How to Optimize Google Sitelinks for Conversion

Chad Schmidt
March 31, 2011

Not to be confused with Sitelinks for natural search, when enabled in an AdWords campaign, Google Adwords Sitelinks will display additional links underneath a standard text ad, and are used to drive clicks to deep content on your website. Typically Ad Sitelinks will only be served below text ads with higher-than-average CTR, position and quality score such as a creative served when a user searches one of your trademarked brand terms or a domain name that you own. Sitelinks are useful for messaging new promotions, driving traffic to high-converting content, and creating exposure for areas of your site that do not rank high in natural search.


Optimization strategy

Sitelinks do an excellent job of increasing your ad's real estate while in top position, and this additional attention can increase a creative's CTR drastically, Google claims 30%. However, increasing CTR significantly without generating extra conversions may not be a smart business goal, especially if you already own the top positions in natural search. The key to an effective Sitelink strategy is generating an incremental lift in conversion rate in addition to the increase in CTR, especially if the increase in conversion rate causes your paid search creatives to become more effective than natural search results. Let's discuss how to achieve this.

Selecting your creatives

Since text ads must have higher-than-average CTR, quality score and position to display an Ad Sitelink, branded campaigns make excellent candidates for your first test. Note: Ad Sitelink settings must be done at the campaign level, meaning all creatives in your enabled campaign will be eligible to serve Sitelinks.

Once you select a campaign, drill in and navigate to the campaign's Ad Extensions tab in AdWords and select "Sitelinks Extensions" from the drop down menu. Google claims to randomly rotate up to 8 Sitelinks, but this is rarely done, so make it a best practice to use up to 4 Sitelinks per campaign. Here is where the magic happens:

Sitelink Extention

Creating themes based on user behavior

Once you have selected a campaign, you need to determine our Sitelink themes. Some key questions to ask:

  1. What is the second click in this segment's click path?
  2. What are the top categories browsed in a session?
  3. What are your top converting pages sitewide?
  4. What are the top onsite search terms for this segment?

These questions will give you insight into which Sitelink themes may be effective. For example, if you have selected the branded campaign for this Sitelink test and 60% of all users in this segment navigate to your top converting category called "Discount Football Jerseys", you may want to consider this category as a Sitelink theme to shorten the click path and encourage other users to browse this winning content. Using promotional copy may perform better from a conversion perspective than a generic category such as "Men's Apparel".

Choosing effective Sitelink text

A simple creative test will tell you how to message your theme in a given Sitelink. Create a test adgroup using keywords relevant to your Sitelink's theme, and test different headlines for CTR and conversion rate. If your first Sitelink theme is "Discount Football Jerseys", experiment with different ways to message your value to the user. You may be surprised which headline generates the most conversions. Once your test creatives have generated a statistically significant number of conversions, select the headline which satisfied your thirst for high CTR and exceptional conversion rate, then use it to represent that theme as a Sitelink.

Sitelink Creative

Tracking Sitelink performance

Tracking Sitelink performance is a crucial step in optimizing for conversion rate due to Google's limited reporting on this feature, but in many cases you must get creative with your approach. It is important to note that you must track CTR performance at the campaign level, so it may be beneficial to split your Sitelink ad into a separate campaign. Conversions can be tracked at the Sitelink level, and the most common application is to add a unique tracking parameter to your Sitelink URL. For example, in Google Analytics, appending "&utm_content=sitelink1" to your Sitelink's URL will allow you to report on conversions generated by the corresponding Sitelink.

Workflow checklist

  1. Select An Ideal Campaign
  2. Research User Behavior
  3. Test Themes As Headlines
  4. Use Winning Headlines As Sitelinks
  5. Tag Sitelink Urls With Tracking Code
  6. Report Ctr & Conversion Results
  7. Test Additional Themes

Sitelinks can be optimized for conversion by researching customer behavior, creating relevant promotional themes, and using your best performing creative headlines to drive users to winning content. According to Google, Sitelinks can increase CTR up to 30%, and while large increases in click volume are significant, the real high-fiving begins when marketers are able to sustain or increase conversion rate as well to increase revenue and profit.

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