Rich snippets are a useful piece of HTML markup that can help a website owner to improve their site’s position in the search engines. It can help to increase click through rates by making your listing look more appealing, and also reduce the bounce rate for the site, because searchers know about the content of the site before they click, therefore they can make a better informed judgement of how relevant the site is to their particular query.
Rich snippets are a term that is used to describe a special kind of markup that a website owner adds to their existing HTML, and which helps the search engine to understand the contents of the page so that thy can present a clearer idea of those contents to the searcher. There are a number of different rich snippet types to choose from, and while some have fallen out of favour, there are others that are still popular and that are still used by webmasters on a regular basis.
Under normal circumstances, when a website is indexed by the search engines, the search engine will just read the content and try to guess what the page is about. Rich snippets make it easier for the search engine to identify things like review scores, timetables, address data, etc. The markup clearly labels those things, so that star ratings and other information can be shown in the search results or in a search call out.
There are several content types that are supported by rich snippets as standard. They include reviews, people, products, businesses and organisations, recipes, music, events and video content. Over the years, other content has also been supported, but Google has removed a lot of the things that were open to abuse – for example, it was possible to mark up your site with author data, and then for the search engines to present links to other articles by the same author, but this feature fell out of favor quite quickly.
Structured data and rich snippets are not something that you have to use. It is not compulsory to wrap an address in the correct markup, for example – but it is good practice because it does help to improve your search rankings.
Note that if you want to take advantage of rich snippets, you should only do so with visible content on your website. Do not use rich snippets to mark up hidden content, because that will potentially get your site penalized for spam.
If you aren’t a skilled coder, you might find rich snippets confusing, but there are some things that you can do to make it easier to correctly label your site. For example, there are plugins for WordPress and for other content management systems that will do most of the job of the markup for you.
Google does not display rich snippet markup immediately after noticing it. It can take between 10 days and two weeks for the results of any markup that you add to become visible. If Google indexes a site with rich snippets, what it will usually do is show some of the snippets in search results, but not all of them, for a period of about five days, then it will remove them, and show other snippets. It will repeat this over and over until it has parsed the whole site, and then wait several more weeks (up to two months in total) before awarding your site with ‘permanent’ rich snippet status.
This is partly a quality assurance thing. Google wants to make sure that your site is error free and that the snippets are all correct. Resist the urge to tinker with rich snippets during the initial set-up phase, because if Google notices you changing things then it could delay the process of implementing rich snippets for you. If you do need to make changes to the way that you have implemented your markup, then you should think carefully first.
If it does have clear errors, fix them. If it’s a minor preference, then wait until Google has completed indexing the site before changing them. The rich snippets that search engines show are changing all the time. Not all of your results will always show up with rich snippets, and not all of the snippets that show up on any given day will continue to show up long term. Google reserves the right to hide snippets if it thinks that they are not compliant with their quality guidelines, or if they feel that the content behind the snippets is misleading. It also sometimes changes snippets that are perfectly in compliance with its rules, if it feels that it would be to the benefit of its users to do so. Unfortunately, all webmasters can do is show the best content they have, and hope Google also approves of that content.