Yahoo Site Links: Quicklinks for Navigational Queries

If you do a search in Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Live Search, under some of the first search results that you see are extra sets of links to other pages on the same site. Google refers to these as site links and Yahoo calls them quicklinks. Microsoft has published at least one whitepaper that describes the kind of pages that show up in their site links as final destination pages. The site links that all three search engines show look very similar to each other. Can you identify which site links go with which search engine in the images below (hover over them to see which is from which search engine).

yahoo quicklinks for NASA

Google site links for NASA

Microsoft site links for NASA

While these site links appear similar, one question that I have had is how does each of the search engines decide upon which pages to show as site links?

A patent filing Google published in 2006 describes their listings of internal site links, and may give some insight into the links that Google decides to show. The Microsoft paper also gives us an idea of what criteria they consider in providing those links. What about Yahoo?

Yahoo has been providing a single line of quicklinks under some search results for a few years now, not limiting themselves to the top search result for those queries. Google has just recently started showing single line site links in a similar manner.

A new whitepaper from Yahoo goes into a great amount of depth concerning how they may choose the site links that they show on their pages. In Quicklink Selection for Navigational Query Results, Yahoo tells us about the sources of information that they look at when deciding upon which links to use, the mathematical process behind choosing quicklinks, and some possible changes to quicklinks that they might pursue in the future.

Navigational Queries

One common thread behind the use of sitelinks by all three search engines is that the concept behind providing internal site links to pages on a site that shows up in search results is to improve the searching experience of people looking for information by providing links to pages within a site that searchers likely would want to find.

The types of queries that tend to trigger the appearance of sitelinks are navigational queries – searches where the searcher likely has an idea of the page or site that they want to find already, but doesn’t remember the exact web address, or URL, for that page or finds it easier to just type a query into a search box and click on a link. For example, if I want to go to the ESPN site, I’ll type “espn” into a search box instead of typing http://espn.go.com/ into my browser address bar.

If I do that in Google, I not only get a link to the homepage for ESPN, but also additional links for:

  • College Basketball
  • NBA
  • NFL
  • MLB
  • The NHL
  • Fantasy Games
  • Scores
  • Streak for the CASH
  • More results

Oddly, Yahoo doesn’t provide quicklinks for that query, but Microsoft Live gives a set of site links that overlaps Google’s somewhat.

Source of Yahoo Quicklinks

The Yahoo paper tells us that they look at a number of sources to find good candidate pages for quicklinks:

  • Query and click logs – navigational queries, how searchers reformulate their queries during query sessions, and which pages they click upon
  • Toolbar and user trail data – looking at navigation patterns in the way that people browse a web site
  • Webgraph information from hyperlinks – ranking the webpages within a site based upon how they are linked to from inside and outside of the site
  • Information from social bookmarking websites – such as delicious.com and digg.com
  • Sitemaps or server log information – provided by webmasters of a site

The paper also tells us that there are some issues surrounding looking at this kind of information:

  1. Recent News Articles – One a news site, the most clicked on page might be from a recent news article, which will likely only be of interest for a short period of time, and isn’t a “navigational” result.
  2. Popular Products – On commerce sites, the most popular products might be listed, while less popular products are ignored.
  3. Logout or shopping cart pages – These may also be clicked upon very frequently, but don’t make good entrance links into a site.
  4. Privacy Policy and Copyright Pages – While these tend to be linked often from every page of a site, they also aren’t good entrance pages into a site.

A good quicklink, as the paper tells us, is:

…a combination of various attributes: how noticeable would be this webpage to the user’s navigational goal when displayed as quicklink, how much traffic passes through it, and what is the tangible benefit to the user (say, in terms of fewer clicks or lower latency).

One example that they provide are “store locator” pages in online shopping sites. Another is login pages to sites like Facebook and Myspace, since anyone using those services has to login to do something with those sites.

The ideal quicklink is one that a searcher will recognize as a shortcut to their navigational goal, saving them from having to navigate through the site listed to reach that page. Pages of a site are given a “noticeability” score to determine its value as a quicklink.

The paper discusses the organizational structures of web sites, a number of mathematical approaches to deciding upon quicklinks, and studies comparing human judgment of which links should be quicklinks compared to decisions made by computer algorithms.

In the conclusion section, they also propose the possibility of standardising quicklinks across certain kinds of sites. For example, all restaurant sites should have quicklinks for things like their menu page and their location.

Conclusion

Google provides a way, in their Webmaster Central Tools, for site owners who have site links to block some of the site links that are shown for their sites, and to provide feedback upon those site links. The Yahoo paper doesn’t discuss such direct interaction with site owners as an option, but perhaps it should. They do suggest that site owners might provide server log information which could be used by Yahoo, but don’t provide more details in the paper on how.

I’ve seen some site owners get excited to see site links appear for their pages in search results, other siteowners wondering how they can start having site links appear for their sites, and still other webmasters complaining that the site links that they’ve received for their sites cause potential visitors to miss out on parts of the site that they want those visitors to see.

How do you feel about site links?

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27 thoughts on “Yahoo Site Links: Quicklinks for Navigational Queries”

  1. I think site links are great in General but I have seen the wrong links displayed many times. Being able to block some links is a good first step but why not take it a step further and let site owners choose which links get displayed? It seems the site owners would know better than Google which pages are the most important to display to their visitors.

  2. Since the last “improvement” of Google sitelinks and the increase in their display for sites other than big brands, I can’t see the logic of links chosen on many sites. Before the change, it seemed like site architecture had a lot to do with sitelink choice – now Google appears to be picking more obscure links for display. George may be right, rather than allowing webmasters to remove pointless site links, why doesn’t Google just give us the ability to point them in the right direction.

    Rob

  3. I think site links are a good idea as they mainly come up for the website’s name. For example, when I want to download Mootools, which is a JavaScript framework, I will just search Mootools and then select the download sitelink; same if I want to access their documentation. So, it shaves a few milliseconds of your typing time :)

    One thing I have been wondering is how SEs choose the titles for the site links. I once saw some sitelinks that I couldn’t figure out how they choose the titles as they were not in the title tag or incoming links.

    I thought that one aspect they might use to decided sitelinks is when a site has more than two pages coming up on a SERP. As you have the nesting phenomena when two pages from a site come up on one page. I can’t remember ever seeing 3 results nest on a SERP.

  4. Yeah, i saw Yahoo Sitelinks,too. These Yahoo Sitelinks are looking like Google’s new 2. and third and somtimes 1. Place Sitelinks.

  5. I think site links are a good idea and handy for people who use search engines to find a particular site. However, again, Yahoo just seems to be trying to play ‘catch up’ to Google’s dominant search engine.

  6. Hi David,

    Those are some really good questions.

    In my espn example above, I usually want to go to the baseball pages for espn. While I remember that espn.com is the main URL for the site, I don’t have the address of their main baseball page memorized. Typing ESPN into a search bar gives me a link right to that page, and it’s something that I do frequently. Yes, it is useful. :)

    I think choosing a good name, or anchor text, for a site link or quicklink is essential for these links to work well. It’s not only important to make good choices for links to pages that might appear in site links, but it’s just as important that when people see the links, they have an idea of what they will see if they click through those links. Otherwise, why bother to include site links at all?

    The Yahoo paper goes into a considerable amount of depth on methods that they might use to find which URLs to use, but they don’t discuss the actual choice of text for the quicklinks that they show. Hopefully we’ll see more research that gives us some insights into how they might choose that text.

    I don’t believe that those choice of site links depends upon relevance as much as it depends upon a decision as to what pages people might eventually end up upon when they visit a site. Indented pages are based upon relevance for the query term instead. I’ll expand upon why I think that’s so…

    With the indented results that you mention, the purpose behind those are slightly different than sitelinks. When there are multiple pages from the same domain in search results for a specific query term, a search engine might do something called domain collapsing, where they try to show searchers pages from the same domain one after another, with the second result indented. If there are more relevant pages, the major search engines have often been providing a link that says something like “more results from example.com.”

    Domain collapsing happens on different types of queries, other than just queries that might be navigational in nature, and the point of showing them together is to make it easier for a searcher to see that pages from the same domain might be relevant for the query term.

    Quicklinks or site links can include pages that aren’t relevant, or aren’t necessarily the most relevant result, for the query used (and the search query term may not even be included in pages that are linked to from the sitelinks). Instead of being pages that are relevant for the query, like indented results, the site links are guesses by the search engine as to pages that a searcher using a navigational query term might want to end up at eventually. So, when I type “espn” in my toolbar search box, I may really want to see the site link to the espn baseball main page.

    When Google shows both sitelinks and a domain collapsed result for a site in search results, it doesn’t usually indent the second result that appears under the sitelink. In a search for “ESPN,” Google shows the main football page, most likely because it’s a very relevant result for the search instead of because it is a page that they think might be a good final destination page. For an “espn” query, the football page appears to be both a destination page and a very relevant page since it appears in the site links for that query, and it shows up as a second result under the first result from the espn domain.

  7. Hi Eric,

    Thanks. Great point. As I was writing this post, I tried to find a public page from Yahoo which mentioned how they might let users of the Search Submit program define which quicklinks are shown. Didn’t have much luck finding such a page.

  8. Hi George,

    You may have a point. I’ve had to block a few sitelinks in Google because of the link text that they use for pages. Instead of using the page title or content on the page being pointed towards, Google will sometimes use anchor text pointing to the page, or text near that anchor text, regardless of how irrelevant their choice might be for the page they are linking to. Allowing site owners to make suggestions of pages (and anchor text) to include in sitelinks might not be a bad idea.

  9. Hi Rob,

    I’ve seen some strange choices for sitelinks in Google recently as well. I’ve been checking them more frequently, and blocking some of the odder choices that I’ve seen, while trying to give some feedback when I do.

  10. Hi People Finder,

    I think they can be handy as well, but there are times when I prefer that a visitor might look at the navigation on a site instead of a site links navigation that Google or Yahoo or Microsoft might be creating for a site through the use of sitelinks. I think there’s a point where site links can be too intrusive, and may make it less likely that visitors will discover other content on a site that might be interesting to them.

    For example, if ESPN introduces a great new feature on their front page (changes to their fantasy baseball leagues, for instance), and don’t mention that feature on their main baseball page, I may never see that news because I’m missing the journey on my way to the destination.

    With that in mind, perhaps we should keep in mind how important it is to remember that many searchers arriving at the pages of a site through a search engine often don’t arrive at the home page. Site links provide some additional entry points to a site that probably shouldn’t be ignored, especially if our analytics show that site links are making a difference in how many visitors arrive at the pages linked to from site links.

  11. Hi JohnBi,

    Good catch. Yahoo has been showing single link quicklinks for a few years now. In that instance, it seems like it’s Google catching up to Yahoo. :)

  12. Comprehensive follow-ups as usual :)

    I also noticed these new quick links on Google are being processed by G. So I thought maybe they might be a possible way Google might “test the water” to see if a site is worth sitelinking. Possible abuse hole if they do as it would be pretty easy to fiddle. Not sure if they are too hot on this stuff. Recently saw a few sites owned by the same person take over the local search listings:

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=double+glazing+repair+bexley

    3 URLs taking up the 10 slots – the sort of thing you would expect from Tim’s leagcy guestbook script from 1998, not G Maps

  13. Hi David,

    Thanks. :)

    I don’t know if the single line site links are Google testing the water. They might be. If there are many sites where they are only confident about three or four links that they want to display, instead of a larger number like in the older Google style sitelinks, is it worth showing those? Will people use them? If so, we may end up seeing many more search results with site links, even if they majority are the single line version.

    That 10-box result you’re pointing towards is really bad. I don’t think I’ve seen one dominated by three sites like that before.

  14. Sorry I may have missed something… is there a way of creating sitelinks for your site in webmaster tools because that’s definitely something I’d use? It’s very useful for searches in speeding up the process between someone looking for and finding what they want. For example, I often search for ‘W3C’ because I know there’s a SERP link to the Validator page which is the only reason I need it:

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&rlz=1B3GGGL_enGB244GB245&q=w3c&btnG=Search&meta=

  15. Hi Adam,

    There isn’t a way to create sitelinks for your site in Google’s Webmaster tools. They might create them for your site if they believe that the query people use to find your pages is navigational in nature, and they understand enough of how people use your site, and your sites architecture to create them.

    Google says on one of their help pages:

    We only show sitelinks for results when we think they’ll be useful to the user. If the structure of your site doesn’t allow our algorithms to find good sitelinks, or we don’t think that the sitelinks for your site are relevant for the user’s query, we won’t show them.

  16. Hi Clipsters,

    Thanks for pointing that out. It’s interesting that you haven’t seen any Quicklinks for a french website. Are you writing about Yahoo or Google?

    If Google, is that true for http://www.google.fr/ with french websites, or http://www.google.com? Or both?

    On a search for “Paris” in Google on this search

    http://www.google.fr/search?hl=fr&q=paris&meta=

    I see the single line sitelinks for the first result:

    Accueil paris.fr – Paris.frSite officiel de la mairie. Guide pour visiter, étudier, travailler et investir.
    Recrutement & concours – Démarches & services pratiques – Culture

    I’m curious now if that’s true for sites from other countries, or in other languages than English, as well.

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  18. I have now some idea how yahoo organized the quick links. I also think this is 80% similar to Google. One thing is for sure on both search engine. They are popular page of the site next to home page.

  19. Hi Bob,

    There do seem to be a number of similarities. I’m not sure that every sitelink I’ve seen has been a popular page linked to from the home page of a site. I have a few for my site right now that aren’t.

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