The sitelinks present on Google first appeared around 2005. They went through many iterations before becoming sitelinks as we know them today.
A sitelink is an additional link that appears below the URL on Google search results (also called SERP). Some sitelinks also appear with a search bar that the user can use directly to start their search on the website. They were implemented by Google to improve the UX (user experience) and help users navigate through the different sites by offering direct access to pages other than the homepage.
Their average number was also reduced from 12 to a maximum of 6 and varies according to the degree of optimization and the relevance of the websites’ contents. Not all sites can boast of having sitelinks on search results. Indeed, Google only grants this privilege to the most relevant sites for its users; that is to say sites whose structure is well designed and whose pages can directly answer the user's problem.
Sitelinks are different from Google Ads sitelink extensions which only appear in paid ads. The latter can be configured by the account manager, unlike organic sitelinks, over which site editors and SEOs have no direct control.
So there is no direct, foolproof way to control your sitelinks, but you can design your site to increase your chances of having them appear on the SERPs.
Sitelinks improve your brand awareness
The pages Google chooses for sitelinks are often product pages, pricing pages, categories or blog posts. In all cases, the algorithm is generally relevant and suggests pages with high added value. Sitelinks highlight strategic pages and the most useful information for the user. Your site then earns “brownie” points with your prospects who quickly find what they are looking for.
Sitelinks increase the click through rate (CTR)
In addition to conveying a positive image of a site, sitelinks are known to increase the CTR, which corresponds to the click-through rate (about +20%). On average, the first three results represent between 54 and 59% of all clicks (source Abondance).
Let's take a concrete example:
If a keyword generates 10,000 searches per month, this means that the site in first position captures 3,124 clicks. If this first site manages to get sitelinks and therefore 20% more clicks, it means that it will capture about 2,000 additional clicks, which is considerable.
Sitelinks allow users to directly find the page of interest on your site
The same pattern is often seen on a large majority of sites: users arrive on the homepage and then navigate from page to page via internal links. Depending on your activity, the user may visit only 4 or 5 pages after the homepage. He can therefore miss your strategic pages.
The interest of sitelinks is to highlight your strategic pages directly in the search results. You will drain qualified traffic and will naturally increase the popularity of these pages. These sitelinks can lead the Internet user to category pages and blog posts alike.
Sitelinks, a sign of trust from Google
Sitelinks are an effective way to demonstrate the reliability of your site. Indeed, Google displays only trusted sites in its first results and sitelinks. So when a user sees your site and sitelinks first, he will naturally interpret it as a positive signal.
As we mentioned earlier, there is no direct way to generate sitelinks including in Google Search Console. Today, sitelinks are totally managed and automated by Google and depend only on the respect of the good practices recommended by Google. We will not pretend to give you infallible techniques, but we can indicate the essential points to control to increase your chances to get sitelinks.
Ensuring your brand's ranking and a unique website name
Even if it seems obvious, the first step is to make sure that your brand and especially your domain name is unique and not generic (except in very rare cases, like Apple for the most famous). Indeed, domain names such as "the best American candy" have no chance of reaching the first positions because they will be parasitized by sites proposing a content answering a problem ("where to find the best candy in the USA", etc). Moreover, there are many other sites that offer the same products as you, so it will be very difficult for Google to distinguish between you and competitors. With the snowball effect, you will not benefit from a good position or sitelinks.
However, if you read this guide and realize that your domain is too generic, we advise you not to change it. Indeed, you would be forced to migrate your site with a redirect 301 plan and risk losing many of your positions (temporarily or more permanently). Tackle first the following points to increase your chances to see sitelinks appear.
Structure the site, add a sitemap and implement structured data
Optimize the structure of the site
We can't repeat it enough, a clear structure that can be easily interpreted by robots is the basis of a good SEO. It is indeed proven that sites with a confusing structure have much more difficulty to be positioned, even if they implement a netlinking strategy. This is quite simple to understand: if bots can't find or understand your content, how can a user (who has other things to do than trying to understand you), find your site relevant? UX and SEO are now closely linked.
In terms of site structure, keep it simple: a homepage with links to the main categories, containing the subcategories, etc. Also set up a fine enough filter management (facets) so as not to "open" all the doors to Google. You can use for example techniques like obfuscation that will help you sculpt your internal PageRank and optimize your crawl budget.
Also use clear titles that really answer a request. Don't use them to try to mislead the robots, they will always be stronger than you! It is also recommended to have "hard" pages in which you will address important information related to your business (contact, delivery, terms and conditions, etc.). Google understands them very well and could use them for your sitelinks.
Create a sitemap
The sitemap is simply a map that you submit to Google's robots to help them crawl the different pages of your site. It does not guarantee the indexation of all pages and is not useful to optimize the crawl budget, but it can help the search engine to easily find deeper but relevant pages. If your site structure is relatively clear, you will have everything to gain by submitting your sitemap in the Google Search Console. The sitemap is also an opportunity to include media and images.
Use structured data
Often called "rich snippets", structured data have become the golden goose. In simple terms, it is data formatted in advance in specific tags to be perfectly understood by robots. There are all kinds of tags (rating/notification, cooking time, preparation time, date of an event etc.). They considerably improve the understanding of your pages by the robots which may be more tempted to grant you the precious sesame to "sitelinks"!
Put your strategic pages at the heart of your internal linking
Building internal links to guide the robots to your most important pages has a name that we have already mentioned: PageRank sculpting. This is one of the most complex issues in SEO, especially for e-commerce sites that use a lot of filters to refine the results on their pages. This technique is very effective, but it is often neglected because it often requires structural changes, development and even in some cases a complete redesign.
To better understand this concept of internal links, just imagine that "SEO juice" is poured on your site on the homepage. This juice will then flow into all the holes (=internal links) that it will find. The pages closest to the homepage and/or those on which the most juice is poured are the ones that will be the most popular and interesting for the robots (at least if your content is useful). These pages are therefore good candidates to appear in the sitelinks of your site. In the case of a chronological structure (news sites, blogs, etc.), it is equally (or even more) important to optimize your internal linking. In which case, old articles will fall over time into the abysses of Google which will often prefer fresh content! If they are relevant and timeless, do not hesitate to regularly link your old articles directly from your new posts. This way, you will continue to "water" them and maybe encourage the robots to display them as sitelinks.
The analysis of internal linking can be done via the Google Search Console, but the tool is not the most complete nor the most relevant. Prefer a specialized crawler like ScreamingFrog (free up to 500 URLs), Oncrawl or Botify.
Define relevant titles and appropriate descriptions for target pages
Remember the purpose of sitelinks: to improve UX by providing direct access to relevant content. To do this, you must make the robots understand what the pages contain and especially show that they meet the users’ intention. Structuring your pages using Hn tags is an essential first step. You can also turn them into a question to make Google understand that your content answers a problem. With this technique, in addition to the sitelinks, you can even claim the position zero.
Add your target pages to your sidebar
The sidebar can be used to strengthen the internal linking of pages you want to appear on sitelinks. The sidebar is indeed present on all pages of your site and is therefore a strong signal to Google. Be careful, in order not to dilute your SEO juice, you must use them sparingly. Otherwise, the links in the sidebar would lose all their interest.
Add a summary/table of contents with anchors for long publications
Even if you use Hn tags to structure your content, in the case of a very long article, it makes sense to use a table of contents with anchors pointing to each paragraph. Not only will you improve user experience, but also the robots’ understanding of your pages.
Optimize your website’s technical and on-page SEO
How to manage sitelinks on mobile?
With the arrival of the Mobile First Index, Google has announced that it will treat mobile pages in a slightly different way than desktop pages. If you have opted for responsive design, you don't have to do anything special except make sure that the content and structure are the same on both mobile and desktop versions.
How to remove a Google sitelink?
For many years, Google allowed site editors to change sitelinks. It was not possible to remove them completely but they could simply be demoted. Since 2016, Google no longer gives access to them, believing that its algorithms are powerful enough to handle sitelinks themselves.
Google quote (source)
We only display Sitelinks for results when we think they will be useful to the user. If the structure of your site does not allow our algorithms to find good Sitelinks, or if we do not think that the Sitelinks on your site are relevant to the user's query, we will not display them. This process is fully automated. Sitelinks have evolved based on traditional website ranking, so the way to influence them is the same as for other webpages.
How to add a search box?
Not all sites are eligible for the search box in Sitelinks, and as usual, Google remains fairly opaque about the eligibility criteria.
However, studies have shown that search bars generally appear when:
- The site receives a high volume of traffic and/or if its brand is searched for very often
- You have a strong internal search engine
- You have added the Searchaction Schema to your homepage.
Sitelinks can dramatically improve your visibility in Google search results by significantly increasing your CTR. If you can't tell the robots exactly which pages you want to appear as sitelinks, you can optimize them in such a way that they attract Google's interest. In other words, don't overthink how you can get sitelinks! If you follow good SEO practices, you should see them appear sooner or later.