Written for Moveable Online.
As of last week, Google Research, in collaboration with the WebTables research team, has announced the introduction of Structured Snippets, a new way to present website information directly within the search results. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Key facts, interesting information and statistics are fetched from the website and presented as embedded information right below your search results in the form of short snippets.
It works by searching website tabular data and pulling relevant information, differentiating the differences between interesting and uninteresting information in these data tables via machine learning techniques. Up to four facts, the ones deemed most interesting by Google’s algorithms, will be pulled up and displayed amongst search results. Snippets are also available on your smartphone.
It isn’t yet perfect and Google’s working to enhance fact quality as the feature’s roll out is continued. An example of this can be seen in the Nikon D7100 search results here, where key facts about the camera, including its weight, display size and sensor resolution are shown under key search results. Although snippets aren’t a new idea, structured, information-specific snippets are, and the web has been developing two types of reactions to Google’s announcement.
The first is that structured snippets are a good thing. Users get pertinent information from websites faster from their search queries, web administrators and developers will have an added tool to get their information to their users more clearly. The second opinion is that this feature may ultimately reduce click-through rates, as users may get their information straight from the search queue and have no reason to visit the website itself. Some users on HackerNews go as far as to raise parallels of Google’s information extraction for their snippets as copyright violations.
However, website content can’t usually be summarized in four bullet points. Google hopes their Structured Snippets will bring answers to users’ key questions faster, but also give a cursory understanding of what particular websites offer, for users to browse further. It delivers a sort of taster before the main course.
Senior Google software engineer, Amit Singhal, explains search engines as a sort of ‘swiss army knife,’ and structured snippets as an added tool for certain purposes. For example, if users are on mobile devices, sometimes they just want a quick response to their query and have no time to sit through twenty pages of content. However, the feature isn’t designed to become a substitute to in-depth browsing, but a supplement.
Whether good for the users or bad for marketers/website owners, this new technology is out there, and it’s probably a good idea for you to be aware of how your website has to adapt to it.
Google’s algorithms will search your website for relevant information in data tables to use in the structured snippets, and it’s pretty important that Google understands the content of your webpages, lest users see snippets that are don’t represent your webpage at all. Google’s support page gives website owners various tips to ensure their web content is best understood by the search engine giant. Here are three basic ways to best adapt your site to the inclusion of structured snippets.
By far the most versatile way to make sure Google understands your data is hand-coded HTML markup from scratch. This is especially helpful if your web content and structure changes frequently. If you’re in a position to be able to add HTML markup to all of your data items, do it manually. This gives you full control over what each data point means on your website. Good semantic markup also helps with SEO. It’s the language that tells webcrawlers, not just Google, what your website is, which helps to guarantee proper information curation for structured snippets.
This is a tool that enables you to approximate semantic markup through a point-and-click template interface. If you can add HTML markup to your site but don’t want to write it from the ground up, consider using this tool to better help Google curate your information and display it in structured snippets.
A Google-only tool (will not be effective for other search engines) that uses mouse-clicks to tag data fields on your website. It’s not as varied as Structured Data Markup Helper, or writing your own Markup because the types of data types it recognizes and supports are limited. Use this if your website displays information about events, local businesses, books or various other consumer products. If you don’t know how to write your own HTML markup, aren’t in a position to change your page’s markup directly, or prefer a simple point-and-click mechanism instead of writing code from the ground up, this will be your go to.