Webdevelopment KnowHow

TIPS, TRICKS and much more

Introducing new and improved sitelinks

Webmaster level: All

This week we launched an update to sitelinks to improve the organization and quality of our search results. Sitelinks are the two columns of links that appear under some search results and ads that help users easily navigate deeper into the site. Sitelinks haven’t changed fundamentally: they’re still generated and ranked algorithmically based on the link structure of your site, and they’ll only appear if useful for a particular query.


Sitelinks before today’s changes

Here’s how we’ve improved sitelinks with today’s launch:
  • Visibility. The links have been boosted to full-sized text, and augmented with a green URL and one line of text snippet, much like regular search results. This increases the prominence of both the individual sitelinks and the top site overall, making them easier to find.

  • Flexibility. Until now, each site had a fixed list of sitelinks that would either all appear or not appear; there was no query-specific ranking of the links. With today’s launch, sitelink selection and ranking can change from query to query, allowing more optimized results. In addition, the maximum number of sitelinks that can appear for a site has been raised from eight to 12, and the number shown also varies by query.

  • Clarity. Previously, pages from your site could either appear in the sitelinks, in the regular results, or both. Now we’re making the separation between the top domain and other domains a bit clearer. If sitelinks appear for the top result, then the rest of the results below them will be from other domains. One exception to this is if the top result for a query is a subpart of a domain. For instance, the query [the met exhibitions] has www.metmuseum.org/special/ as the top result, and its sitelinks are all from within the www.metmuseum.org/special section of the site. However, the rest of the results may be from other parts of the metmuseum.org domain, like store.metmuseum.org or blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen/about.

  • Quality. These user-visible changes are accompanied by quality improvements behind the scenes. The core improvement is that we’ve combined the signals we use for sitelinks generation and ranking -- like the link structure of your site -- with our more traditional ranking system, creating a better, unified algorithm. From a ranking perspective, there’s really no separation between “regular” results and sitelinks anymore.

Sitelinks after today’s changes

These changes are also reflected in Webmaster Tools, where you can manage the sitelinks that appear for your site. You can now suggest a demotion to a sitelink if it’s inappropriate or incorrect, and the algorithms will take these demotions into account when showing and ranking the links (although removal is not guaranteed). Since sitelinks can vary over time and by query, it no longer makes sense to select from a set list of links -- now, you can suggest a demotion of any URL for any parent page. Up to 100 demotions will be allowed per site. Finally, all current sitelink blocks in Webmaster Tools will automatically be converted to the demotions system. More information can be found in our Webmaster Tools Help Center.

It’s also worth mentioning a few things that haven’t changed. One-line sitelinks, where sitelinks can appear as a row of links on multiple results, and sitelinks on ads aren’t affected. Existing best practices for the link structure of your site are still relevant today, both for generating good quality sitelinks and to make it easier for your visitors. And, as always, you can raise any questions or comments in our Webmaster Help Forum.

Written by Harvey Jones, Software Engineer, & Raj Krishnan, Product Manager, Sitelinks team

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(Cross-posted on the Inside Search blog)

Webmaster level: All

For many months, we’ve been focused on trying to return high-quality sites to users. Earlier this year, we rolled out our “Panda” change for searches in English around the world. Today we’re continuing that effort by rolling out our algorithmic search improvements in different languages. Our scientific evaluation data show that this change improves our search quality across the board and the response to Panda from users has been very positive.

For most languages, this change impacts typically 6-9% of queries to a degree that a user might notice. This is distinctly lower than the initial launch of Panda, which affected almost 12% of English queries to a noticeable amount. We are launching this change for all languages except Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, where we continue to test improvements.

For sites that are affected by this algorithmic change, we have a post providing guidance on how Google searches for high-quality sites. We also have webmaster forums in many languages for publishers who wish to give additional feedback and get advice. We’ll continue working to do the right thing for our users and serve them the best results we can.

Posted by Amit Singhal, Google Fellow


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New webmaster tutorial videos

Webmaster level: All

Over the past couple of years, we’ve released over 375 videos on our YouTube channel, with the majority of them answering direct questions from webmasters. Today, we’re starting to release a freshly baked batch of videos, and you might notice that some of these are a little different. Don’t worry, they still have Matt Cutts in a variety of colored shirts. Instead of only focusing on quick answers to specific questions, we’ve created some longer videos which cover important webmaster-related topics. For example, if you were wondering what the limits are for 301 redirects at Google, we now have a single video for that:



Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for this round. You can be the first to hear about the new videos as they’re released by subscribing to our channel or following us on Twitter.


Posted by Michael Wyszomierski, Search Quality Team

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A new, improved form for reporting webspam

Webmaster level: All

Everyone on the web knows how frustrating it is to perform a search and find websites gaming the search results. These websites can be considered webspam - sites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and try to trick Google into ranking them highly. Here at Google, we work hard to keep these sites out of your search results, but if you still see them, you can notify us by using our webspam report form. We’ve just rolled out a new, improved webspam report form, so it’s now easier than ever to help us maintain the quality of our search results. Let’s take a look at some of our new form’s features:

Option to report various search issues
There are many search results, such as sites with malware and phishing, that are not necessarily webspam but still degrade the search experience. We’ve noticed that our users sometimes report these other issues using our webspam report form, causing a delay between when a user reports the issue and when the appropriate team at Google handles it. The new form’s interstitial page allows you to report these other search issues directly to the correct teams so that they can address your concerns in a timely manner.

Simplified form with informative links
To improve the readability of the form, we’ve made the text more concise, and we’ve integrated helpful links into the form’s instructions. Now, the ability to look up our Webmaster Guidelines, get advice on writing actionable form comments, and block sites from your personalized search results is just one click away.

Thank you page with personalization options
Some of our most valuable information comes from our users, and we appreciate the webspam reports you submit to us. The thank you page explains what happens once we’ve received your webspam report. If you want to report more webspam, there’s a link back to the form page and instructions on how to report webspam more efficiently with the Chrome Webspam Report Extension. We also provide information on how you can immediately block the site you’ve reported from your personalized search results, for example, by managing blocked sites in your Google Account.

At Google, we strive to provide the highest quality, most relevant search results, so we take your webspam reports very seriously. We hope our new form makes the experience of reporting webspam as painless as possible (and if it doesn’t, feel free to let us know in the comments).

Posted by Jen Lee and Alissa Roberts, Search Quality Team

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Webmaster level: All

Google’s Webmaster Team is responsible for most of Google’s informational websites like Google’s Jobs site or Privacy Centers. Maintaining tens of thousands of pages and constantly releasing new Google sites requires more than just passion for the job: it requires quality management.

In this post we won’t talk about all the different tests that can be run to analyze a website; instead we’ll just talk about HTML and CSS validation, and tracking quality over time.

Why does validation matter? There are different perspectives on validation—at Google there are different approaches and priorities too—but the Webmaster Team considers validation a baseline quality attribute. It doesn’t guarantee accessibility, performance, or maintainability, but it reduces the number of possible issues that could arise and in many cases indicates appropriate use of technology.

While paying a lot of attention to validation, we’ve developed a system to use it as a quality metric to measure how we’re doing on our own pages. Here’s what we do: we give each of our pages a score from 0-10 points, where 0 is worst (pages with 10 or more HTML and CSS validation errors) and 10 is best (0 validation errors). We started doing this more than two years ago, first by taking samples, now monitoring all our pages.

Since the beginning we’ve been documenting the validation scores we were calculating so that we could actually see how we’re doing on average and where we’re headed: is our output improving, or is it getting worse?

Here’s what our data say:


Validation score development 2009-2011.


On average there are about three validation issues per page produced by the Webmaster Team (as we combine HTML and CSS validation in the scoring process, information about the origin gets lost), down from about four issues per page two years ago.

This information is valuable for us as it tells us how close we are to our goal of always shipping perfectly valid code, and it also tells us whether we’re on track or not. As you can see, with the exception of the 2nd quarter of 2009 and the 1st quarter of 2010, we are generally observing a positive trend.

What has to be kept in mind are issues with the integrity of the data, i.e. the sample size as well as “false positives” in the validators. We’re working with the W3C in several ways, including reporting and helping to fix issues in the validators; however, as software can never be perfect, sometimes pages get dinged for non-issues: see for example the border-radius issue that has recently been fixed. We know that this is negatively affecting the validation scores we’re determining, but we have no data yet to indicate how much.

Although we track more than just validation for quality control purposes, validation plays an important role in measuring the health of Google’s informational websites.

How do you use validation in your development process?

Posted by Jens O. Meiert, Google Webmaster Team

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Webmaster level: Beginner

Like any curious netizen, I have a Google Alert set up to email me whenever my name is mentioned online. Usually I get a slow trickle of my forum posts, blog posts, and tweets. But by far the most popular topic of these alerts over the past couple years has been my off-handed mention that we removed PageRank distribution data from Webmaster Tools in one of our 2009 releases.

The fact that people are still writing about this almost two years later—usually in the context of “Startling news from Susan Moskwa: ...”—really drives home how much PageRank has become a go-to statistic for some webmasters. Even the most inexperienced site owners I talk with have often heard about, and want to know more about, PageRank (“PR”) and what it means for their site. However, as I said in my fateful forum post, the Webmaster Central team has been telling webmasters for years that they shouldn't focus so much on PageRank as a metric for representing the success of one’s website. Today I’d like to explain this position in more detail and give you some relevant, actionable options to fill your time once you stop tracking your PR!

Why PageRank?
In 2008 Udi Manber, VP of engineering at Google, wrote on the Official Google Blog:

“The most famous part of our ranking algorithm is PageRank, an algorithm developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google. PageRank is still in use today, but it is now a part of a much larger system.”
PageRank may have distinguished Google as a search engine when it was founded in 1998; but given the rate of change Manber describes—launching “about 9 [improvements] per week on the average”—we’ve had a lot of opportunity to augment and refine our ranking systems over the last decade. PageRank is no longer—if it ever was—the be-all and end-all of ranking.

If you look at Google’s Technology Overview, you’ll notice that it calls out relevance as one of the top ingredients in our search results. So why hasn’t as much ink been spilled over relevance as has been over PageRank? I believe it’s because PageRank comes in a number, and relevance doesn’t. Both relevance and PageRank include a lot of complex factors—context, searcher intent, popularity, reliability—but it’s easy to graph your PageRank over time and present it to your CEO in five minutes; not so with relevance. I believe the succinctness of PageRank is why it’s become such a go-to metric for webmasters over the years; but just because something is easy to track doesn’t mean it accurately represents what’s going on on your website.

What do we really want?
I posit that none of us truly care about PageRank as an end goal. PageRank is just a stand-in for what we really want: for our websites to make more money, attract more readers, generate more leads, more newsletter sign-ups, etc. The focus on PageRank as a success metric only works if you assume that a higher PageRank results in better ranking, then assume that that will drive more traffic to your site, then assume that that will lead to more people doing-whatever-you-want-them-to-do on your site. On top of these assumptions, remember that we only update the PageRank displayed on the Google Toolbar a few times a year, and we may lower the PageRank displayed for some sites if we believe they’re engaging in spammy practices. So the PR you see publicly is different from the number our algorithm actually uses for ranking. Why bother with a number that’s at best three steps removed from your actual goal, when you could instead directly measure what you want to achieve? Finding metrics that are directly related to your business goals allows you to spend your time furthering those goals.

If I don’t track my PageRank, what should I be tracking?
Take a look at metrics that correspond directly to meaningful gains for your website or business, rather than just focusing on ranking signals. Also consider metrics that are updated daily or weekly, rather than numbers (like PageRank) that only change a few times a year; the latter is far too slow for you to reliably understand which of your changes resulted in the number going up or down (assuming you update your site more than a few times a year). Here are three suggestions to get you started, all of which you can track using services like Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools:
  1. Conversion rate
  2. Bounce rate
  3. Clickthrough rate (CTR)
Conversion rate
A “conversion” is when a visitor does what you want them to do on your website. A conversion might be completing a purchase, signing up for a mailing list, or downloading a white paper. Your conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who convert (perform a conversion). This is a perfect example of a metric that, unlike PageRank, is directly tied to your business goals. When users convert they’re doing something that directly benefits your organization in a measurable way! Whereas your PageRank is both difficult to measure accurately (see above), and can go up or down without having any direct effect on your business.

Bounce rate
A “bounce” is when someone comes to your website and then leaves without visiting any other pages on your site. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits to your site where the visitor bounces. A high bounce rate may indicate that users don’t find your site compelling, because they come, take a look, and leave directly. Looking at the bounce rates of different pages across your site can help you identify content that’s underperforming and point you to areas of your site that may need work. After all, it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if most searchers are bouncing off of it as soon as they visit.

Clickthrough rate (CTR)
In the context of organic search results, your clickthrough rate is how often people click on your site out of all the times your site gets shown in search results. A low CTR means that, no matter how well your site is ranking, users aren’t clicking through to it. This may indicate that they don’t think your site will meet their needs, or that some other site looks better. One way to improve your CTR is to look at your site’s titles and snippets in our search results: are they compelling? Do they accurately represent the content of each URL? Do they give searchers a reason to click on them? Here’s some advice for improving your snippets; the HTML suggestions section of Webmaster Tools can also point you to pages that may need help. Again, remember that it doesn’t matter how well your site ranks if searchers don’t want to click on it.

Entire blogs and books have been dedicated to explaining and exploring web metrics, so you’ll excuse me if my explanations just scrape the surface; analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik’s site is a great place to start if you want to dig deeper into these topics. But hopefully I’ve at least convinced you that there are more direct, effective and controllable ways to measure your site’s success than PageRank.

One final note: Some site owners are interested in their site’s PR because people won’t buy links from their site unless they have a high PageRank. Buying or selling links for the purpose of passing PageRank violates our Webmaster Guidelines and is very likely to have negative consequences for your website, so a) I strongly recommend against it, and b) don’t be surprised if we aren’t interested in helping you raise your PageRank or improve your website when this is your stated goal.

We’d love to hear what metrics you’ve found useful and actionable for your website! Feel free to share your success stories with us in the comments here or in our Webmaster Help Forum.

Posted by Susan Moskwa, Webmaster Trends Analyst

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Introducing new and

Webmaster level: All This week we launched an update to sitelinks ...

High-quality sites a

(Cross-posted on the Inside Search blog) Webmaster level: All For many months, ...

New webmaster tutori

Webmaster level: All Over the past couple of years, we’ve released ...

A new, improved form

Webmaster level: All Everyone on the web knows how frustrating it ...

Validation: measurin

Webmaster level: All Google’s Webmaster Team is responsible for most of ...

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