October 13, 2014
On September 22nd, Google announced the official launch of structured snippets. It’s a pretty exciting release because it directly gives users highly structured and relevant data. Good job, Google! The new snippets present users with facts, all incorporated into individual result snippets in Web Search.
Google’s Research Blog showcased these two prime examples of just how structured snippets appear:
Photo credit Google Research Blog
It’s likely you’ve already seen them while conducting a Google search. As you can see, particularly in the case of the Nikon D7100 snip, structured snippets extract and display interesting and relevant information (or facts) extracted from a webpage. So, the question is how do we use them when it comes to our web content?
As the ever-evolving search engine God of the Internet, Google sometimes changes in ways that cause a content revolution. The good news is that most of the changes implemented over the past five years or so have managed to accomplish one very positive thing: They’ve pushed the need for high quality content.
In 2014, like never before, we have all focused more heavily on our content. We’re tapping into various forms of content, from blogs and articles to infographics and videos. We’re paying close attention to citations, linking to credible and authoritative websites, and putting time into solid research. We’re painstakingly seeking out evidence and fact to support our claims. And we’re incorporating it all into engaging content, the kind that screams epic and gives readers facts coupled with a bit of welcomed entertainment.
The Google research team has been continuing their efforts to deliver the best user experience combined with high value websites – the kind filled with content that’s of the highest quality. And in their announcement of structured snippets, they briefly touch on their efforts to “extract and understand tabular data… with the intent to surface particularly relevant data.”
The team is leveraging “machine learning techniques” in a concentrated effort to distinguish data tables on the Internet from “uninteresting tables,” ergo the tables that are simply used for formatting purposes. In addition, the algorithms currently running are capable of determining quality and relevancy in order to display up to four highly ranked facts from the data tables they’re crawling.
The update is live across all platforms. The Verge reports that snippets are appearing on smartphones and mobile devices, as well as desktop platforms.
According to Search Engine Watch’s coverage of the new structured snippets, the idea of enhanced snippets isn’t anything new. In fact, these little snapshots can add more reasons for some users to click their way to a website. For example, consider rich snippet reviews where webmasters are responsible for page markups that designate information to be included in the snippets.
Now that snippets are being applied across search results, this raises an interesting concern. Will these fact packed captures entice potential viewers to click through to a Web page, or will users snatch the information they need and feel no need to check out the page that is presenting it? It’s certainly a noteworthy conundrum for webmasters and marketers to contemplate.
But the question the majority of us are ponder is just how to use them for our web content? What factors are we going to have to take into consideration?
Fact Quality Gets Real
It seems like we’ve been briefly discussing the quality of our source material for a while now. We’ve preached the need to use high quality source material when researching. We’ve talked about backing up the claims in your content with proven facts. We’ve even handed you a guide to the best practices for online citations. Every element we’ve covered is part of producing high quality content. But this latest search engine update brings the topic into a completely new light.
Google’s Research Blog poses the point that fact quality is going to vary across results based on page content. Google will be continually enhancing the relevancy and accuracy of the facts identified and displayed. Although we cannot verify this theory, it stands to reason that the higher the quality and more accurate our facts, the better our SERP placement.
The bottom line is that if you haven’t paid a great deal of attention to the facts presented in your content, now is definitely the time to start. If your competition has painstakingly researched and presented high quality, accurate facts, chances are you now have ground to gain. You had better get started.
Upgrading Your Recipe
Let’s take a short trip back in time. I promise you don’t need to pack for this. We’re going to pop in on January 17th for a moment, and here’s why:
We published a guest piece on Social Media Today entitled, Content Marketing vs. Copywriting: Top Strategies for 2014. It’s a noteworthy piece today because of the comparison made. We likened the entire process of copywriting and content marketing to baking a cake, explaining that copywriting is to content marketing what eggs are to cake.
Today, we’re talking about our web content and how to leverage these new structured snippets by Google. And here’s how it’s playing out in my mind:
- Copywriting is to content marketing what eggs are to cake. Eggs make a cake fluffy and yummy. A cake without eggs is flat and unappealing. Therefore, content marketing void of copywriting is far from high quality.
- Facts are to structured snippets in Web Search what eggs are to cake. They add fluff, but not the unwanted kind. They quickly show the user a snapshot of your credibility and authority. They can actually entice clicks.
According to Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz, webmasters and publishers will not be happy as the reach of these snippets grows in Google’s search results. It’s probable that handing the user the answers they desire will leave them with less of a reason (and want) to click from Google’s search results to their page. Are these fears justified? They could be… if you fail to think outside of the box and fail to get a little creative…
eCommerce Can Rejoice
When I first read about these new snippets and saw the Nikon snip displayed at the introduction of this blog, I immediately thought about eCommerce websites. Structured snippets look like a godsend for these businesses. Recently, we discussed how a few words could mean thousands of dollars when it comes to ecommerce web copy. The implementation of these snippets backs this belief rather staunchly.
Think about it: If Google has the power to snatch up those relevant, accurate facts about the product(s) you’re marketing, and those facts display in the snippet like the facts for the Nikon above, it’s virtual marketing gold. Customers on the hunt for a product with specific criteria just might catch a glimpse of what they want in that structured snippet and click their way through to your page. Mission accomplished!
If you have a website that reviews products and services, like the website in the Nikon snip, these little factual displays could work in your favor. They’re an instant spotlight on your attention to fact, and the more relevant and accurate those facts are, the more likely people are to start visiting and bookmarking your review website as a resource. Almost magically, your painstaking attention to accurate, relevant fact has paid off.
But what about the rest of us? What about the niche resource website or the company attempting to increase their SEO through high quality content? Two words: Get creative.
Letting Loose A Little Brain Juice
You know, we talk about and hear about “link juice” a lot in the SEO and content realms. But how often do we talk about “brain juice?” I know, I know. You’re brow is furrowed right now because you’re wondering if I’ve lost my marbles. Well, we all have this amazing thing in our heads called a brain. And we can use our brains to access our creativity, and this is what I like to call “brain juice.” It’s our ability to think outside of the box, examine new elements, and find creative ways to tap into them.
Anyone who’s anyone these days knows that high quality content is the key to SEO because content is king. It’s the forever standard that has always, and will always, naturally boost our SEO. The best thing about it is that it’s unaffected by Google’s evolution. So, it stands to reason that we can use our high quality content in conjunction with these structured snippets, right?
Let’s go back to our recipe. We’ve put the eggs (copy) into our cake (content marketing). Now, it’s time to add a little flavor. Facts – highly relevant and accurate ones – are about to become the cake’s flavoring. It’s a little tweak to our already awesome recipe.
Leveraging Structured Snippets to Attract Viewers
Since I started prepping the research for this blog, I’ve been playing around on Google. I’ve been searching some random things just to see what sort of snippets I see. But I have to say, Barry Schwartz took the cake (no pun intended) with this exercise. Check out the snippets he collected and shared via Search Engine Land:
MySQL’s Company Profile:
Superman’s Structured Snippet:
The Boston Marathon Event Snippet:
Photo credits Search Engine Land
These snippets appear to apply to just about anything, which means we’ll likely see them cropping up more and more in future weeks. Now, as a content creator, the very first thing my eyes zeroed in on was the facts trailing off…
As a writer, I know that there are a few techniques for hooking readers. A couple of the good ones that apply in the online content world include:
- Curiosity piquing headlines
- Informative and engaging subheadings
- Hooking summaries that…
You just inched a little closer to the screen right there, didn’t you? Trailing thoughts can pique a reader’s interest and entice them to click just as much as a headline.
So, will structured snippets dissuade people from clicking through to your page? The answer will depend on the facts and how you choose to present them. With Google’s new algorithm crawling through data tables to pull what it considers to be relevant facts, it looks like we now have a new use for data tables. And the content we choose to populate those tables with will likely influence just what our snippets display.
What It Means For Your Content
The Nikon D7100 search is kind of a shining star of structured snippets right now. It shows the power of fact. And to be perfectly honest, it’s appealing. As a consumer, I like the idea of seeing this kind of information. Truth be told, I’d pay more attention to websites that have facts Google deems worthy of sharing. It’s a signal of credibility, authority, accuracy, and relevancy – four elements that ultimately add up to trust. What brand, business, or company out there wouldn’t want that?
As never before we have a new reason to incorporate hard hitting facts into our content, regardless of whether we’re an eCommerce website, an informational resource, or a business seeking exposure and growth. All patrons of the Web have an additional reason – a perk, if you will – to spend some extra time ensuring their content is populated by fact.
Structured snippets appear to be the future of search engine results. It’s time to beef up our content with facts and try out those data tables to ensure they are seen. However, there is a word of caution drifting about the net. Although it has yet to be covered by the who’s who of SEO, avoiding snippet spamming would be ideal. In other words, don’t go fact crazy, cramming it into content like the keyword stuffing of days past. Keep it natural. Balance is, and will forever be, a must in the world of SEO.
So how will you use Google’s structured snippets? Are you plotting creative ways to place enticing facts in these snapshots that will tease the user to click? Just remember to ensure that the frosting your teasing them with matches the cake, otherwise you’ll likely get the bounce.
Julia McCoy is a top 30 content marketer and has been named an industry thought leader by several publications. She enjoys making the gray areas of content marketing clear with practical training, teaching, and systems. Her career in content marketing was completely self-taught. In 2011, she dropped out of college to follow her passion in writing, and since then grew her content agency, Express Writers, to thousands of worldwide clients from scratch. Julia is the author of two bestselling books on content marketing and copywriting, and is the host of The Write Podcast. Julia writes as a columnist on leading publications and certifies content strategists in her training course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter, husband, and one fur baby.