Search engine algorithms are constantly being enhanced to serve up the most relevant search results. Online brands are all looking to maximize their visibility in SERPs to incite users to click on their site over another and using rich snippets, also known as “snippets”, is one way to help users quickly identify whether your website listing is the most relevant to their query.
By default, the SERP will display title tags, meta descriptions and URLs of ranked pages. Since May 2009 however, Google has enabled webmasters to include valued-added information about their listing, hence the term “rich snippet”. This enables webmasters to include additional information in search results, sourced from structured data from their web pages.
Rich snippets can be used to markup all types of content including, but not limited to:
- Recipes: picture, ingredients, cooking time, calories
- Artists: song titles, song length, album, download link
- Events: date, time, links to buy tickets
Why use rich snippets?
Seeing more precise descriptions of the content, even just an image, immediately draws the user’s eye to that result over another. Which listing would would you click on to find the best lasagna recipe?
Pretty straightforward, right? Sites using rich snippets will be more noticeable in search, and will in turn benefit from better visibility and higher click-through rates. This can significantly increase site traffic but also lower bounce rates, since visitors will have a better idea of what they can expect to find on the page. They will be less likely to leave the page right away, making the average time on site longer, another important metric in Google’s algorithm.
Implementing Rich Snippets
In order to display rich snippets, search engines have to be able to understand your on-page content.
There are three types of structured data formats that can be used:
- Microformats: the oldest and most commonly used format. Simple to use but lacks comprehensive data.
- RDFa: more complex and uses an extensible data format, an XML structure embedded in the HTML structure.
- Microdata: the most recommended format to date, recommended by Google. It allows users to add very specific properties to data, namely with <span> or <div> attributes.
Schema.Org was designed to provide a structured data markup supported by major search engines Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft. It is probably the best tool available right now to help webmasters markup their content. Just follow the steps to create a structured code that will facilitate the inclusion of rich snippets.
Microdata principles are fairly straightforward – basically, three attributes define data:
- itemscope: identifies the semantic field
- itemtype: specifies the type of element (recipe, event,…)
- itemprop: indicates the different properties of the element (cooking time, calories, location of the event)
Here is a simple example extracted from Google Webmaster Tools that shows the attributes used to describe a person:
Using this structured vocabulary, you can relay information from your site to search engines and make your content more visible to users.
Google Authorship and AuthorRank
Another interesting way to add rich snippet information is to link your Google Plus profile to the sites you publish content on. Google Authorship helps Google match authors with their indexed articles and then displays information such as their full name, headshot, number of people in their circles as well as a “more by” link.
This entails linking your G+ profile to the host domain where your articles are published. Different methods can be used to do this but the core steps include:
- Adding your name to the publications where you are an author (the name must be the same one indicated in your profile)
- Fill out the Google Authorship registration form.
- Add the tag below on each page of your website to attribute you as the author of each piece of contenté;
(Replace [profile_url] by your personalized web address)
- Add a link pointing toward your website or blog on your G+ profile
- Preview everything with the structured data testing tool
Authorship can also have a direct impact on the visibility of your site as it adds a layer of transparency and credibility to the content. Readers are also more drawn to visual information which can help lift the number of clicks and visits to pages containing your content.
It’s also important to mention that AuthorRank can have some effect on PageRank and therefore can influence your overall rankings. AuthorRank factors in the authority of an author against the quality of the content and a multitude of other signals that that still haven’t been officially confirmed by Google. But we have already started to notice some changes.
“Author Rank [...] wouldn’t be a replacement for PageRank, but would be used to inform PageRank, therefore enabling Google to rank high-quality content more appropriately.” ( Mike Arnesen, SEOMoz)
From structured data to author rank, our shift to web 3.0, the semantic web, is enabling machines to better “understand” and respond to complex human requests.
So what are you waiting for? Get started on your own rich snippet strategy and leverage this unique opportunity to maximize your visibility in search.