Rich Snippets: What, Why and How to Implement?
When you type a search query into a search engine such as Google, you normally get a set of 10 search results at a time. Each search result is different although it has been retrieved for the same keyword. Observe that some search results are accompanied with images, videos, user ratings, published date, author photo and additional details about the content in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It is a universal tendency to be attracted by visual information more quickly than text-only information. Hence, one is generally inclined to click on the search result with visual content, even if it is the fifth result from the top in the SERPs, as shown in the sample SERP below:
Here is another SERP sample of a recipe for banana pudding, as shown below:
The most appealing search results are the second and the third ones, which give a visual representation of the contents of the respective websites. The fifth search result would be the next preferred one, as it shows five-star ratings and a picture of the author at the bottom. So, even if thefoodnetwork.com makes it to the top of the SERPs for the keyword banana pudding recipe, the results below it steal a good share of its audience by looking better on the SERP.
The text information depicted in the first search result is generally known as a snippet, while the information depicted in the second and third results with visual components are known as rich snippets. It is quite apparent by now that rich snippets fare much better than plain snippets, so let us learn a little more about them.
UPDATE (12th Dec, 2012): Google has announced the newest feature on Google Webmaster Tools that helps novice users add rich snippet markup on a website without having to work with back-end codes. This option allows for a point-and-click addition of rich snippet markup to a web page and is called The Data Highlighter. The option lies under the Optimization tab in Google Webmaster Tools. It allows you to select content from a web page, select the type of data it represents, for example – an event – and publish it as a rich snippet in search results right away. At present (13th Dec, 2012), this option is only available in English and the rich snippet markup available is restricted to event information. Below is a screenshot that shows the new Data Highlighter option in Google Webmaster Tools.
Google announced the concept of rich snippets on May 12, 2009, and defined them as a new representation of the normal search snippet which highlights structured data embedded in web pages. In other words, it gathers much more information from the web page than just the content in the Meta Title and Meta Description tags of the page. This additional information is in the form of images, videos, star ratings, date of publishing and so on. The structured data can be embedded into your web page in the following three markup languages:
Out of the three markup formats listed above, Google suggests using Microdata.
Markup data for various types of web page content has been provided by Google, as follows:
This markup of structured data for rich snippets applies to product pages or pages about a service. The pages must contain not more than one product/service.
Use this markup for e-commerce sites to display prices, reviews, ratings and availability of the products. Google offers markup data for pages containing a single product as well as pages containing a collection of products. It is important that the product markup is used specifically for the web page on which the user is able to buy the product.
You have already seen in the second screenshot above how recipes are represented in the rich snippet format. Just like the markup for reviews, this markup works best on pages that contain single recipes.
This is the markup for event pages that are specific to musical concerts or art exhibitions. The name of the event and its location can be displayed but no information that indicates the price of the tickets or any discounts. This markup cannot be used on products or services, for example, no trip packages or clothing sales.
This markup helps identify businesses and organizations as local. It helps Google understand the places mentioned on your site, reviews and other content such as contact information.
When a web page consists of song information such as lyrics or playlists from albums, this markup allows for a quick preview of the song lists in the search snippets. Users can directly click on the song link to listen to songs. A sample rich snippet is shown below:
The set of structured data discussed above would work well for Google but not necessarily for other search engines. Hence, two years after introducing rich snippets, Google and other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo and Yandex (a Russian Search Engine) got together to agree upon a common set of microdata vocabulary called Schema.org. As discussed earlier, the structured markup standard of using microdata is much preferred compared to others like microformat and RDFa. This is because Schema.org is a microdata vocabulary. It is not the language in itself; it depends on the microdata language. Besides this, many modern web browsers support microdata, which is all the more reason to use microdata markup on your website. Click here to see the various types of Schema.org vocabularies.
In the words of Google:
“Microdata strikes a balance between the extensibility of RDFa and the simplicity of microformats, so this is the format that we’ve gone with.”
A sample microdata markup with Schema Vocabulary is shown below:
However, if you have already used Microformat or RDFa language to embed rich snippet code in your site, Google will support them unless multiple formats are mixed together. Keep an eye out for WooRank updates regarding microdata.
Web Tools for Rich Snippets:
Optimum7.com offers a free SEO plug-in that is incorporated on the TinyMCE editor. The types of schema that can be created using this plug-in includes Events, People, Organizations, Reviews, Places, Products and more.
This plug-in is great for bloggers and chefs posting recipes on their blogs. It helps to incorporate recipe markup to your page so that your recipes are optimized for a rich snippet on Google’s Recipe View. A sample screenshot of Google Recipe View is shown below:
Previously known as the Rich Snippets testing tool, Google has recently re-launched this tool which is now known as the Structured Data Testing Tool. Test your site’s rich snippets in this testing tool by simply entering the URL. It could be the homepage or any inner-page URL. The new design makes it more clear what data is read and extracted by Google. In the tool Google answers a few probable reasons why certain rich snippets fail to appear.
This is a Web Data collector composed of pages that have semantic markup, such as microdata, microformats, RDFa and so on. You can use this to find out the markup data your competitors are using, particularly if you think the information could be useful to your business.
This is a great tool that gives users an easy platform to work with in order to create a web page’s structured data markup. Definitely try this if you find it difficult to work with Schema.org. You simply enter in the fields with the relevant information required for popular markup, such as Person, Product, Event, Organization, Movie, Book and Review. Then create a schema and copy and paste the code to your site. You do not need any coding skills to use this incredibly user-friendly tool. Schema-Creator also provides a plugin for WordPress sites.
Rich Snippets for SEO:
Although having the structured data markup on your website does not directly guarantee high search engine rankings, the increased click through rates created by a rich search snippet forms the ranking signal for your site. Hence, if the search result for your site is equipped with photos, videos, ratings and such additional and useful information, the click-through rate on your site’s search results will be comparatively higher than other sites without structured markup data.
While Meta Tag content and Meta Description content is featured in search results it is the search engines that choose what exactly to show. This process is more organized when you have schemas in place for rich snippets. If a snippet shows something that is not on the site, bounce rates on the site increase. This could create a negative signal to the search bots and the site may experience a ranking drop. Hence, it is essential that you spend some quality time to ensure that the appropriate markup and schemas are used on your site. This will improve the click-through rate on your site’s search results and also ensure that the information seen in the rich snippet is exactly the same as the information on your site.
Do not let your online competition take away your search audience with a visually appealing search result any longer. Apply appropriate markup and schemas to your site to noticeably increase search traffic.