It was only a matter of time. As soon as Google introduced a way to enhance the quality of search results, the spammers weren’t far behind. In this case, their target was rich snippets.
Rich snippets were developed to offer searchers more detailed and compelling search results using semantic markup. By using various formats, webmasters could now add a range of information that would show up under the site’s listing the search results.
It allowed restaurants to publish their menus, stores their special discounts, art galleries their opening hours, and much more. One common example of semantic markup was the Google author snippet, which presented enhanced info about the author complete with picture.
Sounds like a win-win situation. You get more options to fine-tune your SEO campaign, Google offers higher quality, more detailed results to the searcher. By offering the searcher enhanced choice it allows him to make a better decision. This boosts clickthrough rates.
The problem was, the system was too open to manipulation.
The possibilities for abuse are many. Faking reviews is just one example. Some webmasters simply created a row of stars to give the sites the appearance of good ratings. Others pointed author markup to their home pages.
Google provides a clear set of Rich Snippet Quality guidelines and specifies that such practises as marking up irrelevant or misleading content as ‘manipulative behaviour’ and against its terms.
The first indication they were moving against rich snippet spam was in December when they lowered the volume of rich snippets displayed in the SERPs for author markup.
Recently reports appeared in webmaster forums that they were sending out notices to site owners they consider guilty of spammy structured markup. This latest move shows Google will do anything it takes to achieve their goal of serving up relevant and authoritative search results.
If you’re worried about your existing rich snippets, check your Webmaster Tools account for issues or in the structured data debugging area.
Semantic markup is a great way to enhance the way your clients’ sites show up in the SERPs. Be sure to follow all the guidelines. They’re in total alignment with Google’s overall mission. The section of quality guidelines ends with Google urging webmasters to focus on providing a greater user experience rather than looking for loopholes.
Take Advantage of Semantic Markup (In the Right Way)
Used judiciously, rich snippets can help your site stand out from the crowd. They can also work to prequalify your visitors and thus reduce bounce rate. That together with increased clickthroughs should help with your authority and ultimately, rankings. Clearly semantic markup is a powerful tool so be sure to wield it wisely.
No doubt we’ll be hearing more on this topic in an upcoming Matt Cutts video so stay tuned.