There was a flurry of interest a few weeks ago, when Google released the new Sitelinks layout, with up to 12 Sitelinks showing below searches. I followed up the announcement with how to adjust your Sitelinks in Google Webmaster Tools. However, another change has now become obvious, which is that you can no longer view your Sitelinks in Google Webmaster Tools.
You used to get a preview of what they were, so you could sometimes see them, even if you didn’t know what term they are appearing for. Now you just get the example of Google’s own site, and the demotion options. This means you actually have to find your own Sitelinks in order to work out if you would like to demote any.
Sitelinks appear on searches where you get the majority of the clicks for that term (above the norm for average clickthroughs). I used to think you had to get about 90% of the clicks on a term, but now the wonders of the Search Queries report in Google Webmaster Tools gives us actual figures on the CTR for terms where Sitelinks appear.
For the sites I looked at, for brand terms, without PPC running on the same terms, they had CTRs of 68-85% on terms for which they were number 1 and Sitelinks appeared. This is considerably more than the 40% you would expect to get for a position 1, so it is clear that it is the deviation from average which triggers the Sitelinks. There also needs to be a reasonable amount of search volume for this to be apparent.
The most common terms that trigger Sitelinks are your brand name, and your domain name. So try these first if you are looking to see what Sitelinks Google is creating for you.
The next place to look is Google Webmaster Tools itself, look at the terms where the CTR is high. This won’t always show terms where the search volume is low however. After that, look at terms in your Analytics for which you get a lot of traffic, and check each one. After these checks, you should have seen most of the results triggering Sitelinks and you shouldn’t find any obscure Sitelinks cropping up for unusual terms, because the search volume issue comes into play for long tail terms.
Another change you might notice, as you are doing this test, is that you never see 12 Sitelinks. In fact, even at the beginning of the roll out, we rarely saw more than 8, and now 6 actually seem to be the standard. Even for big brands like NASA, Google and Apple, 6 Sitelinks appear, so it looks like Google has revised the number.