What exactly ARE Rich Snippets? A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Rich Snippets

April 23, 2013

Rich snippets are quickly gaining a reputation as a highly effective, yet often overlooked, element of SEO with the power to improve your rankings, attract attention to your site in the search results, and drive traffic.

That’s nice…But what exactly, you might ask, is a Rich Snippet?

Rich snippets offer your business the best shot at offering rich search results.

How Rich Snippets Work and What They Do

Rich snippets are coded pieces of information that help search engines understand what readers can intuitively infer.

Search engines like Google are designed, not to understand a searcher’s question, read a few online articles, and unite searcher and site accordingly, but to match a site’s content with a user’s query. Unlike searchers themselves, search engines aren’t capable of understanding the most basic–and I mean basic–nuances of language.

Let’s say there’s a description within a search result that reads:

“My name is Liz Knight and I work and write for National Positions, one of the world’s leading SEO companies, based in Los Angeles.”

You may see the words Liz Knight and think “name,” “person,” or even make more complex insinuations like “author” or “employee.” A reader would interpret National Positions as a business, Los Angeles as a specific location, a place on a map, a city in California. But Google can’t always extract that much information… at least, not without help.

Rich snippets give search engines the information they need to make those inferences, so that they can digest important information and then provide that information to searchers just as clearly.

In order to help the search engines along, one of the best ways to implement rich snippets is to get familiar with microdata and start using it in your HTML5 coding.

Here’s the same example, but in words (microdata) that search engines can actually understand:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/Person”>My name is<span itemprop=”name”>Liz Knight</span> I work and write for <span itemprop=”affiliation”>National Positions</span>, a leading SEO company based in <span itemprop=”homeLocation”>Los Angeles</span>.</div>

It may seem like just a bunch of words and symbols to some, but these bits of microdata are easy to get a hold of with a little practice and aren’t much different than standard HTML tags like </div>, which marks the end of whatever is being described to the search engines.

Why are Rich Snippets so Important?

If you see a result with a basic meta description, versus one with an image or perhaps a 4.5 star rating (thanks to rich snippets) added into the search results–which are you more likely to see? More likely to click on? Exactly.

There are rich snippets to alert search engines to mentions of a person, a location, a business or organization, an event, reviews, products, and more.

Now, we’ve all heard the saying about no one buying the cow if you’re giving away the milk for free. But sometimes giving away the milk, or even just, you know, a sample of the milk, is exactly what you need to do to sell the cow.

In other words, with rich snippets, you’re giving Google the details they need in order to comprehend the most relevant information within your words, the things about your page that you want indexed and shown for readers to see. Giving a taste, or a snapshot, of what’s to come, what meaning lays ahead in your content for example, is a highly effective means of encouraging searchers to read on,  it’s the reason why meta descriptions have always been so important, and just one of many reasons why rich snippets are a terrific way of providing Google with valuable information and of catching, and keeping, searchers’ attention.

For more information on how to get started with Rich Snippets, Google’s webmaster tools offer some helpful guidelines that you can find here.

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