Like the canonical tag we recently discussed, the use of Rich Snippets (or Schema.org markup) is by no means mandatory, but it does benefit search engines, users and yes, even site operators. The big difference though is that, unlike the canonical tag, the benefit is more noticeable to all involved:
- The search engines are able to return more relevant results.
- Users can determine the relevancy of specific results more easily, often on the SERP.
- Site operators may benefit from increased click-throughs, and reduced bounce rates, since users have a better idea of the site contents, and relevancy to their query, before they even visit the site.
What Are Rich Snippets?
Rich Snippets is the term used to describe structured data markup that site operators can add to their existing HTML, which in turn allow search engines to better understand what information is contained on each web page. However, the major search engines have taken this a step further, and now use this markup to present richer search results, enabling users to more easily find the information they are looking for.
Under normal circumstances, when your website shows up on a SERP, Google, and other search engines, display the site title, URL and whatever meta description you have assigned to the page. When Rich Snippets are employed, Google is now able to display a bit more information about the actual result, including whether this particular result is a review, a person, a product, business and more.
Think of how a result for an item on iTunes or Google Play shows up with a star rating, the number of votes that resulted in that rating, the price and the platform supported.
What Content Types Are Supported?
There are three different markup specifications currently recognised by the major search engines:
with Microdata being the most widely supported in terms of annotations, specifically the schema from Schema.org. Open Graph tags and Twitter Cards are a form of structured data markup, but they should be employed in conjunction to Rich Snippets, not instead of.
Rich Snippets, or structured data markup, can be used on the following content types:
- Reviews - both individual and aggregate reviews are supported, with different properties used for each.
- People - you may have noticed Google and Bing now showing richer information from LinkedIn when you search for certain (well-known) people. Similar results are possible for any website that includes profiles of staff, team members and other people relevant to the organisation. Supported properties include name, title, role, professional affiliations and contact details.
- Products - one of the single most important uses of structured data markup is with products and special offers of merchants, particular online stores. Properties available include name, image, brand, description, identifiers (ISBN, SKU, etc.) and even reviews, all extendable with price, currency, seller and condition and quantity. Online marketplaces who offer the same product from multiple merchants can use lowPrice and highPrice to show the price range for a single item.
- Businesses & Organisations - properties available include business name, address (physical and URL), telephone number, geolocation (latitude and longitude) and logo.
- Recipes - structured data markup for recipes offer a multitude of properties, allowing operators of websites related to cooking and recipe collections to include everything from the type of dish, reviews, and preparation and cooking time, through to nutritional information such as serving size, calories, fat content and more.
- Events - the usage of structured data markup with events is intended only for future occurring events, not past events. It is worth noting here that the property summary is not intended for a summary of the event, but for the event’s official name. Other properties include start and end date, duration, ticket details and geolocation.
- Music - Bing makes no mention of any support for music, but Google does make provision for structured data markup relating to songs and music albums. This can include links to previews of songs, and direct links to buying individual tracks or full albums.
- Video Content - this applies to embedded video content on your website and can be used to indicate duration, license, production company and/or the creator of the video, and even if the content if family friendly.
How to Add Rich Snippets to Your Content
Structured data markup does not need to be added to every single content property, though having more content marked up does help search engines present results better. It must also be noted that you should only mark up visible content - hidden page elements and content in hidden div’s do not need to be marked up.
Structured data markup makes us of three primary elements:
- itemscope - which specifies that the HTML contained in the <div> block is about a particular item,
- itemtype - which indicates exactly what kind of item it is, and
- itemprop - which is the specific property, such as name, URL, review, etc.
Books, movies, photographs, TV shows, recipes and music are considered creative works, so an example of markup HTML for a book listing could look something like this:
<body itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/WebPage"> ... <div itemprop="breadcrumb"> <a href="category/books.html">Books</a> > <a href="category/books-literature.html">Literature & Fiction</a> > <a href="category/books-classics">Classics</a> </div> <div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Book"> <img itemprop="image" src="catcher-in-the-rye-book-cover.jpg" /> <span itemprop="name">The Catcher in the Rye</span> - <link itemprop="bookFormat" href="http://schema.org/Paperback">Mass Market Paperback by <a itemprop="author" href="/author/jd_salinger.html">J.D. Salinger</a> <div itemprop="aggregateRating" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/AggregateRating"> <span itemprop="ratingValue">4</span> stars - <span itemprop="reviewCount">3077</span> reviews </div> <div itemprop="offers" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Offer"> Price: <span itemprop="price">$6.99</span> <meta itemprop="priceCurrency" content="USD" /> <link itemprop="availability" href="http://schema.org/InStock">In Stock </div>
Note how each of the three elements has been used.
The available properties vary according to the content type, and the sheer number of properties can in itself be intimidating for anyone thinking of implementing structured data markup. Thankfully, for anyone operating a WordPress based site, there are several plugins available to make things a bit easier, including All-in-One Schema.org. You can also find plugins for the major e-commerce systems, but if you are using a bespoke CMS or e-commerce system you will need to involve your web developer in setting up an easy method to start using structured data markup.
What to Expect After Adding Rich Snippets
Writing for SEJ, Rich Benci notes that Rich Snippets are a privilege, not a right. The fact that you start using structured data markup on your site will not automatically translate into the major search engines displaying Rich Snippets for your content. Google in particular will first analyze and assess your markup before starting to display richer results. Over multiple implementations, Benci has observed a pattern in how Google responds to the introduction of structured data markup:
- Google only starts analysing the new markup 10 to 14 days after it is first introduced on a website.
- If everything appears to be correct, Google will start showing Rich Snippets for some (not all) pages, but after approximately 5 days these will disappear.
- Several days later some Rich Snippets will reappear - either for the same set of pages, or a new set. This may be repeated a number of times.
- Only after roughly 8 weeks will you be rewarded with (semi-permanent) Rich Snippets throughout your site, assuming Google’s repeated analysis and assessment did discover any errors.
This cycle is what often confuses site operators, who then resort to “tweaking” their implementation of Schema.org, resulting in further delays. Benci’s observations suggest that it is better to implement the markup and wait roughly two months for the full results to start showing up, before attempting any modifications to the way in which you have implemented the markup.
Finally, a qualification of the term semi-permanent as used above; although Rich Snippets were adopted by the major search engines more than two years ago, they are still adapting how they are implemented, to ensure the best end result. This means that not all of your results will be displayed using Rich Snippets, and that what does and doesn’t display will itself change from time to time. This is most obvious currently with the way in which Google sometimes displays Authorship, something that was introduced during 2013, but has already undergone several changes.
Likewise, Google has also started to penalise sites that have been found using Rich Snippets inappropriately, with the notification reading:
Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google’s Rich Snippet Quality guidelines.
Of course, if your approach to your website and SEO is always ethical, you probably have very little to be concerned about, wisely aware that when it comes to SEO, short-terms wins seldom result in long-term gains.
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