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.

Procedures which may be involved in the appearance of Sitelinks:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Misleading advices about Google Sitelinks

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:

Google Sitelinks: The FAQ

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.

Vanessa Fox Nude forgotten all important post

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.

Other opinions about Sitelinks

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

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.

Other very useful locations on the web for Sitelinks

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

Published by

Cristian Mezei

I am myself.

35 thoughts on “Google Sitelinks: The Ultimate FAQ”

  1. Thank you for sharing. It is a bit discouraging to hear about this possible handicap for new domains. 18-24 months is a long time. I will keep doing all the other things I need to to for the next year and see how things pan out.

  2. Good wrap-up thank you. However, I disagree with #4 which states you can’t get sitelinks on younger domains. Couple of weeks ago sitelinks appeared on 4 months old domain. I don’t think there is any age factor for sitelinks – only trust factor. If you get enough trust – you get sitelinks sooner.

  3. For the FAQ:

    Does an XML sitemap with good priorities (1.0 for frontpage, 0.8 for section frontpages, etc) have any influence?

    Thanks for at good post!

  4. As for the time period – we have a website which has sitelinks and it’s just just over a year old. The sitelinks appeared only recently though. And google is doing a very good job on detecting them. I suppose subdomain division of several parts helped – as one part of the website grew a lot, we dedicated a separate subdomain for it.

  5. Janusz, for the books, can you state the domain please ? I’m very interested to bust the age myth.

    Ulstrup, I haven’t tested the importance of the sitemap prorities, but I doubt that that’s something to count. PS: Say hi to Mikkel from me.

  6. Hi and thanks for the mention. Much appreciated.

    However, I have to clarify the point you’re making, which doesn’t at all reflect what I said:

    “The volume of web traffic — neither websites are getting more than 300 visits per day.”

    That’s overall traffic, which is totally different to the traffic for the word part of the domain name — which is important and does massively affect whether a website gets Sitelinks or not.

    With regards to the two websites I mention in my article, both are enjoying a great deal of organic traffic to where the the key phrases either match or are very close to the word parts of the domain name.

    I hope that helps clarify things.

    Speak soon…

  7. Brilliant article..I was always wondering how those sitelinks appear below the result in Google serps and many of the myths I had so far are cleared. Bookmarked!

  8. Wicked summary on site links bro. Something I have been seeing a lot of on clients sites but haven’t had the time to research yet, cheers for this.

  9. Wayne, you’re right! It’s not about total traffic. It’s about traffic and clicks for the right keywords.

    Out of the 300/day 50 or 100 could be for the website’s name.

  10. Hi Cristian, I’m actually writing a follow-up to my Sitelinks article, clarifying this point, which I’ll also add into the original article, too.

    Glad we got that sorted out!

    Speak soon…

  11. On rare occasions, deeplinks will be chosen, but I am not sure as to how these websites are chosen.

    I have seen some sites I work with get deep links – ususally these are very dynamic pages with content changing frequently – maybe thats a factor? Especially since these pages have no inbound links, but are well linked internally.

    Some other internal pages I have seen are pages that were popular and drive a lot of traffic via natural search anyway.

  12. Could just be Rishil. But what we are all interested in is breaking that little point and figuring out a test to try and extract accurate results as to how to get them (deeplinks within Sitelinks).

  13. Q: I have a client site that meets all those criteria but still they stay neglected. Running vB and it’s all good. Nothing generated from RSS, they have a bustling community.

    However there is a competitor with AdWords ads on the Google results and they actively target a number of keywords including the site’s name. They’re the only ad that sits there. Could that be a stumbling block?

  14. @Sarah – Adwords (according to google) should have no bearing on the natural search results whatsoever.

    Q: Does your clients site appear in the no.1 position for the core set of keywords (and brand name), and have had this position consistently?

    Point to note: If your competitor is targetting your clients site via adwords, try to get them to trademark the name of their site and then submit it to google – this should stop anyone from using the sites name as a keyword on adwords.

  15. Yes, they get a consistent #1 spot.

    The competitor is an interesting case. They are also an advertiser but at the same time are in litigation to get content removed from the forum. It’s a wonderful world on the web!

  16. This was a subject I never paid much attention to. After reading your post and then looking at my Webmaster, I realize I better learn more. Thanks for the valuable resources you’ve listed on the subject.

  17. Nice job, Christian.

    Just a quick note: You wrote “On rare occasions, deeplinks will be chosen” but I have seen many websites, including my clients’ sites, that have deep link sitelinks.

    At this point, I would argue that it’s a matter of differentiation between pages (on-site) and the linking (internal and in-bound) that determines which ones will be displayed. The key would be to figure out what combination works best for a specific website.

  18. Now I see that the description it’s changed! The description where sitelinks appear is taken from dmoz database, not the description which appears on a regular search. We might also take this into account when we’re thinking about sitelinks.

  19. Great post.
    I was wondering about those links. Seems like the only sites I see with them are the BIG boys like mozilla, microsoft, etc….

    I guess if we put enough work in we can get a few ourselves…..maybe just a little too much work for me ;)

    I’ll stick with working on the long tails and the front page…..

    Very informative post!

  20. Christian-
    cool post. I have a site that hasn’t been up quite a year yet-maybe 8-9 mos, and I’ve got the Sitelinks. I have very few incoming links(probably less than 10), but I do have a unique keyword phrase with a URL that matches. type in garcia plus weight plus loss in google and you should see it at #1. the url is all of those together.

    80-90% of traffic comes from those exact search terms as they are also running tv ads and placing the domain name on the screen at the end.

    The site does get a decent amount of traffic-around 3,000 visitors a month-which might be enough to set it off. The only thing I can think of is I’ve installed analytics and it’s registered with google webmaster.

    I think navigation structure probably has something to with it as well-one of the pages that isn’t included on the Sitelink is one that also doesn’t appear in the main navigation but as a text link on one of the inner pages. However, that page receives about the same amount of traffic as the other pages.

    Still, it’s pretty cool to finally get them. Even if I have no idea how they got there.

  21. In fact sitelinks (at leat in WMtools appear to sites less than 1 year.My european directory site have 5 sitelinks in WMtools for 2 weeks now but i cant find the keyphrase that make them appear.Why google doesnt also include in WMtools the keyphrase/s that sitelinks appear when u search???

  22. I disagree with your 4th and 5th points(of an otherwise excellent post)

    I have built a blog(and that on a blogspot domain) that has had sitelinks generated within 8 months. No SEO done at all but i the main keyword is a popular one and i do rank consistently number 1 on that.

    Now about the 5th point, again not necessary, for another website of mine, the links generated as sitelinks and the related keywords of the same, none are actually #1, actually some aren’t even on the first page. Infact my understanding based on 5 of my websites that have sitelinks is that google generates sitelinks for areas that get the most visits to your site and are the main sections. So your points 1,2,3 are all valid and correct.

    Personally i think its a combination of all you have mentioned that plays a role.

  23. thanks for writing this post. Site links are great, they add a lot of value to a website.when people see a website with site links in search engines,they are already convinced about the quality of that website.

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