Gain Greater Organic Search Visibility with Rich Snippets

Janet Driscoll Miller , Search Mojo - Search Engine Optimization 0 Comments | Add Yours

About The Author:

Janet Driscoll Miller is the President and CEO of Search Mojo, a full-service search engine marketing agency. You can read more from Janet at Search Mojo’s blog, Search Marketing Sage, at http://blog.search-mojo.com or follow her on Twitter at @janetdmiller.

While all of us working on search engine optimization strive to achieve high organic rankings, our end goal is to achieve those rankings to attract more website traffic. So once your website is ranked in the top ten search results, what else can you do to draw more attention to your organic result? Consider rich snippets.

What Are Rich Snippets?
Introduced originally by Google in 2009, rich snippets provide a way for website owners to share extra information such as ratings and review information directly in the search result listing. Here’s an example of several review rich snippets for restaurants:

As of the writing of this article, Google only shows rich snippets for the following types of data in organic search results:
•    Reviews/ratings
•    People
•    Products
•    Events
•    Recipes
•    Breadcrumbs
•    Videos

“Organizations” is an additional type of rich snippet available in Google at this time, but it does not currently add visible data to the organic search result.

Rich snippets use microdata to tag and mark up information on a web page to give search engines a more complete vision of what the content on that page is or represents. The goal is to provide more meaningful data in search to the engines (possibly to help them rank sites for various types of data or content) and further to the searchers viewing results on those engines. Microdata is very simple to add to your existing website pages and templates, too.

But Wait… There’s a New Format!
In June 2011, Bing and Yahoo! joined with Google in developing a standard for rich snippets and radically expanded the types of microdata tags available, adding over 100 new markup types. The new formats include everything from tagging data specific for auto dealers to pieces of music to landforms and residences. The full list of new microdata tags is available at: http://schema.org/docs/full.html.

While, at the time of this article’s writing, this new microdata is not currently showing in organic search results in the three top engines, the engines certainly had a reason for coming together and encouraging webmasters to begin tagging website page data with the new microdata formats.

According to the blog post from the Google Webmaster Central team on the new formats:

“We want to continue making the open web richer and more useful. We know that it takes time and effort to add this markup to your pages, and adding markup is much harder if every search engine asks for data in a different way. That’s why we’ve come together with other search engines to support a common set of schemas, just as we came together to support a common standard for Sitemaps in 2006. With schema.org, site owners can improve how their sites appear in search results not only on Google, but on Bing, Yahoo! and potentially other search engines as well in the future.”

The good news is that if you want to use the other accepted microdata formats as well, those will continue to be used by Google as well, meaning that if you current use microdata markup on your web pages to generate rich snippets in Google, you won’t have to recode those pages. But, be careful not to combine old code and new code on the same page, as Google indicates this can confuse the engine and it then will not read the microdata properly. As of the writing of this article, the new microdata tags defined on schema.org do not generate rich snippets, at least they cannot generate previews via Google’s rich snippet preview tool.

Programming Rich Snippets
Surprisingly many companies whose website pages contain eligible types of information, such as ratings or reviews, are not currently using them. Microdata is fairly straightforward to add to your website pages, especially if you use a content management system (CMS) and use templates. A good example of the ease of implementation would be for the Products rich snippets, where an ecommerce site could easily tag a product detail template page with the appropriate product microdata tags, quickly adding rich snippets to every product on the website.

Step 1: Decide Which Type to Use
Google has traditionally supported three types of tagging: microdata, microformats and RDFa. Going forward, however, you should likely use the microdata format, which is the format that will now also be supported by Bing and Yahoo! per the schema.org documentation.

Step 2: Determine What Type of Data You Have on Each Web Page
Next you’ll need to determine which pages on your website are a good fit for the new microdata types. Don’t just focus on what’s showing rich snippets in the engines today, because you never know when the search engines will start showing additional rich snippet data for different types in search results. However, I would certainly recommend prioritizing data types that are showing in search results today over those that are not.

For example, let’s take a look at the events page on my website. Because Google does show extra markup data for events, these pages would be a good selection for microdata markup. One key issue specific to events data is that the microdata will appear on the main events list page, but each event listed on the page must link to a specific, detailed page on your own website for each event.

Here’s a few examples of how event rich snippets appear in Google:


 
Step 3: Implement the Microdata Code
Now we need to implement the code on the events page. For each type of rich snippet, there is specific microdata associated with it. Because the new microdata tags are not currently generating rich snippets at the time I’m writing this article, I’ll show you both ways to do the markup. The “old” way will still work once the new microdata format is enabled for rich snippets.

Here’s how my event page code looks before markup:
<a href="http://www.search-mojo.com/about/events/irce2011.php" target="_blank">

<img src="/images/IRCE-logo.png" border="0" width=150></a>

<p>June 13-16, 2011

<br><a href="http://www.search-mojo.com/about/events/irce2011.php" target="_blank">Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition</a>

<br>Visit the Search Mojo booth to learn all about our SEO and PPC offerings for ecommerce websites.</p>

Markup the “Old” Way

Here’s the same code as above, marked up in the “old” microdata format (highlighted in red) that currently will generate a rich snippet in Google search results:

<div itemscope itemtype="http://data-vocabulary.org/Event">

    <a href="http://www.search-mojo.com/about/events/irce2011.php" target="_blank">

    <img src="/images/IRCE-logo.png" border="0" width=150 itemprop="photo"></a>

    <p><span itemprop="startdate" content="2011-06-13T19:00-08:00">June 13</span>-<span itemprop="enddate" content="2011-06-16T21:00-08:00">16</span>, 2011

    <br><a href="http://www.search-mojo.com/about/events/irce2011.php" target="_blank" itemprop="url"><span itemprop="summary">Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition</span></a>

    <br><span itemprop="description">Visit the Search Mojo booth to learn all about our SEO and PPC offerings for ecommerce websites.</span></p>
</div>

Notice that I was able to add many of the microdata tags by just adding “itemprop” and the type of item to existing HTML tags I had on the page.

The “New” Way

In the case of an event, we can see all of the possible microdata tags at http://schema.org/Event. Additionally, since the events on my page are business-focused events, I’ll go one step further and use the new business event-specific tags available at http://schema.org/BusinessEvent.

One thing that you’ll notice in looking at the tags for the Business Event type is that they reside under two main types: Thing and Event. Thing is very common in the new schema microdata markup because the data under Thing sets up some basics about the item – its name, description, etc.

With the microdata tags added (in red), the code changes to this:

<div itemscope itemtype="http://www.schema.org/BusinessEvent">

       <div itemscope itemtype="http://www.schema.org/Thing">

    <a href="http://www.search-mojo.com/about/events/irce2011.php" target="_blank">

    <img src="/images/IRCE-logo.png" border="0" width=150 itemprop="image"></a>
    </div>

    <div itemscope itemtype="http://www.schema.org/Event">

    <p><span itemprop="startdate" content="2011-06-13T19:00-08:00">June 13</span>-<span itemprop="enddate" content="2011-06-16T21:00-08:00">16</span>, 2011
    </div>

    <div itemscope itemtype="http://www.schema.org/Thing">

    <br><a href="http://www.search-mojo.com/about/events/irce2011.php" target="_blank" itemprop="url"><span itemprop="name">Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition</span></a>

    <br><span itemprop="description">Visit the Search Mojo booth to learn all about our SEO and PPC offerings for ecommerce websites.</span></p>
    </div>
</div>

Step 4: Test the Page
Finally, to be sure that the microdata code has been implemented correctly, Google provides a rich snippet testing tool (located at http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets), which will show you how it views the microdata on the page. The testing tool also provides a preview of what the rich snippet will look like in the Google organic web results. Here’s how the “old” way version appears in the testing tool:

Notice that the tool shows the Google search preview as well as the specific data that the engine reads from the microdata. Even if you are testing microdata that doesn’t yet have a rich snippet viewable in organic search results, this tool will also allow you to determine if you have programmed the microdata correctly. Here’s the same page as seen in the rich snippets testing tool, coded with the “new” microdata format:
 
While the tool could not show us a rich snippet preview, the “extracted rich snippet-data” section confirms that the microdata was added correctly.

So go for it! Add those rich snippets in all of the formats you can. You can begin further improving the visibility for your organic rankings today and prepare for the other formats that likely will see more rich snippet representation in organic search in the future.
 

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