Why Sitelinks Are A PPC Worst Practice

A few months ago, one of my coworkers asked me a thought-provoking question that I’ve been ruminating on ever since. She asked, “Does Google’s increased push on the use of sitelinks contradict their best practice to make ad groups as specific as possible and to drive users to the most relevant page? Say I’m advertising blue widgets. Long-standing best practices would be to have a very specific ad group pertaining only blue widgets and using my blue widgets page as the destination URL. Now instead of just being able to send them to my blue widgets page, I’m being pushed to include less relevant pages to keep my ad at the top of the page – Widgets, Widget History, Widget FAQs, etc. If your campaigns and ad groups are properly organized, sitelinks are only useful in limited circumstances.”

I thought this was an interesting perspective – one that I agree with. With our B2B clients, I usually don’t use sitelinks, for this very reason. The client has specific goals for each product or service, and we structure our campaigns and ad groups accordingly. The client doesn’t want us sending traffic to other pages within their website – these pages may not be optimized for conversion, or they distract the visitor from taking the action that the client really wants them to take.

Also, there are times when 6-10 or even 1-2 relevant links besides the landing page just don’t exist. Again, the client has a specific product or service they want us to promote. Maybe they even have a budget dedicated to that product or service. They not only don’t have other pages for us to send traffic to, but they don’t want us using their budget for that traffic!

This problem is more common for B2B advertisers, to be sure. I discussed it with Jeremy Brown in a post back in 2012.

This isn’t the first time I’ve covered the pitfalls of sitelinks. Back in 2011, I wrote a post for Search Engine Watch about the not-so-great aspects of sitelinks. While 3 years is an eternity in search, and Google has fixed most of the issues mentioned in that post, there are still shortfalls. Conversion tracking is still a challenge.

And Google doesn’t make it easy to see how individual sitelinks are performing. Take a look at this example:

sitelink data

At first glance, it looks as though the Contact Us sitelink has driven 8 conversions. Not so fast:

this vs other

In reality, no one is clicking on “Contact Us” – they’re all clicking on the ad itself.

This isn’t unusual, but to new PPC manager, or to clients looking at their own data, it’s misleading and confusing to say the least.

But I digress. I’m not the only one who thinks sitelinks might just be a worst practice. Andrew Goodman, in his famous rant “Why I Hate Sitelinks,” lists 11 reasons why he believes sitelinks are problematic. #1 on the list really resonates with me: “Where is the testing? Where are the key performance indicators (KPIs)? It’s impractical and/or irrelevant to test them; you can’t get actionable feedback.” Indeed.

I’m not totally anti-sitelinks. Sitelinks, and ad extensions in general, are a great way to take up more screen real estate. For advertisers with a robust catalog of related products and pages, sitelinks make a lot of sense. But they’re not for everyone, especially those with tightly-themed ad groups or those with only 1-2 relevant landing pages.

What do you think? Are sitelinks the love of your PPC life, or are they a worst practice? Share in the comments!

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New Adwords Sitelinks Policy – An Interview with Jeremy Brown

Adwords sitelinks are a great PPC feature that Google introduced a couple of years ago.  I’ve written about the good and bad in previous Search Engine Watch posts.

As is the way with PPC, last week Google made some tweaks to Sitelinks, which of course sparked discussion on Twitter.  This post was inspired by those discussions.

So, with no further ado, here’s my interview with Jeremy Brown on Sitelinks.

Melissa Mackey: First, introduce yourself!  Tell us a little about your business and the type of clients you work with.
Jeremy Brown:  I’ve been working in online marketing since 2000 and in PPC for the past 10 years.  I’ve recently started Metric Theory with a great team of folks to offer PPC management services to ecommerce and B2B companies with budgets ranging from $10k-$500k per month.  Our team previously built an agency that was managing over $60 million in annual PPC spend, and we have wide experience working with large retailers as well as cutting-edge tech companies.  We are growing quickly and we are looking for new clients so we can apply our data-focused strategies to drive results.

MM: Without spilling any trade secrets, how have you used Sitelinks successfully in the past? What best practices have you followed?
JB:  Sitelinks are absolutely great for taking up more space on the page.  That is their number #1 utility.  Second to that, they can be used as additional ad copy.  Google may want you to think of them as navigation (like organic search), but they are ad space and provide opportunities for selling.  They can be used to feature unique selling propositions, special sales, email newsletters, and a whole plethora of detailed information.

It’s important to think about what audience you are reaching with each campaign and model your Sitelinks appropriately.  For example, we often find it quite effective to feature a link to client testimonials as one Sitelink for small retailers on their brand campaign.  This provides additional social proof and a sense of security, and can be just what people need when they are reaching the decision point of the buying cycle.

MM: Google recently updated their Sitelink policy and is about to begin stricter enforcement.  What do you think about this?
JB: I’m definitely not a fan of Google enforcing a unique link for every Sitelink, and I’ve provided feedback to Google through numerous channels that this will result in a worse user experience.  Many, many advertisers do not have 4 relevant pages for a given campaign (much less 6-10).  Also, a good portion of those advertisers do not have the resources to create new pages easily.

What I see happening is that a number of advertisers will stick with current sales-focused Sitelinks and will use whatever pages they have at hand as the actual links.  Non-brand Sitelinks often get a small number of clicks and advertisers won’t fret over taking someone to an unrelated page.  As a Google user, I would much rather have 4 Sitelinks taking me to 1 related page rather than 4 Sitelinks taking me to various, unrelated pages in order to satisfy a Google directive to make paid search look and feel more like organic search.

MM: Google is also recommending that advertisers use 6-10 Sitelinks.  Isn’t it a challenge to come up with 6-10 unique Sitelink landing pages per campaign?
JB: It’s definitely a challenge.  In particular, it’s ridiculous for B2B or B2C advertisers who use dedicated lead forms.  Are they supposed to develop 6 slightly different lead forms so they can use Sitelinks effectively?  That doesn’t make sense.  We’ve worked with some clients who have only a handful of dedicated PPC landing pages and those have been obsessively tested and, in some cases, meticulously combed over by the executive suite.  They want to present a standard brand and image in certain advertising channels.  Having 6+ different landing pages often doesn’t mesh well with certain client goals.

Overall, Google is treating Sitelinks as pure navigation – whereas they should be treating them as part of a paid ad that advertisers can test and use as they see fit.  I don’t see this enforcement change helping advertisers or helping Google users.

MM: There is talk in the PPC community of “Sitelinks 2.0,” with Sitelinks available at the ad group level.  How do you think this will help or hurt advertisers?
JB: As much as I’m criticizing Google for their unique Sitelink policy, I want to heap praise on this move.  Advertisers have long asked for this capability, and it’s good to finally see it happening.  What do advertisers want?  More control so they can better craft their ads to drive strong results.  This definitely provides more control.  Advertisers can now use Sitelinks that are appropriate to each ad group as opposed to being stuck with what’s set at the campaign level.  This is a big improvement, and I do see many advertisers taking advantage of this to tailor more relevant Sitelinks to each high-volume ad group.

Still, this impact could be diminished if Google goes forward with their unique Sitelink policy: it’s much easier to craft relevant Sitelink descriptions for each ad group as opposed to creating different, appropriate landing pages for every ad group.  That’s asking a lot for most advertisers.  Based on Google’s documentation (or lack of) over the years, I’d say even a company of Google’s size has trouble marshaling the resources to quickly generate new pages of website content.

MM: Thanks so much for your insight!  It’s going to be interesting to see how the new sitelinks policy plays out.  How can people get in touch with you if they want to learn more about you and Metric Theory?
I’m easily reachable by email at jeremy@metrictheory.com.  We’ve also been putting up a number of blog posts at the Metric Theory blog.  I’ve been on Twitter for years at @jbguru (seriously, this was supposed to be an ironic name :), and we’ve just started as @MetricTheory on Twitter.  I encourage companies who need help with their PPC to reach out as well as folks in the PPC community.  I’m a big believer in shared knowledge so I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on Sitelinks and similar topics.  Thanks again for hosting, Melissa, and I’ll see you on #PPCchat in the near future!

Wow! Huge thanks to Jeremy for this insightful interview!  So, devoted readers, what do you think about the new sitelink policy? Do you have any questions for Jeremy? Share in the comments?

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