Paid Search

Google AdWords Sitelinks: Higher CTR on Premium Ad Space

Twitter: @brettwesterman

0 Comments 17 December 2010

While AdWords Sitelinks have been available in limited fashion since November 2009, this functionality was finally offered to all AdWords accounts on June 24th. The search marketing world rejoiced, as this meant any advertiser on the Google search network could display up to 10 additional links (compared to the customary 1 link) on ads deemed ‘high quality’. Examples shown below of ads with sitelinks, both inline and displayed in columns (control of which is out of the advertiser’s hands):



We have also seen examples where a character icon was inserted into the sitelinks. This visual manipulation is most likely not in line with AdWords regulations, though such actions are not being blocked at the moment.


Here is a quick rundown of the rules & parameters for ads with sitelinks:

  • Up to 10 hyperlinks may be specified, along with display URL’s, though all links may not appear, depending on the quality of your ad compared with competing ads
  • Sitelinks will only appear for the single top-ranked ad on a given user search. While the official policy is 1 sitelink per query, we have noticed instances of multiple paid sitelinks in the top position.
  • There is no additional cost for ad sitelinks.
  • There is no guarantee on the frequency with which your sitelinks may appear.
  • Ad sitelinks can only be set at the campaign level, not the ad-group level

Organic vs Paid Sitelinks

There is an important distinction to be made between paid AdWords ads with sitelinks and organic sitelinks available outside of the auction system. Organic sitelinks become available through Google Webmaster Tools when your site meets a certain threshold of content and/or pageviews, though the parameters are not exactly known. Google automatically offers sitelink options and the webmaster only has control to deny the auto-generated sitelinks or suggest new titles for those already chosen. Choosing sitelinks outside of the auto-generated options is not possible.

Paid ads with sitelinks offer more control in the text displayed and hyperlinked, though the advertiser pays for this exposure and does not have complete command of when and how they might appear.

The Positive: Higher CTR & More Real Estate

We have noticed a substantial CTR increase on sitelink ads, even across different industries, demographics and ad versions, with a typical rate above 10% and sometimes closer to 20%. Another advantage is the valuable real estate the sitelink takes up above organic results. Any additional space that your ad can fill, and thus take away from competitors, only serves to better draw the searcher’s eye toward your ad and your tempting array of links.

Similar to organic sitelinks, this paid ad extension operates best when a campaign lends itself to multiple landing pages. If your paid search conversion funnel can take multiple approaches, sitelinks provide a unique opportunity to direct searchers down different paths toward potential conversion.

The Negative: Ad Constraints & Lack of Control

A major drawback is that sitelinks can only be set at the campaign level. Most account structures have a broad campaign theme broken down into specific topical ad groups. It can be difficult to generalize a sitelink that encompass all potential ads that could appear in that campaign, hindering the micro-targeting that otherwise an account structure offers. This lack of control is further augmented when you don’t get to choose which ads will appear with sitelinks. This is left to AdWords deeming your ad (relative to competitors and ad rank) as ‘high quality’, an attribution almost as difficult to manipulate as the quality score assigned to keywords.

Since we all love data and analytics, what if you wanted to see which of your individual sitelinks was bringing the most clicks? AdWords does not show data on specific links, which would be a great insight for any data-driven account manager. Monitoring conversions is not available in the ‘Ad Extensions’ tab, which would make the most sense, but can be found by segmenting ads or keywords by ‘Click Type’. More of a user-interface complaint but certainly room for improvement.

Sitelinks: Room for Improvement But Still Valuable

AdWords sitelinks have been a benefit to our campaigns, helping drive up average CTR and placing our ads above competitors on the SERP. Certainly there are areas for improvement, though the simple fact that buying a sitelink placement costs no more than a typical ad shows what a benefit this extension can be to your campaign.

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