Getting Ready to Chase Google Sitelinks
Sitelinks have been around for over 10 years, helping users navigate to important sections of a website right from the SERP. You’ve surely seen sitelinks before—they appear below the Google search result and point to specific sections of the same page or to different pages of the website and can take up to 90% of above-the-fold screen space.
But sitelinks didn’t always occupy the lion’s share of the screen. Back in 2009, they looked like a plain list of blue links with no page description, so getting some was nice but not game-changing.
Now, a decade later, with tons of SERP features dragging users’ attention away from organic search results, getting up to six additional attention-hogging links is a true luxury. Sitelinks also help users discover deeply nested web pages that they could have failed to spot otherwise. So, if you’re wondering just what it takes to get this premium SERP real estate, keep reading to find the answer.
Different types of sitelinks
There are many types of sitelinks, all with different shapes and sizes. Naturally, not all of them are the lucrative two-column six-pack. But don’t relent because having a variety of sitelink types actually increases your chances of getting them.
As the name suggests, paid sitelinks, also known as sitelink extensions, are the additional links placed below the main URL on search ads. The main feature of this type of sitelink is that you get complete control over them in SERPs. By customizing the text and URL in paid sitelinks, you can direct users to the most relevant pages within your website. In other words, these links don’t depend on Google’s algorithms or the content you produce. This differentiates them from organic sitelinks.
Lately, Google has been testing many variations of designs and layouts for paid sitelinks. With new updates implemented in February 2022, it started showing really large sitelinks for some Google search ads in the mobile search results.
Organic sitelinks, then, are generated by Google itself through automated algorithms, which means that you can’t edit or change them as you see fit. Google only shows sitelinks when it considers them to be useful to the user. Still, there are a number of factors that can influence whether sitelinks appear in SERPs:
- Site structure. In many cases, Google creates sitelinks from the items in your menu. So, plan a simple and easy-to-follow website structure to increase your chances of getting organic sitelinks.
- Internal links. By ensuring that the anchor text of your internal links is clear, informative, and relevant to the page they’re pointing to, you can also gain organic sitelinks.
- Noindex. Keep in mind that web pages marked with “noindex” do not appear in sitelinks.
Currently, six is the maximum number of sitelinks Google shows, but it may decide that four links is enough.
The search giant may even grant your website only two sitelinks and call it a day.
Intermittent scenarios where Google shows five or three sitelinks below the search snippet are also possible.
In October 2022, Google started testing a clock/timer type of icon on the sitelinks that you previously visited in the SERPs.
Alternatively, if you’ve already clicked on a certain sitelink in the SERPs, it can be highlighted in a different color.
Since November 2022, Google has been testing another sitelink feature in terms of its design. This new variation of sitelinks is based on boxed tabs with different-sized formats for a single snippet. Take a look at the screenshot below for an example of this design:
When it comes to different types of sitelinks, most search results presently feature no more than four one-column additional links with or without a search box. The search box allows users to look for other materials that the site at hand offers directly in the SERP. Big brands with large websites hosting loads of content such as Pinterest, TripAdvisor, Capterra or UNICEF often feature a search box followed by six sitelinks. But it’s also possible for a search snippet to only have two sitelinks and a search box.
By default, sitelink search boxes are powered by Google, so the search engine itself will help you find relevant results with its search operators. Once you run a search and hit enter, Google will display another SERP with relevant search results from that website.
At the same time, Google’s sitelinks search box allows websites to drive people who use the feature directly to their websites rather than another search page. To make this possible, provide structured data for the search box by implementing the Search Action Schema markup on your homepage. Another condition for using this feature is that your website should be powered by an internal search engine. Once you have everything set up, the default Results from [site name] prompt in the search window will be replaced by Search [site name]. This will mean that the sitelinks search box is now powered by the website’s internal search engine.
Now, in addition to two-column sitelinks with or without a search box, there’s one more type called one-line sitelinks. These are the younger siblings of the “classic” sitelink, and as it’s clear from the name, they occupy only one line. Google shows no more than four one-line sitelinks per search result, so even long page names will fit on a single line.
Still, in the SERPS, search engines usually cut off or rewrite excessively long title tags and sitelinks. While Google won’t penalize you for that, it’s worth optimizing them in advance to prevent an awkward piece of text from being displayed in search results.
One-line sitelinks basically serve the same purpose as other sitelink types in that they make it easier for users to navigate deeper into any website right from the SERP. As Google itself noted when launching this new sitelink type back in 2009, they bring “many of the same benefits as the full two-column sitelinks, but on a smaller scale”. In fact, some big brands like Pepsi or NBA show one-line sitelinks and not full-fledged two column ones under their brand queries.
It’s still worth noting that with every new Google update, two-column and one-line sitelinks become less and less frequent in SERPs. So don’t be surprised when a search result that used to feature six sitelinks in a two-column, vertical format starts displaying no more than four sitelinks in a one-column way.
Mobile vs desktop SERP sitelinks
At the same time, there is a difference between sitelinks displayed on mobile and desktop search. On mobile, there can be up to six sitelinks, even if the desktop snippet for the same website has less sitelinks. For instance, as you can see on the screenshot below, desktop search results for the “asos” query includes four sitelinks under the main link.
For the mobile SERP of the same keyword, you can see six sitelinks under the web result.
Unlike desktop sitelinks, mobile ones don’t have descriptions. For example, take a look at the desktop search result for Walmart.
Each of its sitelinks: Clothing, All Departments, Groceries & Essential, and Walmart Inc., features a short description. Simultaneously, in mobile search, the same sitelinks for the same web result do not display any descriptions.
Okay, that’s it for the different types of sitelinks. Now, let’s see how full-fledged sitelinks differ from their one-line counterparts.
Two-column vs one-line sitelinks
The most prominent difference between “classic” and one-line sitelinks is their visual aspect. Two-column sitelinks dominate the SERP, especially if there are six of them and if they come with a search box. One-line sitelinks, on the contrary, look rather modest.
At the same time, one-line sitelinks are more widespread and easier to get because they aren’t space-hoggers like classic sitelinks. So there can be only one set of classic sitelinks per search query, but you can see several sets of one-line sitelinks per SERP.
Another difference is the kind of queries and the type of web pages that get organic sitelinks. Column sitelinks only appear under brand queries and the page featured in the search snippet in most cases is the homepage. For a while, the only possible scenario was the following: a person Googles a brand’s name and Google shows the top search result, which featured the searched brand’s homepage accompanied with sitelinks to other major web pages. But then, as Google’s algorithms got smarter and began showing different sets of sitelinks for different queries, pages other than the homepage also started getting sitelinks.
So if you start your search with queries like “Buzzfeed quizzes” or “SE Ranking blog,” the search results you get will point to the website category of your interest. It will also point to a set of sitelinks that take you to different subcategories and/or popular web pages belonging to that category.
It’s now quite common for reputable websites to get Google sitelinks under non-homepage search snippets, but it’s worth noting that the search query still needs to include the brand name for sitelinks to appear.
Unlike full-fledged Google sitelinks, one-line sitelinks are not limited to brand queries. They can also appear below homepages, category pages, blog URLs, and even individual posts.
The example above shows a review page with three one-line sitelinks leading to the website’s most popular posts. And while the search query does mention the brand, it’s not the brand of the website that got the sitelinks.
The final difference between “classic” and one-line sitelinks is that the latter can link to other website pages as well as to different parts of the same page. If you take a look at the two sets of Google sitelinks below, you’ll notice that they look rather similar. But they actually work in two different ways.
For the first search result, the sitelinks lead users to other relevant pages across the website—just like all sitelinks do. However, the second result’s sitelinks are different. Technically, they aren’t even sitelinks because they point to multiple sections of a single guide and not to a site page. These links, also known as in-page links or jump links, make it easier for users to quickly jump to parts of articles that they’re interested in.
Google, by the way, launched scroll-to-text sitelinks for organic listings in April 2022. Thanks to this update, users can now click a link in Google’s search results and be transferred directly to an important piece of text on a certain webpage.
Sitelink gains and pains
So, how can sitelinks benefit your business online, you ask? Now that we’ve covered the various types of sitelinks, let’s look at some reasons why you should care about them in the first place.
- Both the two-column and one-line sitelink types help users spot web pages that they could have missed otherwise (like a really popular blog post or a website category they had no clue about). Sitelinks direct traffic from your homepage to potentially underserved areas of your website, enhancing your users’ brand and product awareness.
- Sitelinks, especially two-column ones, boost your CTR SEO performance. They push your SERP competitors farther down the screen or even completely out of sight.
Surely, in terms of branded searches, users should be eager to visit your website and not that of your competitors. But sitelinks do an even greater job at encouraging users to choose your website over competing results. One-line sitelinks are obviously not as good at dragging users’ attention away from other search results, but they still help your website stand out just like other rich snippet elements like ratings, prices, etc.
- Because sitelinks provide users with so many options, the chance that users will find what they need increases significantly. This means that the bounce rate will decrease because users won’t leave your site to find information on other resources. This benefit applies to all sitelink types as well as in-page links. Users won’t have to endlessly scroll down your web page to find what they’re looking for. Instead of getting frustrated and leaving, they can jump right to the section they are interested in.
So, as you can see, it’s nice to have different types of sitelinks around, regardless of their shape. The only problem is, they are beyond the webmaster’s control and it can be difficult to influence sitelinks until they are paid. Sitelinks can appear (or not) automatically depending on what Google believes is best for users. And once sitelinks appear, you can’t get rid of the ones you don’t like because Google removed the sitelink demotion feature from GSC back in 2016. The only option available is to deindex the page altogether using a noindex robots meta tag.
We get that not having control over your sitelinks can be somewhat disturbing. After all, once a page gets featured in your sitelinks and starts getting traffic that would otherwise go to your homepage, it de facto becomes a landing page. So keep this in mind, and try to fine-tune all of the web pages featured in the sitelinks so that they can best represent your brand and product.
Getting two-column sitelinks
Finally, let’s discuss the part you’ve been looking forward to the most—getting sitelinks to show up below your search results. Even though two-column sitelinks are restricted to brand queries, they still seem to be more lucrative due to their space-hogging nature. Let’s discuss two-column sitelinks first.
So, how do you influence sitelinks? These sitelink types only appear under brand searches and always show up beneath the first search result, so you need to rank #1 for your own brand name. You also need to rank #1 for queries like [brand name] + blog/website category. Most websites won’t run into any issues here, but some problems may arise if a website name is not unique.
To easily track your Google website rankings for brand terms (and all other queries as well), you can use SE Ranking’s Keyword Rank Tracker tool. It will notify you if your website ranks number one for its brand name. It will also notify you if you received a sitelink as soon as you got it—the respective icon under the SERP Features column will be highlighted in blue.
To find out which pages Google is displaying in the sitelinks, click the latest ranking position of your brand keyword to view the cached SERP copy (your search result with all the sitelinks will appear at the top).
Now, let’s see what Google has to say about other conditions for getting sitelinks. Google Search Central’s help article on sitelinks, for example, says that in order for sitelinks to show up, they need to be “useful to the user”. Also, the site structure needs to “allow our [Google] algorithms to find good sitelinks”.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
So, what makes sitelinks useful? Or rather, what kind of links does Google consider to be useful? If you take a look at sitelinks displayed under homepage search snippets, you’ll see lots of Contact Us and About pages—pages users often visit to get acquainted with brands.
You’ll often spot links to a website’s most popular category pages, product pages, and even blog posts. The homepage doesn’t even need to link out to a lower-level page for it to appear in sitelinks. If a web page gets a lot of visitors and they love it, it may be featured among the sitelinks. In the example below, the sitelink leads to a subcategory of a culinary blog.
The Chicken Recipes category cannot be found is not in the header/footer menus of the website. You actually need to pick the Ingredient category from the drop-down menu in the header and then click a few more times to get to the page. But as it’s fairly popular among users, Google included it in the sitelinks.
Also, sitelink lists aren’t static. Pages that get the most exposure are the ones users visit the most at any given period of time. So if some events relative to a distinct topic spark users’ interest, any relevant pages on your website will soon appear in your sitelinks. This constantly happens to Apple’s website. Its sitelinks now feature two pages dedicated to the iPhone 14. This surely wasn’t the case several years ago.
Google, therefore, seems to believe that pages that present your brand (About Us and Contact pages) are the most useful ones along with your most popular pages. Here’s how to make your website pages worthy in the eyes of Google:
- Add Schema markup to your About Us and Contact pages: This will help Google properly interpret their page type. Adding Schema markup to your product pages or blog posts also won’t hurt.
- Produce more engaging content and drive traffic to it. Chances are, you’re working on this already. This is what SEO and marketing is all about after all, so if you haven’t yet acquired your organic sitelinks, keep calm knowing that you are headed in the right direction.
In order for Google to start displaying your useful sitelinks, it needs to find them first. A clear-cut website structure is another essential condition of getting sitelinks, so your website pages should be grouped in categories, subcategories, etc. This is exactly how Serious Eats set up their website. Their Chicken recipes page, for example, lives under Home-Recipes-Ingredient-Meat&Poultry. It’s logical and simple.
To help Google crawl your website by moving between pages, use internal linking. Your useful sitelinks need to have other pages pointing to them to be found. Some experts also claim that pages with lots of internal links pointing to them have a better chance of appearing in sitelinks because they let Google know that the page is important. Since sitelink algorithms seem to be user-centric, the number of internal links that a page has doesn’t matter as much as its user engagement metric..
Amount of traffic
Maybe you’re doing everything right. You have a perfect website structure, a thought-out internal linking, all the proper Schema markups, and some popular web pages. However, two-column sitelinks still won’t show up. Instead, you’re getting a single line of organic sitelinks beneath your homepage. Why, then, would Google grant some websites proper two-column sitelinks and ignore all the hard work of others? Maybe the amount of traffic is to blame.
Many SEO specialists believe that the more traffic a website gets, the greater its chances of getting a search box. The same rule applies to two-column sitelinks in general. Your website’s pages need to get plenty of visitors before Google can decide if they are worth all that precious SERP real estate.
Placing sitelinks beneath your website means that users might not see other SERP results below, so these sitelinks need to bring more combined value to users than all of the other search results in the top ten. Having lots of visitors seems to be a convincing value metric in the eyes of Google. This means that if lots of people already like the pages, it’s likely that others also will.
Getting one-line sitelinks
If for now you only have one-line sitelink beneath your search snippets, this is also a good result. Though not as prominent as two-columns ones, one-line sitelinks still increase the visibility of your internal pages. And while not every single search result comes with one-line sitelinks, they still help your pages stand out. Besides, one-lines are not limited to brand queries, so you can easily get dozens of them.
The preconditions for getting one-line sitelinks to different pages of your website are the same as for regular sitelinks, so useful content that’s popular with users as well as a good internal linking strategy should help. No extra actions are required. But, as was mentioned before, there’s another type of one-line sitelink with links pointing to different sections of a single page.
Here’s where you can follow Google recommendations to improve your chances of getting in-page links below your search snippets:
- Whenever you create a long piece of content, make sure it is well-structured and divided logically into sections.
- Mark every section with a heading that clearly indicates which topic/issue the section covers. Try to keep the headings short because excessively long section names won’t fit into one line.
- Add the “table of contents” feature to all your pages that host long-form content. Having a table of contents helps users navigate web pages because it contains a list of anchored links that users can click to jump to different sections on the page. It also helps Google assess (at a glance) whether your page structure is eligible for in-page links.
Sitelinks are just one of the numerous SERP elements Google introduced to help users find the information they need in an easier and quicker way. Sitelinks only ever feature the most important website pages, which is beneficial for both users and websites. And while sitelinks are out of the webmaster’s control, real-life cases show that following SEO best practices also influences sitelink acquisition.
So if well-structured, engaging content; top-notch internal linking; and proper Schema markup still aren’t a part of your SEO gameplan, the many benefits that sitelinks bring should change your mind.
If, on the contrary, you’ve been following all the best practices and already know how to get sitelinks, don’t hesitate to share your success story with us in the comments section below.
Sitelinks are a sign of Google’s trust and recognition, so they are something to be proud of.