This guest post is by Matt Beswick.
Bloggers and webmasters are always looking for an edge when it comes to ranking highly against the giants in their field. It’s a classic David and Goliath story, really.
What made the early web so appealing was the idea that some lone geek in a basement could compete with the media heavyweights and gain a large following. But in an age where “content” outfits like Demand Media are given an unfair advantage over smaller and more worthy adversaries, it’s tough for the underdog to win.
However, a little technology called Rich Snippets has the potential to turn the tables.
Introducing Rich Snippets
If you’re unfamiliar with Rich Snippets, it’s worth your time to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the concept. Essentially, Rich Snippets are the content summaries that accompany Google search results for your webpages when they pop up in the main listings.
Rich Snippets are incredibly important when it comes to ranking your content well in the new era that’s been wrought by Google’s Penguin update. The idea behind Rich Snippets is quite simple. However, implementing them in the real world can be a little trickier unless you know what you’re doing.
If you really want to wrap your head around Rich Snippets and dive in with both feet, Schema.org is the best place to get started. Ultimately, Rich Snippets are based on microdata, microformats, RDFa, and similar standards. All of these schemas are included within the HTML5 specification, which makes them easy to integrate into your websites. Both Google and Bing take these microformats and behind-the-scenes data structures into account when deciding how they’ll rank content.
How Rich Snippets factor in search
All geek talk aside, the entire point of Rich Snippets is to make your content easier to index for the major search engines. In that sense, it’s the same old story as before.
Microdata, microformats and Rich Snippets are roughly analogous to
meta tags from the past decade. The reason why they’re becoming such a big deal is that search engines are looking to implement a more semantic approach to delivering web results. Keyword matching isn’t really the name of the game any more. Nowadays, actual meaning is far more important and software has evolved to reflect that.
If you’re a webmaster or site owner, you should relish the opportunities and challenges of Rich Snippets because they can actually favour the little guy in a number of ways. Due to their emphasis on actual content relevance, they can elevate your pages above those that are more reliant on deft niche keyword optimisation. Benefits include increased click-through rates, overall traffic, and conversions.
Let’s cut this Rich Snippet promotional tour short and get to the heart of the matter: implementing techniques that will give your blogs and websites a leg up on the competition.
Using Rich Snippets to stand apart
To make your web properties more appealing to the search engines, the first thing you should do is head over to the Google-sponsored Rich Snippets Testing Tool to do some research. Simply enter the URL of the page you’re focusing on and see the results roll in. The RSTT will analyse your content and suggest ways in which you can improve your pages to rank better using RDFa and microformat techniques.
Once you’ve gotten some feedback, you can start to modify back-end markup to address the problems you find. Tweaking markup is critical, because Google will look at how you semantically structure your layouts when deciding how to present a summation of your website in its results.
The cool thing about Rich Snippets is that they’ll allow Google to throw reviews, overall rankings of your website and more into the quick blurb that appears alongside your results in the SERPs. When people search for any given good or service online, something that has a 4- or 5-star ranking in the SERPs stands out more than a plain text description.
Implementing Snippets in the blog formula
The first thing you’ll probably want to do is get your author markup ready to go. This requires a Google+ account, some patience, and a little bit of coding knowledge (depending on the platform that you’re using).
It actually used to be much more difficult to get this up and running but Google now allows you to push this through a header tag. Instead of going into too much detail here I’ll just point you in the direction of Yoast who, for any WordPress junkies, will be making this nice and easy in the next release of his fantastic SEO plugin.
As for practical advice when it comes to making Rich Snippets a part of your blogs, there’s no shortage of tutorials and examples online.
Google’s own Rich Snippets FAQ-style page should give you a good idea of how to get started. To begin with, you’ll need to pick a specific markup format for your snippets. Microdata is recommended, but RDFa will also work just fine. Once you’re ready to roll, you can leverage your knowledge of the latest HTML5 markup to get going.
Let’s say your website is heavily dependent on reviews—either from customers or data feeds. Well, Rich Snippets allow you to pull either individual or aggregate reviews into your search results listing. They can also be used to compile information about organisations, events, and products related to your website, to make your search result entries far more full-featured and descriptive.
If you’ve got quality content and a good information product, Rich Snippets can only help in pushing traffic in your direction. The primary consequence of the more highly-targeted traffic achievable via Rich Snippets will generally be a far higher conversion rate regardless of the type of website you happen to be running.
The last word
At the end of the day, Google’s focus on Rich Snippets is comparable to Facebook’s efforts with Open Graph, the relationship mapping tool that allows for better analysis of the connections between people and their interests.
For Google, the end result of Rich Snippet usage is that users waste less time sifting through irrelevant search results to find what they need. For Facebook, the end result of Open Graph usage is that people are better paired with both potential friends and ads.
In any event, both technologies underscore the growing importance of semantics in search. Expect to see more intelligent, AI-like search strategies in the coming years as companies like Google and Facebook learn to better model the relationships between information and meaning.