What Are Google Rich Results and How Do They Affect SEO?
If you use Google much (and most of us do), you’ve probably started to notice a real change in the search results.
Where once there was a list of links (some of the ones up top paid for), there’s now a mix of links, images, text boxes, maps… lots of types of information in different forms, all taking up space on the main search results page.
If you care about your website’s SEO, then you should care about how the search engine results pages (SERPs) look – being one of those links on the first page used to be the end-all be-all goal of SEO. But it means less if your link is pushed down below several other types of content and information, instead of just other links.
Everyone with a website should therefore be paying attention to what these changes mean for your site’s visibility.
Here’s a basic rundown of the main things you need to know about all those special search results dominating the SERPs.
5 Types of Special Google Results
These special results can take a lot of different forms. Some of the main ones that website owners should be aware of are:
1. Featured snippets
When you search a simple question in Google, you’ll now often see a box above the other search results that includes the text that answers your question – right there on the results page, so you don’t have to navigate away to get the information you need.
These are featured snippets, sometimes called instant answers. This information is pulled from the text of a webpage, which is linked right below the answer. That means that you can be number one in the list of links below, without being the first link people see on the page.
These show up in a few different formats. Commonly it’s a little bit of text and an image pulled from the webpage with the link below. Sometimes, the information that’s pulled shows up in a bulleted or numbered list. And sometimes, you’ll see a number of “People Also Ask” options, which open up their own featured snippets.
2. Map snippets
The map snippet comes up anytime a search term suggests to Google that you’re looking for something you’d be likely to go to a physical location for. Sometimes the map cluster shows up below other ads and results, and sometimes it’s at the top of the results page.
In either case, you see a map that has several locations marked with red pins, with three locations listed below below it. The results below the map usually include an address, ratings information, photos, contact information, and business hours (if relevant).
Note that these listings don’t provide links directly to the website of the business or other location listed. When you click, you go to an expanded result for the location you clicked on, with a larger map of other relevant results. There you can find the link to the website.
3. Rich ads
While ads have always been a part of Google’s search results, many searches now include ads that provide visuals and the same kind of rich information that increasingly shows up in natural results.
These rich ads sometimes show up above the other results and sometimes to the side. They include images, pricing information, ratings information and the name of the business. Sometimes they even include additional helpful information like that a product comes with “free shipping” or is for “in-store pickup.”
Obviously, these aren’t spots you can capture with SEO, but you can pay for them with Google AdWords if you want an easy way to stand out in the SERPs.
4. Video results
Videos don’t show up as featured snippets that often, but for some searches they do. In these cases, you can click to watch the video on the search results page without navigating elsewhere.
More often, you see video thumbnails alongside links in the search results. When you click on these, they open the page where the video is hosted for you to watch (usually on YouTube)
5. Rich snippets
In addition to the flashy snippets and visuals on the top of and alongside the page, for some searches, you’ll also see rich results in the list of links. What kind of information you’ll see with these can vary a lot, but it can include thumbnail images, ratings information, number of reviews, and things like calorie counts for recipes.
What These Special Results Mean for SEO
These types of special results aren’t either all good or all bad. In some cases, they’re likely to distract away from the main search results, as with rich advertisements that draw the eye before a person starts to scroll down, or featured snippets that answer simple questions on the SERP so that people are unlikely to click through to any other results.
On the other hand, featured snippets that provide a partial answer to more complicated questions (often the case with bulleted snippets) are more likely to get people to click through to the link. And rich search results can draw attention to particular search results with more information and visuals, making them potentially more competitive than others that rank higher.
On the whole, it’s a mixed bag for marketers. But there are some things you can do to make your webpages more competitive in the world of special search results.
Using Schema Markup
Any of the rich search results you see that have things like thumbnail images, ratings, or review information showing up alongside the link didn’t just get there with luck. The website owners figured out how to provide Google’s algorithm that information in just the right way for it to show up in the results.
The way to do that is with schema markup. You use shema markup to tell the search engines which pieces of information on your website fall into the types of data categories they’ve decided merit a special sort of display on the platform. Because Google thinks users will benefit from knowing how long a recipe takes to make or how many calories are in it, if you provide that information to them using schema markup, they’ll display it on the results page.
Luckily, schema markup was specifically developed to be pretty user friendly. You can visit Schema.org to learn about the different types of Schema markup there are and the different categories you’ll want to include in your code for each type.
To make updating your own site easy, you can use Google’s schema markup generator. Just put in the URL you want to generate markup for, select the type of content it is, and then you can highlight the different parts of the page that should be added into the different fields provided. As an example, you’d highlight the headline of your article and select “Name” in the dropdown menu that shows up to mark it as the article’s title.
When you’re done selecting the text on the page for each category, click on “create HTML” to find the code that you need to add to your page for schema markup. You can copy and paste the whole code they provide to your page, or go look for the specific spots where something’s highlighted in yellow and just paste in those parts.
Optimizing for Featured Snippets
Featured snippets are sometimes referred to as “Position 0” amongst SEO professionals, since they get you above even that top spot. While in some cases, your content showing up in a featured snippet could just mean that people get the answer they need without clicking through, for many searches it’s still a worthy goal to aim for since it puts your answer and link far above everybody else on the page and in a way that draws attention.
The best way to optimize for featured snippets is to create the kind of content most likely to show up in them. The types of queries you should focus on are those where people are looking to answer a question – but one that’s a bit too big to get a full answer to within the text box at the top of the page. Spend some time brainstorming questions relevant to your website and industry. Then go do some Googling to see what results show up for them now.
What you’re looking for here are queries where there is a featured snippet, but the answer’s not great. These provide an opportunity to create something better, while knowing that Google already sees this query as one that should generate a snippet. Also pay attention to which questions bring up answers from Wikipedia – these aren’t a good place to put your time, since Google’s unlikely to decide your website is more authoritative than Wikipedia.
You’ll also want to be very particular in the language you use. Moz recommends making your keywords and phrases very literal. So drop whatever clever heading you had in mind and use the phrase a person’s most likely to be searching.
For Local SEO: Optimizing for the Map Snippet
If your business has a physical location and reaching local residents is a priority, then the map snippet – popularly called the map 3-pack by local SEO professionals – is the most important of all special results for you to focus on.
Part of getting into the map cluster has to do with how close you are geographically to the person searching, so you don’t have much control over that. But you can implement a few local SEO best practices to increase your chances of showing up there more often:
- Claim your Google listing. Hopefully you’ve already done this, but if not do it now.
- Add your website to relevant directories. Get listed in as many as possible and make sure your name, address, and phone number looks the same in all of them. So if you write out Acme Road in one, don’t shorten it to Rd in another.
- Encourage reviews. This is a big one and one of the hardest to pull off, since it depends on getting the cooperation of your customers. But you can be proactive in asking for reviews or pointing your customers toward where they can leave you a review on Google.
- Do content marketing and link building with a local focus. Create content focused on local issues. Work with other local businesses to launch events, host charity drives, create joint initiatives – anything that might earn you local press and links to other sites in your community. If it strengthens your local authority, it will improve your SEO in general, which increases your chances of showing up in the cluster.
Most of doing SEO well is the same as it was before special results started taking over more of the SERPs, but you can make your SEO strategy stronger by paying attention to the types of results showing up for the topics you target and crafting a strategy that optimizes for being one of those special results for relevant search terms.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.