No doubt you’ve noticed that Google has jazzed up the way it displays results over the years. Whereas in the past you’d be faced with a list of links and plain text, you’re now more likely to be presented with search engines results pages (SERPs) that includes additional information, such as images, videos, recipes, user ratings and other data, enriching your search experience by enabling you to decide which result best matches your query
These are examples of Google using ‘rich snippets’ – snippets of content from web pages – to return what are known as rich results and the obvious benefit for businesses is that they stand out from simple text-only results.
Below are the results for the query ‘vegetable lasagne recipe’. The top 3 listings contain some form of rich result; the 4th listing doesn’t, which demonstrates the impact of rich results on a site’s visibility and appeal. After all, which result would be most likely to click?
Rich answers/featured snippets
We’ve also seen an increase in Google search results displaying rich answers – such as the first listing in the example above. A rich answer is the complete, direct answer to a search query that shows up at the top of your results. This is when Google uses external data to try to answer a query as fully as possible, without the user having to click any further. A study by Stone Temple Consulting found a 38% increase in rich answers in the first six months of 2015 and identified that Google uses external data (ie, not its own) for 75% of them.
Here’s another example of a rich answer for the search ‘chocolate cupcake recipe’:
How to use schema markup
To make your content eligible for inclusion in rich search results, you need to use schema markup on your web pages.
Schema markup is type of microdata standard used by Google to identify types of content on your website and display this data as appropriate when people perform searches.
Kissmetrics’ definition of schema markup is “code that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative results for users”
Search engines use this information to help determine the relevance of your website’s content to users’ search queries, boosting your organic search visibility. Since content is easier to interpret, it can rank higher in search results.
However, a study by Raven Tools last year that crawled over 200 million web pages found that a only 20% used schema markup – meaning they’re missing out on the benefits of being included in rich results.
What is Schema.org?
Schema.org is a collaborative, community activity that creates and maintains a standard, shared schema markup list for defined content types and subtypes and the code that people use to implement each type.
If we take the example of the vegetable lasagne recipe rich result from above, we can see how the web page that the listing leads to contains Schema.org markup:
Although Google has confirmed it doesn’t pay attention to schema for rich results purposes, we would still recommend ensuring your pages have the relevant rich snippet markup as best practice to benefit from the enhanced listings it could give.
Create the kind of content that appears in popular rich results
What types of rich results appear in the top spots for your keyword phrase? Do some research and focus on creating the kind of content people expect to find in Google searches. Aim to satisfy your audience’s interests and answer the kind of questions they’re asking.
Popular schema content types
- Recipes, like in the examples above
- News articles (‘Glastonbury’):
- Videos (‘funny cats’):
- Events (‘Elton John’):
- Reviews (‘dentist reviews’):
Create content that goes beyond simple answers
To increase your chances of being featured in rich results, focusing on long tail research into what your target audience searches for is even more crucial. Identify the questions they’re commonly asking and ensure your content not only provides clear, substantial answers, but also includes the questions themselves.
You also need to give users extra reasons to click through to your site, for example, mentioning additional resources they would find valuable.
Want to increase your chances of appearing in rich answers?
HubSpot’s Matthew Barby has carried out in-depth analysis into the factors that contribute to ranking in a featured answer.
We know that, although good practice, schema markup isn’t one of them. However, Barby’s recommendations largely correlate with the advice above relating to optimising for rich snippets:
- Identify a common, simple question related to your market area, but offer value added info beyond the direct answer.
- Feature the search query in page header tags (such h2s and h3s).
- Provide a clear and direct answer to the question early on in the text (Matthew Barby recommends an optimum length of 54 to 58 words).
- As Google will often use the first paragraph of an answer as a rich answer, page structure is important. It goes without saying that it should be user-friendly and logical to navigate.
The key message is the same as always when it comes to usability and rankibility: create high quality, relevant and engaging content with the human user in mind.