Isn’t it time Google give webmasters control of their organic sitelinks?

One of my favourite features to hit Adwords in recent years was Ad extensions – especially sitelinks. Sitelinks are great for the advertiser because they can cater for the potential needs of many different customer segments with a single ad. I still fairly frequently speak to clients or non-search specialists in the industry who either don’t know about sitelinks in PPC, or are unable to understand the difference between the paid and organic variants.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised this year to see how well advertisers are making use of this feature to push time sensitive messages to users. For instance, if I do a search on “Flowers”, this crucial valentines related phrase has some pretty good sitelinks:

sitelinks

I think the sitelink from Interflora is especially good here – as I sit here writing this article on the afternoon of the 13th February, I imagine anybody now searching for Flowers is pretty anxious to know whether they are still in time for delivery tomorrow, and this sitelink addresses this concern perfectly. The end result of sitelinks on paid search is a win-win-win scenario for the user, Google and the advertiser.

Despite this, the process for sitelinks in organic search is still in the dark ages, with brands having only the option to avoid having certain links as sitelinks. For most brands, Google will guess which links it thinks are the most worthy – quite typically, these end up being strong category pages, store finders, contact pages and the like – and the brand will occasionally demote any links it doesn’t like. In practice, many brands don’t do this, and as a result, less than optimal results are presented to the user.

When I searched for a few, fairly random terms, I saw a range of disappointingly chosen sitelinks in the organic search. Dialaphone for instance, had excellent sitelinks for their paid search which bring attention to the best offers, while the organic sitelinks return exactly the same page twice. The inaccuracies here are a result of Google trying to second guess both the user’s intention and the hierarchy of a brands website.

It seems almost obvious to me that a brand should be able to have more influence over these links, perhaps to the extent of Adwords where the brand can actually choose which ones to display (and how important the page is comparative to others). It would allow the brand to show relevant up to date information to searchers, bringing the same kind of win-win-win to organic search results.

Allowing the brand or website some control over the sitelinks that are displayed in Google needn’t be problematic or bring spam to Google. Although Google returns web pages to users (as opposed to websites), the bulk of what Google is sorting is based on the website. If Google trusts a website enough to place it highly in the organic search results and allow it sitelinks, it stands to reason that they should trust the webmaster enough to choose which sitelinks are displayed under their core listing.

The logical argument against this feature being introduced is that it might not be good for Adwords click through rates. Appealing organic search results naturally draw the users’ attention away from Adwords ads, resulting in lower revenue for Google.  You can imagine that Google would like advertisers who have any type of ‘promotion’ or sales message to push to use Adwords, but this doesn’t always work for the user.

Google’s Adwords revenue depends almost entirely on the market share of the engine overall (which, although very high, took a slight dip last month) which is driven of course by how much customers like the product. Google has been very successful in building a huge level of user trust in their brand, to the point that most users in the UK wouldn’t consider using any other website but Google to search. Google have historically led the way in terms of guaranteeing quality standards for paid ads, but they’ve crucially also kept increasing the quality of their organic listings too.

If Google take the view that relevant, up to date sitelinks improve the user experience, and that webmasters can be trusted (like advertisers) to determine these, then it seems a natural step to allow webmasters to control these.

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By Matthew Oxley