Google’s New Organic “Sitelinks Search Box”: Best Practices to Increase Organic Traffic & Prevent Diversion to Competitors


Post by Meghan Ryan, SEO Analyst Recently, Google released a new feature within its search engine results page (SERP) called “sitelinks search box.” When users search for navigational queries (e.g. a brand name or the URL of a brand site), the sitelinks search box could now appear below the brand website. The search box enables searchers to enter a detailed query and receive results from within the brand website, rather than from across the web. Oftentimes, users will use navigational queries to find a brand’s website, and they’ll then make a more detailed query once on the site. The sitelinks search box eliminates this extra step, allowing the user to do a detailed query without having to first click-through to the site. google sitelinks HOW IT WORKS The sitelinks search box offers search results from directly within a brand’s site, rather than from across the web. These search results may appear in two different layouts: (1) a second set of Google search results or (2) the brand site’s internal search results. Layout 1: Google Search Results By default, when searchers use a brand’s sitelinks search box, they are sent to a second set of Google search results, which is refined to show only results from that site. This is the same results that a searcher would find by using the “site:” operator. While this limits the search to the brand the user was originally interested in, Google ads are still displayed. With this layout, users have the chance to click on an ad rather than clicking through to the brand site. Layout 2: Internal Search Results Google offers brands the opportunity to bypass this second page of Google search results and instead send users directly to the brand’s internal search results. This option requires a special set of Schema.org code placed in the homepage. With this special code implemented, someone searching for a keyword in the sitelinks search box may be directed to the internal search results on a brand’s page. This option is preferred because it automatically brings users to the site and doesn’t offer them the chance to click on competitors’ ads. This option may lead to more website visits, and it better enables the brand to control the user experience. ELIGIBILITY Not every site qualifies for the sitelinks search box. Typically, the sitelinks search box is reserved for sites that receive a high amount of branded search queries, but Google isn’t transparent with its requirements. To determine whether your brand qualifies for the sitelinks search box, consider the qualifications listed below (note these qualifications aren’t proven to determine eligibility for the search box, but typically mean that a website is eligible):

  • High volume of navigational or branded search traffic
  • Message regarding sitelinks search box in Google Webmaster Tools. Google will send notifications to qualifying websites regarding eligibility for the sitelinks search box.
  • The sitelinks search box may already appear for branded queries. If this is the case, adding the search box Schema.org code would be advantageous in bringing users directly to internal search results.

IMPACT ON TRAFFIC As the sitelinks search box helps to refine results to a specific brand, it should cause a lift in traffic to the page. Moz.com, another prominent SEO blog, posted the following screenshot, which depicts a slight boost in traffic after implementing the sitelinks search box. google sitelinks mozblog *Image courtesy of Moz.com This is an increase of roughly 150 visits per week, about a 0.05% increase in organic traffic. Moz reports that other websites have seen a similar increase in traffic numbers. This implies that the sitelinks search box doesn’t have a significant impact on organic traffic. Although the impact on organic traffic is small, the sitelinks search box helps drive traffic to the most relevant page for the user’s query. This provides an improved user experience and may lead to an increase in onsite conversions. IMPLEMENTING THE SITELINKS SEARCH BOX USING JSON Google recommends implementing the sitelinks search box using JSON-LD, rather than using microdata as with other Schema.org markup. script Important properties defined:

  • url: This property specifies the website’s URL. It must match the canonical URL of the homepage.
  • potentialAction:target: This property specifies a search URL pattern for sending queries to your site’s native search engine. Performics recommends the URL structure remain the same as the canonical URL structure of the website. Other key points about this URL pattern to note:
    • It must include a string enclosed in curly braces that is a placeholder for the user’s search query (e.g. {search_term_string}). The string inside the curly braces must also appear in the name attribute of the query-input property.
    • It must point to the same domain on which the markup is found
    • An actual query string instead of the placeholder string must produce a valid search results page on your site
  • query-input: The value for the name attribute of query-input must match the string enclosed inside curly braces in the target property of potentialAction

In order to properly implement the sitelinks search box, ensure that the following configurations are implemented:

  • Set a preferred canonical URL for your domain’s homepage using the rel=”canonical” link element on all variants of the homepage. This helps Google choose the correct URL for your markup.
  • While no change to the robots.txt is necessary in order for the sitelinks search box to work correctly, prevent crawling of your site’s search results pages by updating the robots.txt.

SUMMARY The sitelinks search box allows users to search for information on a particular website directly within Google. Although the sitelinks search box only slightly boosts the organic traffic to a site, it helps searchers locate the information they are searching for, and it improves user experience. A brand may qualify for the sitelinks search box if it receives a high amount of branded and navigational search queries. For more info on implementing Google’s Sitelink Search Box, please contact your performance account team today.


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