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In search results, the sitelinks displayed are determined algorithmically based on the user's query. So, while Webmaster Tools may show 8 sitelinks for your verified site, it's possible that search results show only a subset (e.g. search results display 4 sitelinks).
Furthermore, the sitelinks displayed in search results can vary according to the query (e.g. different combinations of sitelinks for different queries).
Google Groups post [groups.google.com]
Of course that assumes that the site structure (and whatever else they are measuring) is strong enough that other candidates get selected - but it's good to know that it can happen.
The problem is, my site has 20 "Main Subject Areas". ALL the sitelinks that Google chose were from a SINGLE subject area. How do I address that? I have very popular pages in the other subject areas, including my most popular, by far!
They need to base their criteria upon POPULARITY! Right now, they pick a single subject area, and cling to it and only it, like glue. This severely limits the usefulness of the "sitelinks", and distorts the nature of the site.
[edited by: Sally_Stitts at 6:09 pm (utc) on Sep. 9, 2008]
Another interesting observation is that google has given me a sitelink for a page that is not very popular, gets hardly any web search queries, but does however, get the most search traffic from Google Images. This sitelink replaced one that was blocked, which was also to a page that got an unusually large amount of traffic from the image directory.
They need to base their criteria upon POPULARITY!
I'm starting to suspect that they don't use the same set of criteria for all 8 sitelinks. Perhaps they throw in 5 or 6 that they know are popular and maybe they then throw in 1 or 2 to pages that don't perform very well, but still have some value to Google.
Weird thing is that the console shows you up to 8 sitelinks that have been chosen for your site - I wonder if what Maile was saying was that sitelinks may be determined by users' queries, as in the queries used by users to find your site are also used when determining which 8 sitelinks you get?
Might have to ask a follow-up question on this topic.
For one of the pages listed in sitelinks, Google is using the thumbnail alt text (truncated) from the Homepage as the title. On my Homepage, the alt text describes the landing page rather than the pictures in the thumbnails. In this instance, the alt text contains keywords which are very rarely used throughout my site and I get hardly any queries for them.