Users require as much information as possible before deciding which result to place their trust in and click through to. It’s therefore no surprise then that rich results have become increasingly prominent.
Rich results are essentially a way of highlighting your website’s content in the SERPs.
They are the search results which have a little extra panache, in which Google displays more information about the result rather than just the traditional title, URL and meta description. This could include a star review, specific product information or even recipe details.
In this guide, we’ll look at what’s new with rich results in 2018, as well as how to give yourself the best chance of getting them.
Benefits of rich results
Previously known as rich snippets, rich cards, or enriched results, Google have now put an end to the terminology confusion and allocated ‘rich results’ as the preferred term. You are probably already aware that these fancy pants search results require the implementation of structured data on your site.
But before we look at the how, let’s look at the why. The benefits of using structured data markup are clear to see:
Easier for search engines to crawl your site and understand the page, enabling them to return more relevant and detailed results. Frankly, anything that makes a search engine’s life easier is a win.
Increased click-through rates due to an enhanced appearance in the results. Information is more clear and it is a way of standing out from other results.
Decreased bounce rate due to the improved relevancy of results.
At the time of writing, the general consensus is that structured data is not a ranking factor. However, the combination of more relevant results, increased CTRs and decreased bounce rate are all factors which can indirectly lead to a rankings boost. At the very least, they will lead to increased website traffic, which is not something to be sniffed at.
Structured data & schema markup
Structured data is essentially information about a webpage and its content. There are three commonly known types of structured data: JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFa.
JSON-LD is the most recommended structured data type, primarily because it is the most clean and readable format. Given that it is personally recommended by Google, it’s really a no-brainer to deploy JSON-LD as the standard format.
Wait, so what’s schema markup? While JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFa are the formats, schema is the language (or semantic vocabulary). It’s the universal code for structured markup that all search engines can understand.
Structured data can be tricky to get right, especially if you’re not particularly technically-minded. Before you stand any chance of achieving those sought after rich results, Google will analyse and assess your markup to ensure it is correct.
However, it’s important to clarify that getting it wrong won’t harm your organic traffic, as long as you don’t use the markup to refer to hidden content. If you get it wrong then your rich results simply won’t show, so you’ll be no worse off than you were to begin with. Don’t be afraid of structured data, it doesn’t bite.
Rich results test
In December last year, Google announced the launch of a Rich Results Testing Tool. The primary function of this tool is to let you know whether your page is eligible for rich results.
Simply plug in your URL, hit submit and then preview the different rich results available for your page. Another handy function is the ability to share results – perfect for showing off your markup prowess to your boss, or highlighting some essential SEO flaws to a new client. Plus, if your pages are eligible for rich results, you can also Submit To Google via the testing tool.
It is important to note that the tool is still in beta mode and therefore does not provide comprehensive results as yet. This will undoubtedly be expanded on in the near future.
Currently, only the tests for recipes, job postings, movies, and courses are supported. As a result, if your structured data markup falls outside of these categories then the test may not yet be suitable.
Until the full version is rolled out, however, don’t forget that you can still use the original Structured Data Testing Tool. Although this won’t tell you whether a page is eligible for rich results, it will tell you if your markup is valid. You can therefore address any issues with the structured data quickly and efficiently.
Patience is a virtue
One of the slightly frustrating aspects of implementing structured data is that it can take 2-3 weeks for a page to appear as a rich result. However, if you ensure that you are re-indexing your pages following structured data implementation then this will speed up the process.
On top of that, there is no guarantee that your structured data will correspond to a rich result at all. By implementing structured data, you are enabling the rich results functionality, but don’t have a right to it.
Of course, there is a whole array of other reasons why rich results may not be displaying. This could be to do with the accuracy of your structured data, including hidden content in the markup, or failing to follow the guidelines. Whereas previously you would have to wait a few weeks to know whether your markup has done the job, you can now use the new testing tool.
In short, implementing structured data should be a priority for your SEO campaigns in 2018, if you haven’t already.
The benefits of rich results are plain to see, and the launch of Google’s Rich Results Testing Tool is a further testament to the importance being placed on these enhanced search results.
Providing as much relevancy and detailed information as possible to the user in the SERPs will always be a priority to the search engines. If you can be a part of this then your website will be in the best possible position to benefit from rich results.
Not all of Google’s updates make a huge splash, however, and as a result some of them might have slipped under your radar. To help out, we’ve rounded up the 10 recent Google updates that are most likely to impact search marketers.
1. 16 months of Search Console data(!)
Perhaps the most common request from SEOs to Google over the past few years has been to add more historical data to Search Console. The 3-month limit has always been a hindrance to SEO performance analysis, particularly as we have come to rely on Search Console for query-level data.
After a period of beta testing, Google has now released a new version of Search Console, replete with 16 months of historical data. It will be rolled out slowly over the coming months, but many are already seeing the changes live in their dashboards. The historical data will soon be available via the Search Console API, too.
To say this has been greeted positively in the industry would be an understatement.
There is more to the new Search Console than additional data, however. The new Index Coverage report provides insight into the URLs Google has indexed from your site, along with explanations of any indexation issues. The ability to filter and segment data to a much more granular level than before will be a hugely beneficial addition.
The Issue Tracking feature will also enable users to identify any indexation problems and share action items directly with team members.
Finally, Search Console is bringing all the functionality SEOs need to analyze and impact performance.
2. Real-world data in PageSpeed Insights
Google announced last week that its PageSpeed Insights tool will now use real world data, taken from the Chrome User Experience report. This move addresses perhaps the biggest drawback with PageSpeed Insights. Although the report’s intention (to reveal how quickly a URL loads) is an important one, its execution has been lacking, as its findings do not show how quickly a page loads for actual users.
That has led many in the industry to use other resources for their page speed checks, including the Chrome User Experience report API.
Google has made clear exactly how the new PageSpeed Insights improves on older iterations:
The Speed score categorizes a page as being Fast, Average, or Slow. This is determined by looking at the median value of two metrics: First Contentful Paint (FCP) and DOM Content Loaded (DCL). If both metrics are in the top one-third of their category, the page is considered fast.
The Optimization score categorizes a page as being Good, Medium, or Low by estimating its performance headroom. The calculation assumes that a developer wants to keep the same appearance and functionality of the page.
The Page Load Distributions section presents how this page’s FCP and DCL events are distributed in the data set. These events are categorized as Fast (top third), Average (middle third), and Slow (bottom third) by comparing to all events in the Chrome User Experience Report.
The Page Stats section describes the round trips required to load the page’s render-blocking resources, the total bytes used by the page, and how it compares to the median number of round trips and bytes used in the dataset. It can indicate if the page might be faster if the developer modifies the appearance and functionality of the page.
Optimization Suggestions is a list of best practices that could be applied to this page. If the page is fast, these suggestions are hidden by default, as the page is already in the top third of all pages in the data set.
Given the importance of page speed for mobile users, particularly in light of Google’s upcoming Speed Update algorithm change, this update will be a very significant one.
It will also provide better awareness of the stages of URL loading, which will help SEOs to communicate their desired changes to other audiences.
3. Meta description character limit increased
The humble meta description has been given its biggest update for a considerable number of years.
Google confirmed to Search Engine Land in December that the potential snippet length has increased to 320 characters, although this does not mean that all sites will receive this extra space.
Nonetheless, there is evidence that there has been a general increase across the board in snippet length.
Rank Ranger, a tool that can track search results page features, showed a very notable rise in the average meta description length in December:
Of course, this will lead marketers to question whether they should re-write their descriptions, and what the new character limit should be.
One answer comes from Dr. Pete Meyers at Moz, who recommends a limit of 300 characters based on his recent research. That seems a useful rule of thumb, as Google has provided little insight into exactly how it decides where to truncate a snippet.
In essence, Google wants to provide meta descriptions that reflect the changed nature of search results pages, and the devices on which people access them.
The new character limit is not, in and of itself, reason to re-write descriptions across a website. It does, however, open up the possibility of some experimentation to try and gain a competitive advantage.
The fundamentals of crafting meta descriptions remain the same; we just have more space in which to apply these best practices now.
4. New custom intent audiences
Google made a host of AdWords-based announcements in the run-up to the holidays. There is rarely a shortage of new features within the AdWords environment, but the release of new custom intent audiences was of particular interest.
These audience lists allow marketers to add a much greater level of detail to their targeting of new customers via the Google Display Network (GDN), through the creation of audience segments based on topics or keywords.
Even GDN novices will be able to introduce new prospects to their brand, as Google’s machine learning technology will analyze searcher data and automatically generate lists of users that would be open to hearing about a particular brand or product.
Anthony Chavez, director of product management for AdWords, said of the new feature:
“There are two flavors of custom intent audiences. In one variation, advertisers can create their own based on topics and URLs that people who are likely to be interested in their products read about and visit. The second variation is machine-learning based and automated.”
This also chimes with the recent moves to make search advertising a more comprehensive discipline that encompasses upper funnel tactics, as well as the tried and tested lower funnel tactics that have driven its phenomenal success.
This has created opportunities for marketers to engage with their audience through a multitude of media formats in the SERPs, but it has created some confusion too.
Not only are there different ways to mark up data, there are also plentiful different types of information that can be shown in the search results. Google has moved to categorize all of these under the umbrella term ‘rich results’ and the new testing tool (currently in beta) will reveal whether a specific URL is equipped to display rich snippets.
Admittedly, Google does offer the following, comprehensive set of caveats to the tool’s current form:
The limitations are currently listed as:
This test currently supports only the following rich result types:
Even with all of those points in mind, we should view this a step towards a much more accessible entry to rich results for all marketers.
6. Voice search raters guidelines
The Search Quality Raters Guidelines are one of the most fascinating and transparent resources if we want to understand Google’s methodology for ranking search results.
Published on the Google Research Blog, the updated guidelines now include pointers for evaluating results on what Google terms “eyes-free technology.” The core focus here is the growth in Google Assistant interactions, underpinned by a realization that this new way of searching needs a way way of assessing the relevance of results.
The dimensions that are considered to be of particular importance for voice results are:
Information satisfaction: The content of the answer should meet the information needs of the user.
Length: When a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little. Some of our previous work is currently in use for identifying the most relevant fragments of answers.
Formulation: It is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.
Elocution: Spoken answers must have proper pronunciation and prosody. Improvements in text-to-speech generation, such as WaveNet and Tacotron 2, are quickly reducing the gap with human performance.
As we move towards new search interfaces, whether on the go or in the home, directives from Google make for invaluable reading. The full list of guidelines can be found here.
7. New rules for review extensions in AdWords
Google has been trying to find the right balance with its reviews in both paid and organic listings. Although genuine customer reviews are helpful for consumers, some third-party platforms can be filtered by brands to highlight only the positive scores in search results.
Review extensions will no longer show with ads starting January 2018.
In February 2018, review extensions will be deleted along with their performance data. To save this data, download an extensions report by going to Extensions on the Ads & extensions page in AdWords. If you’d like to continue showing more information with your ads, we recommend using sitelinks, callouts and structured snippets extensions.
This is likely to affect the majority of paid search marketers and it follows the search giant’s attempts to clean up reviews in organic listings. The onus is on brands to provide a more transparent reflection of customer feedback if they want reviews to return to their PPC ads.
8. Google My Business allows video uploads
Google My Business now allows both merchants and customers to add videos of up to 30 seconds in length. Importantly, business owners can also flag videos that they deem to be irrelevant or unhelpful.
How it works:
Videos will appear in the overview tab of the Google My Business Dashboard
Customer uploaded videos can be found in the ‘customer’ tab
Merchant uploaded videos can be found in the ‘by owner’ tab
All videos can be viewed together in the ‘videos’ tab
After upload it could take up to 24 hours for the videos to appear. Once live, they will display where local photos do.
Google has also stated that native mobile support for this feature will follow in the near future.
9. Webmaster videos return
After a lengthy hiatus of about 3 years, Google has brought back its Webmaster Video series – now called ‘SEO Snippets’.
These short videos, hosted on YouTube, will tackle the most common questions from the Webmaster Forums. Within the last month, the series has already tackled topics including the eternal ‘sub-domain or sub-folder’ question, dealing with multiple H1 tags, and the impact of fixed penalties on SEO performance.
10. Google to vet premium YouTube content
Google has been under significant pressure to ensure that YouTube ads appear alongside relevant content over the last year. The controversy that followed the story of major brands’ ads appearing alongside extremist content damaged Google’s revenues and reputation, albeit not irreparably so.
Facebook has faced a similar struggle and it is one with no easy resolution. Monitoring the quantities of content uploaded to these sites every second is an uphill task, but Google is betting on the combination of people and technology to rebuild trust in YouTube ads.
All content that is promoted via the premium ‘Google Preferred’ advertising channel will be reviewed by a team of over 10,000 moderators and AI-driven technology that helps to root out inappropriate content.
There is a significant distance to travel before major brands trust YouTube to the same extent that they trust TV, but Google is taking measures to ensure that its highest-paying customers have some level of reassurance.
Although many of these headlines have made waves in the industry, even the most vigilant search professional would be forgiven for missing a few during such an increased period of activity.