For those who don’t know, sitelinks are sublinks under the main result link for a website in the search results. These sitelinks tend to point to main category pages and, in theory, make your listing stand out and increase click through rates. They take up more search engine result page (SERP) real-estate. Who doesn’t want that?
You may see full sitelinks (these are more common for specific brand searches):
Or one-line sitelinks (tend to be from more descriptive searches):
Sitelinks’ value is from serving up additional relevant, popular sub pages for your site to searchers. They are usually triggered by direct brand searches or very closely related keywords.
People often ask us how to force Google to display sitelinks for a particular website. Unfortunately there is no guaranteed way to make these links show up for your website. They are automated, with a several undisclosed factors taken into account when Google chooses to display them. Sometimes they seem to appear for sites with no rhyme or reason.
However, there are a few things we recommend doing now now to increase your chances of having Google display these links in natural search. Remember that these are educated guesses based on our experience. Your mileage may vary.
1) Have a clean navigation structure. You want to keep your site as organized as possible without going overboard on subcategories and navigation items. Remember, the more categories you have, the more likely your link building and traffic as a whole are going to be spread out. Google’s understanding of the relationship of pages may be diluted. Keep it simple and clean, and make sure you’re focusing on an architecture for users. Make it as easy as possible to find what users are looking for on your site, and you’ll have better shot at convincing Google that sitelinks should be displayed. There is some thought that the usability of your site, and your searchers habits could lead to the gift of sitelinks.
2) Make sure your site is easy to crawl. Look in webmaster tool for any crawling errors and fix them. Make sure your navigation isn’t hidden behind a scripting language and that Google can easily follow the links.
3) Keep internal linking in mind. Link from subcategories back up the tree to parent categories where appropriate. This will not only help users find what they’re looking for but also help Google to realize what categories are the most valuable on the site.
4) Traffic possibly plays a role in this. If all your traffic is coming to the homepage, Google may consider that as the only truly valuable page on the site. Make sure that all your pages have unique title elements, descriptions and solid onsite content to help funnel traffic to them. It won’t matter if a category page is ranking on page 1 for a great term if nobody clicks on it because your title tag is weak. Not only will this help click throughs but it’ll help you rank higher too.
5) Finally, make sure your site is truly useful. You’re never going to get sitelinks if Google recognizes your site is just plain useless to the end user. If visitors are bouncing right off your site, or never even landing on it to begin with, why should Google enhance your listing at all? You just aren’t the type of website they want in their search results.
We’ve seen sitelinks come to sites where we focused the flow of traffic, the internal linking structure, and we made the topic of each page clear. The more readable and specific we made each main page, the more Google seemed to comprehend and trust it. With this seemed to come sitelinks.
It should be noted that while you can’t specify sitelinks in Webmaster Tools, you CAN tell Google what pages you never want to see displayed as sitelinks.
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Google has been saying for a long time that they will start taking webmaster feedback into account when picking sitelinks. I wouldn’t hold your breath on this and start focusing on making some positive changes to your site. If the sitelinks come, wonderful. If they don’t, at least you have an optimized site that is likely to rank better, serve users better, and hopefully make you more money.