Google Webmaster Central: Sitelinks, Historical Query Stats, and Surprises
Likely most of you who read this blog know that until recently, I was responsible for Google’s Webmaster Central — I helped put together the blog (that we originally developed as a way to keep everyone informed about changes to Sitemaps, and that evolved into so much more), the discussion forums and the help center, worked with the absolutely fantastic engineering team on what tools we released, what they should look like, and how they should work, and pulled it all together into google.com/webmasters as a handy place to access it all. I still think of Webmaster Central as my baby, so I love to see it growing up. (You may not realize just how many people have been involved in helping making Webmaster Central what it is — from the user support team who field emails helping gather a list of topics for the help center, to the Sitelinks team helping with the feature launched just today. At every step, there are amazing people working throughout Google in all kinds of ways to make it all happen.)
It made me happy to see the Webmaster Central blog listed in the recent interview on Search Engine Land with Google Blogger extraordinaire Karen Wickre as the 5th most read Google blog and that it has produced two of the posts from all the Google blogs with the most page views. The entire team worked really hard putting that blog together initially, then later enabling comments, and it was a great way to start to get information out to webmasters and get involved with the conversation about search.
I also always get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I see features released that we worked so hard on when I was there. And it makes me even happier to be surprised by new things. The latest Webmaster Central release has a little of both.
The first addition is information about sitelinks. Sitelinks appear below the first search result for some searches. They were introduced to improve search quality. The overall goal of all the major search engines is to provide the searcher with what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.
The idea behind sitelinks is that the searcher no longer has to click through to the result and then click again to get to the specific page that answers the query. Rather, the searcher can quickly skim a set of links to the site and click directly on the most relevant one. Why can’t the search result simply list the best one? Well, queries tend to be pretty short and it can be difficult to extract searcher intent. For instance, if I do a Google search for [duke's chower house seattle], am I looking for directions? Hours? A menu? Google doesn’t know, so they offer up several suggestions. (Quality aside: a link to the menu shows up in the sitelinks, but if you do a search for [duke's chowder house seattle menu], that same link doesn’t show up on the first page. In fact, no pages from the Duke’s site show up.)
As noted by Search Engine Land yesterday, the number of sitelinks that appear can now be up to eight. So choose your eight internal home page links carefully.
Not all searches trigger sitelinks. This only happens for searches that Google thinks might benefit from them. For instance, if they think the query has enough inherent intent (such as the addition of “menu” in the previous example), they figure the listings alone are likely the one-click answer for the searcher.
And not all sites have sitelinks generated for them. Your site has to both have sitelinks generated for it and appear as the first result for a query that Google feels could use sitelinks in order to have the elusive sitelinks display.
How can you tell if Google has generated sitelinks for your site. Well, as of today, you can see it in Webmaster Central. Simply go to the Links section, then click on Sitelinks. If you’re me, you’ll see something like this:
(Although Barry notes that this seems to show up even for sites with sitelinks for now, which is probably a temporary glitch.)
However, if you have sitelinks, you’ll see the generated list. You might want to change this list — the URLs themselves or the anchor text used for them. But you can’t. Not for now anyway. It would be a cool thing to add. What you can do is remove listings. But why would you want to do that? Well, a couple of reasons. If you totally hate the anchor text, like say for some reason the menu link said “this menu sucks”, you might want to suppress that. No, I don’t know what that would be your anchor text, but I suppose anything is possible. Surely you’ve seen weird titles and descriptions coming from external links and things like ODP. The more likely reason you’d want to kill a link is if it 404s. If someone clicks on a 404 link, they may come back to the search results and try an entirely different listing rather than another of your sitelinks. Ideally, you’d just 301 redirect this broken link over to the correct page, but that may not be something you can do quickly, depending on your infrastructure. If this will take you a while, you can suppress the link, implement the redirect, then unblock it once everything is working.
Historical query stats
Webmaster Central has also added historical information for query stats. Previously, it showed you aggregate data over 7 days. Now you can see the most recent 7 days or you can choose an earlier week (up to 6 months ago). Right now, you can’t see the trend over time unless you export the data to excel and run your own numbers. They’ve also added a percentage next to each query, which I guess helps you determine not only which queries you show up for most, but what percentage of the time you’re showing up for that vs. something else. In my case, “vanessa” accounts for 78% and most everything else rounds down to 0%.
No more ratings
I don’t know exactly when this happened, but the rating smiley faces are gone. I’ve also noticed (probably this happened with the UI changes not too long ago), lots more is AJAXy and you no longer have to click buttons once you make choices.
Looks like they’re ramping up on using the message center as well. It is kind of nice to have a record of changes you’ve requested.
Search Engine Land is reporting that Webmaster Central will also let you know if they see high URL counts that might indicate lots of duplicate content, but I’m not seeing that in my account. That’s definitely a surprise feature for me, so I’m eager to check it out. I’ll report back once I’ve seen it.
On a related note, I was equally happy to see Microsoft roll out their version of webmaster tools recently. I love to have been part of such a positive trend for the industry. Search is really cool. Brings a happy tear to my eye.