Google Mega Sitelinks: What You Should Know.

Background
Recently Google began testing a new format for sitelinks as presented in its branded search results. This new design shows the same extended listings of sitelinks with which we are all familiar, but Google is now also presenting searchers with tabs of additional sitelinks, dramatically expanding results for branded search well beyond its original 10 blue links, as well as Google’s current iteration of presenting 7 blue links.

While some industry experts have dubbed the expended user interface “mega sitelinks,” the new tabular format is designed to offer searchers even more relevant options, and also provides quicker access to what Google algorithmically determines to be the most popular portions of complex, branded websites.

Previously, sitelinks consisted of approximately 5-7 links delineating what Google determine to be the most popular or most useful pages of a large branded website. With the new “mega tabular sitelinks,” there are around 5-8 different tabs presented to searchers, which include several more sitelinks to specific parts of the site.

With this new tabular layout there could be as many as 64-70 different links to various pages of a large website, which could not only have a big impact on how people search in Google, but also directly influence patterns for shifting search referred traffic and related conversions.


The new layout appears similar to the previous layout. However, the additional tabs offer many more navigational options to users as more pages become visible to searchers. The Top Links tab includes the 6 sitelinks; in most cases match the standard layout example. However, the sitelinks listed not always perfectly match with the new tabular interface, as shown in the above example.

The new tabs go a bit deeper into a website to provide additional links for some of the sitelinks that appear in the top links tab. For Apple, each tab includes six additional links. Please note that Google can display as many as none sitelinks under each tabbed listing.

Similar to the way Google includes sitelinks in its standard layout, Google continues to emphasize that its systems analyze the link structure of a site to find shortcuts, that will save users time, and allow them to quickly find the information they’re looking for. Google’s own Maile Ohye has spoken about sitelink selection in her blog, specifically addressing how internal links from within a website influence the sitelinks presented to searchers.

“At the moment, sitelinks are completely automated. We’re always working to improve our sitelinks algorithms, and we may incorporate webmaster input in the future. There are best practices you can follow, however, to improve the quality of your sitelinks. For example, for your site’s internal links, make sure you use anchor text and alt text that’s informative, compact, and avoids repetition. — Maile Ohye

Actionable Insights:
Will this Google update impact brand searches in terms of click through rates (CTRs), visitor volume, pages viewed, and potential conversions for brands? It’s too early to tell since this feature is not yet wholly available for all Google users and sites. A few potential implications include, but are not limited to:

  • Deep pages may be more visible. As there is the potential to have up to 9 sitelinks per tab, these links could increase the number of entry points into a website. As a result there may be an additional need to focus on ensuring the pages included in sitelinks provide an optimal user experience for searchers in order to ensure the sitelinks produce the desired results.
  • Improved user experience for branded search. The ability to provide searchers with more relevant information much quicker could affect the time spent on site and the number of average pages viewed by searchers.
  • Increased search visibility for branded search. The new tabular format offers users several navigational options, making it less likely searchers will click on an alternative search results.
  • Click-through from sitelinks may increase. The new tabular layout offers significantly more options for searchers which may increase CTR for organic, branded traffic.
  • Increased conversions from brand traffic. With the increased number of sitelinks and pages available to searchers, tabbed sitelinks could increase the amount of branded traffic referrals.
  • Snapshot of a site’s services. Tabs and sitelinks will provide searchers with considerable insight into a site’s content, products and service offerings. This could affect a website in a number of ways, but the top three are:
  1. Increase in the quality of search traffic, as searchers may choose not to visit the site at all, which would reduce bounce rates.
  2. Decrease search referred traffic if the tabular sitelinks do not provide what the searcher is looking to find.
  3. Decrease traffic to content not listed in the tabular sitelink presentation.
  • Average time on site may decrease. Searchers visiting a site directly from a sitelink are more likely to browse fewer pages as many of them will land directly on the page that matches their search query.
  • Metrics and analytics affected. As with all major search engine updates, it may be challenging for some reporting tools to capture the essence of “first page visibility” as it relates sitelinks listed in all the tabbed content. Additionally, “keyword not provided” queries could increase beyond current rates if users lust be logged in to Google to receive the tabbed user interface for branded search results.
  • Usability and conversion optimization. May need to redefine the various user paths available via the sitelinks, as some may not offer searchers with the desired path to the desired result.
  • Need for microsites fade. With the advent of more sitelinks, the idea of leveraging big brands microsites to pick up referrals for highly targeted keywords is nominalized, as the sum of the site is truly greater than its parts.
  • Sitelink editing is nominalized. With more options for direct access to additional sections of content the need to remove specific sitelinks become largely ostensible.

Summary
Overall, the new tabular sitelinks will be beneficial for websites as long as popular and relevant sections appear within the listings. Tabbed sitelinks will provide much faster routes to content that sits deeper within the site. In addition, sitelinked pages may now play a larger role in driving conversions as relevancy is enhanced by visibility.

As mentioned, Google is testing this new feature, but has not released a formal statement indicating if this new feature will be rolled out for everyone, and if so, the timing. However, we feel the addition of tabular sitelinks promotes a positive experience for brands and searchers alike. Our assumption is that Google will roll out tabular sitelinks for all brands and searchers in the very near future.

References
Search Engine Roundtable: Google Officially Testing Tabbed Sitelinks
Google Webmaster Central Blog: Importance of link architecture
Google Webmaster Tools Help: Sitelinks