Rich Snippets, Baby, One More Time
When I first set out to write this post, I had two things in mind: rich snippets and Britney Spears. I won’t waste your time trying to justify the latter, but let’s just say I thought it would be interesting to mesh the two together. While the original idea didn’t make it far past conception, what I stumbled upon seems to be all the more interesting. Don’t get me wrong: Britney will forever have a place in my adolescent heart, but the scope of this goes beyond just her. It’s time to put those old, tattered posters back under my bed and move onto more pressing issues. Today, we’ll discuss rich snippets for music, or, the current lack thereof.
Rich Snippet Overview
While you’ve undoubtedly seen them when executing searches, if you’re not especially familiar with rich snippets, you might want to take a minute or two to skim over Google’s support page. Google defines them as “the few lines of text that appear under every search result . . . designed to give users a sense for what’s on the page and why it’s relevant to their query.” Much like the result description, rich snippets are pulled dynamically from the HTML and are query-based. We see them everywhere. Products. Reviews. People. Events. Ever search for a product that’s available on Amazon? If so, you’ve probably seen a rich snippet. Notice, in the graphic below, that while one query failed to return a ‘snippetized’ result, the second query (where
second_query = first_query + ' album';) has a nice, colorful rich snippet.
So, in the example above, the word ‘album’ is the difference between whether or not our result has a rich snippet. Google knows that we’re looking for the product, and thus it presents us with some pertinent, consumer-oriented information that’s provided by Amazon. The language of rich snippets – or the way that a site like Amazon tells Google to use given information in a result snippet – is structured HTML markup. Microdata is the recommended format, but there are two others to choose from, as well. We’ll delve a little deeper into microdata as we move along.
Rich Snippets for Music
In mid-August of last year, Google announced a new snippet-type: rich snippets for music. By marking up on-page song information – such as name, duration, album, user plays, etc. – with microdata and the schema.org MusicRecording vocabulary, webmasters can provide Google searchers with pertinent, song-specific information at the zero-click level. Since I’m having a hard time finding any active music snippets (which we’ll get to in a second), I’ve included a result that Google first posted, below.
Not too shabby, eh? Actually, I think it’s one of the more engaging snippet-types – especially if one of the core functions of your website is to facilitate online music-listening. In fact, the early adopters of rich snippets for music – MySpace Music, Rhapsody, and ReverbNation – are all of that general type.
Sitelinks & Snippets
So, as I mentioned, I wasn’t able to find any active rich snippets for musical recordings. After trying many, many queries, sprinkling in keywords that I thought might trigger a result with snippet-based song details, and even including the brand names of the aforementioned early adopters, I was convinced that something was off. At first, I thought that maybe MySpace Music and the other music-streaming platforms had abandoned the on-page microdata formatting. However, in doing a quick check on Britney Spears’ MySpace Music page, it appears that the markup is in perfect order. All of the microdata is in place, and the correct schema.org vocabulary is being used, as well. So, what’s the deal? Why can’t I get information about my favorite Britney song straight from the SERP?
Since I wasn’t able to find anything that indicated a planned, temporary, or permanent absence of the Musical Recording rich snippet, the best that I can offer is conjecture. In the first two results for the query ‘Britney Spears music’ (shown above), we see both sitelinks and snippets at play. The first result provides a nice, one-line string of sitelinks to Britney’s website, while the second offers additional links to two of Britney’s racy music videos. Now, this is close to what I was looking for, right? But it isn’t the same thing. I happen to be a proponent of the music itself, not the music videos. Plus, when I search for a specific song, I don’t want to have to click to figure out what album it’s on. I’m a high-maintenance searcher, sure, but hey, I’m not the only one.
Why No Music Snippets?
Okay, onto the conjecture. I have for you two conclusions and a general takeaway. After all, this is supposed to informative and (hopefully) educational. Let’s start with the conclusions.
1. New snippet offerings don’t necessarily catch on quickly (or at all) –
More than a half a year removed from the announcement of rich snippets for music, I’m having trouble finding a single result that showcases ‘snippetized’ songs. While I’m sure that there are some examples out there that I’m not finding, this is still an indication that the music snippet-type hasn’t exactly caught fire. It does, of course, take time to implement a snippet strategy for a large music platform, like MySpace or Rhapsody, and for other websites, it might be a question of whether or not a result with rich snippets is ideal for conversions.
As services like Spotify become the de facto standard for streaming high-quality music, the uses of rich snippets for music ought to extend beyond your standard ‘listen to music’ website. Perhaps a joining at the hip with the Product snippet? Who knows?
2. Correct markup does not guarantee appearance of rich snippet –
Just as a well articulated meta description doesn’t always appear in the search results, the products, people, and (obviously) music that you mark up with microdata won’t necessarily appear as rich snippets within your results. Why? Well, as we’ve discussed, rich snippets are largely a result of the user’s query. One word – in our case, ‘album’ – could be the difference between a boring result and a ‘snippetized’ result.
Additionally, if you’ve marked up more than one element on a given page, using various schemas, there’s no real telling which set of information the results page will pull from. As we’ve seen in some of our Britney Spears examples, alternate snippets and sitelinks can replace the snippet that we anticipated. Again, it’s all in the query. What’s particularly interesting about the music snippets is that, as of now, they seem to be replaced for practically every query. This would seem to indicate that Google is leaning towards displaying other snippets and sitelinks, ahead of the music snippet. Again, just a guess.
Alright. Now that we have a couple of ideas to work with, let’s look at how we can use the information to better our results!
Monitor Your Snippets!
Considering the things that we’ve learned in this post, as well as the general importance of rich snippets to things like click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate, and ultimately, conversions, it’s exceedingly important that implement and monitor our rich snippets. Implementation really isn’t all that complicated. If you’re familiar with HTML markup and have the patience to look through the schema.org and microdata documentation, you should be all set. Google also provides us with this nifty little tool, which checks our on-page markup and returns the probable, ‘snippetized’ result, along with the interpreted code and any errors/warnings.
Interestingly enough, I tried this tool with Britney’s MySpace Music page – the one that I touched on earlier – and the results literally brought a smile to my face. Proof that I’m not suffering from some form of query-by-query search dementia; the Britney Spears MySpace result, complete with a rich snippet for music in shimmering blue. I guess the sitelinks are pushing it aside, for the time being, but at least we know that it’s there!
Anyways, now that I’m done with my parade, I’ll remind you that, due to the dynamic nature of all rich snippets, it can be very beneficial to monitor them in terms of query performance. Let’s assume that your home page is laden with microdata and schema.org vocabulary, and that you have Google Analytics/Google Webmaster Tools installed. To start simple, get ahold of the top ten keywords through which visitors reach your website’s home page organically, and use a fresh browser to execute Google searches for these ten queries. In order to keep things in check, you might consider having one or two others execute searches for the same ten queries on their computers.
Now, look at your home page’s result for each query, taking a screen shot of all of the beautiful rich snippets, sitelinks, or plain descriptions that fall under your title for each term. Compare and contrast with your colleagues. Hopefully you’re able to triangulate your results, with consistent screen shots for each query. And now it’s time for the fun part! Since you do have a significant level of control over your rich snippets, you can make changes over time to see what effect varying result compositions have on the various engagement metrics. Sometimes, the result for a given query can change naturally, as well, so you’ll be prepared to observe the effects of the change.
Do sitelinks correlate positively with a lower bounce rate for certain queries? Did removing the reviews rich snippet increase my visitors’ average time on site for this other keyword? These are the types of questions that you’re looking to answer. It takes time, of course, but most worthwhile things do! Imagine if Britney Spears had given up her career in her early teens? Who wants to live in that world? Not I, my friends. Not I.
IMAGE SOURCE: http://www.glamour.com/about/britney-spears
UPDATE: What impeccable timing! Today (April 16, 2012), via their Webmaster Central blog, Google announced two updates to rich snippets. No mention of the music rich snippets, but pertinent, nonetheless. Here’s to timely coincidence!