If you have checked your brand on Google recently you may have noticed a change in the appearance of the search engine results page (SERP). For searches that Google thinks are brand-based (your brokerage name, for example), there is an expansion of ancillary links.

There have been a number of smallish ancillary links, called "sitelinks," for awhile. But now, you’ll notice, they have expanded a great deal in size and scope. While the links were previously small, and contained only the title of the page being linked, now they are large and contain only about the first 25 or so characters of a page title.

This week, we’ll look a little bit at how to make the best of this change in the SERP and also what might be going on under the hood at the big "G."

Oh no! Googling my brand results in a mess on the SERP!

This round of design changes to the search engine results page gives a lot more screen real estate and text to the top link. This is generally good, right? Your brand will now dominate the "above the fold" section of the search result.

But it comes at a little bit of a cost: the link and description text of all those extra links are shorter than you (or your search engine optimization expert) are used to working with. In addition, you don’t get to control which links appear in the results. Google picks the links that show up.

Chances are good that Google isn’t going to miraculously pick the stuff you’d prefer to list at the top of a search for your brand. It’s going to make as good of a guess as it can, based on the almighty algorithm. But let’s face it — you’re unique and special and no computer can figure out what you’re really about.

While you aren’t offered the opportunity to absolutely control the links that appear in the search engine results page, you can prune them back. Using Google Webmaster Tools, you can let the search engine know about links you don’t want to appear as sitelinks.

Google will then remove those pages from the sitelinks section of your search listing for 90 days. Also, Google doesn’t make any promise to remove the links you demote in any sort of time frame — you’re just submitting a request.

Yeah, you’re going to need to keep an eye on things and log back in to Webmaster tools a little more often if you want to manage this.

It’s important to note that demoting a link from the sitelinks doesn’t have an impact on that page’s regular search listings — you’re simply letting Google know that you don’t want that page to appear as an ancillary link on your site.

So that’s the first thing you’ll probably want to do: Get rid of the unwanted stuff showing up as ancillary links on your brand search, such as some old listings or popular-but-not-related-to-your-business blog posts — things like that.

Next up, you might want to re-evaluate your page titles and descriptions. This one is tricky because changing page titles will have an impact on that page’s search engine rank. So be careful with this.

The titles and descriptions of the new expanded sitelinks are much shorter than the main entries on the search engine results page. This will almost certainly make any clever page titles completely unintelligible.

To make the most out of the 10 selections that get to the front of your brand search, consider doing the following:

1. Make page titles that are as short as possible — less than 25 characters if you can.
2. Make every character count. All 25 characters should be spelling words that have meaning.
3. Get the important words to the front of page titles.
4. Get the important words to the front of descriptions.

Now that you have a few things to help deal with the panic of the new SERP, let’s talk about something more interesting: What’s really happening here?

Google is learning more about your brand

Many successful strategies have similarities to biological science. Given the overwhelming success of life on Earth, it’s probably a solid model to imitate.

Life typically starts with an excess and then whittles the excess down to the parts that work (and also the parts that are neutral or don’t get in the way). Take dandelions, for example.

Lots and lots of those little seeds are made and dispersed. Not all of them make it, but some do — and the system repeats.

In other words, it’s sort of the "throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks" approach.

Google is using this method to learn more about what people want from your brand. This is why they can’t give you absolute control over what appears on your branded search.

If they left it up to you, then Google would learn only what you want to sell — not what customers want to buy.

By having this sort of prunable list of internal links to rotate through, Google can get your input when you tell it not to include certain pages. But Google can also start working on figuring out what customers want by continually presenting them with options and seeing what sticks.

Give a lot of options, then start pruning back to what works (or what doesn’t get in the way.)

You can learn more about your audience

Google isn’t the only one who can learn in this way. Using your Web analytics (you knew I’d bring this up sooner or later) you can use the expanded sitelinks to better understand what people are looking for when they search on your brand.

Monitoring branded search, people coming to your site having typed in your company name, is something that’s always been useful — it’s a factor in measuring success of traditional branding activity, ability to convert people who know who you are, and so on.

You can now add a new layer to that: figuring out what people are looking for when they are looking for your brand. By monitoring what page someone lands on at your website after they have searched for your brand, you can see what they really want from you or your website.

Use this insight to make your experience and business better for all of your visitors.

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