Of all the many splendored powers Google Webmaster Tools promises, one of the most useful is the Sitelinks Demotion tool.
As you may find with your websites, though, this promise of ultimate branded search control is often ineffective or ignored. Why is this exactly? Was it something you said, or is this just a case of Google asserting their subtle dominance as Lord and Master of your universe?
Uhhh… What’s a Sitelink?
For the unfamiliar, sitelinks refer to the bonus links on a search page to additional pages on a site. Typically, you will see sitelinks with branded searches where Google is so sure they have the right listing #1 organically that they toss in a bunch of extra pages searchers might also want. For example:
In general, sitelinks are a positive for both established brands and searchers. It’s easier for consumers to find what they might be looking for, and it’s easier for a brand to serve up these pages without a need for navigation.
Sitelinks only really present a problem when you decide Google is not serving up the pages for your website that you most want visitors to find. This is where the Sitelinks Demotion tool enters the picture.
Demoting Sitelinks Through Google Webmaster Tools
With your Google Webmaster Tools account, you can very easily find your way to the Sitelinks Demotion tool. You just click configuration–>Sitelinks.
From here Google goes on to explain all your new-found power.
Sitelinks are automatically generated links that may appear under your site’s search results. Learn more. If you don’t want a page to appear as a sitelink, you can demote it. Only site owners and users with full permissions can demote sitelinks.
Already from the language it’s clear that the Sitelinks Demotion tool is somewhat limited in scope. You can not actually tell Google what page you want added as a sitelink. Instead, you can simply demote a page that you do not want so prominent.
Presumably, from here Google will take your demotion into account and promptly remove the offending sitelink from your search results.
This is not necessarily the case.
The Demoted Sitelink… It Is Still In Search Results. What Gives?
The first reaction you might have to your sitelink hanging around like an unwanted leech is that you did something wrong in Webtools. This is definitely possible, as Google has made sure to make the Sitelinks Demotion tool about as confusing as possible. For something so simple, they really made sure to make it an outtake from the SAT reading section (I never took the SAT; no idea if that’s a section).
Assuming you are demoting a sitelink for a search result that leads to your homepage, you can leave the first text entry field blank. This post sums up the distinction between text fields nicely.
If after, checking again, you’re very confident that you’re looking at a sitelink for your homepage, and that you demoted the correct URL (I’m confident along with you; you got this), there’s really only one remaining solution.
Google thinks you’re wrong.
That’s right. For algorithmic reasons that our puny human minds may not comprehend, Google has decided the sitelink in questions is, in fact, what your visitors are looking for.
There’s a really good Google+ discussion on this exact circumstance that eventually pulls de facto Google WebTools spokesman, John Mueller, into the fray.
The most informational quote from Mueller comes here, following a question about an Accounting firm with a sitelink promoting a one-time “free twinkies” giveaway they held:
It’s not guaranteed that you’d be able to remove it as a Sitelink, but it does demote it (so if we have better ones to show, it’s possible that we won’t show the Twinkies one). The thing to keep in mind is that Sitelinks are query-dependent, so just because something is a Sitelink once, doesn’t mean it’ll be a Sitelink for all queries.
The part that stands out to me is the assertion that a demotion will only take hold if the algorithm finds better pages to show.
The short conclusion being? If you have a small site, just be happy you have sitelinks in the first place!
Alternate Sitelinks Demotion Techniques
The Webmaster Tools Sitelinks option has a lot of appeal, largely because of it’s speed and (relative) ease of use.
That said, if you’ve demoted a Sitelink and just can’t get it to go away, it’s time to evaluate why you want that sitelink out of the picture in the first place.
Is it an existing page on your site that you want visitors to find, you just don’t want it prominently displayed?
This is going to be the trickiest kind of page to manage, and it’s also the situation I’m looking at currently. The most reasonable answer, if the page is not one you want accessible in search results, is to apply a noindex tag. Remember, though: this strategy only works if you’re comfortable with that page completely removed from Google’s index.
If that’s not a solution you want here, you’re going to have to wait on the Sitelinks Demotion tool to take effect. Again: this may not actually happen, and you may be stuck with a less than optimal sitelink.
If your page in question is actually a removable link, then Mueller’s advice from above is to 404 or 301 redirect the page to the preferred result. In theory, this change should then apply to your live sitelinks.
Sitelinks Demotions can be a frustrating experience when they won’t take hold. While there are a few alternate options, end of the day you may be at the whim of this finick-y Google Webmaster Tool, and Google’s valuation of your landing pages. No one likes to be ignored, but getting a word with Google just isn’t what it used to be.