This past week, Google began displaying more information under sitelinks appearing in organic search, now providing a description under links as well as the url for the sitelink page. Additionally, up to 12 sitelinks may appear under the top organic listing. See an example by clicking here.
What It Means for Brands
As a brand owner, you want to be sure that you control the majority of messaging related to your brand, especially in search results. While Google will still display 10 separate results (SERPs) on a page, the expanded sitelinks offer a new opportunity to push less relevant brand information further down the viewable results page.
From an online reputation management perspective, that's a real win for brands. The last thing that brands desire is a negative comment or message about their brands highly visible on a search results page. Brand owners, who typically own the top search result for their brand names, can now realize more search result real estate at the top of the search result page, potentially somewhat obscuring negative results from immediate view.
Meta Descriptions Increase in Importance
I've seen many websites ignore the importance of unique meta descriptions for each page. Prior to sitelink expansion, meta descriptions have always been helpful for SEO, if for no better reason than to help marketers control the messaging that appears in search engine descriptions and possibly help increase organic click-through rates.
With the addition of a description under the expanded sitelinks, marketers now can exhibit some control over the information that appears in these results as well. However, if no meta description is present, Google typically uses the first content it reads on the page. Sometimes, as with the main listing's description, the first content on the page isn't ideal for a website description.
It's also going to be even more important to use unique meta descriptions. Facebook, sadly, uses the same meta description on almost all of its pages that are present in sitelinks. This doesn't give the searcher a good idea of what the sitelink page is about, which may upset click-through rates.
Next Steps for Site Owners
If you haven't already been doing so, you should first check to see what your sitelinks are for your website. While you can't choose which sitelinks to add, Google Webmaster Tools does provide a way for you to block sitelinks you feel are inappropriate. However, I have noticed that the tool now does not always accurately reflect the current sitelinks Google may be showing at the time. So be sure to do a brand search to see which pages may currently be appearing as sitelinks as well.
One way to help influence which pages are included as sitelinks is to prioritize those pages in your navigation. Sitelinks tend to be chosen from pages that are in the main navigation of your website, likely because they appear to have the greatest importance and appear to be the main categories of the website. So be sure to consider your navigation carefully and plan ahead to help improve your chances of influencing your sitelinks.
Next, be sure that all of the current sitelink pages have well-written meta descriptions. While the descriptions that appear for main SERPs is approximately 160 characters, the sitelink descriptions only display about 32-34 characters. Consider the length limitations when writing your meta descriptions so that you can include highly relevant terms in the beginning of the description to ensure their visibility in the sitelink listing.