Organic Sitelinks are amongst the most common search features, first appearing in 2005 that represent links to other pages under the same search result as the main page. Their purpose is to navigate to the most prominent landing pages related to the main SERP result.
Although organic sitelinks are most prominent for branded search queries, as it allows navigating quickly to important sections of the website, they also tend to appear for informational keywords.
Sitelinks have come a long way since 2005 and have evolved to display in a number of different ways. Google in particular will amend organic sitelinks on a regular basis depending on the manner in which users interact with them, constantly changing the number or the appearance of organic sitelinks to cater to users increasingly relevant search results.
In order to access an organic sitelink your best bet would be to enter a branded search query. In this instance search engines and Google in particular uses the brand name as an anchor, providing a set of additional sitelinks directly underneath the main landing page. As you might expect a set implies there are multiple sitelinks and the number of sitelinks can fluctuate from 1 to 6 additional links.
It may also be important to mention that their appearance differs for mobile and desktop versions of Google Search and they only appear on the top search result.
Unlike the simple organic sitelinks, the organic single-line sitelinks can appear on various types of search queries, not just branded searches. Similarly, the typical largest number of single-line sitelinks is 4, but this isn’t without some variations of sitelinks that display a higher number. As a general rule the single-line sitelinks lead to other relevant pages on the website, or, on some occasions, may jump straight to sections of the same page, using something called a fragment link (#).
On particularly authoritative websites like Wikipedia, these single-line sitelinks can take other forms such as sliders encompassing a larger number of sitelinks. Some of them may also include image thumbnails.
A search box sitelink allows users to search directly on the website at hand. This is only present for branded search terms, typically on a particularly large websites and in case of Google, is added automatically.
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However it must be noted that this SERP feature can be affected by adding search box sitelink structured data to your homepage. Although it is considered that this may make Google better understand your website, there is no evidence that Google will actually pick it up and add a search box sitelink to your brand under SERPs for branded keywords.
It may also be worth mentioning that different sitelinks types don’t always work in isolation. It is not uncommon to see combinations of sitelinks under the same search result.
One of the primary benefits of organic sitelinks is that they maximize the SERP real-estate that your brand occupies. On desktop this entails four to five times more SERP real-estate is given to your brand, while on mobile it may mean that your SERP result occupies the entire visible screen. As a consequence increasing the SERP real-estate through organic sitelinks can and will boost your click-through-rate.
They also bring in the benefit of your brand standing out against the other competitors in the SERPs. After all, at least for the brand searches this is one of their intended purposes - to provide more search results from the brand that has been searched to begin with, as well as neatly group those links closer together.
Sitelinks also bring in the additional benefit that users are presented with your content faster, giving them a sneak-peak of what they might find on the actual website.
As it happens there is no way of programming your sitelinks directly into SERPs. Although in the past it used to be possible to demote sitelinks in Google Search Console, this is no longer an option, pushing SEO experts to resort to other measures to influence their appearance in SERPs.
So there’s a number of things you must take under your control in order to influence whether and which sitelinks show up in organic SERPs:
- Site structure: As it happens website structure plays a crucial role particularly in which sitelinks will show for each landing page in SERPs. Depending on your URL structure, you may see different sitelinks show up in SERPs. If you have a well-defined website architecture it may be easier for search engines like Google to select your sitelinks. If, on the other hand, you have a flat website structure, search engines, not the last of which is Google, may end up relying on other factors to determine which sitelinks to show, like for instance the users’ interaction with the website.
- Internal Linking: Another factor in determining which sitelinks will show up in organic SERPs is the means by which you internal link pages as well as their anchor text. For instance there is one internal linking method that is particularly useful for affecting organic sitelinks and that is breadcrumbs because they’re a quite powerful indicator of website structure. These are, however, not the only internal links the organic sitelinks can display for directly in SERPs. Among the other are navigational links as well as onsite links. It may also be worth mentioning that Google takes into account the number of internal links leading to a page when deciding on whether to display it under organic sitelinks.
- Noindex pages: Although this is not a popular method and neither one widely recommended, noindex pages, as you might expect, will not show up in organic sitelinks.
- Sitelinks searchbox: As previously stated this SERP feature can be affected by adding search box sitelink structured data to your homepage, even though there is no evidence that Google will actually pick it up and add a search box sitelink to your brand under SERPs. An interesting twist however is that if you want to remove a sitelink searchbox, you can do so by adding a tag to your homepage:
<meta name="google" content="nositelinkssearchbox"/>
- Hreflang: In instances when a search is performed in a different language, hreflang tags can help search engines, including Google, to display relevant sitelinks based on language and country preferences that they carry.
- Headings: In the slightly more rare instances where organic sitelinks lead to particular sections of a landing page, these sitelinks tend to be widely influenced by the headings themselves.
- Table of contents: Table of contents provide an overview of the onpage content, so like in the case of headings, they might influence organic sitelinks in search engines like Gooogle to determine what additional sitelinks show up in organic SERPs.
- Organic Searches: Although this is not confirmed by any means, some SEO players have noticed that there may be a correlation between the organic searches that the landing page received and the displayed sitelinks. This is particularly relevant for branded search coupled with search terms. So considering Google is interested in showing relevant search results earlier, they might try to “guess” what the search intent is and display an additional number of organic entries to the website through organic sitelinks.
- User signlans: As previously stated, user signals may also play a role in determining which organic sitelinks show up for which keywords. For instance, if the users eventually land on a particular page that is different from the ranking page, this might be an indicator of relevancy for that particular keyword. So it would come as no surprise that Google or other search engines for that matter would be interested in showing that landing pages earlier. This, however, also remains an unconfirmed factor.
Sitelinks are a great way to maximise your SERP real-estate and provide options for your customers to reach relevant pages on your website earlier in their decision-making cycle, straight from the organic SERPs. Although as Google themselves state “sitelinks are automated” and there is limited input that website owners can have to control them, there is a number of things you can do to affect them:
- Ensuring you rank in the first place for your branded search term
- Ensuring your page titles and headers are informative, relevant and compact
- Creating logical website structures manifested as much through URL taxonomies as through internal link structure
- Creating easily navigable websites that enable users to access relevant pages from other relevant pages
- Optimising your internal link anchor text to be concise and relevant to the pages they’re pointing to
- Avoiding as much as possible repetition within your content