It all begins with a click. That’s the official start of your business relationship with potential new customers, followers, subscribers, and fans in the online world.
No click, no relationship. They’ve already moved on to the next listing.
To get that all-important click, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd. How big is it exactly? Well, the latest estimates suggest Google alone handles at least 63,000 queries per second, or 3.8 million per minute, or 5.5 billion per day…and each one of those presents thousands of results.
The numbers are mind-boggling.
And increasingly, you need rich snippets.
The World of Rich Results
In the beginning, a typical SERP displayed results that included a title, a URL link, and a brief description.
Things, you may have noticed, have changed a lot. Now, we see paid ads, “People also ask” questions, and see plenty of rich results. These rich snippets, rich cards, and enhanced snippets are a growing segment of search results across the board. It’s best not to ignore them.
Featured snippets — the direct answer appearing at the top of the results — are a bit different. Google creates them by directly accessing content on the page. But that doesn’t make them any less valuable. One study found a 516% increase in sessions, the CTR quadrupled from 2% to 8%, and organic visitor revenue went up by 677% after getting a consistent featured snippet.
But let’s focus on rich snippets for now, because they’re advantageous and you need them in your life.
Rich snippets are search results that go beyond the basics. They are, by definition, a richer result than the ordinary.
Using structured data markup (more on that in a moment) added to your site HTML, you provide the search engines more information to better understand the content and intent of each page.
Search engines can then present these extra details as rich snippets appearing under the URL on your result listing. Snippets may include additional information about your hours, contact details, reviews, pricing, location, star-rating, product availability, and more.
Snippets typically appear for queries about specific people, businesses, products, reviews, recipes, events, music, and video. The Search Gallery shows some of the more common types at work in their native habitat.
Unfortunately, there’s no switch that you flick to turn rich snippets on. You have to do a little more work, and the search engines aren’t under any obligation to use it after you do. There are no guarantees.
Fortunately (see, there’s always some good with the bad), setting it up isn’t as hard as you may have heard or believe.
There are actually several different ways you could set yourself up for rich snippets success, but the schema markup is the most popular and recommended of them all.
According to the website itself, Schema.org “provides a collection of shared vocabularies webmasters can use to markup their pages in ways that can be understood by the major search engines: Google, Microsoft, Yandex and Yahoo!”
Basically, schema provides the words and code necessary to instruct search engines to highlight and feature the information you want to be highlighted and featured on the SERPs. Good deal, right?
The schema markup includes itemscope (specifies that the HTML is about a particular item), itemtype (what kind of item it is), and itemprop (the specific property such as price, URL, review, and so on).
The available properties vary depending on the type. Types include creative works (books, films, music, recipes), events, organizations, person, local business, restaurant, product, offer, review, and action.
Thankfully, there are a number of convenient tools to help you create, implement, and test the schema markup:
- Structured Data Markup Helper
- Structured Data Testing Tool
- Schema Generator for SEO
- Schema App
- Structured Data Report on the Search Console
The Case for Using the Schema Markup
Okay, so now you know what rich snippets and schema are, but we still haven’t explored why you should bother. Let’s remedy that.
To begin with, search engines seem to love it, but most sites are still not leveraging that adoration.
One of the most revealing studies was conducted by Searchmetrics in 2014. They found that over a third of Google search results (36.6%) included the schema markup, but only a minuscule 0.3% of websites were using the protocol. That’s shocking.
Their research also revealed that sites using schema ranked on average four positions higher than those that did not (although they’re quick to point out this is a correlation and not causation). More recently, Raven Tools crawled 200 million pages and discovered that only an anemic 20% were using schema.org microdata.
Add it to your site, and you’d be in exclusive company. And that gives you an advantage over your competition.
Schema and Your SEO
Big whoop. What specifically is that “advantage”, you might well ask. Does the schema markup produce better search rankings? Searchmetrics seems to suggest so (at least on some level).
But — and here’s the kicker — a more recent study involving one million Google search results by Backlinko found no correlation between the use of Schema and higher rankings. To further muddy the water, Google’s own John Mueller has said that “over time, I think it [structured markup] is something that might go into the rankings as well.”
So, will it or won’t it? Does it, or does it not? There’s no clear answer. Yet.
Despite the vagueness of that, it ultimately doesn’t really matter. Yes, an SEO and ranking boost is a nice benefit of using structured data markup, but it’s certainly not the only one (and arguably it’s not even the best one).
At worst, it may have no impact on your rank. At best, it may indirectly influence it in some capacity (and might be a ranking factor down the road). Let’s stick a pin in this for a minute.
But there are other more concrete benefits from including it in your strategy.
Schema and Your Listing
There are several ways we know that the schema markup improves your SERP listing. No guessing. No assumptions.
First and foremost, the markup allows the major search engines to return more meaningful results. You’ve indicated exactly what your page is about, and have provided the details that matter most by throwing a virtual spotlight on them. The engines don’t have to interpret what’s going on. Less confusion, less misinterpretation, and better overall results. The engines are happy.
Isn’t that the endgame with your search engine efforts, anyway? For them to have the clearest, simplest, most accurate understanding of you, your business, and your site? Of course it is.
Beyond that, users can see immediately whether your site/business/content is the answer to their question or need. There’s no more guesswork on their end, either. The more information included in your result listing, the more likely you’re going to get that crucial click (remember, it’s all about the click) from the people who need what you have on offer. Less wasted time for everyone.
Including a price range, star-rating, availability, or anything else relevant makes your listing stand out from the rest. If everyone has only the standard title-URL-description, there’s no real differentiation yet.
But if yours is the only result with a 4.3 star rating, it draws the reader’s eye. It pops off the page. And at this stage, it’s all about grabbing more attention than the result above and below you.
If one result has a 4.5 star rating, and the next one is 2.7, who’s going to get that click? If one site includes a price of $350 for Product X in their rich snippet, and another result has a price of $420 in theirs, which one is an interested buyer going to investigate first?
Rich snippets can get your foot in the door (or, more precisely, their foot in your virtual door). You need to back it up with great products and customer service, of course, but at the SERP stage of the journey, it’s all about that first impression. Get. The. Click.
Then make the sale.
And as for your SEO, let’s go back to it for a second…
Website owners can see higher CTRs and lower bounce rates because of the increased relevancy that rich snippets provide for their results. And those two metrics can and frequently do affect your SEO efforts and your page rank.
Neither one may be a direct ranking factor, but they do send a clear message to our search engine overlords about the relevance, usability, and popularity of a page for its users.
If your page is the number six result, but it frequently gets more clicks than pages appearing in the top five because you have a sweet star-rating and price range listed while they have nothing, then Google is going to notice. If fewer visitors bounce from your page than the number three result because the rich snippet told them it was exactly what they were looking for (no surprises or disappointment), the engines are going to be impressed.
Either way, it can translate into a beautiful little boost for you and your site.
Real World Applications
As an e-commerce platform, you could use rich snippets to highlight product prices and availability, limited time sales with the “PriceValidUntil” property, create a sense of exclusivity with the “quantity” property, or state a star-rating with the AggregateRating property (such as 4 out of 5 stars from 77 reviews).
Businesses and organizations with a physical, brick-and-mortar location can markup important details like their address, hours, phone number, and corresponding web address.
Both digital and real-world companies can highlight staff bios and name their c-suite executives.
Rich snippets can benefit you whether you’re a simple blogger, entrepreneur, e-commerce and/or brick-and-mortar business owner, and everything in between.
In the Commerce Sphere
In the commerce world, you can use several different types to draw attention to your products, services, and business as a whole:
- Reviews matter. People turn to them when making a purchase decision, so if you can include them right there on the SERP, you’re already a step ahead.
- We all love the star-rating system. It makes it so easy to gauge quality with just a quick glance. The Aggregate Rating markup provides an average rating based on multiple reviews, displaying a simple star-rating beneath the title and URL.
- If you’re selling products, you can increase revenue with the Product markup. Include pricing, availability, reviews, and more. Give them all the information they need before even having to click (the click will follow…oh yes, the click will follow).
- >If you regularly host or sponsor special events, then this markup is a must. Event allows you to display crucial details about where, when, and even how to get tickets.
- Finally, no rich snippets strategy would be complete without the LocalBusiness markup for those of you with a physical location. Restaurants, retail stores, doctor or dentist offices, tailor shop, bowling alley, bar, recreational facility, dry cleaners, pub, and everything else. Include your address, phone number, hours, price range, payment options, geo coordinates, reviews, and more. Get the click.
In the Creative Sphere
Or maybe you’re a creative. Rich snippets can help you, too:
- As an author — for both digital and print — you can share the details that matter with the Book markup. Format, ISBN, author, subject matter, intended audience, reviews, and ratings, to name just a few.
- Perhaps you’re a journalist, or blogger, or freelancer. Get the word out about new work using the Article or blog markup. Subject matter, number of words, audience, awards, format, and so on.
- Music markups include MusicRecording, MusicGroup, and MusicEvent. If you’re a rock-star-in-waiting, or a songwriter trying to break into the industry, get the right information in front of the right eyes right on the SERPs.
- The internet is overflowing with great and not-so-great recipes. If you’re a chef, or caterer, or restaurant owner, or baker, you can share your best stuff with the very popular Recipe markup. Duration, images, ingredients, nutritional information, rating, and more.
There are dozens of types and properties to harness and use to deliver details that highlight, promote, and emphasize what matters most to your customers. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll be featured, or move up seven spots, or increase revenue by 223%.
But it does make you more visible. It separates you from the majority still not using it. It can work to improve your CTR and bounce rate, which can give you a nice little SEO shot in the digital arm (there are other ways you can improve your SERP CTRs, but using rich snippets should definitely be on that list).
Rich snippets have been around for awhile already, but they’re still woefully underutilized. And they shouldn’t be. Virtually no downside, but incredible potential. Use them. Get them in your life.
Have you tried using rich snippets yet? What was the biggest obstacle for you? What positives or negatives have you experienced with them? Leave your thoughts on social media!
All Screenshots taken by Aaron Agius, February 2017