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Test Your Sitelinks – Improve Your Quality Score

Quality score is used along with your keyword bid to determine where exactly your ads appear on the page; something that Google calls ad rank.

Ad click through rate is still the biggest determinant of quality score, followed by ad and landing page relevance. In October 2013 Google also began taking account of sitelink performance as part of their quality score calculation.

Sitelinks only appear when your ads run at the top of the page. You are charged at the same per click rate as when someone clicks on the ad headline.

AdWords Sitelinks

Sitelinks are important for two reasons.

  1. They generally increase overall click through rate because your ads take up more space on the search results page. Incidentally, sitelinks usually take up more space in number one position than they do in positions two or three. Which is another benefit of getting to the top, if you can afford to do so.
  2. Google now considers sitelink effectiveness when they calculate quality score for each of your keywords. It isn’t a major factor – click through rate is still the biggest determinant of quality score. But if all else is equal Google can take sitelink effectiveness into account.

How to rank above me, without paying more…

Let’s say for example that you and I are bidding on the keyword ‘business cards’. Google have determined that our ads and landing pages are of similar relevance to the keyword. Our ads both have similar click through rates on the headline.

If you were to write a bunch of sitelinks that produced better click through rates than my sitelinks, there is a good chance you will be given a higher quality score and your ad will rank above mine on the search results page.

This makes sense when you consider that your ad makes Google more money than mine does. Quality score is designed to reward the advertisers that provide search users with the best experience, and in the process earn Google the most money.

Google will let you create up to 20 sitelinks per ad group, but up until recently you could not see an individual sitelink’s performance. If you go to ad extensions > sitelinks, Google will only show the performance for your ads as a whole (ad headline clicks plus sitelink clicks).

AdWords Sitelink Performance
Headline and sitelink performance gets lumped together by default

This made sitelink testing a tricky process, because we had to add Google Analytics tracking code to the end of each sitelink to track individual performance.

This has now changed – you can now see individual sitelink performance by selecting Segment > This Extension vs. Other

Comparing individual sitelink performance
Not so impressive now, right? To be fair, my ads generally do not appear at the top of the page…

This means that if your ads are appearing at the top of the search results page there is no reason not to be testing different sitelinks and monitoring performance.

You will find that click through rates on sitelinks are low, depending on your ad position. It is not unusual to see a click through rate of around 0.01 – 0.05%. Remember, you are comparing performance between sitelinks, not comparing performance on an absolute scale.

How often should you test…

If you manage your own AdWords I suggest setting up a bi-monthly or quarterly calendar appointment to review sitelink performance. Keep a log of your results so you know what you have tested.

You may not change the sitelink destinations themselves, but it is a good idea to try different link text. This is why it is a good idea to run ad group specific sitelinks, as you can test different variations of the same sitelink across different ad groups.

Testing across different ad groups isn’t completely scientific, but sitelinks are mostly about grabbing attention. If you produce a sitelink that performs well in one ad group it should perform well when applied to your other ad groups too.

One more thing – in my experience very few advertisers test their sitelinks. If you advertise in a competitive market this is one additional way to give yourself an edge.

Pro Web Design Alliance member Rob Drummond helps companies all over the world produce profitable PPC campaigns. Download Rob’s free AdWords guide now.

About the author

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond works as a par per click consultant, based in the United Kingdom. Rob works with clients around the world to help improve their PPC results.