6 Educated Theories Behind Google SiteLinks

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Google Sitelinks will always intrigue and excite webmasters until they know exactly how to get them. Google’s official explanation is rather vague and never explains the actual algorithm; still it (and not only it) allows for a number of theories behind sitelinks:

They (sitelinks) serve as shortcuts to help users quickly navigate to the important pages on your site.

I myself consider most of these theories true and logical and think that most likely the combination of the following factors come into play when talking about sitelinks algorithm:

Sitelinks theory 1: Surfers oriented (my favorite one because it has that web 2.0/web 3.0 favor we now want to see in everything):

Sitelinks are given to a site when it “satisfies a great number of people who make that particular query” (mentioned here).

This theory can be considered officially supported by Google:

We only show sitelinks for results when we think they’ll be useful to the user.

What’s more, this theory explains another interesting phenomenon behind sitelinks – they can be geo specific: people from one country may like this website (hence in this country it has sitelinks) while people from other countries don’t like it (hence it doesn’t have sitelinks there). Compare Apple in google.com and Apple in google.co.uk.

Sitelinks theory 2: Domain-authority oriented

The more powerful the domain is (compared to other sites in the same niche), the more likely it will get sitelinks.

This theory is also kind of supported by Googlers – see Susan Moskwa‘s comment:

You’ve probably noticed that most search results don’t show sitelinks; the ones that do are generally for large and/or popular sites. Right now the best advice I can give is to work on increasing the visibility and popularity of your website.

Sitelinks theory 3: Internal-architecture oriented:

If you by your internal architecture managed to clearly show Google what’s important and what’s relevant, you will get sitelinks.

Also mentioned in Google FAQ:

Our systems analyze the link structure of your site to find shortcuts that will save users time and allow them to quickly find the information they’re looking for.

Sitelinks theory 4: On-page SEO oriented:

Many webmasters noticed that some on-page SEO tricks can help in getting sitelinks:

  • links located at the top of the source code stand better chance of showing up as sitelinks;
  • consistent usage of a keyword in the link anchor text, file path, subpage title and semantic structure (h1 and h2) also helps this keyword appear in sitelinks.

Sitelinks theory 5: Brand-strength oriented

Many people think that Google also evaluates brand-specific searches when considering if your site/ brand is worth sitelinks.

Sitelinks theory 6: Competition oriented

Sitelinks seem to appear in SERPs for those queries for which your site has no (or very little) competition.

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
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  • Ann,
    I think that there is a lot of speculation on this. I have sitelinks for my blog, however, I have yet to see a search query that returns them in the serps (only in webmaster tools). But the more interesting thing is that the sitelinks that were provided are not my most popular pages for traffic, nor the highest ranking pages in serps, nor major categories of my blog. So, it is interesting to see your theories, however, I don’t think that any one theory solves this riddle.

    Great post!

  • Hi Ann great post! I particularly agree with theory #1 and #2, which I think are the most plausible “top factors” involved. I wrote a couple articles at SEW recently on this subject and am curious as to your opinion, particularly on “undeserved” sitelinks for general terms like “auto insurance” (which grants carinsurancerates.com sitelinks). Also, have you tested the sitelinks tool in Google Webmaster Tools?

    Articles can be found at: searchenginewatch.com/showPage.html?page=3629524 and searchenginewatch.com/showPage.html?page=3629713

  • Good post. Nice roundup of comments on the sitelinks.

  • Totally agree with these point!

  • I’ve had sitelinks come and go for a site with no architecture and SEO related changes. This suggests that #3 and #4 aren’t key.

  • I am actually wondering how to get sitelinks. Most other blogs in my niche got sitelinks. I thought that maybe they got more visitors than me, that’s why they got it. But then you have theory #6, I wonder now then. Thanks for this post.

  • Sorry but 6 has no chance. Primary example that shuts that one down: “carinsurancerates.com” getting sitelinks for the search for “auto insurance.” This is an extremely competitive term. Others like that which IMO don’t deserve the love come up for searches for “health insurance” and “fitness club.”

  • Hi Ann,

    Nice post, and certainly some interesting thoughts. User behaviour may well be something to do with that, but I actually think that the Apple example is more proof of internal architecture being a factor (as the page that is important to the UK, apple.com/uk is a sub directory).

    I tend to think that it’s a mixture of these things. We have site links for Altogether (http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=altogether+digital&pws=0&hl=en&num=10) and originally one of those shown was my profile page. Now I don’t think that’s a particularly popular page, but as I write many of the posts it was probably one with a large number of internal site links.

    I’d suggest that it’s a mix of internal architecture, in-bound links (in determining what links show) and whether your site is clearly related to the search terms (when determining whether you have them at all)

  • Interesting and useful post on a subject we often get asked about. I’d also agree with the point made by your last commentator:
    “I’d suggest that it’s a mix of internal architecture, in-bound links (in determining what links show) and whether your site is clearly related to the search terms (when determining whether you have them at all)”

  • @chris boggs: very good posts – thanks for sharing… Also, what do you mean by “testing the sitelinks tool in Google Webmaster Tools”? All I know about it is that it either shows sitelinks or not…

    @Ciaran: thanks for sharing your Apple-related comments. I tend to agree with them.

    I would love to see more comments on sitelinks behavior depending on geo location. Any international webmasters?

  • “what do you mean by “testing the sitelinks tool in Google Webmaster Tools”? All I know about it is that it either shows sitelinks or not…”

    Once you have sitelinks, whilst you can’t tell Google what pages you want to show as links, if you don’t like any of the pages it does choose as links you can set them not to show as sitelinks – I did this with my profile page

  • yep what ciaran said. you also have the option to add comments as to why you asked for the removal, which I have tested to nicely ask for replacements. So far not enough changes in sitelinks (only one round a couple months ago when they updated them) for me to tell how much effect those requests may have.

  • Oh yes, that slipped my mind… Yeah, not enough control but still we have one… Chris, thank you for reminding me of it…

  • Very good article … In fact I checked my site which is also showing a sitemap and some finding s fit – but not all – to the points you mention. I´m referring here to the keyword “Alopezie” (hair loss) and the site alopezie.de, which is a German site about hair loss. Hope its OK to mention here, but you have nofollow in any case…

    Coming back to the selction of Google. They seemed to pick a quite interesting choice and mixture of pages.

    The first column has four links to 4 (out of 6 in total) forums on the website. The selection is OK, the minor forums are left out. This seemed to be done NOT by hand, as a quite strange abbreviation “Allg.” is used (abbreviation for “general”), which is pretty misleading without knowing what is behind. So I assume they had used clicks or visitors numbers to select these forums.

    The second column of sitelinks is a strange mixture from other places of my website, 3 links are related to content, one to “help on the forum” (for what sense I don´t know ??).

    The 3 links to content are fitting pretty well, how they have been selected ?? – I don´t know … other things are not listed

    1. Surfers oriented:
    Yes, the selection makes sense (with the limitation of the title and the strange link to help on Forums)

    2. Domain-authority oriented
    Yes, the domains is exactly the keyword

    3. Internal-architecture oriented
    Only partly. The forums are well visible on the site, the other 4 links are very hard to find

    4. On-page SEO oriented
    Clearly NO, 3 links are horribly bad (Which supports my opinion, that Google does not need SEO-friendly links …)

    5. Brand-strength oriented
    Yes, this is clearly fitting, anyhow I doubt that played a role here.

    6. Competition oriented
    Yes, few competition here. In fact currently place 1 + 2 are take from the site.

  • Good article.
    I’ve played around with sitelinks on all of my sites fort the last 3 months and I’ve been getting nowhere.
    I’ll be following your points to see if I can get any improvements.

  • Can you please explain what is Web 3.0 you’ve mentioned.