Jonathan Saipe

Time To Rethink Your AdWords Sitelinks Strategy

2 October 2012, Jonathan Saipe

This week Google sent an email to AdWords customers indicating that unique sitelinks will be more proactively enforced. Before I delve into this in too much detail, let’s look at the basics.

The Fundamentals

Google’s existing AdWords sitelinks policy goes as follows:

  1. The link text must be 35 characters or less (or 17 characters in languages that use double-width characters such as Japanese)
  2. Your link text must clearly relate to the content on the landing page
  3. You can’t use punctuation or symbols
  4. You can’t use dynamic keyword insertion or unauthorised trademarks
  5. Sitelinks can’t cause a file download to occur
  6. For the most part you can’t link to 3rd party sites (although this is acceptable in certain circumstances providing the link text specifies it clearly)

Here’s The Really Important Stuff

  1. Sitelinks cannot link to the same landing page; for example if you have 6 sitelinks, they have to link to individual URLs
  2. Sitelinks to tabbed content or link anchors within the same page will not be allowed

Google claims that 80% of the content on a page should be unique for that page to count as a different page.

Currently, there are a myriad of examples of ads using sitelinks that all link to the same content (including the main headline of the ad itself). Before anyone heckles me on our own sitelink usage, yes it’s true, we do it too. Just don’t tell anyone.

Sitelink Strategies

Until now advertisers have used sitelinks is various ways as illustrated below.

Advertisers have used sitelinks to test various calls-to-action to better understand what triggers a response in prospects.

Experian sitelinks

In the Experian example, sitelinks could take users to the same landing page, and by tagging your sitelinks correctly (e.g. using the Google URL builder), you can measure clicks, bounce rates, conversion rates etc by sitelink.

Some advertisers have used sitelinks to serve the diverse needs of their customers. Airlines are good example; when you do a search for “flights to Paris” what type of ticket or seat are your customers looking for? Sitelinks will provide a range of ticket types from economy to business class etc.

Air France sitelinks

Similarly, for short tail searches where the needs of the customer are ambiguous, advertisers may decide that their best strategy is to promote their best selling products or services. sitelinks

In the case of branded searches, advertisers (such as Selfridges below) will trigger ads with sitelinks displaying their most popular content, products or services.

Selfridges sitelinks

Content Strategy And Site Architecture

With Google’s enforcement of unique landing pages per sitelink, the challenge becomes greater as advertisers now need to balance their sitelink strategy with what content is available on their respective websites.

Website owners are therefore required to produce relevant quality content that users expect to see following a click. Remember Google Panda? Sounds too familiar.

In the Selfridges example above, where sitelinks can link to respective product categories, this may not present big issues in terms of content creation, but it may not be so easy for advertisers who are testing sitelinks as calls-to-action all currently linking to the same page.

What About Quality Score?

With Google’s latest enforcement, the Quality Score question springs to mind. If I do a search for “free credit check” and I see sitelinks on an Experian ad entitled “Member login”, does that member login page relate to my search? Does that landing page contain the keywords I’m bidding on? And will it result in a high bounce rate? All of these elements could impact on my Quality Score.

So, there’s added complication here. As an advertiser, I need to choose the right sitelinks that will meet the needs of my audience, my marketing goals and my content architecture all working to benefit my Quality Score.

All I can say is, good luck!

If you’d like to know more about optimising your AdWords campaigns, take a look at our Pay-Per-Click Marketing Course led by Jonathan Saipe.