Towngas and Sitelinks Hints from Hong Kong Websites

In many occasions, I am asked by website owners how to obtain Google Sitelinks. For those who are not yet familiar, Google Sitelinks is a set of links that appear below some site listings on search engine results. The aim of Sitelinks is to help users navigate through the site even before reaching them.

Appearance of Sitelinks is influenced by many factors, notably first place rankings, specific (brand) search terms, volume of search query demand and others. However, it is also influenced by how links are organized within a website. An example is the case of Towngas, a domestic and industrial gas supplier and one of Hong Kong’s oldest companies. Its website is available in English and Traditional Chinese while its homepage is composed of a selection between text and HTML versions of the two languages.


If we search for a brand term “towngas”, the website shows up on top spot, a natural phenomenon and inherent advantage to brand owners for brand-related searches. But note the links that were displayed as Sitelinks.


ifc Hong Kong
Let’s take a look at ifc Hong Kong. We add “Hong Kong” to provide specific meaning of ifc, as this three-letter acronym has multiple meanings; using “ifc Hong Kong” it almost certainly refers to the mall and that tall building in Hong Kong.


Using “ifc Hong Kong” as search phrase, we get the following result:


Note the difference between Towngas and ifc Sitelinks appearance. We can hypothesize that navigation is a big factor in the composition of Sitelinks. By default, ifc is set in English and users who prefer Chinese language will need to click on a link at the top navigation panel (outlined). The rest of Sitelinks defined in ifc are based on popular links at the navigation menu such as ifc mall, Location Map and Cinemas. So when Google sees a pattern in navigation, it tries to reduce the number of clicks by providing the Sitelinks containing the popular links to certain pages.

The long list of long tail keywords related to ifc and the lack of search function in the ifc website may be one reason why a special search form also appears at the Sitelinks. In many cases, Sitelinks don’t appear packaged with search functionality.

Meanwhile, Towngas users are always required to select their default language (thereby making the language selection links in the homepage most clicked links in the website). Hence, to reduce the number of clicks — and bring visitors to their desired pages as quickly as possible — Google Sitelinks offered the language selection links as part of the Sitelinks structure.

What can we learn
Of course these observations may not be applicable to other sites. Please refer to my previous post on Sitelinks to understand better the factors that influence them.

1. Set a default language and override the “select language page”
2. Provide a clear definition of navigation menu omnipresent on most, if not all, pages within the website.

As you’ll see, user experience plays a big role in search engines’ mind. For Google, it is stated in 10 things listed in its philosophy. So when we optimize for search engines, we should always consider user behavior (navigation path within the site), their intentions in coming to the site (seek the meaning behind their search queries) and identify pieces of information they are looking for and you’re not yet providing (content voids).

Disclosure: I used to help optimize for ifc Hong Kong website, shortly after it was launched.