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SEO News Explained: Bringin' Structured Snippets to the Table

SEO News Explained: Bringin' Structured Snippets to the Table

What exactly is happening in the SEO world right now? Well, there's something about snippets and tables. And what I mean when I say "Bringin' Structured Snippets to the Table," is that of late Google has been taking information from tables and bringing it into the limelight of search results in the form of these "structured snippets."

Whether you're a seasoned SEO pro, or a total newbie, I'm going to break it down and then fill you in on a best practice tip for encouraging Google to pull structured snippets from your website. 

You might already be familiar with rich snippets, and wonder if this is the same thing. Well I can tell you that these structured snippets work quite differently.

That said, understanding rich snippets can help you to understand the value of structured snippets, so if you don't know much about either yet, I'd suggest learning a bit about them in point 3 of this lesson on SEO tweaks for your website. Or you can read more on them at the bottom of this post. 

Now, onward to structured snippets!

What Exactly are Structured Snippets?

Structured snippets are pieces of information that Google pulls from tables on webpages to offer extra relevant facts in search results.

We first heard murmurs of these new structured snippets last year when the Google Research Blog published the article, "Introducing Structured Snippets, now a part of Google Web Search." It's a project that Google Research and the Web Search team have been working on for some time now.

Bill Slawski wrote an interesting article on this topic for Moz recently, so I asked him to sum it up for me:

"Google has been trying to use structured data it finds on pages, like the information found in tables, to make the search results it presents more interesting to searchers.

This is very much the same as when Google presents rich snippets from the Schema markup of a page to show the relevance of that page to searchers."

- Bill Slawski, Go Fish Digital

It is the same in that the snippets are pulled from the website and displayed in search results. But unlike rich snippets, which are purposefully indicated to Google by specific code in the webpage, Google has pulled this information itself.

This is both good and bad news:

  • The good news: Now there's another way your website could naturally get some extra information and interest in search results. 
  • The bad news: You can't include structured snippets in your website code and have them work for you automatically, like you can with rich snippets. That said, it also means your competitors and SEO experts can't force it either.

To give you an example of what these Structured Snippets looks like, I'll show you one of the examples Google mentioned in its own blog post: Superman! 

superman

When searching for Superman in Google, I can quite clearly see the structured snippet underneath the top result. It tells me, without even leaving my search, who created him, where he's from, and when he first appeared. 

Superman Google search

I don't know about you, but I'm sensing a strong "who, where, when" theme here. If I click through to the page, I'll find the table from which these snippets were pulled:

Superman Wiki

As mentioned earlier, the only way these structured snippets will be picked up is organically by the algorithm. While there's no way to purposefully make Google pick them up from your site, there are some things you can do to encourage it.

How Can I Encourage Google to Use Structured Snippets From My Site?

You want to use effective data table markup to encourage Google to take snippets from your tables. 

Considering the fact that Google is pulling these snippets from tables, it makes sense to start there. Here are some thoughts to consider.

1. Look for Useful Ways to Incorporate Tables

Create some kind of table. Do you review something with specs, like a camera or other pieces of equipment? Do you have any information that would naturally fit well into a table? Even a book or weight loss program: Name, Created By, Ideal Audience, etc...

You can't force it of course, but it's highly likely that somewhere there will be tidbits of information that would actually be easiest to absorb when laid out on a table. This is where you will implement the next step.

2. Use Title Tags in the Table

Earlier this year Google released a paper titled, "Applying WebTables in Practice," which contains hints for the best ways to format data. Bill Slawski gave a summary of what they appear to be looking for: 

"What they are suggesting is that people use tables for data on their pages following many best HTML practices, including a title for tables and caption <th> table headings at the top of each row describing what is contained in that row. 

With this in place, data from the table might be included in a search snippet when the page that includes that table appears in search results.

If the table is about an LCD TV, and it says whether or not the TV is a plasma or an LCD TV, that might be included in the search snippet for the page."

- Bill Slawski

So you really want to make sure that you include a relevant title on important tables, as well as those <th> tags for rows. This helps Google with two things:

  1. It makes the information easily accessible, it's like a big sign that says, "Hey this information is here, and it's about this topic!"
  2. It distinguishes your table from other less useful tables, such as the ones used for formatting web pages. "This is data, not website scaffolding."

If you'd like to know more about marking up data tables, there's an article by WebAIM that you can check out to get more information.

3. Monitor Your Site in the Search Engines

You should be checking your site's results in the search engines regularly, and take note of what you see.

Do you see structured snippets from your table when you see that page in search results? If not, trial and error is your friend. Remember it could take time to get picked up, so consider occasional tweaking rather than all the time.

Keep an eye on types of structured snippets that you see in search results on a day to day basis. See if you can build a better idea of what types of information are prioritized. 

Watch this space. If there are any developments or more solid information, I'll be sure to let you know.
 

Bonus: Play with Rich Snippets with This New Tool

If you're new to this whole snippet business, you might want to start with rich snippets.

Rich snippets are easier to implement, and they're easier to test, so they're great place to start. In fact, Google has just recently released a new tool to generate code for your website, and test whether it's working. 

You can find this tool here, and it looks like this:

Structured Data Testing Tool
 

QUESTION: What information on your site is (or would be) best for rich snippets or structured snippets? Have you had any luck with the elusive structured snippet? Spread the inspiration and post your answer in the comments below!

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