Each December, when the year comes to a close, it’s custom to look to the new year and things the future will bring. While there is a great host of things we can look for in the world of SEO, one of the most interesting studies is the topic of rich snippets, Schema.org and the role of the semantic Web – or Web 3.0.
What are Rich Snippets?
Snippets are additional bits of information from your website that Google, Yahoo! and Bing will display alongside your link in a search engine results page. This could be any number of attributes, from the average price of an entree at a popular restaurant to a product’s price and inventory status:
In May of 2009, Google announced on it’s blog the introduction of rich snippets. The technical explanation is that Google would now be looking for structured data using resource definition framework (RDF) – an XML-based standard – when crawling sites. In other words, webmasters would now be able to influence WHAT aspects of their site content can be displayed as a snippet in a search engine results page by adding XML based tags to their webpages.
A Brief Detour into the Semantic Web
Structured data and RDF are parts of the semantic web (or Web 3.0). A basic understanding of these principles and philosophies will make it much easier to understand how rich snippets are tagged and how they can help your search rankings, and also improve your click-through rates.
Speaking strictly in terms of websites, the semantic web is the c0llective “web” of data that exists and can be directly or indirectly processed, ranked, sorted and evaluated by machines. That’s right, we’re talking strictly about how your content behaves with search engines – not users.
The semantic web has 3 main concepts:
1. Focusing on data itself instead of how it’s presented
What does that mean? Well, say you have the following content on your website:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts
To a human, it’s obvious that this is the world famous recipe for NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Cookies. However, to a machine this is a just 10 lines of random content. The presentation is what makes it apparent to a human that this is a recipe: the indented, line-item form and listed measurements. But this does not help a machine understand.
2. Usage and Dependance on Structured Data
The second concept of the Semantic Web aims to explain to a machine that a list of items and their measurements such as above isn’t random at all; it’s a recipe, similar to millions of others on the Web. Structured data – primarily resource definition framework (RDF) – is a way for machines to understand abstract concepts such as this.
Think of RDF like this. In the same way you would use <H1> to let a search engine know that your content is the header of your webpage, you would use a particular RDF code to let a search engine know that your ballpoint pen costs $5, is a Bic, and is currently in stock.
There are 3 main types of RDF “code”: RDFa, Microformats, and Microdata. We will focus on Microdata, because this is what is used by Schema.org!
3. Reliance on Linked Data
The third concept is really just the final product of #1 and #2. Now that we are expressing data in a way that allows machines to understand abstract ideas and nuances, the machines can better rank and sort large quantities of data (websites). This will ultimately create a better search experience.
Remember “Watson” from Jeopardy? IMB’s artificial intelligence computer is a great example of how machines interact with the semantic web. Machines are able to make complicated connections from a large series of data. But if the machines can’t understand the data in the same way that a human can, it’s potential usefulness is limited. However, once we define data in a way that is accessible to machines (search engines), they will be able to find and provide very particular information that will be helpful to the user making a search query.
Rich Snippets, Your Website, and Schema.org
OK, so the ideas behind the Semantic Web and rich snippets have been around for a while – why aren’t more people using them? Well, until recently there was not a universally accepted format for adding structured data markup to your site. Google might be OK with one form, but then Bing or Yahoo! wouldn’t understand it.
This all changed earlier this year when Google, Yahoo! and Bing created Schema.org under a joint initiative.
Schema.org uses the microdata form of RDF and provides a single resource for webmasters to use when applying markup to their pages. The website has a very simple design and is actually quite easy to use.
It is broken down into categories of the different attributes or types you want to associate with your content, called schemas.
Each category provides convenient examples of how to add the schema code into your HTML:
The code is fairly straightforward and easy to implement for any web developer or webmaster. Webbed Marketing can also help implement the Microdata for you.
Sill have questions about how rich snippets work or why you should use them? Check out our FAQ and best practices below:
Schema.org and Rich Snippets: FAQ and Best Practices
Q. Why use rich snippets?
A. Because everybody’s doing it. Seriously! Big retail sites like eBay and Best Buy are using it. Restaurants and small businesses are using them. Want another reason? Because Google, Yahoo! and Bing all joined together to create a uniform way to add these to websites. They wouldn’t take the time to do this if they weren’t planning on using them to rank search results. We can’t guarantee that having rich snippets will increase your search rankings, but we can venture a pretty solid guess that it will (when used correctly).
Q. Are there other benefits to using them?
A. Actually, yes. Having rich snippets alongside your listing makes it stand out in the search engine results page. A user is much more likely to click-through to your page if your listing includes a glowing product review, or lists the compatible operating systems for your software.
Q. Who should use rich snippets?
A. Adding Microdata to all of your pages could be time consuming – how do you know if it will even be worth it? This is really a good question for this blog post. Schema.org is constantly evolving to include new industries and “things” that can be defined and associated. The best way to decide if you should be using them is to browse the categories (Schemas) and see what applies to your content.
Just last month, a post on Schema’s official blog announced support for job listings! You can tag attributes such as base salary, experience, location, etc.
Q. What do rich snippets look like?
A. Rich snippets appear along with the title tag and meta description for your website in a search engine results page. They can take a number of different forms, from user reviews to product price ranges.
Q. Will adding the code for rich snippets change the way my content looks?
A. No! Rich snippets only appear in the search engine results page. The microdata code used to add them is invisible to humans.
Q. Why don’t I see them in every search?
A. Sometimes Google (or Yahoo! or Bing) will choose not to display a rich snippet in the search result. This could be because the particular page does not have any Microdata in the HTML, or because they do not completely trust the source.
Q. Are there disadvantages to using them?
A. You will never know exactly which rich snippets the search engine will choose to highlight if and when your page shows up in a results page. So if have 10 different product reviews on your page, and they are all tagged with rich snippets, the “bad” one could show up in a search result.
Q. Could rich snippets be used as web spam?
A. Yes they could. In fact, the #1 best practice for tagging rich snippets in your content is DO NOT GO OVERBOARD. Tagging several different attributes on a single webpage is webspam. Don’t think you’ll get caught? Think about this: Schema.org was developed by a partnership of Google, Yahoo! and Bing. If you don’t think they have contingencies in place for when people try to manipulate the system, you’ve got another thing coming. It is very possible that pages or even whole sites that overuse or misuse microdata could suffer penalties in the search engine rankings.
Additional questions? Please don’t hesitate to ask! Contact us today at 614-291-8456 or online.