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The Evolution of Rich Snippets

Like a familiar face in the crowd of strangers, or a Beach Boys shirt at a Beatles concert, standing apart from the crowd is a major goal for all businesses. With millions of users constantly surfing the Internet many businesses are asking, “How can I stand out from my competition?” Google announced at their recent annual developer conference a new element you will start to see on search result pages that businesses can take advantage of to stand out from the crowd. Doing so requires the use of structured markup on your website.

Google has been using structured markup from websites for quite some time to enhance the display of search results — most notably with Rich Snippets. What is new with this announcement is the reimagined visual display of certain types of Rich Snippets into a “card” layout. If you have been paying attention to the design of popular mobile apps, you may notice that this new rich card presentation is very similar. Rich cards is part of Google push to optimize the experience for end users with a significant focus on searches performed on small devices — like your smartphone.

From Clumsy to Organized

History has shown us that technology evolves. There was a time when corded landlines were the only choice. Then we had cordless home phones, and then large cell phones that physically disconnected your phone from your home. Ultimately they were replaced by smaller and smaller smartphones — and recently even smaller devices like smartwatches. While they all provide the user with a way to keep in contact with people, the smartphone has the advantage of access anywhere, multiple uses, and a much improved user experience. This evolution of the user’s experience is similar to Google’s transition from cluttered search result pages to more organized, simpler result pages that incorporate more engaging content like Rich Snippets. With all the changes they have made through the years Google’s goal has been to make the user's experience easier and more efficient.

Rich Snippet Technology

Google first released Rich Snippet technology in May of 2009. Rich Snippets provide a small sample of a website's content directly in search engine result pages. According to Google, Rich Snippets are "a new presentation of snippets that applies Google's algorithms to highlight structured data embedded in web pages". Since Rich Snippets rely on structured markup data in web page’s HTML, site owners are rewarded for implementing structured markup — mostly in the form of markup. This markup allows Google to easily determine what a web page is about. This mean Google can tell if a web page is a review for a movie, a product for sale or another content type while also simplifying the indexing of relevant information like the product’s price, individual reviews, and more. With this data Rich Snippets then provide small bits of the information in a visually appealing way to help users find what they are searching for quickly and efficiently.

The New Rich Card Display

Working off of the success of Rich Snippets, Google announced rich cards in May, 2016. Rich cards development built on what Rich Snippets had started, but with some new user-friendly visual features. Larger graphics and more detailed cards are included, along with a new carousel display designed for quick scrolling of pictures or videos. These new visual features provide the user an updated experience, along with the ability to find what they're looking for even quicker and easier.

Rich cards on mobile phone

Real Business Benefits

Business benefits of Rich Snippets

You'll never hit a homerun if you don't swing the bat. Or we could say you'll never make a sale if users don't click your website. Rich Snippets and rich cards can benefit businesses by increasing the likelihood that users click their page.

Benefits of Rich Snippets and Cards

  • Gain more search engine real estate
  • Stand out in search results and attract more visitors to site
  • Provide potential customers an enjoyable search experience
  • Potentially get a website indexed quicker, more frequently, and more accurately

Types of Content and Uses

Rich cards are currently only utilized for recipes and movies, but Google has mentioned they are experimenting with the rich card format for other content categories. So expect the card presentation to evolve and be used on many different types of content in not too long.

While the use of the card format is currently limited, structured markup is used by Google for a wide variety of content types, including:

  • Reviews
  • People
  • Products
  • Businesses
  • Organizations
  • Recipes
  • Events
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Video Content
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Software Applications

Some of the above are displayed as Rich Snippets and others with another display method, but the end result is an enhanced user experience for searchers, and increased visibility for websites that implement related structured markup.

Technical Implementation

Rich Snippets (and rich cards) require your website utilizes structured markup defined by on your web pages. Accurate implementation requires existing technical web developer knowledge beyond this article. But if you have that knowledge and want to learn more, I recommend starting with the following:

  • Follow Google’s strong recommendation to use JSON-LD in your implementation of structured markup on your web pages.
  • Learn what is required to markup your content type, and browse the new gallery with screenshots and code samples of each content type.
  • Use the new Structured Data Testing Tool from Google to test your web pages.
  • Monitor your results with new reports in Google’s Search Console / Webmaster Tools.
  • Finally, if you really want to dig in and start to implement structured markup that may provide benefits beyond Google — or possibly receive benefits for their implementation in the future from Google — explore all of the markup options documented by

The Future

This evolution of Rich Snippets to rich cards is largely about the importance of the user's search experience, and has been influenced by the increasing importance of mobile users. Google has given us a preview at what the future may hold, and an educated guess may entail the arrival of more content options for rich cards, and many currently unknown other future benefits for investing in the implementation of structured markup like on your website.

So how do you stand out from crowd? There is no one right answer, but I recommend using structured markup to help make your website stand out in today’s and the future’s search results.

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