Expanded Site Links: Google’s New and “Improved” SERP’s

On Tuesday, Google announced a substantial change to the way they display site links, emphasising certain sections of sites in the search results. Something similar has been in place for a while, but only since this Tuesday’s update has the SERP real estate been so massively increased.

In the most extreme cases, sitelinks previously filled far less space, including up to eight smaller text links consuming little more space than a normal organic double listing. Sitelinks for authority sites and strong brands have now been upgraded to a larger font, and with the URL and a short version of the meta description now look much like an organic listing.

Whilst this increase to real estate for brand searches makes complete sense and should be positive for many Googlers, a problem becomes apparent when Google applies these extended site links to generic terms. The issue is revealed in the following searches for “DIY” and “American Holidays”.

These searches indicate to me that they haven’t quite sussed out the difference between brand and an exact match domain.

The trouble is where Google draw the line; obviously in the case of “American holidays” the top ranking domain has been built around their own brand of the same name, but in the case of B&Q, “DIY” is a term that someone may use in order to get DIY advice or the like.

My concern is that the power will shift entirely to companies that have their targeted key term aligned with their exact match domain, a ranking factor that holds a lot of power and can thus easily fool Google into assuming that it is also their brand.

Although they might do wonders for a lot of brands offline activities, these extended site links need to be restricted to brands - and brands alone. Defining ‘brand status’ for a given term could potentially be approached through Companies House records, US state corporation registers - or through branded trademarks.

The old format of sitelinks gave everyone a chance, and kept page one competitive. However the amount of space assigned to the site links on Tuesday has raised the bar in how difficult it will be to get noticed for key terms that overlap with brands and exact match domains.

Competing against exact match domains has just become a whole lot harder, not just in terms of beating them to the top position; but also getting noticed in the positions below them.