Stephen Logan

The Potential Implications of Google Mega Sitelinks

18th Aug 2011 News, Industry News 6 minutes to read

Whenever Google introduce an update to their SERPs or adjust their algorithm, there is always a knock-on effect for SEOs and Webmasters. Whether you have to re-evaluate on-page content, as with the Panda update, or look at your local presence again as many had to do when Places exploded all over results pages.

Yesterday Google unleashed mega sitelinks. It may sound like the latest addition to the Transformers franchise, but in fact this new barrage of links for results pages is significantly less one dimensional, offering opportunities and concerns aplenty.

Let’s look at one very obvious and important factor: which links do you want to have displayed on Google? Essentially, if this is going to have the impact that the search engine is looking to achieve, mega sitelinks ought to lead to those pages that visitors are most likely to visit. So whether it’s a category, your blog or a particular product, the links need to be relevant.

Below is a good example of where this has worked well and failed in the same instance (sadly, as is often the case, this particular example is a search for Portsmouth FC):

As you can see, the mega sitelinks are working. They include some of the most useful and relevant links, including fixtures, the latest result and the news section. This should help users to get to the desired page quicker. Unfortunately, beneath the first six results, things get a little shaky.

For instance, the page that is simply represented by a ‘1’ is a 404 error page. This is not something that Portsmouth would ideally want to be showing and I’m pretty sure Google would feel much the same. ‘Dark Days, New Knight’ is a news story that doesn’t feature anywhere on the homepage and is generally only accessible through sitelinks – perhaps a good and bad thing.

For some sites then, 10 links may be excessive – highlighting pages of limited or no relevance at all. But another thing that the above search highlights is the need for articulate Meta. In the above example, the title is clear enough, but the description is largely useless.

Most simply show “….WALL OF FAME : POMPEY PRINTS…”, of course this isn’t representative of the page itself and is unlikely to provide any useful insight to a potential visitor. Portsmouth are by no means the only culprits of this of course. Whilst there failings are rather obvious, many others fall into the Meta trap.

But this is to be expected. After all, most people write Meta descriptions designed to fit in with the 155 character limit. As such, the first few words are rarely optimised to include all relevant details. However, moving forwards, this could well become more important for SEOs and site owners looking to attract a click.

In his post yesterday, James highlighted the Argos site and how it now dominated SERPs with its sprawling sitelinks. Once again, this example highlights the fallibility of Meta within this snippet format. In every category the Meta begins with “Shop for…”. Most then also include the primary keyword for the category, but is this enough? Conversion rate optimisers will no doubt be keeping a close eye on which pages appear within the mega sitelinks and how different styles of text affect clicks.

Argos also helped to highlight some of the additional information that is now available to searchers directly through the SERPs. For instance, the Places details locate the nearest store, inform me of the opening times, any reviews and even highlight the nearest train station. It’s a more complete set of results, enabling any visitor to quickly grab all information easily from one source – Google.

James mentioned the negative impact that these monstrous results could have on smaller businesses. To some extent, I have to disagree. Whilst larger stores and businesses are likely to dominate SERPs for brand-related searches, the results are markedly different when you dig deeper – as many searchers will do.

For instance, if I want a Black and Decker drill, I am unlikely to search simply for Black and Decker. Admittedly, if I did, this is what I’d see.

Essentially it’s a whole lot of PPC adverts from resellers, with the Black and Decker site dominating organic results above the fold. But this is what I’d expect to see for such a generic search. However, the appearance of the SERPs changes markedly when I look for a brand + product – a far more likely query.

So, taking the earlier example, this is how a search for “Black and Decker Drill” appears.

This is entirely unchanged. You have the official site at the top, as you’d expect, a row of Google shopping results and then the respective resellers. As such, there is no real impact on smaller retailers beyond the benefit provided to the original manufacturer, which has been in operation for a long time now.

Whether this brand boost is a way of Google pushing retailers to invest in PPC campaigns in order to  compete with unbeatable organic results, or just giving visitors what they want is up for debate. However, more likely than not, there’s a good chance that both are involved somewhere in the thought process.

For website owners, the major emphasis will be on making sure that their mega sitelinks are an accurate reflection of their website and brand. If there are erroneous pages being shown or your Meta isn’t looking too spritely, changes may well be required. No doubt Google are already planning their next move and it would be safe to assume that the SERPs won’t remain unchanged for long.

Small businesses as well as global brands can achieve a fantastic level of organic visibility thanks to these new sitelinks. However, if you were already second on the list for your name (either because it’s a generic word or other businesses have the same name), it could push you further down the page. Arguably, this has made it even more important to create a completely unique brand identity and avoid potential crossovers.

After all, where there is confusion of brand identities and other potential searches, Google appears reluctant to introduce exhaustive sitelinks. Raleigh is a good example of this. A massive bike brand and still no mega sitelinks, why? Well, from the SERPs we can see that it shares a name with the capital of North Carolina, which could cause confusion as it is likely that generic searches could be carried out for either.

The same could be argued for brands like Tango (drink/dance) and Hippo (golf clubs/animal)

Diversifying a brand may also lead to losing sitelinks, as evidenced by Dunlop. Again, there are no extensive links as both their tyres and sports brands appear prominent within SERPs. This is unlikely to be damaging, but shows that Google aren’t simply expanding the top result without consideration of competition. Further examples include Yamaha and Suzuki.

Orange mountain bikes have been buried as have many others with identical or similar names to huge brands. But again, this highlights the need for more specific searches, rather than issues to be avoided. If I want a bike and don’t require a new mobile phone, I’m unlikely to be swayed by any such SERPs temptation.

If you’ve noticed anything interesting with the new sitelinks or can see other issues for SEOs please leave a comment below.

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