Rich snippets have made a great improvement in search results for end-users looking for enhanced information on the links that show up on the page. They append links with information like the author that wrote a blog post, review stars for products and services, and local business information, all before having to click through to the page. While this may have allowed certain pages to rank higher than others in an effort to offer better quality information to end-users, some sites took advantage of the opportunity and included rich snippets on their sites without the justification for doing so; Google is now acting on those sites. Watch today's Daily Brown Bag to learn about what rich snippets are, how they can benefit your site, and guidelines on how to use them correctly.


Hello, and welcome to The Daily Brown Bag. Today we're going to be talking about Google's guidelines for rich snippets. I'm Chad Hill, and I'm joined by Adam Stetzer.

Hi, good morning, Chad. Welcome to The Brown Bag. Some breaking news today from Google. For those who are keeping abreast of the news, and everyone should be to make sure they're on the right side of the Google guidelines, Barry Schwartz's Search Engine Roundtable is reporting that Google has been sending out manual warnings for rich snippets that are too spammy.

This is something that's pretty new. Spammy rich snippets apparently have been around for several years. It's been discussed, and Google has now decided to take some steps to combat it.

At Pubcon last fall, Chad, Matt Cutts sent out a warning that low quality sites may lose their ability to have rich snippets at all. They were talking about authorship, and they were talking about how to pave the way for sites with strong authorship to show in place of those who might be abusing this. Back in December we saw some follow through from Google when they reduced the number of rich snippets in their display entirely by 15 percent, again trying to combat some of the spam.

It looks like today they're getting a little more aggressive, and now they're taking manual action for those rich snippets that they believe are violating the Google guidelines. The natural question, Chad, for our community and our resellers in the forum is what is a spammy rich snippet. And, probably some people are saying what is a rich snippet entirely. What is it?

What are Rich Snippets?

That's a great question. I think I always sort of use the word that the rich snippet is sort of like your SERP bling. So, what it is is when you look across the good old results page that just used to have text links, you've seen Google slowly roll out these enhanced listings that have in some cases a picture of somebody who might be the author of that content if it's a blog post. You also might see that if it's a product you'll see product review and stars. In some cases if there's a video on the page you'll see a little thumbnail of video.

So, all of these things help the search, the experience for Google's user and make the search results more valuable. But, with any opportunity like that to get a better placement in search results you're going to have people who try to abuse it. I think the best examples I see are sometimes you're looking at even in our industry a search engine optimization firm, and they've got rating stars. Well, if you go to their website they really don't have true products that are being reviewed. They sort of have come up with some way around the rule. Or, a lot of times you'll see authorship on the home page, and there's a lot of debate about whether or not a home page is actually truly authored by someone or whether it's only for blog content.

I think what Google's coming out here and saying is that look, we know there are lots of ways around this and if you guys try to abuse it we're going to take it away. How they're going to do that, it sounds like it's going to be manual, so it's not necessarily something that's easy for them to detect. But, you do have to be careful about it, and that's what's happening.

How to Avoid Getting Penalized

Some guidelines for us would be use those rich snippets when they make sense:

  • Don't try to abuse it because someone else is abusing it. You might get all of your rich snippets taken away is what Google's saying.
  • Always make sure that you focus on what the end customer's looking for. If you really don't have product reviews and you're trying to mislead people and take them to a page that looks like it does have product reviews, that's not a great search experience.

So, I think it's a pretty simple thing. Use them when they make sense. Don't try to trick Google when it doesn't make sense.

Okay, to make sure everybody understands what you're talking about, there are these ways to enhance - you called it the bling for your ranking - in Google which they've been testing to try to help people find what they're looking for. Of course, people have realized that helps the click through rate and gets attention, particularly if you're ranking is further down the page and you're not getting a lot of clicks. With this new feature people have started to abuse it. The example you gave of trying to show reviews and stars when you don't really have reviews, this is now what they're targeting.

So, the advice as always is be genuine, be real, speak the truth. I guess the old adage, Chad, of fake it until you make it just does not apply here because you might get slapped down, and that's pretty much Google's view on all these things. Be authentic, be real, and be verifiable, and you should have no problem with this. If you're really pushing the envelope this is not a great idea.

Hopefully, that helps clear up what rich snippets are. We'd like to hear your comments on whether you're using them for yourself or your clients. And, we hope to see you back at our Brown Bag tomorrow.