Technical SEO

SEO: Capture More Search Traffic with Rich Snippets

The difference between a snippet and a rich snippet is the difference between just showing up at a party and showing up in style. Showing up in style can ensure you get the attention you want.

For an ecommerce merchant, “the party” is a search engine’s results page. A snippet is your URL and the 160 black characters from your website that appear on that results page. A rich snippet is a more dynamic and visual sample of your content on the same results page that may include reviews, pictures, or even a video.

As an example, perform a Google search for Jessica Simpson Leve Flat.
Note the dominance of Google Shopping’s OneBox and lack of reviews in rich snippets.

Rich Snippets Can Help Your Site Stand Out in Search Results

Conveying your site’s unique value to searchers, in the search results pages, can be challenging when they’re judging your entire site based on preconceived notions, and text. It’s even harder to compete for searchers’ limited attention spans when Google Images or Google Local jumps to the top of the page with their visually stimulating search results. It is difficult for a small business to compete with that. But, if you can’t beat them, you can join them, and possibly beat your competitors.

Earlier this year Google introduced its rich snippets, giving site owners the opportunity to format visually-interesting reviews, contact information, videos, and product information for inclusion in the search results snippets.

Snippets are typically pulled from either the meta description or relevant on-page text. Rich snippets incorporate other data types formatted via microformats or RDFa in addition to the snippets that Google already includes. Yahoo!’s SearchMonkey project similarly allows site owners to present structured data for inclusion in its snippets.

Rich snippets are responsible for video, mug shots and reviews stars displaying alongside some search results, giving those sites a visual advantage over their competitors with normal snippets. Which result would you examine first: A boring blue link with black text, or a result that includes some eye candy right next to it to grab your attention?

Screenshot of Google search results for "Jessica Simpson Leve Flat."

Screenshot of Google search results for "Jessica Simpson Leve Flat."

Use Specialized Markup Formatting for Rich Snippets

To capitalize on rich snippets, simply format the data that is likely already on your site in a manner that Google and Yahoo! recognize via specialized markup formats, such as microformats and RDFa. For example, a search for the Jessica Simpson Leve Flat shows many well-known online retailers offer this popular shoe. But none of them are taking advantage of rich snippets to expose the reviews content to searchers to make them stand out from the competition. Amazon, Endless, Zappos and Macy’s each have reviews content on the page that Google ranks for this search. If Macy’s made its reviews crawlable on the product page and used the hreviews microformat or RDFa to present the data that’s already visible to humans in a manner that Google and Yahoo could use, they could perhaps boost the share of search traffic it gets for its No. 10 ranking in Google. And if Zappos embraced microformats, the inclusion of the stars visual might help it to overcome its positioning at No. 4, below the visual barrier that Google Images presents.

For sites offering video clips of their products, the opportunity is even more powerful. Searching on Google for Jessica Simpson Nolita Pump again returns many strong sites like Nordstrom, Endless, Amazon and Macy’s. Relative underdog has captured the top position in Google. But do they have the brand power to beat out the big dogs? Can they win the click against Google’s shopping results with its lovely image of the very shoe the searcher covets?’s chances to win that click would be a lot stronger if they harnessed the power of rich snippets to display their videos inline with their search result.

Summing Up

Using microformats to structure the data on your site doesn’t guarantee its inclusion in rich snippets. The engines still use their proprietary algorithms to determine which pages to rank, and which data from that page is relevant to include in the snippets. Still, using microformats to structure the data in a manner that the engines understand and utilize is the only way to tap into this opportunity to claim higher visibility and higher click-through rates from your existing rankings.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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