, mainly because they are just too general and my experience says that they could be just loose-ends. Some of these advices might be:

Making your website W3C valid. This is not a bad thing, but I highly doubt that it will make your website more prone to get Sitelinks. A lot of people have reported building their website with erratic code from 1992, and still having Sitelinks.Having links from powerful websites. I doubt that this aspect will help you in getting Sitelinks at all. Have a look at how I see inbound links having an effect, above (in the Procedures section).Having a lot of links (generally). I doubt that having tens of thousands of any links will move you up to the ladder, regarding Sitelinks. Whilst links will help I have explained above (in the Procedures section), specifically, in what way they will help.Some advices were really something like : “Make the website useful” or “Add Meta tags”. Whilst these are surely helpful for any website, they may have nothing to do with your website getting Sitelinks.Having a very well designed navigation menu. There were websites which had erratic or very well designed navigation menus and links within the website and still they all got Sitelinks.Pagerank has nothing to do with Sitelinks. There are PR7 and PR2 websites that got Sitelinks.

Although I don’t want to contradict (I just did that, but well .. ) my fellow colleagues, the above are my personal opinions and I wanted to stress them out. The reason I didn’t named names is obvious.


And as the title of my post says, below you’ll get the FAQ section, where I tried to answer most, if not all the questions that poped up in the past year, from all kinds of readers or people:


Q: When are Sitelinks generated ? Is there some kind of Pagerank-alike update ?
A: I do want to stress out that about 4 of my websites got Sitelinks in exactly the same 1-2 day period, although the websites are very different one from another. One is 2 years old, another is 3,5. One has 1000 links, the other has 40.000 links. One is in the auto domain one is my blog. They are not linked in-between them. So all of this makes me think that there is some kind of general update of the Sitelinks, much like the updates for Pagerank, Inbound links or Google Images. Since QOT got their Sitelinks on exactly the same day (6th Feb.) as many of my other websites, I am positive that there is a general Sitelinks update.


Q: I can’t see any Sitelinks generated within my Sitemaps account, although they appear in Google!
A: Sitelinks take anywhere from 2 weeks to 1 month to appear within your Sitemaps account, after they first appeared in the SERPs. Then you will have better control over some of the links.


Q: Why doesn’t my very important “Clients” page get in the Sitelinks section ?
A: This may have to do with the fact that Sitelinks are usually generated from the first level links only. This means that if you have a page reachable by two clicks, it will never be included in the Sitelinks section. On rare occasions, deeplinks will be chosen, but I am not sure as to how these websites are chosen. Also make sure that you have pure HTML links. No Javascript or Flash.


Q: My website doesn’t have too much text links. Does this mean I’m doomed ?
A: Google will generate Sitelinks from image links too, as long as the image has the ALT tag. As other people have found too, it seems that the Sitelinks algorithm may chose a Sitelink even if you have no link towards it from your website, but in exchange, the page has a large number of links from other websites.


Q: What’s the point of having these stupid Sitelinks ?
A: One simple and huge reason: Trust and brand. Sitelinks have began to resemble trust lately in the eyes of the normal surfer (not to us SEMs, simply because we know there are heavily penalized websites who still got Sitelinks), so any website who has them is more prone to get clicks from the SERPs, from the search terms that show Sitelinks.


Q: What’s the minimum and maximum number of Sitelinks I’ll get ?
A: Minimum 2, maximum 8. Nevertheless I still can’t figure it out how Google assigns the number of Sitelinks to each website, except popularity. Most of my popular websites have 8. Most of my not-so-popular websites have 2 to 4.


Q: I don’t have a Google Sitemaps account. Will I still get Sitelinks ?
A: Definitely. The only drawback is that you will not have any control over them.


Q: How are the Sitelinks calculated ? Which links get in and which not ?
A: There are all kinds of opinions. After closely studying all my websites, I myself will still believe that they are chosen randomly. Not after traffic, not after inbound links. There’s an interesting thread at SEW which you might want to read to get some speculation.


Q: I have a page in the Sitelinks section that doesn’t exist anymore. What should I do ?
A: It appears that the crawl delay of the Sitelinks is at least one month. So if you have a page that doesn’t exist anymore, try to 301 redirect it to the new one. The Sitelinks will then work ok.


Q: In my Sitemaps account I can remove Sitelinks if I don’t like them ?
A: Indeed you can. But please be careful when you do that, because if you remove a Sitelink it will not get replaced by another. This means that if you had 6 Sitelinks, and you block one because it’s not appropiate, you will be left with 5 Sitelinks in the Google SERPs. The 6th one will not be replaced with a new Sitelinks.


The title is just a teaser for Vanessa. She’s had that Nude thing like forever :)


For you guys who don’t know Vanessa, she’s been the women who lead the Google Webmasters Central team until she moved to Zillow.


In this section I’ll analyze the post she made on her blog right after she left Google. I’m actually amazed to see how I can’t any reactions to this post, since IMHO it’s the most important post about Sitelinks ever. More important than what Google has released and certainly more important then I or my colleagues speculate, simply because she’s been involved in the process of releasing the Sitelinks. Block quotes are quotes from Vanessa’s post:



For instance, if I do a Google search for [duke’s chower house seattle], am I looking for directions? Hours? A menu? Google doesn’t know, so they offer up several suggestions. (Quality aside: a link to the menu shows up in the sitelinks, but if you do a search for [duke’s chowder house seattle menu], that same link doesn’t show up on the first page. In fact, no pages from the Duke’s site show up.)


Basically, what Vanessa is telling us is that Sitelinks will NEVER appear for specific search terms. So that’s why we get Sitelinks for “Computers” or “Cristian Mezei” or “HP” or generally, company names as well as very general industry terms.



Google autogenerates the list of sitelinks at least in part from internal links from the home page. You’ll notice in the Duke’s example that one of the sitelinks is “five great locations” which also appears as primary navigation on the Duke’s home page. If you want to influence the sitelinks that appear for your site, make sure that your home page includes the links you want and that those links are easy to crawl (in HTML rather than Flash or Javascript, for instance) and have short anchor text that’ll fit in a sitelinks listing. They’ll also have to be relevant links. You can’t just put your Buy Cheap Viagra now link on the home page of your elementary school site and hope for the best.


In the above, Vanessa confirms me what I already told you in the FAQ section above. Sitelinks will be chosen from links present in the homepage only. I still firmly believe that some websites have Sitelinks from deeplinks within the website. How and when these websites are chosen, is still a mystery.


One more important thing we learn is that Sitelinks are chosen from relevant links in the homepage. Instead of repeating what Vanessa said about relevance, read the above quote.


There is a lot of other useful information inside Vanessa’s post, but since I already tackled those points in my previous sections, I left them aside.


I asked a colleague of mine involved in SEM too, what he thinks about Sitemaps. I thought to put his answer here as well:



Marius Mailat
www.submitsuite.com


Cristian asked me about my opinion regarding Sitelinks. Breaking this question in small parts, here are my thoughts.


The sitelink option in the Google results are similar with the siteinfo.xml provided for the Alexa toolbar, a simple option for a webmaster to provide most important direct links to his website structure. Google version of Siteinfo is different because you cannot specify WHICH link in your website is a Sitelink. You can only ask remove one link from the Sitelinks (Google Webmaster panel option).


Why are the Sitelinks appearing, when and under which algorithm? The algorithm used is totally automated and is taking in consideration the following criteria’s:

Old powerful website.The sitelinks are pages which are coming on first position in SERPs.The sitelinks are most of the time associated with top results related words: “domain”, “domain download”, “domain demo” etc.The sitelinks are probably not influenced by PageRank.

Have fun with Sitelinks. If you have any questions, suggestions or rectifications, write a comment.

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