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Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

Understanding rich snippets (NEW)


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Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO

with Peter Kent

Video: Understanding rich snippets (NEW)

There is a special form of page markup that search engines use to understand what different blocks of information actually contain. Plain old HTML simply describes to a browser how a piece of text should be displayed on the page. Rich Snippets or Schemas on the other hand, are ignored by the browsers. Instead, they tell search engines what a particular piece of data actually is. Here is an example, illustrated with perhaps one of the most common uses of rich snippets, recipes.

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Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO
1h 43m Intermediate Jun 29, 2011 Updated Oct 12, 2012

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In this course, search engine optimization (SEO) expert Peter Kent walks step-by-step through the process of reviewing the content and markup of an existing web site to improve its ranking in search engine results. This course offers a consultant's take on how to analyze each component—from keywords to content to code—and determine what improvements are necessary to become more visible to search engines like Yahoo!, Bing, and Google.

This course was updated on 10/12/2012.

Topics include:
  • Understanding why indexing is important
  • Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool
  • Dealing with frames, iframes, and popups
  • Working with SEO-friendly URLs
  • Using meta tags
  • Clearing source code clutter
  • Building links within the site
  • Working with Google+
  • Reviewing page content
  • Building and submitting an HTML and XML sitemap
  • Garnering links outside the site
Subjects:
Business Online Marketing Web SEO
Author:
Peter Kent

Understanding rich snippets (NEW)

There is a special form of page markup that search engines use to understand what different blocks of information actually contain. Plain old HTML simply describes to a browser how a piece of text should be displayed on the page. Rich Snippets or Schemas on the other hand, are ignored by the browsers. Instead, they tell search engines what a particular piece of data actually is. Here is an example, illustrated with perhaps one of the most common uses of rich snippets, recipes.

Let's go to Google and search for beef. Google has recipes that use beef, so it displays this recipe link over here. We'll click it, and Google returns a page containing recipes with pictures in many cases. You'll also notice these star ratings and in the left column we even have filters. We can tell Google to include or omit recipes with particular ingredients for instance, or specify the cook time or number of calories.

The only reason Google can provide all this is that the recipes have been tagged to the tell Google where the star ratings are, what ingredients the recipes use, how long they take, and so on. Now notice these links. In normal search results, as we learned in an earlier video, this text comes from the page's Title tag. In this case though it doesn't, instead it comes from the title of the recipe within the page. If we click here to open this page, then look at the page's source code, we'll see that the page's title tag contains Beef Stroganoff Recipe, Paula Deen, Recipes, Food Network.

Back in the search results, the link merely said beef stroganoff, but if we dig deeper into the code, we find this; an h1 tag with the class named fn. This tells the search engines that the text in this h1 tag is the recipe title. We can find other components too, such as the recipe photo that Google showed us in the search results. In this case, it's class="photo". We've also got the name of the author, class="author", which Google didn't present in the search results, but perhaps it uses the data in some other way for ranking purposes for instance.

If somebody searches for recipes by Paula Deen, Google knows that this is one of them. On the other hand, Google has stated that they don't currently use this tagged data for purposes of ranking, so perhaps that's not the case. Google did show this text in the search results though. This actually comes from the regular meta description tag, in fact, which we looked at in an early a video. Google also showed us a star rating in the results page, and that was taken from this code and it found it here. It was marked up to indicate four stars.

Google also showed us some of the ingredients; flour, olive oil, butter, onion, and so on. Google found those ingredients in the code here. It omitted part of text and gave us a simplified ingredients list. Each ingredient is tagged with class="ingredient". Google also showed us how long a recipe takes, 45 minutes. You can see where it got that information here class="duration" is the tag for the recipe time. I mentioned a moment ago, that Google claims it isn't using rich snippets data for ranking at the moment, so why bother? Well, perhaps they will at some point, perhaps Bing is, and in any case it's not exactly true that they are not using rich snippets for ranking.

For instance, watch this next example. If we search for compass app android, Google recognizes that we may be looking for a piece of software. So it puts the application link on the left. If we click that, we get data formatted with the use of rich snippets. You can see pictures, star ratings, price, the operating system, in this case Android of course, and so on. But you probably noticed that when I click the application link, I got completely different results.

If a page doesn't have the tag data, it isn't finding its way into the application search results. So Google is using rich snippets to an effect rank pages in certain circumstances. In any case, rich snippet data helps make your listings stand out. So they are more likely to be seen and clicked upon. So all in all, rich snippets are a good thing. You can tag various kinds of data; not just recipes and software. You can tag events, music, organizations, people, products, restaurants, reviews of all kinds; not just the recipes, and so on, but note that not all content types are used by the search engines right now.

Some are fairly early in the development process. People are coming up with ways to tag information, but the search engines haven't got around to doing anything with many types of data yet. At the time we made this video, Google for instance was supporting markup for authors, businesses and organizations, events, music, navigation breadcrumbs, people, products, recipes, reviews, software and video. So right now, some of the markup types shown on the screen are being supported by Google, Bing and therefore Yahoo and Yandex; Russia's top search engine.

Notice also that there are different markup formats. Rich snippets is a general term that Google uses for this type of markup. But Google actually uses microdata, microformats and RDFa formats. They recommend the microdata format, but they recognize the other two types. The recipe we saw earlier was coded using what's known as the hrecipe microformat. Still, if you haven't yet marked up your pages, you might as well use the microdata format, as that is the one that Google is focusing on and most likely to work well for you.

So where do you begin the learning about rich snippets and the markup formats? A good place to start is at Google of course. I suggest you go to Google and search for Google rich snippets, or go directly to the URL shown on the screen. You may also want to visit schema.org; a Google, Yahoo and Bing collaboration where you learn about microdata, and perhaps check out microformats.org. As for tagging for the author data type, see the video on Google+ where we'll be discussing how to tag your pages so Google can grab author information.

By the way, Google also provides a testing tool, so you can see the results of your markup. You can find it here. In fact, it's not just a testing tool. It's a handy learning tool. You can enter your own HTML, but you can also enter the URL of some other page that's been coded by someone else. And Google will come back with all the data as you see here. This is the recipe page we looked at earlier. The search preview that is shown, is actually not very helpful. It's not a true preview. Look at the link here for instance. That's from the page's title tag, which as we saw earlier is not the data that Google uses for the link.

Still, the other data on the page can be handy, as it can help you to make sure the correct data is being pulled, or figure out how data has been tagged when looking at someone else's page. The tool can also be used to customize your search results, when installing Google's custom search on your site, but of course that's a different subject. Most sites with data that could be formatted with rich snippets don't do so, which is a shame. They are missing a real opportunity. Take a few minutes to learn about this formatting system, and you may find your site contains data that will really benefit from this kind of tagging.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Analyzing Your Website to Improve SEO.


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This course was updated on 10/12/2012. What changed?
We added three movies to keep the course as current as possible. The new movies cover rich snippets, the Panda/Penguin upgrades to the Google search algorithm, and incorporating Google+ into your marketing and search engine optimization strategies.
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