Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist (Natural Search)
Google recently reported that they were adding something new to their search results. This new thing is called “Rich Snippets”.
A typical Google search result used to look like this:
On or after May 2009, if your business is something that can be rated online by Web users, Google’s going to try to incorporate those reviews into their results pages, as shown in the following screenshot for a well-liked restaurant:
This result showed up as #3 for the query “drooling dog barbeque”. As you can see, the result is from Yelp.com, and it shows that after 17 reviews the restaurant has a rating of 4/5 stars. In addition, the result shows the price range of the restaurant, which is “$$” (which is more than “$” but less than “$$$”, by the way).
Google is rolling this new snippet out right now in an effort to make their search results even more useful. Google’s Web blog about this new feature is telling:
We can't provide these snippets on our own, so we hope that web publishers will help us by adopting micro-formats or RDFa standards to mark up their HTML and bring this structured data to the surface.
Translation: “If you structure your data then a whole lot more people will hear about your site.”
“Information about other businesses” will initially mean “reviews” like the one for Drooling Dog Bar B Q, but there’s a potential for Web publishers to say a lot more. The following screenshot is from the Google Support Page questionnaire for Web publishers interested in rich snippets:
This gives us an idea of how Google may build this out beyond reviews. For example, the “people profiles” checkbox is quite interesting. In the future, if your Facebook page shows up as a search result on Google, will the Google page tell us additional info about you, such as where you’re from or how many friends you have? Conceivably it might even show your picture next to your Facebook result.
The “Products for sale” checkbox is interesting as well – Google may incorporate review data into results for product searches like “DVD Player” or “Plasma TV”.
The key for webmasters to remember about this whole initiative is “Structured Content”. This is why Google is asking Web publishers to start using micro-formatting and RDFa. These are structured data formats. RDFa, for example, is XHTML code that standardizes data about what’s in a file, such as a JPG image. For example if you have a picture on your website of your friend Joseph, the RDFa data can state that Joseph is a person, that his full name is Joseph Q. Public, and that the picture was taken in Denmark near a coffee shop. Google can’t determine the contents of pictures yet, but if they crawl the page and find this data, your site’s more likely to show up in results for queries like “Denmark Coffee Shop” or “Joseph Q. Public.”
Micro-format tags are similar, but instead of containing information they standardize data about text. A business owner, for example, might use micro-formatting to specify the store location, hours of business, and the days of the week they’re open. This is useful for your potential customers to know, isn’t it? Putting your site’s data into these structured formats makes it a lot easier for Google to pull this data from your pages and incorporate it into search results.
This still doesn’t mean, however, that if you put this data into your site that you’ll suddenly start appearing ahead of your competitors for high-volume keywords. Google will still keep using PageRank scores and inbound links to determine ranks because the existing algorithm has proven its trustworthiness.
The sky is the limit as to how Google will end up incorporating this data. In the short term, review sites that adopt these code standards are likely to get their reviews more visible in search results (four yellow stars help the snippet stand out more on the Google results page). In the longer term, Google will devise ways to incorporate standardized data into their search results and tailor it to best fit the type of query. A search like “Clothing Stores Chicago” may show you local results that display store hours. If you’re searching on a Sunday, it might even display the stores that are open at the time of the search. A search for particular movie titles or products might bring up the 5-star rating system.
Making your site more useful to Google helps both Google and your site. The more data you provide about yourself or your business, the more accurate Google’s results are, and the more likely it will become that the information on your site will appear in front of the customers who need it the most.