Dude, Where’s Your Impressions?

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Google Glitch Leads to Drop in Organic Impressions, Ranking.

If you are in SEO, Digital Marketing, or just maintain your own personal website, Google Search Console (GSC) can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Tools in GSC range from seeing 90-day historic queries, clicks, impressions and CTR to monitoring 404 error pages and manual penalties.

One of the helpful tools, a sitelinks demotion feature, was recently removed in early October of this year. After that tool was removed came some changes by Google that reduced the number of sitelinks being shown on the search engine results pages, thus leading to a very steep decrease in impressions for high volume branded and unbranded queries. Was the tool removal a sign that Google was putting less of a focus on populating sitelinks in Organic SERPs?

What is a Sitelink?

Sitelinks are hyperlinks to website subpages that appear under certain Google listings to help users navigate a website. Though site owners cannot add Organic sitelinks to their snippets or search results, Google adds them through their algorithmic learnings and understanding of a website’s structure. There are two different kinds of Organic sitelinks. They can appear as small links under a search listing and as larger links with a description under a main result. Small sitelinks often show up for high search volume queries, both branded and non-branded.

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     1: Main Search Engine Result     2: sitelinks

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     1: Main Search Engine Result     2: Small sitelinks

Sitelinks help users get a better understanding of what the site is about before a user clicks on a search engine result. They act as a shortcut from Google to a page that interests a user, rather than having a user arrive at a homepage and then having to navigate throughout the website. Google’s mission statement is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Sitelinks are a small detail of SERPs that help define Google’s mission statement.

So, What Happened?

Google made two changes that reduced the number of sitelinks being shown on search engine results pages. This decline began in September with a sharp drop around the end of October. The first change resulted in small sitelinks being completely removed from results. A Google spokesperson recently stated that this was a bug and have since fixed it as of November 9. The second change reduced the number of large sitelinks shown for branded searches. Listings now display four sitelinks instead of six. There is speculation that this is a test, and shouldn’t be impacting all websites.

What You Should Look For in GSC

Merkle analyzed three sites before and after the change and determined the following impact based on the changes to sitelinks:

  • There was an 80% decline in impressions
  • There was a 5-position decline in average position
  • There was a 360% increase in click-through rate
  • There was no impact on traffic

Impressions declined due to the reduction in the total number of pages ranking for high search volume queries and the average position declined due to less pages rages ranking in the normally high-ranking sitelink positions. Because sitelinks research has shown users don’t interact much with them, the removal of sitelinks ended up increasing CTR of main search engine results due to the reduction of lower-CTR sitelinks.

How to Check if You’ve Been Affected

If you are looking at your Google Search Console report and you see a lift in impressions, CTR and average position around November 9, your site was probably affected by the sitelinks glitch and test.

If you’re not sure if your website has ever showed sitelinks, you can use Semrush’s SERP history tool which provides a monthly snapshot of the SERP for any keyword in their database (branded searches are limited in the SEMrush tool.)

What’s Next?

It’s important to analyze your traffic to understand the true impact of these changes. Look at any sharp decreases in Organic Sessions in Google Analytics to figure out if you’ve been effected and shift your strategy. Always match up what trends you are seeing in Google Search Console with traffic because there may be a larger issue at hand.

Melissa Sciorra

Melissa Sciorra, SEO Director. Follow her @mel_arroics!

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