Visual sitelinks: what webmasters need to know

08 June 2017

The internet has become synonymous with photos and video, so it’s arguably quite surprising that it’s take this long for hyperlinks to go visual. Admittedly, Google did try visual sitelinks once before, in 2013, but they never quite got off the ground. Bing, however, has had visual links in full production (i.e. out of beta) for about a year now, so perhaps Google decided that it didn’t want to risk losing out to a competitor.

Whatever the reason, visual links are back at Google, so here are two key points to understand about them.

Google is targeting mobile users

At this point, visual links are only available on mobile although it’s probably a safe bet that, like price extensions, they will find their way onto the desktop sooner or later. It does, however, make a lot of sense to use visual links in a mobile environment: mobile devices have smaller screens and hence text can easily get cramped on them. Pictures, however, can be (relatively) big, bold and obvious - as well as easy to press on a touchscreen. In fact, Google almost seems to be taking its cue from the “live tiles” approach used on Windows 10, including the mobile devices.

Visual links will be displayed in a carousel format, which, again, is optimum for mobile. Bing and Facebook already make use of the carousel format for visual links and adverts, respectively, and it’s easy to see why; again, it’s all about mobile.

Visual links will be of most use to companies which rely heavily on imagery and/or mobile

This may seem like stating the blindingly obvious, but visual links are essentially the digital equivalent of the photo-based adverts that have been used in print publications for decades and are currently used all over the web.

These adverts tend to be used for products where visual appeal is a crucial part of the sales concept, and fashion, travel and food are obvious examples of this. By happy coincidence, these are all industries that are capable of attracting the mobile market since they are the sort of products and services people can easily browse on public transport or when they have some downtime. More complex products, which require a greater degree of research and/or explanation, are less likely to benefit from using them, although visual links could encourage advertisers in these sectors to develop compelling images to represent their brand and/or their products even without an obvious logical link between them. For example, Lloyds Bank uses a black horse as its brand logo and has run very successful advertising campaigns using the famous big, black horse.

Similarly, companies that sell products without a great degree of visual appeal (such as kitchen white goods) may come up with ways to make them more attractive so that they, too, can make use of visual links.