How Google May Choose Sitelinks in Search Results Based upon Visual or Functional Significance (Updated)

Added 6-17-2015 – It’s not clear from the new patent filings, but from feedback I received on Twitter from Mathieu Janin, at https://twitter.com/Matt_Refeo, it appears that Google may be showing sitelinks for pages that aren’t just the home pages of a site. As Mathieu tweeted to me:

These sitelinks appear to be from an internal page on this site.
These sitelinks appear to be from an internal page on this site.

I performed this query again on the french version of Google, and it is showing sitelinks for an internal page on the site:

Sitelinks appearing for an internal page on the site.
Sitelinks appearing for an internal page on the site.

Himanshu Sharma also reported a similar result on Twitter(https://twitter.com/analyticsnerd):

Sitelinks for a blog post, in Google search results.
Sitelinks for a blog post, in Google search results.

Here’s what that looks like at Google:

These sitelinks are showing up in an English Language result at Google
These sitelinks are showing up in an English Language result at Google

I’ve tried a number of searches on Google.com to see if I could get sitelinks with descriptions on them like this on sites in English, but unlike Himanshu, I’m not having any success. I do get links below a result in a form that I’ve referred to here as quicklinks in the past. These do seem to be taken from prominently placed links on the linked pages. For example, here’s the search result for the Wii, which shows some quicklinks that appear upon the page linked to:

The quicklinks for this search result shows off prominently placed links on the page listed in the results.
The quicklinks for this search result shows off prominently placed links on the page listed in the results.

Back to the original post…

Search engines often provide extra links to display in search results for a site that are known as Sitelinks. Google’s help page about site links tells us that their purpose is to:

… help users navigate your site. Our systems analyze the link structure of your site to find shortcuts that will save users time and allow them to quickly find the information they’re looking for.

I wrote about sitelinks at Google back in 2006, in the post Google’s Listings of Internal Site Links for Top Search Results, where I wrote about a patent application published that year that discussed how pages might be chosen to be presented as sitelinks. I noticed this week that Google was granted a new patent on sitelinks and they followed that up with publishing a patent application about sitelinks under the same name. The 2006 patent seemed to focus more upon user behavior information that might be associated with pages on a site to display those, and these newer patent filings, have a slightly different approach. The title of them discloses some significant differences, as they were both published under the name: “Sitelinks Based on Visual Location.”

The Visual Sitelink Process
The Visual Sitelink Process

I also noticed that the patent examiner listed the following three sources as “references” for the granted version of the patent:

Two of those articles describe how Google may choose some links on a page that may pass along more PageRank than other links. It appears that these new patent filings involving which links are chosen to be displayed in search results also use a similar approach to show off sitelinks. A score is given to sitelinks that appear upon pages, that seems to be based on the visual location where that link appears upon that page.

The patent also tells us that some user-behavior signals still play a role, by noting that:

The method may also assign a score to each hyperlink, of the plurality of hyperlinks based on a click-through rate corresponding to each hyperlink of the plurality of hyperlinks.

The visual location of a hyperlink is described in terms of a DOM (Document Object Model) for the site being listed (see the link above for “DOM” for a good description), and hypertext elements (different types of HTML markup)

The patent does mention the possibility that some links may appear in more than one location on a page, and links that do will have separate scores for each of those locations.

The patent application is:

Sitelinks based on Visual Location
Invented by: Minkoo SEO
Assignee: Google
US Patent Application 20150161281
Published June 11, 2015
Filed: June 11, 2012

Abstract

A computing device may receive a request for sitelinks corresponding to a document and identify a plurality of hyperlinks corresponding to the document. Each hyperlink, of the plurality of hyperlinks, may include a hyperlink object within the document. The computing device may determine a visual location corresponding to each hyperlink of the plurality of hyperlinks corresponding to the document, and assign a score to each hyperlink, of the plurality of hyperlinks, based on the visual location corresponding to the hyperlink. The computing device may provide a sitelink, corresponding to a hyperlink, of the plurality of hyperlinks, based on the score assigned to the hyperlink.

The Granted patent is:

Sitelinks based on visual location
Invented by Minkoo Seo
Assigned to Google Inc. (Mountain View, CA)
US Patent 9,053,177
Granted June 9, 2015
Filed: June 11, 2012

Abstract

A computing device may receive a request for sitelinks corresponding to a document and identify a plurality of hyperlinks corresponding to the document. Each hyperlink, of the plurality of hyperlinks, may include a hyperlink object within the document. The computing device may determine a visual location corresponding to each hyperlink of the plurality of hyperlinks corresponding to the document, and assign a score to each hyperlink, of the plurality of hyperlinks, based on the visual location corresponding to the hyperlink. The computing device may provide a sitelink, corresponding to a hyperlink, of the plurality of hyperlinks, based on the score assigned to the hyperlink.

The purpose behind these patent filings is summed up well in this paragraph:

Since sitelinks may be included in a search engine result, scoring sitelinks according to visual locations and providing the sitelinks according to the score of each sitelink may enable the search engine result to not only include a hyperlink to a document, but also to include sitelinks corresponding to the most visually and/or functionally significant hyperlinks within the document. Accordingly, a system and/or method, as described herein, may be used to enhance search engine results corresponding to a document with one or more sitelinks to improve a user’s search experience.

So, it seems that Google is trying to identify significant hyperlinks on a page which it might show sitelinks for.

The patent discusses a “sitelink management system” that might be used in the creation of sitelinks for pages. It mentions that to capture some links, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) might be used, and tags associated with links might be looked for. I have noticed some sites that don’t show sitelinks when you search for the name of the site, and links within the main navigation are images and pictures of text, instead of actual textual-based links. In those instances, it didn’t appear that Google was using OCR to learn where those links led. It’s possible that may change, but some self help might be called for to add text that GoogleBot can read to better identify that link.

The patent also discusses a “hypertext Markup System” that tracks groups of links that appear on pages, such as a top main navigation set, and a set that appears in a footer on a page that may contain some duplicated links from that top grouping of links. These groups of links may also be scored, and that score may play a role in determining how “visually, or functionally significant” a link may be.

Take-Aways

Whether or not a site might have sitelinks appearing for it upon a search for it may depend upon whether or not Google is able to determine which links on the home page of a site might be the most visually, or functionally significant those links may be, and Google may also score those links based upon a click through rate associated with them, as well.

This is the first Search Engineer I’ve seen with the Surname “SEO”, which suggests to me that he might not have a Google Update named after Him.

I looked at the claims sections of the granted patent and the patent application (published after the granted patent was granted, and there are three claims from the granted patent that are marked as “canceled” in the pending patent application. When those appear in the granted patent, they refer to sitelinks showing up in response to a query, and having at least one sitelink for that result. It’s difficult to say how Google was interpreting those particular claims. There didn’t seem to be a lot upon them in the description section of the patent filings.

The sitelinks that do appear in response to a query may vary, as can be seen in the results below, in response to a query for the domain “seobythesea” and a query for the name of the site, “SEO by the Sea.”

One set of sitelinks appear in search results for the domain name seobythesea
One set of sitelinks appear in search results for the domain name seobythesea
Another set of sitelinks appear in results for the site name SEO by the Sea.
Another set of sitelinks appear in results for the site name SEO by the Sea.

Note that some sitelinks are for previously published blog posts, some are for categories, and some are for pages that are linked to in the navigation on the site. Do you have Sitelinks that appear for your domain name, and Site Title; and if they don’t, do you have an idea of how to make changes so that those might start showing up?

Summary
Article Name
How Google May Choose Sitelinks in Search Results Based upon Visual or Functional Significance (Updated)
Description
A new Google Granted Patent and Patent Application describe how search results site links might be generated for a site, and what factors Google may look at when deciding.
Author

15 thoughts on “How Google May Choose Sitelinks in Search Results Based upon Visual or Functional Significance (Updated)”

  1. This article was really helpful for me. I was researching on the sitelinks since long and had been on a right place.. Thanks the SEO guy…

  2. I guess that making use of semantic elements like nav or footer could help in the engine’s efforts to score links.

  3. Hi Bob,

    The search engine may look at the locations of different links in places like navigation or a footer, and those locations could play a role in their score as potential site links for a page.

  4. Another nice post. Always appreciate your insights into Google’s patents.
    Just to add that being logged in or not, as well as doing a same brand search in speech marks (phrase match) also affects sitelinks. In some cases none appear and in others several appear. There are obviously many factors that influence sitelinks, though I have little doubt that it is indeed predominantly on-page factors that affect their appearance the most.
    Having recently made quite a few changes to a small site that no longer displays the sitelinks that it once did (though still displaying in other countries), I will be experimenting in this field some more and share any noteworthy observations.

  5. Thanks for this post I’m using this method for a project I’m working on right now. I would love to see more about keyword mapping and will be following the comments for new suggestions

  6. Hey Bill,

    I was about to read the latest post you have when my eyes saw this one. I was somewhat interested with this mainly because I had a job last week which concerns about searching various sites using various keywords. While working with it, I encountered this particular dilemma. There are various site links during my searches. What’s funny is, I use almost the same keywords with a small twist like putting spaces in between and not having spaces to the keywords as well. So generally speaking, I was amaze how your post pin-pointed out the things I was curios about in the past. Anyways, as always nice post you have here. Cheers!

  7. Another valuable and very insightful post Bill Sir. I did not notice this change on sitelinks and thanks to you, now I will start doing some research and dig deeper into this.

    It’s really surprising that Google started showing sitelinks for a phrase search in that way. Previously I have been able to get sitelinks on phrase searches but those were shown on a single line just below the description on SERP. But this is new and will start doing some more research on this.
    Thanks for the information and the post, Bill Sir.

  8. Hi Farrell John.

    I suspect that the results for some queries that are similar to each other might be influenced by those responses to “known queries” at Google. I think that might be true in triggering site links for a site in search results as well.

  9. There are various site links during my searches. Previously I have been able to get sitelinks on phrase searches. I was researching on the sitelinks since long and had been on a right place.
    Thanks alot Bill Slawski 🙂
    Keep posting.

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