In early September, Google was up to something, and some spotted what looked like Knowledge Graph-driven facts being pulled into a web page’s search results listing.
Fast-forward to September 22, and it was official: structured snippets were now a part of Google Search.
But what are they? No, these snippets are not derived from structured markup on the page, nor does it seem that the facts showing in these snippets are pulled via a database in a Knowledge Graph-y type of way.
In fact, these structured snippets seem to be compiled by extracting information found in tables on a web page (check out Barry Schwartz’s initial research on what listings show structured snippets, and you can analyze the pages yourself by viewing the page source).
The table aspect is perhaps less surprising when you read the announcement that says structured snippets is a collaboration from Google Search and the WebTables research team.
It’s also not surprising that a lot of the structured snippets showing today are from Wikipedia. Why? Because Wikipedia is the “poster child” for formatting information on a page in a way that machines can parse out very easily.
Take the following Amalfi listing in Wikipedia, and its structured snippet in the search results:
Now, look at the corresponding Wikipedia page. You can always expect the “fast facts” on a Wikipedia page to be in the same place, named in a conventional manner, and organized logically. In fact, all the information showing on the panel is in a table, ripe for extraction.
But it’s not just Wikipedia that’s a contender for structured snippets. Even when we look at a product example (the Nikon D7100), the data points are pulled into the search results from information on that web page that is grouped together in a table.
Here’s the listing in the search results:
And, here’s the product page on DPreview.com (note that this isn’t even Nikon’s official site, and the snippet showing from the Nikon site for the same search is not a structured snippet, which is too bad for Nikon):
So, what should you do with this information? Below are some tips for structuring and optimizing your web pages for search engines with a focus on e-commerce sites and considerations for website design.
When we’re talking about conversions, the competition starts in the organic search results, with the listing. So take care with how you structure and optimize your pages for search engines.
This includes common steps we’re all used to taking like writing great meta information and performing basic on-page optimization (including structured markup); but now, we also need to take a close look at how we create and format product specifications.
Even the most seemingly insignificant information on the page should be created with care. Decide what the most important specifications are about that product, and organize the information in a nicely formatted table.
In its announcement, Google said it had “algorithms to determine quality and relevance that we use to display up to four highly ranked facts from those data tables,” so you may not have control over what’s shown; however, it may not be a bad idea to group the most important facts together and first. You can always run experiments to test your theories.
While Wikipedia isn’t exactly an exemplar of design when it comes to the look and feel of a web page, it could be a resource we look to when thinking about formatting our own web pages in a way search engines such as Google can understand.
But it does present additional design challenges when we think about the use of tables.
As many brands move their mobile experience onto Google’s recommended responsive web design (RWD) configuration, web designers and developers have been presented with a challenge when it comes to the use of tables and varying device screen sizes.
You see, tables are horizontal on a page, and in RWD, they need to render vertically for smaller mobile devices or they may be impossible to read. Because they have a rigid structure, tables have been harder to convert to responsive web design.
All else equal, designers and developers have been saying, “If we don’t need to use tables, let’s just abandon them altogether in the new responsive design.” However, with structured snippets, it may be time to reconsider the abandonment of tables – at least when we’re talking about key facts or information on a page.
We don’t yet know the impact of structured snippets on the click-through rate from search results, but there are steps we can take to further aid Google in its quest to parse important information on a web page and serve that information to its users.
Whether you have the ability to make small tweaks now to existing content that could increase your ability to show structured snippets, or you need to make a bigger decision about resources for a multi-page redesign, making structured snippets a new addition to your team’s page optimization checklist is ideal.
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