Three years is an awfully long time ago in the internet age. Let’s take a trip in the Internet way back machine to see what SEO used to be. That’s when we used to think of SEO of as a two pronged discipline, namely on-page optimization and off page optimization. Off page optimization, or linkbuilding has been replaced by inbound marketing. On page optimization is still very valid, but its boundaries have gotten rather fuzzy.
It used to be all about keywords, keywords, keywords. Keywords in your title tag, keywords in your header tags, keyword density. Keywords are still really important, but so is engagement and user behavior as signals the search engine algorithms pay attention to. It’s not just about getting the traffic, it’s winning the hearts and minds of the user once they are on your site.
You want to take that optimization and conversion mindset and apply it to the little welcome mat that Google builds for your page when it ranks for a search query. Known as a snippet, this is the listing that appears in Google’s search results pages, called SERPs for short.
Most of the time (but not all the time), Google and the other search engines will build the snippet from the title and meta description tags from your page. The title tag, which will display 60-65 characters of your tag as the clickable blue link in the snippet, is still the top ranking SEO factor for your page. So in the old days we used to stuff the title with many keywords separated by commas or pipes (the broken vertical lines) to try and rank for as many keywords as possible. It’s still a temptation to create page titles like this especially when we have several closely related keywords as options. And it can still work.
Snippets as Marketing Messaging
However, this is the new world of SEO, in a competitive market you will have to sacrifice some keywords to better attract the human searcher to get that all important clickthrough. Title tags these days are being written as sentences, often with verbs as a call to action, “Get”, “Find”, “Shop” are all popular verb choices. So our title here might morph into “Oil Drilling Rig Consultant job requirements and wages” or even “Learn what it takes to be a Oil Drilling Rig Consultant”. You want to think of your snippet as an elevator pitch for your web page. Note that I said web page, not web site, as the clickable link in your snippet will lead to the individual page that ranked not to the home page of your site. The fact that searchers often enter web sites through various “side doors”, not through the front door of your web site is sometimes forgotten by web site owners.
Search engines have evolved to recognize user behavior as signals. You might be able to get your keyword stuffed snippet to rank for your desired keyword, but that is only half the battle. You want high clickthrough rates and once someone comes to your site you want them to stay there. Low clickthrough and high bounce rates will cause your snippet to drift downwards in the search engine results pages because Google (in particular) will consider those user behavior signals as a “down” vote on your listing. Remember Google’s primary purpose is to deliver search results that searchers want. If it doesn’t appear that searcher are interested in your snippet, you will not stay ranked high for long.
Rich Snippets are the Future
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s look at where snippets are evolving to. Snippets these days can have an author’s picture, details such as time to prepare for a recipe page and a thumbnail image. The term for these enhanced snippets are rich snippets and they can be a key factor in driving up clickthroughs.
Introduced by Google to help with identifying original content (versus scraped articles), adding your smiling face to a snippet can drive up clickthroughs up to 30%. So even though Google authorship is not a ranking factor, it’s a no brainer, you should set Google Authorship up and get those higher clickthroughs.
The other types of rich snippets are created with schema.org markup. schema.org is a collaboration among the search engine companies to define schemas (a set of rules) for rich structured data on HTML pages. These schemas make it a lot easier for a search engine crawler to understand not only that a page is about a recipe, but to be able to identify structured data elements about that recipe, such as how long the recipe takes to make. Or a thumbnail image that represents the video. These data elements are then used to build the rich snippet. If it is clear that the snippet will lead to a page with a video and that is what you are looking for, you will of course be more likely to click on that snippet than a plain basic one that has no hint of what lies beyond.
Markup of HTML pages with the schema.org structured data elements often requires some dev know how, but in the WordPress world there are some promising plugins, such as SchemaCreator that can help make the task easier. Google also just released an new tool it is calling the “Structured Data Markup Helper” which will generate the HTML markup for you, This is the second tool Google has released in this area, the previously released “Data Highlighter” allows you to highlight and tag your page for Google without any HTML coding.
Since, with these tools, Google obviously thinks rich snippets are important, shouldn’t you?
So much highly useful, straight to the point snippet info in one place… THANK YOU. As a web developer but total seo noob, I was really psyched to see mention of the Structured Data Markup Helper, something that I had never heard of before and that makes perfect sense to my web developer brain. What a relief and thanks again!
Thanks for the comment Chris – glad to hear my post was useful!
Along with Raven’s SchemaCreator, WordPress enthusiasts should check out the “All in One SEO Rich Snippets” and “Add Meta Tags” plugins.
And, on an unrelated note, Google has shortened the number of characters it shows for the title tag to 53 – 57 characters.