Bruce Lawson's personal site

The usability of Google sitelinks

We were vaguely pleased with ourselves at work a couple of weeks ago when we noticed that a Google search on some of our keywords brought back our site as the first search result, and given us an extended entry that includes a matrix of links to pages within the site. These google sitelinks (as the SEO industry calls them) can help you achieve brand domination through keyword ownership.

It’s interesting to wonder how Google chooses the sitelinks. I think that it sorta-automatically gives a sitelink to pages that seem like they’re “contact us” or “about us”, which makes sense. But from my experience from my personal site and work site, some of the other sitelinks seem pretty arbitrarily chosen: they weren’t all from the main navigation elements, nor did they figure at all in the top 50 most-visited pages in the site. When it gave this site some sitelinks (gone after the last googledance, I notice) it included a link to a page which I’d recently removed, so I had to sort that out by reinstating the page, in order that the embarrassing 404 didn’t squander the extra credibility that sitelinks gave me.

It’s wise to check out your sitelinks for their usability, too. Here’s a cautionary tale. I got the go-ahead to attend An Event Apart, Boston in June, so went to book the ticket. Being unsure of the URL, and because I was already on, I searched for An Event Apart.

Up popped the results, complete with a handy sitelink going straight to Boston:

google search result showing sitelink reading 'Boston'

I immediately clicked that sitelink, and sighed with disappointment to see that it was sold out. After food, I hit upon the idea of emailing Eric Meyer and asking him if there were any standby tickets. Being the courteous gentleman that he is, he responded that it wasn’t sold out and that was I perhaps looking at the Boston 2007 page? Being a gracious chap, he didn’t call me a Knucklehead McSpazatron.

And that was indeed the cause. The sitelink that Google provided goes to last year’s page (ditto for Chicago), so I was able to navigate to the homepage, find the pages for this year’s conferences and book my place.

But it was lucky that I’m pushy enough to bother Eric, or I would just have told my boss that it was sold out and been none the wiser.

The moral: regularly egosurf; check your sitelinks, and as soon as something like this occurs, go to Google webmaster central where you can block inappropriate sitelinks if they appear.

It would be nice if Google could provide a metatag which marked a particular page as ineligble for consideration as a sitelink, in the same way as you can tell it not to index or cache. That way, you could take preventative action and template your “archive” or “past events” pages so they never become sitelinks.

Anyway—see you in Boston?

Buy "Calling For The Moon", my debut album of songs I wrote while living in Thailand, India, Turkey. (Only £2, on Bandcamp.)

5 Responses to “ The usability of Google sitelinks ”

Comment by Ian Lloyd

So they let you out of your lair to go international? Wowzers. Does that mean that you can make along to London for @media then?

McSpazatron? You do come out with them, don’tcha?

Comment by bruce

@media, not this year, no. But Boston kicks the ass of boring old London.

I’m surprised that you, a Spongebob fan, wouldn’t recognise the phrase from Spongebob The Movie – a phrase that enraged the reviewer from Young Media Australia, who also notes that “the plot is extremely predictable and the dialogue underdeveloped.”

Comment by Eric Meyer

Hey, Bruce, thanks for pointing out the problem. Unfortunately, Google won’t admit that it actually has any sitelinks for our site– I signed into the Webmaster Tools section and dug down to the sitelinks subsection and had it tell me “Google has not generated any sitelinks for your site.” Complete with an example of sitelinks that look very awfully much like what you get when searching for the show, not not to mention like your screenshot. Argh!

Another day, another search engine’s sabotage.

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