Sitelinks have been around a long time. In the SEO space, they’ve been showing up in listings since the mid-2000s. In PPC, advertisers have been leveraging them since 2009. They are largely regarded as the most powerful listing “enhancement” around, given their ability to offer better UX choices for searchers, and the fact they add so much visual weight and SERP real estate for brands. As a result, properly utilizing and manipulating sitelinks have become a must in order to remain ahead of competitors in the search space.
Since their introduction, sitelinks within both PPC and SEO have been through a number of evolutions – from increasing/decreasing the number of links, to adding description lines, to adding accompanying search box functionality immediately above the links. This week, Google released not one but two major updates – one impacting SEO sitelinks, the other PPC. And no surprise – they are both mobile changes. This follows a recent trend of Google rolling out primarily mobile enhancements, with desktop appearing somewhat of an afterthought. In these instances, it’s unclear whether Google will replicate this change on desktop, but there’s a chance they’ll be confined only to mobile as Google continues its “mobile first” approach to SERP evolution.
SEO’s Expandable Sitelinks – yesterday Google began rolling out a new “expandable” sitelink format in organic Google listings on mobile devices. This functionality works by presenting the user with an expandable drop-down where they can tap to reveal additional pages within that “category” of the website. Exactly how Google groups pages isn’t immediately obvious, but it seems to be through a combination of site hierarchy, internal linking and user flow through the website. In the cases we looked at, pages appeared to be grouped logically and the “sub-links” presented upon expansion were helpful from a navigation perspective.
With this change, it will be more important than ever that your site hierarchy and internal linking are logical and consistent so that your expanded link options make sense from a searcher’s perspective. We anticipate a gradual roll out of this feature by Google, with the largest brands and highest traffic sites seeing the listings first. Among our clients, several of them are already seeing the drop-downs show up – some have them available on several sitelinks, others on just 1-2 out of the available 6.
PPC’s New Sitelink Layout – not quite as exciting as the organic search enhancement (but still exciting, of course) is the new layout for mobile sitelinks within paid search. Starting this week, advertisers are seeing the traditional 3-line “side by side” sitelink format below their main ad replaced by a vertical 4-line single link format.
As you can see, the biggest change here is that the sitelinks now take up more screen real estate, and push the non-paid content further down the page – this could lead to a fairly decent CTR uptick for paid search ads, at the expense of interaction with organic content. In addition, advertisers will now need to be more careful about selecting their sitelinks since there will be fewer options to present to users. This means that the 4 pages that advertisers do show need to count more than ever.
At a high level, it appears that this is a way for Google to finally have “Enhanced Sitelinks” on Mobile. While a description line 1/line 2 don’t show up (as they do on desktop), our initial analysis suggests that this new sitelink format only appears for keywords that have a high quality score and have Enhanced Sitelinks enabled. Meaning, if you over-rely on Google close-variant match or BMM to have full brand coverage, you’ll find your ads will continue to show the old 2×2 or 3×2 grid of sitelinks, regardless of if they are enhanced or not. This makes it even more imperative for brands to continue building out their branded keywords and increasing quality score to ensure that their mobile real estate is improving.
In conclusion – we expect Google to continue to evolve both organic and paid sitelink formats in the coming months, particularly on mobile. We will be watching closely what happens next in this space, and will of course keep you guys updated when we see any big changes. In the meantime, now is a great time to ensure your sitelink strategy within both paid and organic search is updated and your are providing your users with the best click-through options possible to increase traffic and conversion.