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Boost organic traffic with Google listings even if you’re not ranking #1

By Alexandra Gavril - June 2, 2014

You might think that you need to rank number one on Google to get more clicks and increase traffic to your site. Or that you need to invest loads into PPC to stand out from your competitors. But you don’t. Displaying a rating or an author picture next to your search results can drive many more clicks than a result that has no rich snippets. And the best thing is, it won’t cost you a penny. You just need to add some code to your site and watch as your click-throughs increase.

Let’s dive in and see how you can boost your organic traffic with rich snippets. But first…

What are search snippets?

In search and social marketing, a snippet is what makes the first impression. And you need to make it a great one so you’d better put in some effort.

If you don’t already know what a snippet is from an SEO point of view, here’s the short definition:

A snippet is what users first see in search results and social media streams, it’s what makes them click or share content online – whether it’s a blog post, a video, a recipe or a hotel review.

It’s the lines of text that appear under every search results, helping users get a better idea on what they can expect to find on that page and why it’s relevant to their search query.

Here are a few examples of search snippets:

search snippets

Using rich snippets to describe your content better

Rich snippets give users detailed information about what they can expect to find on a specific page, in addition to the standard text descriptions. For example, the snippet for a restaurant can show the establishment’s average star rating and price range, the snippet for a recipe can show a photo, the total preparation time and its rating and the snippet for a band could list its latest album or songs along with a link to play each song.

These rich snippets are great because they help users determine whether your site or web page is relevant to their search, and may result in more clicks to your site.

Ok, let’s see some examples:

band rich snippet book rich snippet camera rich snippet

Webmasters can use special markup code to help Google generate these snippets. As you can see, there are a number of content types for rich snippets, including reviews, products, events, businesses and organisations, people and more.

Dress up your snippet with rating stars

Snippets with ratings stars are the new normal for anything for recipes, books, businesses, products and more. Why? Because they can instil confidence and get users to click on your page.

snippet with rating stars

Dress up your snippet with your photo

This is Nick Leech’s Google author photo in a SERP:

Google Author photo

You too can get your photo in Google’s search engine results next to pages you wrote with two things:

  1. A Google+ profile
  2. Sign up for Google’s verified author program

Setting up Google Authorship can give you a more attention-grabbing result which can lead to an increase in click-throughs. Find out how to how to implement rel=”author” and get your photo in the SERP.

Update 27/06/14: Google has stopped including authorship photos in search results. It will still display your name if you’re signed up for Authorship and the company claims this will not affect click through rate, but the jury is still out on that one.

Using video markup to improve search results

Google also recognises markup for video content and uses it to improve search results by giving specific details about the video on your web page.

video markup

The video markup makes it possible to add a thumbnail of your video next to your result in Google’s searches. This helps communicate that there’s a video on your page, which could increase click-throughs. Find out how to use the schema.org/VideoObject type to describe videos.

How to markup content for rich snippets

If you’ve decided to give rich snippets a go, here are the steps to help Google identify rich snippet data from your site:

1. Pick a markup format

  • microdata
  • microformats
  • RDFa

2. Markup the content using HTML tags to give descriptive names to text (eg. event, time, rating, location).

3. Test your rich snippet markup using Google’s Rich Snippet Testing Tool. You can preview what your SERP snippet will look like using the URL or plugging in the HTML.

When Google discovers the markup on your site, it should start reading the tags and displaying rich snippets for your site within the SERPs (although it’s up to Google if it will).

While there are many advantages to using rich snippets, especially when competing against the many links on Google’s results page, playing with or abusing rich snippets can attract a penalty. Yes, there is such a thing as a rich snippet penalty, and if you’ve been flagged as a “rich snippet spammer”, Google can tag your site and you might as well say goodbye to rich snippets. For that specific domain, it will be extremely difficult to get rich snippets back, so better not risk it. Find out more about which rules to follow to avoid rich snippet spam.

Optimising snippets for social media

A social snippet is a preview of a page that is shown when you share that page on social media sites. Social snippets can vary depending on which social network you’re sharing your page on.

Let’s take our Website Builder page as an example. This is how it looks like in Google’s search results:

social media snippet

Now, if we want to share this same page on Facebook, we see the following social snippet:

facebook snippet

If we share it on Twitter, this is what it looks like:

Twitter snippet

It looks like that because we’ve implemented Open Graph meta tags on 123-reg which tell social networks like Facebook and Twitter which images, text and description to use when sharing this page on those platforms.

Let’s look at the code so you can see how these meta tags look like.

This is the code for Facebook

<metaproperty="og:title"content="Want to build a website in no time and with a professional look?"/>
<metaproperty="og:url"content="https://www.123-reg.co.uk/website-builder/"/>   <metaproperty="og:description"content="It's possible with 123-reg - ready-made templates, powerful widgets and an easy-to-use interface make your website building experience a pleasure. What are you waiting for?"/>
<metaproperty="og:image"content="https://www.123-reg.co.uk/library/images/v3/social/twitter_fb/wsb.png" />

and the below is for Twitter.

<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary">  
<meta name="twitter:url" content="https://www.123-reg.co.uk/website-builder/">  
<meta name="twitter:title" content="Looking to create a website easily and thoroughly?">  
<meta name="twitter:description" content="123-reg makes it possible - try one of our three plans or the available demo version, and build an affordable website in a few clicks. So start the clicking!">  
<meta name="twitter:image" content="https://www.123-reg.co.uk/library/images/v3/social/twitter_fb/wsb.png" />

Looking at the code, you can see that all of Facebook’s Open Graph meta tags are prefixed with og: while for Twitter, that uses Twitter Cards, they’re prefixed with twitter:. These are then continued with other property like title, type of content, URL, description, image.

Visit the Facebook Open Graph page to get more details on each meta tag. After you have all the code for these tags set up on your site, if you can’t see the images in your social snippets, it’s because the old version of your page may be stored in your browser. Try clearing your Facebook cache using the Facebook URL Debugger.

When it comes to Twitter, when you’re done applying the Twitter Card meta tags to your site, you will need to apply to Twitter’s Card program. Once you get accepted, URLs from your website will be shown in the card format. Twitter also provides a Validation tool that lets your verify what you’re sharing.

Using WordPress? You’re in luck because there are a few plugins that you can use that allow you to manage social tags from within the CMS. You won’t need to touch a single line of code, just install the plugin and manage your tags directly from WordPress.

Back to the basics: Optimising your meta tags for SEO and CTR

The meta title, URL and meta description play a big role in getting better results so don’t forget about the basics when optimising your snippets.

Google frequently pulls your page title and meta description to form your search snippet, which means that these areas play a major role in attracting visitors, be it from search engines or social networks. A snippet includes the following elements which you need to optimise correctly:

1. Title

A title tag is the title of a web page shown on the browser tab and it’s meant to briefly describe the content on that page. Title elements are very important for both SEO and social sharing as they’re often the first thing someone will read about a page in search results and when it’s shared socially.

Here’s a code sample from one of our web pages:

<head>…<title>Make a website | Easy Website Builder | 123-reg</title>…</head>

And here is how this appears in Google’s results page:

meta title

Tips to optimise your titles

  • Length. Make sure your title has between 50 to 60 characters or as many characters as you can fit into a 512-pixel display. If you write a title that’s longer than that, it’ll get cut off, showing an ellipsis “….”. However, you shouldn’t obsess over length and instead focus on writing a great title that gets clicks.
  • Keywords. As you can see in the example above, Google highlighted “website builder” in its search results and that’s because I ran a search using that keyword. This grabs users’ attention and can help you get a higher click-through rate so make sure you include your main keyword in the title.
  • Branding. Adding your brand name at the end of a title tag is a good approach for well-known brands who can use their popularity to convert but also for those looking to raise awareness on their brand.
  • Impact. Above all, your title should be catchy enough to stand out from your competitors’ and get searchers to click.

A quick way to test your title and see how it would appear in Google’s search results is to use Moz’s Title Emulator Tool.

2. URL

A URL describes a site or a page to visitors and search engines. For individual web pages, URLs should be descriptive so users can get an idea of what they’re going to find on a specific page, but without being overly lengthy. A URL should be shorter than 2048 characters otherwise Internet Explorer won’t be able to load the page.

If you have a site with many pages, for example an e-commerce site with hundreds or thousands of products, the URL should reflect how the site is organised into categories, folders and subfolders. Find out more about the anatomy of a URL.

Here’s a URL example:


As you can see above, the main category is “domain names” and the primary keyword is “.co.uk domains”.

3. Description

While not important to search engine rankings, meta descriptions are used on search engine result pages to show preview snippets for a specific page.

Here’s a code example from our SSL Certificates page

<head><metaname="description"content="SSL Certificates ensure safe online transactions for your customers. Trusted by 99% of browsers our secure socket layer will boost sales on your website!"></head>

and this is how it looks like in Google’s search engine results:

meta description

This short paragraph is your opportunity to sell your content to searchers and let them know you have what they’re looking for. This means that it must be written to be as compelling as possible.

Add your target keywords intelligently but try not to overdo it. By including your keyword or keyword phrase in this field, these will be bolded in the natural search results when a user enters a matching wording into the search engine.

Writing good meta descriptions takes practice but the reward is a higher CTR and increased natural traffic to your site. But if you aren’t yet an expert copywriter, here’s a few useful tips to help you craft your descriptions:

  • Length. It’s recommended to keep your meta descriptions between 150 and 160 characters. They can be longer but generally search engines truncate snippets that are longer than 160 characters.
  • Compelling copy. Creating a readable and catchy description can improve the click-through rate for a given webpage as that short paragraph is what can draw searchers to your site from the SERPs. When you’ve come up with a possible description, simply ask yourself: “Would I click through after reading this paragraph?”. If your answer is no, rewrite it until you come up with something more enticing.
  • Keywords. Same as with titles, search engines bold keywords in the description when they match a user’s search query. Using keywords can maximise click-through rates on SERPs so try to include your targeted ones in your descriptions.
  • Call-to-action. Tell people what to do next (eg. “Buy today”) or use cliffhangers to encourage users to click through for the full story (eg. “Discover how”, “Find out how” etc).

So if you thought you no longer need to fill out these fields with text, think twice as there are just too many benefits to leave them blank.

Your turn

Optimising your snippets can dramatically impact how your content appears in SERPs and social media streams when it’s shared. As a result, this can affect the number of clicks and likes/shares/retweets your content receives.

Have you used any of these tags to manage how your content appears in SERPs and social media streams? Have you noticed any changes in engagement?