Measuring Organic Sitelink Activity

Sitelinks are the extra internal links that appear with some natural search results.  In addition to drawing more attention to a search result, these links are helpful to visitors that want to jump directly to a particular section of your site.  Organic SitelinksDespite the recognized value of having sitelinks, few organizations measure their popularity or effectiveness.  This post walks through how to use your web analytics solution to measure organic sitelink performance.

While website owners can’t dictate the specific links to use in their organic listing, Google does provide the ability to disable individual sitelinks from appearing in their organic results.  Rather than disabling questionable or unwanted organic sitelinks blindly, marketers should use web analytics to measure the usage and effectiveness of each link beforehand. Also, Google introduced the option to include sitelinks in paid search listings late last year, which has proven to be very effective for advertisers.  Understanding the performance of organic sitelinks can be helpful in choosing sitelinks to test in your paid search program.

Because sitelinks are organic listings, it’s not possible to add custom tags to these links for direct measurement.  Instead, sitelink activity must be inferred based on the landing page of visits from natural search brand terms.  Entries on your homepage are likely the result of clicks on the main search result link.  Non-homepage entries are most likely the result of clicks on individual sitelinks.

For example, take the screenshot above, which shows how a search for “pm digital” recently appeared on Google.  Clicks on any of these links will be attributed to the natural search term of “pm digital” although the landing page varies depending on the link clicked on.  Measuring the number of visits by landing page is an indication of each sitelink’s popularity.  Also, visitor’s onsite behavior from these various entry points provides a measure of how valuable each of these links are.  Sitelinks with a high bounce rate or low conversion rate could be candidates to be disabled if other, potentially more relevant sitelinks exist.  Keep in mind that some valuable links may naturally have a high bounce rate.  For example, a sitelink for ‘Store Locations’ may provide searchers exactly the information they want in a single pageview.

Because sitelinks often vary by search engine, analyses should be conducted one engine at a time.  Also, search engines adjust sitelinks over time, so it’s best to analyze a recent timeperiod or one where you know which sitelinks were presented to searchers.

Google Analytics makes it very easy to measure sitelink activity using the method outlined above.

  1. Start with your Traffic Sources > Search Engines report and drill down into one search engine (e.g., google).
  2. Select “non-paid” in the Show list so that data reflects organic search visits only.
  3. Drilldown further into your top brand keyword (e.g., “pm digital”).
  4. In the resulting Detail report, change the dropdown menu from ‘None’ to ‘Landing Page’ to view data by that dimension (confirm that “non-paid” is still selected in the Show list).
Measuring Organic Sitelink Activity with Google Analytics

Measuring Organic Sitelinks in Google Analytics (click to enlarge)

The resulting report shows the popularity of each landing page and key traffic metrics associated with those visits.  Ecommerce metrics and goal conversions are also reported for each landing page for assessment and to help determine the potential impact of disabling one of the sitelinks in favor of others.

The same analysis concept outlined above can be applied to other web analytics packages too.  For example, in Coremetrics Analytics, a Key Segment can be created to isolate natural search traffic from a specific engine and keyword.  The Key Segment can then be applied to the Content Categories report to view site entries by landing page.  In Omniture Sitecatalyst, the Data Warehouse tool can be used to create a segment based on natural search traffic for a specific engine and brand keyword(s).  The Data Warehouse report can be constructed to break down visits and other site metrics by Entry Page.

Anthony Avolio is Director of Web Analytics at PM Digital.

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