For close to a decade, Google have placed a surprising amount of power in the hands of search marketers. While we all jostle for top spot for relevant search queries at the mercy of Google’s ranking algorithm, to a certain extent we have been able to pick and choose the pages that we are most keen to display.
Google have a habit of removing useful functionality from Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) and the announcement that the ability to demote sitelinks has been axed certainly comes as a blow. Having a semblance of control over the additional related links that displayed underneath particular results was a powerful failsafe during site migrations and a useful level of control for endorsing high priority pages and hiding those that weren’t intended for public consumption.
Alas, no amount of disgruntled keyboard bashing from the SEO community will bring back the sitelink management feature – so how do we adapt?
Why Google, why?
Most people’s take will simply be ‘because they can’. The party line from Google is that they feel their algorithm is now so fluid and comprehensive, human intervention around sitelink suggestion simply isn’t necessary. It follows a recent trend that includes Google indicating that the manual link disavow process has essentially been made redundant by the latest – and last ever to be publicised – Penguin update.
We’re likely to see Google continue to remove or replace Search Console features over the coming months and years as they evaluate those that are being used primarily to benefit search marketers against those that are primarily benefitting users.
Will we feel the Impact?
There are a number of instances in which sitelink management has historically proved a useful tool. First and foremost though, the ability to clear the decks for the promotion of pages that provide a good user experience or conversion rate – while in turn demoting those that offer neither – can result in improved on-site behavioural metrics and revenue from organic search.
It was also great in a crisis. If redirect maps failed or site migrations went awry, demoting sitelinks in Search Console prevented users from discovering high profile 404 pages in the search results.
Lastly though, it gave a level of reassurance. For all the lines added in the robots.txt file or no-index robots meta tags implemented, there was nothing quite like explicitly stipulating to Google that there was a particular URL that you simply didn’t want appearing as a sitelink in the search results.
Where do we go from Here?
Let’s face it, where Google is concerned we’re used to change. The good news is that if your redirect management processes and site architecture are on point, you won’t lose any sleep over this latest development. The bad news is that those pesky URLs that slip through the net now can’t be saved from Google’s selection of sitelinks.
As is often the case, by deferring to best practice, thoroughness and diligence, you shouldn’t experience a negative impact.
- When migrating to a new website, leave no URL unturned within your redirect map (spending time identifying common threads to use in rewrite rules could save you a ton of time here)
- Give important pages the prioritisation they deserve in the site architecture and corresponding sitemaps
- Use the Fetch & Render functionality in Search Console to ascertain whether your important pages are being crawled and indexed correctly
- No-index all pages that you don’t want to appear in the search results
The search marketing world will cope, but it does leave us wondering which feature is next for the chop?