Google Changing Search Landscape Again?

Google officially announced that the new ‘jumbo’ sitelink format that they have been testing since April is here to stay.

Google sitelinks, launched in 2006, were originally introduced to help users quickly navigate to popular pages on a site. The new expanded sitelink format is an extension of this service, enabling searchers to identify the most revelant pages of a site in even less time, while at the same time allowing sites to promote their brand presence in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

So what has changed?

Previously, for branded searches Google served up to 8 sitelinks, these were text based and didn’t display any additional supporting text.

SERP Sitelinks

The new format mimics current search results, providing a modified meta title tag, a destination URL and one line of snippet text either pulled in from the meta description or text snippet. The default number of sitelinks is 12, however Google is also serving a reduced number of sitelinks between 4-10.

FirstClick Sitelinks

For some brands, Google is providing an internal search functionality, which allows users to conduct a quick site search from the Google search results page.

Microsoft Sitelinks

Google has not only enhanced the look and feel of sitelinks, but made significant changes to how sitelinks are generated.

Previously sitelinks were automatically generated by Google’s sitelink algorithm. They will now be generated based on quality signals obtained from the sitelink algorithm and the regular organic result ranking algorithm combined.

Google has continued to limit the ability of webmasters to control the words/phrases that appear for each individual sitelink. You can ‘demote’ unwanted sitelinks within Google Webmaster Tools, however you cannot select your desired key phrase, nor can you modify the supporting text that Google is displaying with the sitelinks.

Essentially, the new format hasn’t changed the fact organic sitelinks are tied back to Google’s perception of a site. Sites earn sitelinks over time, rather than obtain them automatically and are intrinsically linked to a site’s structure and how users interact with the site. Google will grant sitelinks only once a site gains authority.

So what does this mean to brands? It only reinforces the importance of information architecture and the need to create a site with a solid, keyword rich site structure. These changes from Google are essentially saying don’t forget about the fundamentals of SEO and search. They are forcing marketers to think about the bigger picture – how does your brand perform in search? Does your site structure inhibit the ability of your site to achieve your business goals?

Let us not forget that whilst these are changes to the organic SERPs, it is undeniable that there will be repercussions for paid search campaigns. Google is changing the playing field once again, it will be interesting to see how this latest update from the search giant ripples through the search landscape. What do you think?

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