Why settle for normal snippets when you could have *rich* snippets?
Just like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” your SERP snippets can get the rich life treatment—glamorous makeover and shiny things included.
But before we dive into methods on how to make your snippets shine, let’s clarify what we’re talking about here.
Living the Rich Life: Rich Snippets for SEO and How to Get Them
What Rich Snippets Are (and What They Aren’t)
A simple snippet
First things first: What’s a plain ol’ snippet? In search engine results pages (SERPs), a snippet is the hyperlinked title tag and informative (or, click-baity) meta description underneath, like so:
This snippet in particular is a good reminder that OG snippets can still be powerful on their own (don’t you want to know why Richard Gere feels bad that so many people watch “Pretty Woman” over and over?! I know I did…).
Rich snippets = Decked out snippets
Rich snippets are just like normal snippets, except they’re decked out with the latest in SERP fashion. Rich snippets have extra snippet accessories, such as:
- Image thumbnails
- Star ratings
- Video thumbnails
Specific types of snippets have their own rich snippet accessories. For instance, a product snippet can have the average rating, supply and breadcrumbs:
A recipe snippet can have the star rating, calories and a delicious-looking image thumbnail:
Rich snippets offer search engine users instant, visual information to give them more context of the snippet. Like this one, which you can tell at a glance is a video, and is likely not being sarcastic about that fine bone china:
It’s important to note that rich snippets are not guaranteed, and they’re not permanent.
Even if you’ve deployed all the best methods to get your snippet blinged out, there’s no guarantee your common snippet will show up as a rich snippet on SERP. Likewise, just because your snippet is rich today doesn’t mean it’ll be rich tomorrow.
While we can do what we can, there’s greater forces at play that ultimately determine what snippets get rich.
What SERP displays are not rich snippets
Here are some things that often get confused with rich snippets:
The featured snippet
The featured snippet is a snippet that’s…well, featured…or put up top for all the world to see, front and center. Featured snippets oftentimes reduce CTR by offering the search engine user enough information from the SERP.
In this case, I don’t have to click through to see that the answer is 252 licks.
The knowledge graph
The knowledge graph provides factual knowledge, and most often appears on the upper right-hand side of SERPs.
Even more so than featured snippets, knowledge graphs can reduce click-through rates since they provide facts directly on the SERP. Search engines are always aiming to give their users what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.
Here, I get all the basic facts on “Pretty Woman: The Musical” (it’s a thing) without having to click through.
PAA (People Also Ask) boxes
The newest kid on the block is PAA, or “people also ask” boxes. You’ve seen ’em, I’ve seen ’em, and they’re pretty great. They help users learn more about a topic they searched for by providing other questions that other people also asked on the same topic, and the answers to those questions.
Above, you can see all three SERP features (featured snippet up top, knowledge graph to the right, and PAA boxes below) together.
Rich snippets and structured data markup
Rich snippets are a sometimes-result of added code to your site called “structured data markup.”
Adding structured data markup to your site is basically labeling pieces of information on your site to give search engines a more precise understanding of what you’re trying to communicate.
For instance, if you’re a business, you can say “hey search engines: This is my business name, these are my business hours.” Or, if you have an event, you can say “search engines: This is the name of my event, this is the organization putting the event on, this is the location, time, etc.” —you get the picture.
Common types of things you can markup include:
What’s the SEO Value of Rich Snippets?
You’re probably thinking: Hold up, hold up. If I’m going to the trouble to learn how to implement this “markup” code that’s “maybe” going to get me a rich snippet, what’s in it for me?
There’s good news, and there’s bad news.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Google has explicitly stated that there’s no algorithmic effect from structured data.
In other words, unlike speeding up your site or getting high-quality backlinks, markup (and the rich snippets they sometimes produce) isn’t going to give you any SEO kudos (sad, I know—but at least they told us something).
The good news?
Rich snippets can increase CTR.
Now hold on, hold on—many of you might think rich snippets aren’t worth your time if they’re not affecting Google’s algorithm directly.
If your site is brand new and/or you’re trying to rank for keywords currently out of your range, then yes—there are better things you could be spending your SEO-time on.
But for everyone else, the power of increasing CTR should not be underestimated.
If your goal is to get more users to your site organically through SERP (is that not pretty much the definition of SEO?), then there’s two important steps that you should be paying attention to when trying to get users to your site.
1. Users search. The algorithm affects what users are shown based on their search query. Most SEOs focus their efforts heavily on this: moving their snippets up the SERP ladder by trying to affect the algorithm.
2. Users click (or not). But, philosophically: What good is a high-ranking snippet if nobody wants to click on it? Or, more realistically: How can you expect to rank your snippet high—in spite of your best SEO efforts—if nobody is interested in clicking on it?
Forgetting about that second step is a big mistake.
The bottom line is: To ultimately get users on to your site from SERPs, you have to get them to click on your snippet. While tinkering with algorithmic levers is important for SEO (especially the hefty ones, like backlinks), so is tinkering with CTR levers.
Plus, as touched on above, users clicking on snippets is akin to them voting on the snippet, which does affect rankings. While onsite factors—like time on site and bounce rate—affect what that vote means, a lack of clicks means a lack of votes. And Google’s not going to rank a snippet high if nobody is clicking on it, and if Google doesn’t know what people think about the page on the other side of that snippet.
While Google hasn’t explicitly stated that organic CTR affects its organic algorithm, there’s some evidence that it does (and…it makes sense. And, Bing has admitted that CTR is a large part of their ranking algorithm, even though they’re no Google).
One last word in defense of rich snippets: While featured snippets and knowledge graphs often take away the need for users to click, rich snippets often give the user more reason to click.
While featured snippets and knowledge graphs often replace the need for users to click on the snippet by putting the answer right in front of them, rich snippets simply give the user more information about what’s on the other side of the snippet, enticing them to click.
5 Steps to Pretty Woman Your Snippets into Rich Snippets
1. Identify existing structured data
First, identify what structured data is already on your site, if any. Even if you don’t think you have any, there’s a chance you do thanks to your theme or plugin.
This is easy to do with the Structured Data Report in Google Search Console.
If you do have some structured data on your site already, the Structured Data Report will also show you what kind of markup your site has on it, and if there are any errors in how it’s been implemented.
I’d recommend using Schema markup, the most common markup, to implement structured data on your site. Schema is understood by the all the important players: Google, Microsoft, Yandex and Yahoo!, making it most people’s go-to.
2. Find rich-snippet-worthy information on your site
Next, you need to determine what you can mark up on your site. For instance, if you’re e-commerce, product markup—things like price and reviews—will be key.
Most businesses can utilize organization markup, breadcrumbs markup and site navigation markup (see site navigation example below) if relevant.
Remember, markup is only worth doing if it’s actually helpful. For instance, if your website is only a few pages and a blog, you probably don’t need breadcrumbs to help search engines figure out where they are.
You can click around Schema types to explore the possibilities, or head to Google to find plenty of examples for businesses similar to yours.
Just make sure you follow the rules. Don’t use invisible or irrelevant markup to try to trick search engines. With Google’s increasing AI capabilities, there’s no way that’s going to fly.
3. Pick a method to implement structured data
There are many ways to implement structured data on your site. I’ll go over a few ways, organized by tech-savvyness.
For lightweights: Data Highlighter and Schema plugins
Google made the Data Highlighter tool to make it really easy for webmasters to add structured data markup to their sites. The Data Highlighter allows you to click-and-tag data on your site.
For instance, you can click on your business hours and label them with the Local Business schema “openingHours,” which the Data Highlighter guides you through. It’s about as easy and straightforward as structured data gets.
Besides being super easy, the other great thing about using Data Highlighter is that it’s a Google tool (Google likes Google). However, Bing doesn’t recognize the Data Highlighter (Bing doesn’t like Google). If you have a lot of Bing users (hey, it’s the 90s—right?), you may want to go another route.
If you’re on WordPress, you can look into a Schema plugin, but this would be my least-recommended option of all options listed here. With Schema plugins, it’s difficult to make your markup accurate and include what you need since they try to do it automatically for you.
Even more importantly, the more plugins you have, the more chance you have of breaking something on your site from plugins not playing nice together, which is undoubtedly difficult and time-consuming to fix.
For mediumweights: Google Tag Manager
Yes—you can implement structured data with Google Tag Manager. If you already use Tag Manager, you’re rejoicing (yay!). If you don’t, well—it’s your next best bet for the less-tech-savvy.
It might be a bit intimidating at first, but there’s plenty of resources out there on how to use Google Tag Manager for adding markup to your site.
For heavyweights: Add structured data manually
Even for us confident, fairly-tech-savvy DIYers, be forewarned: Adding structured data manually to your site can be dangerous.
While gaining an understanding of structured data code and using Schema markup tools like Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper can get you with code-in-hand fairly easily, manually adding markup to your site is the tricky part. If you start editing things like your template files and header tag, you could mess up your theme and your site!
You can explore manually adding Schema into WordPress using microdata and JSON-LD formats, but if you give it a go, make sure to back up your site and theme—and maybe have a developer friend on standby, just in case.
4. Test your implemented structured data
Once you’ve implemented, plug your URL into Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure search engines will be able to read it right.
5. Sit pretty and be patient
Remember: Structured data doesn’t guarantee rich snippets. Rich snippets may appear, disappear and reappear after adding markup.
Rich snippets may first appear after a couple of weeks. Once structured data is added to your site, you have to wait for search engine crawlers to notice.
Then, just keep adding Schema when you add new markup-worthy information to your site to continue earning rich snippets and living the rich life.