A few months ago I attended a Guardian Master Class on Data Visualisation hosted by Tobias Sturt, Head of creative at Guardian Digital Agency and Adam Frost, Data Visualisation Manager at Guardian Digital Agency. Both were incredibly friendly, down-to-earth and made the class very enjoyable. I highly recommend checking them (and their work) out. Data ...
Rich snippets are here, there and everywhere at the moment, either polluting or enhancing the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) depending on your perspective.
I've been working on sites utilising either Microformats in the form of hReview and hRecipe for some years, and more particularly recently with Schema.org, specifically the Review Schema.
The Old Days - Hoops to Jump
It was always historically quite difficult to get Google to show any enhanced SERP listings for your websites. In the past it was never enough to have correctly formatted code on site. There were a number of hoops to jump through to get Google to accept you to their various programs and I found that there was a lack of consistency in how these have been applied.
I worked on one site in the review space for some time. We had a particular remit to be gaining the 5 star review rich snippets, as well as seeing those companies that advertised on the site, having reviews within Google Local listings. There were a number of complications throughout this process - we were never able to get the hReview Microformat code 100% nailed on perfectly implemented due to some difficulties with the website developers at the time.
Long story cut short means that as there were plans for a new website in the pipeline that prevented proper allocation of budget to really get this perfect (I wont mention too much that the new site ended up getting canned 6 months into development with budgets being appropriately re-allocated to my original requests).
Eventually, after we'd had *good enough* code in place on the website for 2 months and we'd resubmitted our entries to the enhanced listings scheme, we found that the reviews for the website started to display in the SERPs - hurrah! Frustratingly, we noted that something had come undone on the URL rewrite we'd put in place on the website and we suddenly had duplicated listings for 1000's of business pages on the website. That was a day of real highs and lows - it had seemed victory had been achieved, only to be snatched away from our grasp.
It took a month from resolving the URL redirect issues to the correct URLs for these to start showing up properly for the right URLs, and whilst rankings remained relatively unaffected as a result, we noticed that there was a strong increase in the number of pages receiving traffic to the website, and a big pickup in the number of phrases driving traffic to the website.
Like many things in SEO, it was difficult to isolate these rich snippets as the only cause of this. We weren't standing still in terms of on page or off page activities for the campaign, but the client was considerably happier about these rich snippet reviews than the increases in traffic that we were delivering at the time. I'm a firm believer that SEO in most circumstances is about bringing in the revenue and providing ROI, but this does illustrate that perception of success really can differ from client to client.
Around August last year I also implemented the hrecipe markup on a food blog that I mostly neglect in my spare time. I didn't really expect too much from this, as the site isn't updated frequently, really doesn't have anywhere near enough quality content or authority, and for the first 3-4 months of adding new recipes with this format, nothing happened. It's a Wordpress site, so I just installed a simple plugin.
I'm not convinced that the hrecipe elements of this implementation are entirely perfect - I get a few issues flagged with the Google rich snippet testing tool that I've never found the time to fix. Interestingly though, the plugin also included hreview elements, which always seemed to validate perfectly.
The New Age - They're Everywhere!
Towards the end of November, possibly early December, it looks as though a review rich snippet switch was flicked somewhere in the Googleplex. Suddenly reviews were everywhere and my years of pushing clients towards implementing this markup suddenly seemed warranted.
It wasn't until my first day at theMediaFlow that I actually noticed that my cooking site had some rich snippets of its own! Based on the data I'd input into the plugin, every page on my site where this markup appeared was displaying 5 star reviews. That's great right?
It is great but here is the problem. I gave my own recipe a single 5 star review. It shows up in Google for all sorts of search terms and brand based keywords. But it's based on my own review:
Plenty of folks in the SEO world jumped on this development and it wasn't long before the first few pages of results for industry keywords were littered with these rich snippets. Nearly everyone has 5 star reviews but these all seem to be carefully controlled by the sites themselves - they aren't independent or impartial, and you don't have to jump through my hoops filling in forms with Google to get them.
Get the markup for reviews correct on page and pretty quickly after being re-indexed you are going to see those lovely stars in your websites results.
In light of these working so effectively, we pushed for a client to get the schema markup applied to the reviews they already had on the site. They had tried marking this up but it failed the validation tests when I checked this. It was, therefore, only a small change to make to get this functioning properly by adjusting a few elements on the product page templates.
Within a day of this markup being changed on a couple of key product page listings in SERPs we saw the reviews. These were absolutely real reviews - not all of them were 5 star ones unlike with my own tests.
Interestingly, one area we'd hoped to also see these apply was in the Google Shopping vertical. However, my research into a number of niches has led me to the conclusion that these are not displaying yet just from having the appropriate markup.
It seems much more weighted into trusted and authority sources of this information, presumably with similar hoops to jump through for inclusions as in the old days. Maybe this is paving the way for a paid inclusion option for shopping results specifically, or maybe this vertical is a little behind the main index.
It's likely only a matter of time before they do start to appear here though.
My final recent rich snippet experiment has been with the rel=author markup. I documented my attempts to get this working on a Google Plus post, trying out various options before implementing 2 different methods of it across the 3 sites I was looking to get this functioning on.
This was an unnecessarily complicated procedure - it involved getting the markup all right, following some quite baffling documentation from Google, and then digging around to find a form to submit the request to be included.
I was fairly satisfied that the markup was functional on all 3 sites after testing again with the rich snippet tool, but after waiting for a few weeks not a lot happened.
At the start of February it seems like the authorship rich snippet switch must have been flicked by Google, as I started seeing this on 2 websites that I'd implemented it on (the 2 that I implemented the same way) but annoyingly not the other.
Double Rich Snippet Goodness!
At the same time I saw a lot of chatter about everyone else that had been playing with this suddenly getting some as well. Since then I've also been told that, similar to when we got schema implemented on our client site, if you add this code now it doesn't take very long for this to start displaying in SERPs.
In short, the method that worked best for me here was to link to my Google Plus page at the end of every post, with the following addition to the destination URL:
When I get a chance to do so I'm going to replicate this implementation on the 3rd site and see how long it takes to start displaying that information.
Like it or loathe it, it seems that the rich snippet explosion is here to stay. The opening up of the scheme to just about every site employing the correct code is making even more people jump on the bandwagon, and the number of SERPs that these don't appear for seem to be reducing daily.
As Nichola observed in her post on SEO Clicks, we saw a marked increase in click through rates where we had sufficient data to be able to measure this properly.
On my own cooking site I've seen rankings remain relatively unchanged, but particularly on SERPs where there aren't many other rich snippets seen big increases in traffic on those terms - most noticably when in position 4 or 5.
I'm looking forward to having sufficient data on rel author to draw some conclusions on performance of these but it strikes me that the more you can do to get your listing in a SERP to stand out from the rest, the higher the CTR is going to be. I just want to collect more data to prove it to myself!
I've heard a lot of grumblings about the authorship elements only working for linking to Google Plus, but recall seeing in passing that Google are considering opening this up to wider social sites. This is something I'd love to see, as my Twitter profile would be a considerably better direction to be pointing people interested in more of my writings than a Google Plus page where there is mostly just tumbleweed.
I'd love to hear any experiences you may have had with various rich snippets over the years! Drop a comment or send me a tweet so we can discuss further.
Also, if you aren't bored of reading really long posts yet, why not go and check out my favourite search marketing tools?