Spotted: Is Google Testing Sitelinks for YouTube Videos?

Users of Google should be familiar with sitelinks, those little hyperlinked sub-headings that often appear under the first search result, particularly for a brand, or a specific website.  They give users the option to quickly navigate a site to find content they may want without having to visit the homepage.

Sitelinks useful for the consumer, they are incredibly important for the brand because they push the other listings on the page lower, giving the domain a more prominent slice of the first page real estate. They have been around since July 2005 for web listings but a couple of days ago we found sitelinks for an individual YouTube video – something we have never seen in the wild before:

Update (05/26/15): The Letterman YouTube channel has now made this video private, so it no longer appears in Google search results.

David Letterman - Medal of Honor Recipient, Cpl. Kyle Carpenter Describes His Injuries - Google Search 2015-05-20 19-36-04

YouTube Video Sitelinks in Google Search?

While researching a post earlier this week (this one fact fans) we came across something we’re sure we haven’t seen before – sitelinks on an individual YouTube video in Google search results. We’re not sure whether Google is testing this feature but we’ve spent hours trying to replicate the result with other video searches and this is the only result that seems to trigger the feature.

While confirming the most popular video uploads on the Letterman channel, we opened up this video in a new tab, then copy and pasted the full title into Google (I wanted to check something) and saw 4 sitelinks appear (see image above).

The sitelinks only appear when you do an exact search via Google (David Letterman – Medal of Honor Recipient, Cpl. Kyle Carpenter Describes His Injuries) but here’s what they look like:

youtube related videos sitelinksTwo of the sitelinks are for videos uploaded to the Late Show with Letterman YouTube channel, the other two sitelinks belong to videos uploaded to other channels. These other videos show as ‘Related Videos’ next to the main video highlighted.

Now, this may just be a perfect storm of a trending subject (Letterman’s retirement from the late night talk show scene), and an up-coming tent-pole event (Memorial Day) but we tested and tested hundreds of different combinations of other trending topics, news and current events, and celebrity buzz and we couldn’t get the sitelinks to work on other individual videos.  Is this an anomaly or did we discover something that’s out for testing? If it is an anomoly – wtf?

The sitelinks could also be the result of the ‘Quality Update’ algorithm that Google rolled out earlier this month (first spotted by our friend Glenn Gabe) and which have left some rankings in a state of flux. Google has confirmed that this ‘Phantom Update’ is a major change to the “core ranking algorithm in terms of how it processes quality signals“, and seems to be aimed at publishers of mainly ‘How-to content’. There doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation between the update and the sitelinks on the Letterman video but who knows what goes on behind the scenes when a major change is taking place.

If Google is testing sitelinks for individual YouTube videos, there could be HUGE implications for brands, marketers, creators, and Internet users.

Google Sitelinks: Why are They Important?

Sitelinks, those little subheadings below the description snippet in Google web search results, are hugely valuable to the top branded listings as they will push the results below just that bit further down the page. For web pages, site-links triggered by a user search act as a shortcut to what Google considers the most valuable pages on that site.

Right now, Google generates sitelinks based on an algorithm, and site owners have no real control over what links (if any) appear below the main URL. However, once they appear, they can be ‘demoted’ via the Webmaster Tools dashboard. The sitelinks will only appear for results when Google’s algo considers them useful enough for the user based on search intent etc.

The sitelinks that appeared directly underneath our example would appear to reward not only the main channel the video belongs to, but also quality related videos that appear on YouTube next to that video. If Google really is planning to roll-out this feature then brands, creators and marketers will need to raise their game in terms of programming strategy, and optimization to ensure their content passes the Google test.