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:
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.