A rich snippet, also known as a structured snippet, is the extra text that can be found underneath search results used to provide additional information to users about a link and the content provided therein. For instance, were you to search for a popular film of your choice, you would probably find among the top results IMDB (the Internet Movie Database); and the result would likely show alongside the star rating and possibly the number of votes contributing to said score.
Likewise, you will probably see a few results showing sites where you can buy the DVD, in which case the snippets might provide prices. If the film is showing in theatres, then some results might show movie times. You might also notice that some articles have dates next to them.
These are all examples of rich snippets in action, but for a bit more information and explanation on how to use them, see this advice from Google.
Why Rich Snippets Are Crucial For SEO
The first major of advantage of rich snippets is the simple fact that they draw users’ attention. With Google Authorship done and dusted, rich snippets are now one of the only ways to make your results stand out against the competition on the SERPs (unless you can get featured as an in-depth article or as news). In short, someone is more likely to click on a film review with the star rating showing beneath it than the one without. In fact, many companies report seeing a 20-30% rise in CTR after implementing rich snippets. That is the kind of boost and optimization any company, including new startups, should understand and implement right from inception of their website.
At the same time, if nothing else, the presence of stars also confirms the link is indeed a film review/store selling a product, which again increases click-through rates and also reduces bounce rates – because users know what to expect before they land on the site.
With Google’s data highlighter (see below), it’s now possible to add a lot more structured data to a site, including information about articles such as the title, author, and publish date. This could help to increase the perceived reliability and again boost CTR – we all feel more comfortable trusting information that was written recently.
Crucially, information regarding your business can also help Google to understand the location of your business, which is very useful for local cinemas displaying film times, for instance. Local businesses are one group who should strongly consider looking at rich snippets (see more information here from Google).
Perhaps what’s more important though, is that by using rich snippets you are helping Google to understand the content on your website – which can only be a good thing. Google says using rich snippets won’t directly affect search rankings, but the same may not be true of all search engines and the role of rich snippets is only likely to increase going forward.
Rich Snippets: The Past and Future
Support for microdata that makes structured snippets possible is something that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo all pledged for in a rare moment of collaboration. The three companies united in order to support rich snippets because they see it as an important step for the future of search and the web generally. Don’t you think they would have been unlikely to go to such lengths unless they had big plans for them? This should tell you that snippets will likely be an important factor going forward.
The most probable reason for this is that future products from these companies will rely on rich snippets more and more. Google is already making it a habit to display more information directly on their SERPs (thus giving users less reason to navigate quickly away), and it is very easy to see how AI tools such as Google Now, Siri, or Cortana would make use of the readily available information.
Does this actually benefit the webmasters as future users could have the information dictated to them with no need to navigate to the actual website? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly better to be the site referenced than to be one of countless sites left behind who also won’t get visited.
And if future systems cite their sources, then such features could at least provide a boost for your brand’s visibility and your site’s authority in the eyes of visitors. Likewise, if you want the AI of the future to recommend your local business, then you should have organization information in your snippets.
In short, rich snippets are a critical tool in the construction of the semantic web, and if you want to be a part of this evolution then you need to embrace them.
There are other potential uses for rich snippets going forward too. A smart watch, for instance, could potentially display an abridged version of a website in order to accommodate a small display, while the ambitious and somewhat amazing VR Browser Janus could also make use of the feature (Janus converts web pages in ‘rooms’ to be explored in virtual reality). Rich snippet are essential for future-proofing your website.
A Word of Caution
While Rich Snippets are important for the clicks you get from Google and your future compatibility with the web though, it’s important to also exercise restraint.
Rich snippets give you the opportunity to spam. For instance, there’s nothing to stop you giving your own website or article a five-star review in theory. Likewise, you could fill your rich snippets with sales copy and tell Google it’s a “recipe.” But it’s vital that you don’t use these underhanded methods because Google are onto this trick and have been issuing manual penalties for this kind of spam for a while now.
Rich snippets are not for everyone. If you run a blog dealing in fitness articles, then there may not be as much need for rich snippets as yet (though basic information about your articles could still be useful). On the other hand though, sports scores, recipes, song lyrics, prices, dates and star ratings all can be very useful in increasing CTR. Events can also benefit from structured snippets, while local businesses should also be sure to include information regarding their business.
Likewise, irrelevant information or faulty markups could also hurt your site more than help it. Google has a rich snippets testing tool you can use to make sure your rich snippets are working effectively. Or, there are several WordPress plugin that can do the job for you.
Alternatively, you may be able to use Google’s data highlighter to outline information more easily. Google’s highlighter tool allows webmasters to add more versatile information to their site listings with no need for them to get down and dirty with code. This data highlighter is available through Webmaster Tools and lets users use a point-and-click solution to highlight the information they want outline for Google. This is pretty much a fool-proof tool for adding structured data to your site, but will only work with certain types of data.
Structured snippets aren’t going to change your company’s fortunes overnight, so you certainly shouldn’t rely on them. Nevertheless, they are still a very important piece of the huge jigsaw puzzle that is SEO, and they deserve your attention.
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