Improving organic CTR with semantic HTML

A visu­ally com­pelling search result can influ­ence click-through rate (CTR) by 10–30%. ISM decided to inves­ti­gate exactly which types of struc­tured markup Google looks for when gen­er­at­ing CTR-friendly “rich snippets”

Not all search results are cre­ated equal. By now most of us are famil­iar with pres­ence of rich snip­pets on Google search results:

Para­dox: Five Star = Four Stars

Google relies on the usage of Seman­tic HTML to gen­er­ate results like the one above. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, seman­tic HTML is any markup that is writ­ten in a way that indi­cates the mean­ings of–and rela­tion­ships between–elements on a web page. There is no absolute stan­dard for seman­tic HTML, but var­i­ous online groups have worked together to estab­lish markup stan­dards that define HTML pat­terns and ele­ment prop­er­ties for com­mon types of con­tent on the web.

Seman­tic HTML & Search Marketing

Seman­tic HTML helps search engines iden­tify objects within a web page, a piv­otal aspect of decid­ing when and how to ren­der dynamic, query-driven snip­pets. In the exam­ple above, Google cor­rectly deduced that my search, “five star pizza”, was sub­mit­ted in the pur­suit of order­ing a pizza (and not sim­ply look­ing up infor­ma­tion about Five Star Pizza, the pizza chain). Hav­ing made this deduc­tion, Google gen­er­ated a snip­pet that used customer-friendly Micro­data it dis­cov­ered on the source site, Yelp.com.

In fact, Google used mul­ti­ple struc­tured markup stan­dards to gen­er­ate the rich snip­pet from our example:

Reviews (data source: “hRe­view” microformat)

The hRe­view micro­for­mat is the most com­monly used for­mat for reviews. In the exam­ple above, Google deter­mined the 4-star rat­ing from Yelp’s usage of hReview-aggregate, a broader ver­sion of hRe­view.

Bread­crumbs (data source: Micro­data markup)

Yelp copied Google’s exam­ple of bread­crumb Micro­data char­ac­ter for char­ac­ter, choos­ing to hide the bread­crumb text per their design pref­er­ence:

Rich Snip­pets and Higher CTR

On a less sophis­ti­cated level, rich snip­pets help click-through sim­ply by dec­o­rat­ing search results with more attention-grabbing visual com­po­nents. More impor­tantly, how­ever, they pro­vide pieces of infor­ma­tion that are rel­e­vant to poten­tial actions under­ly­ing the user’s query, estab­lish­ing a crit­i­cal com­pet­i­tive advan­tage over generic results.

Con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mates sug­gest that users click on results with rich snip­pets 10% more fre­quently than generic results. Search mar­keter Paul Bruem­mer recently reported that he wit­nessed 30% increases over a hand­ful of large retail websites.

Which Markup Stan­dards Does Google Recognize?

There is no offi­cial stan­dard­iza­tion for seman­tic markup on the web (as declared by the W3C), nor are there offi­cial state­ments from Google about which stan­dards it inter­prets. How­ever, some stan­dards are more pop­u­lar than oth­ers, most notably the fol­low­ing (each of which is known to be inter­preted by Google):

Each of the pre­ced­ing sets forth stan­dards for inte­grat­ing seman­tics into HTML. We should note, how­ever, that micro­for­mats define pre­cise markup pat­terns while Micro­data and RDFa more loosely define data schemas, prop­er­ties, and nam­ing con­ven­tions (for con­text, a micro­for­mat could con­tain Micro­data, but not vice versa).

Future of Struc­tured Markup

Google con­tin­ues to openly rec­om­mend the usage of struc­tured, seman­tic HTML to help them bet­ter under­stand con­tent and gen­er­ate more engag­ing snip­pets for search results. In a post from Google’s offi­cial blog last week, an update to rich snip­pets was announced:

We improved our process for detect­ing sites that qual­ify for shop­ping, recipe and review rich snip­pets. As a result, you should start see­ing more sites with rich snip­pets in search results.”

Addi­tion­ally, the emer­gence and adop­tion of HTML5 (which intro­duces a vari­ety of new tags that help stan­dard­ize the markup of com­mon types of con­tent) will increase the com­pet­i­tive impor­tance of using struc­tured, seman­tic HTML in non-HTML5 markup.

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