Using Structured Markup to Improve Click Through Rates

According to a recent study done by Blue Nile Research, rich-media in search results has a noticeable advantage over non-rich-media when looking at click through rate (CTR). For many search terms, the days of search engines returning only lists of text links are gone. Every time you look, there’s a new text-snippet, table, image, or map encroaching on your search engine results pages (SERP).

Google and other search engines are taking advantage of schema.org markup and other types of microdata to return results to users in more actionable and valuable ways. More visual results are directly influencing user clicks, with CTRs jumping up an average of 13% for a result in position two with rich media when compared to a regular text link in position one, according to Blue Nile’s testing. That’s pretty high, especially considering position one on page one of Google has a long history of being the Holy Grail of SEO goals.

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As people look more to search engines for actionable events, these sorts of rich results create opportunities for content creators to drive traffic in their favor. If you do a search for, say, the date of U.S. independence, you’ll see a snippet of text pulled out of a website and formatted nicely on Google’s results page. Simple enough. Do a search for “apple pie”, and you’ll wind up with not only summary images for many articles, but also star-based ratings and even baking times and other information. As mentioned above, these results perform much better even in position two on a SERP than a text link in position one.

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Rich snippet with content from a website directly on the Google results page.

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Rich media results for apple pie recipes

So how do you get your content to show up on a SERP in a rich media format? There are two main techniques you can combine to achieve this: Write well-structured, valuable content, and mark it up properly.

Writing your content to answer questions or provide information has always helped your rankings. But earlier this year, with Google’s “Quality Update” to it’s search algorithm, quality content really came to the forefront. In fact, Google may give your site a Featured Snippet based on the relevance and thoroughness of your content (as long as you’re also marking it up properly) even if you have a lower Domain Authority than Wikipedia, which generally gets a lot of featured snippets.

While styling and defining your code semantically with ids and classes is great for keeping your code clean and understandable to yourself and other developers, it doesn’t do much for search engines. Since machines don’t understand the content of a web page in the same way that humans do, we can help them out by marking up our pages in machine-friendly ways. This will help search engines parse the information and data we have, and display it in a way that is friendly to people. The backbone of this kind of microdata markup is schema.org. Schema.org is an open community of developers and Internet trendsetters focused on creating a shared vocabulary to promote the user-friendly presentation of information.

There is a large variety of different schemas to choose from based on your business or the content of your website, so be sure to choose the right one to maximize the effectiveness of your markup. Schema.org has a great Getting Started guide that you can use to wrap your head around the basics and learn how to pick the right schema for your site.

Using a schema involves taking your existing html code and adding microdata tags to the existing html to better identify certain parts of a page to a search engine or other crawler. If you’ve written some html to build a recipe for apple pie, you can tell a crawler to see the <div> (or whatever containing element you’ve chosen) to interpret it as a recipe by adding the itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Recipe" tag to it. From there you can begin to add several different tags to further define the view of the recipe. Instead of simply having a list containing list item or <li> tags with ingredients, you can additemprop="recipeIngredient" to each of the <li> to be clear about what they are.

 

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Screenshot from schema.org example for Recipe.

You can add all sorts of relevant information in this way. An author’s name on an article, a description of a movie, business hours of a store, color of a product, the list goes on and on. Making sure you’ve selected the relevant schema, and taking the time to write and structure your content so it can easily receive the appropriate microdata will go a long way in helping you to get rich-media snippets on SERPs. Using microdata like Schema is an important part of the development process and should be considered early on in a project.

Schema.org isn’t the only kind of “fancy” mark up out there. Facebook uses Open Graph to understand specific content on a page. If you’d like an article you wrote to have a specific image and summary when posted to your timeline there are tags you can add to the webpage that will allow Facebook to grab onto these items and display them in a way that is consistent with the rest of the Facebook platform. Twitter also has meta tags that allow similar functionality when linking to web pages from your feed.

Understanding when and where to properly use structured markup like Schema can give you a substantial advantage over competing results on SERPs, even when they are in a higher position. Take a look at your content and see how you can start adding microdata to your site today!