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Not so pretty, but pretty useful – Google Expanded Organic Sitelinks

Posted on Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, News, SEO

Google’s Expanded Organic Sitelinks

Google has included sitelinks in its organic search results for some time.  And after making several small tweaks to the content and layout, Google has made a fairly dramatic change which should be a big win for brand advertisers.

Google  expanded the organic sitelinks to include full-size links, Display URL and a one line description.  Google has also increased the number of organic sitelinks from 8 to 12.   Here is an example based on a search for {REI}:

A big +1 for brands

Granted, this isn’t the prettiest feature implementation ever to grace a Google SERP, but it will enable brands and companies with well-optimized sites to further dominate the results pages for their brand terms by pushing negative reviews, affiliates, and competitors further down the page.  With this move Google both underscores their understanding of user intent in brand searches and rewards marketers that follow SEO best practices.

Take advantage of expanded sitelinks

With a few small tweaks, search marketers can significantly increase their organic clickthrough rate (CTR) on brand terms.  Here are some technical improvements you can work on today to leverage the full value of expanded organic sitelinks:

Continue to create the conditions for sitelinks to exist

  • Follow SEO best practices to build a clean site structure and work to build the authority of your top verticals or content silos.  If you need assistance, dial this # 310-582-5700
  • Keep in mind – with this new sitelink layout, having clean URL directory and file naming conventions could end up increasing CTR.  We will have to wait and see of course, but, given how front & center the display URLs are now, it’s a good bet that cleaner (as usual) is better.

Good quality URL naming convention

Poor quality URL naming convention

Continue to review your sitelinks

  • Set aside some time to review your top organic traffic driving keywords and brand terms
  • Strategically use Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) to demote sitelinks you prefer not to appear.  Demotion is a new feature added to GWT with this update – gone is the ability to block a sitelink with 100% certainty.
  • If you had previously blocked sitelinks in your GWT account, Google has stated that those will be converted to demotions.  I can tell you from looking through several client and personal websites, some previously blocked sitelinks are now appearing in the SERPs — a demotion definitely does not mean a confirmed block.

Optimization Opportunities – Meta Data / Titles / Anchor Text

  • With this new sitelink design, keep in mind that Google might take some portions of your existing title and meta description data from the sitelink page to generate these listings.  The key takeaway here though, is that space is limited.  It’s a little early – but here’s two things you can test.
  • Meta Descriptions: Re-evaluate your meta-descriptions on your sitelink pages.  The “descriptions” appearing for sitelinks now appear to be about 30 characters in length.   Tweaking some of these page’s meta descriptions might yield better looking sitelink.  Of course, cutting down the description of your top selling product to 30 characters might not easy, but if you don’t try, Google’s going to try for you  :)
  • Title Tags: Same goes for title tags.  Character count here looks to be around 20 – so spend some time performing tests on a few sitelink page titles to see if you can optimize what Google’s choosing.  Some of your changes might be picked up and the result might be better sitelink CTR.
  • Internal Anchor Text: Consider adjusting internal anchor text pointing to your sitelink pages.  If Google’s not choosing meta data to help populate these elements, internal anchor text is a potential source.


Sync your paid media sitelinks with organic sitelinks

  • Along with the 12 expanded sitelinks in your organic results, Google allows advertisers to include up to 6 sitelinks in your PPC ads.  With 18 potential sitelinks now showing on brand keywords, managing your PPC and SEO holistically becomes even more important.
  • Test what works best for your brand and consider including special offers or promotions in your PPC ad sitelinks, and upper-funnel navigation and corporate information under the organic results.  Here’s a good example on a search for {apple}:

In Closing

Google has been testing this new feature since August 5, but made it official with today’s announcement and intends to roll it out globally over the coming days.  Check back with The Search Agents for more insight into expanded organic sitelinks.  In the meantime, add to the discussion and let us know what you think of Google’s latest change and how it may impact organic search on brand terms.



I’ve been thinking… maybe you should remove the domain from the Display URL.




Why this makes sense:

User Perspective:

  • Removing the domain shouldn’t be an issue for user confusion; these are “site” links, right?
  • Displaying a cleaner URL fragment would reinforce trust that the description of the sitelink indeed matches the URL of the page
  • The current design wastes character count, in some cases, on long domain names and most characters are … ellipse’d anyway

Bad Google!

Web Development Perspective

  • This could really put a spotlight on making good choices on naming conventions for URLs and site structures.  To a small extent, it could encourage developers to get in the habit of using shorter and cleaner naming conventions, because longer more convoluted URLs won’t display properly in this new layout and again are … ellipse’d anyway
  • SEO’s can always use another reason for touting the righteousness of clean URLs!

As usual — have your people call my people.


About Mark Fillmore

Mark Fillmore is a Group Account Director at The Search Agency. His past experience includes owning and operating several successful Internet start-ups including ConcertTickets.com, which was recently acquired by a private company. He has worked in the SEO field for over 8 years, with his primary focus being Website Development, Architecture and Strategy. Mark also has broad IT management experience running teams of developers and designers while filling the role of Director of Website Development for a Los Angeles marketing company and a Wireless Software design company.

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2 Responses to “Not so pretty, but pretty useful – Google Expanded Organic Sitelinks”

  1. Great article, Mark.

    Google continues to push & support brands, I’d be interested to see how (and if) this evolves for non brand queries and how this changes the SERP to something more “robust”

    In chatting with a client today, it did occur to me that this move also drives competitors to Adwords because organic position #2 essentially becomes worthless on brand searches, where competitors used to have a chance of a click if their title / snippets inspired the click.

    I like your suggestion of omitting the domain from site links display URLs, it’s an obvious improvement to the “ugly”, I’ll be sure to say “it was Marks idea” when Google makes the change.



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