Since 2009 Google has been allowing users to create “previews” of pages in the search results. Known as rich snippets or featured snippets, these elements add extra information that help searchers decide whether to click or not.
As illustrated in this image, this information could take the form of reviews, TV and movie information, recipe instructions, product details and much more. Generally the snippets appear as plain text though it is possible to include images or a video preview shot.
What’s the difference between rich snippets and featured snippets?
Let’s start with an easy one. To put it simply: a rich snippet is an enhanced organic search result whereas a featured snippet is an answer to a query situated above the organic search results in position zero.
What do you stand to gain or lose by using rich snippets?
As in many disciplines, there is debate about this question. Some argue that putting the information in the snippet dissuades customers from clicking because all the information they need is already there. Others retort that it is not even possible to put “all” the relevant information in such a small space. The latter group probably is more right. Their line of reasoning also has a few other added benefits: Rich snippets ensure that visitors really want to be on the site. The alternative is that people click on the site while being unsure about the information, and possibly bouncing away. This is bad for the user who wants the information, it’s also bad for the site because this activity is registered by Google, causing the page ranking to decline, and finally it is bad for Google, a company that wants to provide users with the right information.
Also, while Google has explicitly stated that rich snippets do not guarantee that page rankings will automatically increase, or even that it will appear in the search results, it is true that the process makes it easier for the search engine to crawl, parse and display page content.
How to set up a rich snippet
Rich snippets are created using a markup language in the source text of the page you are working on. Fortunately, it’s not visible to visitors, the search engine detects it and displays selected information. There are currently three types of markup language for rich snippets: Microdata, RDFa and JSON-LD.
The number of properties depends on the type and there is a vast array of properties that can be integrated. In fact the number can be a little overwhelming. Luckily, if you are using a CMS like WordPress, there are several plugins available to make things easier. If you have a custom-built site, you will need to get your developer involved in setting up a data markup system. Google also offers a tool to test and integrate snippets code.
How to set up a featured snippet
Getting a featured snippet in Google a big boost. By some reports it can can result in your site getting as many as double the clicks of the top-1 URL. The catch is that you cannot simply mark your page as a featured snippet — almighty Google programmatically determines to which sites to grant this honor. It does this by trying to figure out which site is most likely to answer the user’s question.
Though there is no sure way to be certain that you will be featured, there are things you can do to improve your chances.
For one you can make a list of common questions within your niche and then attempt to write content that answers that question in its title. Feel free to add images or any supplementary material which will aid in this process. Pay attention to the structure and quality of your answer as they are deciding factors in this matter. And lastly, if the question is long, don’t try to answer it all in one go, instead you can break it up into sub-questions.