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Using Structured Data & Rich Snippets for SEO
I like my snippets like I like my men. Rich. That would be a better joke if you knew what a rich snippet is. Let me tell you. Rich snippets are the first few lines of text that appear under a search result that are “designed to give users a sense for what’s on the page and why it’s relevant to their query.” In order to create rich snippets for your page, you have to mark up your HTML with microdata. According to Google,
“If Google understands the content on your pages, we can create rich snippets—detailed information intended to help users with specific queries. For example, the snippet for a restaurant might show the average review and price range; the snippet for a recipe page might show the total preparation time, a photo, and the recipe’s review rating; and the snippet for a music album could list songs along with a link to play each song. These rich snippets help users recognize when your site is relevant to their search, and may result in more clicks to your pages.”
Don’t mind my turducken example. I have meat on my mind. Like always.
Why should I use rich snippets?
Rich snippets are frequently used for things like recipes, events, and music, but they can also benefit your business. For example, rich snippets allow you to highlight your business name, address, URL, and phone number—which helps Google understand location information in reviews or events. Or if your business sells a product, rich snippets allow you to highlight things like price, availability, and review ratings right in the search results page.
I realize that was about as clear as my urine sample for a company mandated drug test. Let’s make like Henry David Thoreaux and simplify, simplify. (Drugs and 9th grade English references in the same paragraph? I really need to learn to write for an audience. And do fewer drugs. Just kidding. Maybe.)
If you understand anything about HTML, you know that you have to tell a search engine what is text, what is a header, what is a link, what is an image, etc. It’s kind of like writing for
someone from West Virginia a kindergartener. Microdata and rich snippets take this a step further. Instead of just saying “here’s some text,” you’re cueing the search engine in on what the text is about.
For example, if an HVAC company has a product landing page for a specific type of heat pump it sells, you can tell the search engine the exact product, brand, color, manufacturer, model, review, etc. that your page is about. That way, when people search for that product, that information will be displayed right on search engine results page in its rich snippet. Check out schema.org for a full list of microdata item types.
Structured Data and SEO
So does marking up your site with structured data improve search engine rankings? Google has said that “marking up your data for rich snippets won’t affect your page’s ranking in search results. Providing this information doesn’t affect the appearance of your content on your own pages, but it does help Google better understand and present information from your page.”
But if you think about all of the elements that come into play for getting ranked on Google (code, content, authority, relevancy, etc.), it really isn’t a surprise that structured data will play an increasingly important role in the future of on-page optimization. Why? Because marking up your code in a language that helps search engines better understand your content will help you improve your visibility to search engines and ultimately establish relevancy with them—especially if your competitors do not use structured data. Already, we see a lot of sites using structured data appearing at the top of organic results. So while using structured data doesn’t guarantee improved rankings, helping search engines understand what is on your Web pages certainly can! Additionally, as search engines become more advanced in their efforts to improve search results for their users, we may see the use of structured data play a more critical role in rankings.
In addition to potentially improving rankings, using structured data can also help improve click-through rate. Structured data is used in the creation of rich snippets, and rich snippets can make your listing more appealing to searchers. For example, using a microdata tag for product or service reviews triggers the search engine to display star rankings:
Just as bolded keywords in meta descriptions can draw more attention to your listing, so can review stars or other rich snippet items. When your click-through rate goes up, you can expect to see a rise in your organic traffic (which will hopefully lead to more conversions!) as well. At the very least, it’s worth setting up a test and tracking the results.
How do I use rich snippets?
In the past, webmasters created rich snippet content by using microformats, microdata, or RDFa. Snore. I know. Headache. I know. Eventually, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! created schema.org to make it easier for webmasters to mark rich snippet content with the microdata markup format.
To mark a rich snippet, you add “itemscope” and “itemprop” attributes to a in a <div>….</div> block. If we use the heat pump landing page example from earlier, we could add a <div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/Product”> tag along with any other product properties you want to define, such as <span itemprop=”brands”></span> for the brand name or even a <img itemprop=”image” src=heatpump.jpg” /> for an image within the rich snippet.
Headache. Still headache.
Fortunately, if you have only a
West Virginian kindergartener understanding of Web coding, Google recently introduced a tool called Data Highligher—a point and click tool you use to highlight and tag your data. Right now, the Data Highlighter tool is only available for structured data about events, but it will eventually be available for other data types.
Google also recommends using its structured data testing tool to see what information it can extract from your marked-up pages. Eventually, Google hopes to allow you to preview what your rich snippets will look like.
If looking at HTML makes you go cross-eyed, contact Blue Corona. If you want to make me a romantic turducken dinner, contact me personally. Poor snippets needn’t apply.
About The Author: Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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