Editor’s note: Updated October 2018.

Rich chocolate. Rich humor. That 1994 Macaulay Culkin film, Richie Rich.

These are just some of our favorite flavors of richness.

But you don’t need to be a coder or a marketing wiz to appreciate the glory that is Rich Snippets.

They make your SERP listings more dynamic and they entice searchers to click on your pages instead of others. And you should care about them. Like a lot.

This post examines why.

What are Rich Snippets?

Rich Snippets are a type of structured data markup that site operators add to their pages’ HTML code. When displayed in Google SERPs, Rich Snippets add visual context for users and help Google understand the meaning and intent behind webpages.

In practice, a “snippet” is simply the formatted display of information that Google provides to users.

In most cases, snippets follow a similar appearance:

  1. Page Title.
  2. URL.
  3. Description.

But for a more relevant, user-friendly search result, Google, since 2009, has served richer in-SERP experiences. This is where Rich Snippets come in.

Rich Snippets are Google’s way of providing additional context directly in SERPs, which, in theory, allows searchers to better understand what they click on and how relevant it is to their purposes.

We typically see Rich Snippets in action for specific product searches and other commercial-intent queries. Users are served star ratings, prices and availability, as seen below:

Note the 3.9/5 rating and 1,960 votes highlighted in yellow. Now that’s rich!

Rich Snippets are also known to display for informational-intent searches for recipes, which may serve information on calories, cooking time and user upvotes.

In this example, the user also sees a small photo, which, again, provides context beyond a generic snippet.

The evolving Google SERP landscape

So why are Rich Snippets becoming more common? They’ve been around for nearly a decade.

The answer lies in how Google continues to update its search algorithms and the user interface of SERPs. Few people out there would argue that 2009 SERPs are prettier or more effective than 2018’s – if you know those people, I don’t believe you.

Old:

New:

The proliferation of Rich Snippets aligns with the wholesale evolution of Google since its inception. Google SERP features are now coveted organic ranking positions, and there are dozens of different types to optimize for. (We cover nearly 20 of those SERP options here.)

As Google strives to provide even greater relevance to users, its crawlers will specifically target Rich Snippet opportunities inherent in websites’ content and microdata. In other words, Google wants to feature you in SERPs in the most dynamic, visually appealing way, not as plain lines of text. Isn’t that what you want, too?

Rich Snippets vs. Featured Snippets: What’s the difference?

Marketers commonly misconstrue the SERP features they’re hoping to obtain.

“Featured Snippets” is a general term that refers to any Google display that provides additional information. They appear at the top of search results, often with images, videos, source links and several forms of textual displays.

Here are various examples of a Featured Snippet:

Paragraph

List (with video)

Numbered list

Table

A Rich Snippet is not structured, crawled or served in the same way that a Featured Snippet is, despite their similar names.

Google can feature several Rich Snippets per page, and they don’t appear in Position 0 above organic listings and paid ads (Featured Snippets do).

You’ll see that a query for “nike reviews” returns four individual Rich Snippets above the fold:

When discussing snippets internally with your team, ensure you’re all referring to the same concept.

SEO as it applies to Rich Snippets: What to know

As it stands, there technically is no direct SEO benefit to Rich Snippets (the key word here is direct).

However, there are indirect benefits to Rich Snippets in the form of:

  • Easier indexing in search engines, since Rich Snippets rely on structured data that Google prefers.
  • Stronger visual representation of information, allowing your result to stand out from traditional listings.
  • Better relevancy to users, as more context is provided.

These qualities correlate with higher click-through rates and lower bounce rates.

Plus, as a Rich Snippet generates more clicks, Google’s RankBrain algorithm will reassess your page’s value to users and likely reward you with a higher organic ranking in search. In this manner, optimizing for Rich Snippets is a form of search engine optimization.

How Rich Snippets impact click-through rate

As we’ve discussed before, the top three positions in SERPs receive 60 percent of all clicks.

This is akin to the “ballot order effect” in elections. More often than not, whichever candidate is listed first on a ballot is likely to receive more votes. Not based on politics, name recognition or party affiliation, just the simple fact that he or she appears at the very top.

This phenomena is so prominent in some cases that an extensive 2016 study from Sam Houston State University found that appearing first on a local ballot can result in a 10 percentage point increase in vote totals than if the exact same candidate appeared last.

Google SERPs aren’t all that different. In reality, the ballot order effect manifests itself even more so.

Rich Snippets won’t, on the surface, get you to the top of SERPs, but they can, over time, influence click-through rate enough that RankBrain may shuffle the cards in your favor, so to speak. Provided your on-page content is valuable enough to users (measured by dwell time) and you continue to generate a steady number of click-throughs, a snowballing effect occurs.

RankBrain will identify your listing as increasingly valuable (as evidenced by consistent performance metrics) and position it higher in SERPs. (More on RankBrain’s impact on 2018 here.)

On a day-in, day-out basis, Rich Snippets impact click-through rates in a very logical way:

  • They provide more information.
  • User click behavior rewards listings with imagery and colors.
  • Reviews matter. Positive reviews via Rich Snippets endear us to products and services, and our first interaction with a top-reviewed listing is through a click.

The mechanism for harvesting Rich Snippet benefits is structured data markup, or schema.org.

On the backend: Structured data markup

To turn a generic snippet into a richer one, use schema.

Schema.org is the most popular tool for marking your web pages with microdata that clues major search engines into what these pages are about and what they are hoping to accomplish.

Webmasters use schema markup as a common online vocabulary, employing specific HTML code, tags, words and other microformats to contextualize on-page content. Behind the scenes, schema is language for the bots. But this language allows you to create Rich Snippets and other Google SERP features that human users benefit from.

The schema markup you employ may vary based on the intent of the page you’re optimizing. For instance, the types of Rich Snippets you see in search correspond to:

  • Events.
  • Organizations.
  • Local Businesses.
  • Products.
  • Restaurants.
  • Books.
  • Films.
  • Recipes.
  • Music.
  • People.
  • Offers.
  • Product Reviews.
  • Videos.

Within schema, you can manipulate the property ranges of the HTML to reflect what your page is about and how you intend it to be served as a Rich Snippet. You can do this through marking the itemscope (what the HTML is about), itemtype (what type of item is being highlighted) and itemprop (the property, such as URL or name).

Here’s what that language may look like at a code level:

Structured data testing tools: Making schema work for you

This sort of technical proficiency is not second nature to most marketers. It’s not third nature either. And don’t even get me started on fourth nature.

Webmasters, developers and coders will need to be on hand to assist with data markup, or, you can use a series of handy markup shortcuts. Rich Snippet testing tools and, more broadly, structured data tools include:

Plugins can also be an easy fix here.

If you operate a site built on WordPress (which is more than half of you), try:

By using shortcode (small pieces of code that allow you to execute actions without directly hardcoding), WordPress turns every site operator into a capable data master.

WordPress does have a somewhat narrower range of plugins for e-commerce sites. And e-commerce platforms are often powered by more niche CMS with tools highly specific to that industry.

For instance, Magento is a flexible, cloud-based e-commerce CMS that comes with a host of structured data plugins and extensions, such as:

With all of this information, you’re ready to add Rich Snippets to your search arsenal.

How to optimize for Rich Snippets, and what types of content best apply?

Not every page is designed for Rich Snippets. Some content forms lend themselves more naturally to appearing in SERPs for certain intent-driven queries, such as any page that is transactional.

Physical products and online services pages are ripe for Rich Snippet opportunities, so product guides, product reviews, user commentary and image-heavy content are typically best. That said, gated content like eBooks or white papers don’t make much sense here.

Additionally, Rich Snippets appear for informational queries as well, so short, bulleted content like recipes, longer deep dives into product benefits and even instructional material are easy targets.

Lastly, video content has its own category type within Rich Snippet optimization, so embedded videos on your landing pages are certainly an area you’ll want to explore as well.

To optimize these pages for Rich Snippets, you’ll need to:

  • Understand the intent behind your page and the queries that drive traffic to them.
  • Provide as much information and context as possible on the page.
  • Assess the SERP landscape to see if Google returns other Rich Snippets for your search term.
  • Use schema to format your page with relevant microdata.

Inside the mind of a search engine: How does Google find and display Rich Snippets?

You’re likely using Google’s testing tools to optimize your web pages, so it’s safe to say the search engine is setting you up for success. However, Google can take weeks to properly crawl and index your page, even after it’s been marked up with snippet code.

After this period of tracking down and evaluating your content, Google may be serving your Rich Snippets in search. They could  disappear one day and then reappear the next – this is Google’s cycle for properly vetting results and ensuring it is displaying the most relevant content possible. It’s not a glitch, and so you shouldn’t continue adjusting your page or marking it up further – this only causes Google to start its crawl process over again, delaying your Rich Snippet visibility. As a best practice, wait at least a month (ideally two) before going back to the drawing board.

Again, a Rich Snippets testing tool will clue you in to potential missed opportunities in your page structure and whether SERPs may have changed in the interim, thus necessitating possible updates to your pages as well.

Why aren’t my snippets showing up?

But even if you’ve followed every step and watched every tutorial, search engines are not beholden to automatically reward your efforts. If the on-page content is still inferior to a competitor listing, schema is not going to lug you out of your SERP dungeon.

Google can also manually disable your Rich Snippet should it find you used spammy markup methods or are keyword-stuffing.

And one last note on your snippets not showing up: Google conducts thousands of search quality tests a year, and your pages could be included in a variety of experiments that remove a Rich Snippet intermittently or entirely even if your markup is accurate and up to date.

That’s quite a drag, we know. But, as long as you optimize for on-page quality, use Google’s testing tools and appropriately categorize your content, you should be in good hands (fingers crossed).

Does this change organic ranking factors?

An interesting question, no doubt.

But, on the whole, no. Google’s ranking factors are still the same as when we started the year. The most prominent ones are right here in this infographic:

Top ranking factors

Rich Snippets primarily impact click-through rate and SERP differentiation. There’s no way to “rank” for a Rich Snippet – as stated before, Google can feature 10 Rich Snippets on one page if it wants. To get your result to appear above a competitor’s result (if you both already have Rich Snippets), it goes back to the fundamentals of SEO, not additional “hacks” or “tricks” to make your snippets even richer.

We’ve come a long way in this post. Let us know if you’ve still got any outstanding questions on Rich Snippets and, who knows, maybe one day we’ll rename our chatbot Richard Snippet, and we’ll do it with a straight face.

Mike O'Neill is a writer, editor and content manager in Chicago. When he's not keeping a close eye on Brafton's editorial content, he's auditioning to narrate the next Ken Burns documentary. All buzzwords are his own.