November 2013 | The Internet Marketing Issue
Standing Out in Search With Rich Snippets
If earning meaningful attention from search engines is a part of your firm’s marketing plan, you should understand how to use structured data markup to help search engines generate rich snippets for your pages.
Snippets are the text that appears under every search result. They are designed to give searchers information about what’s on the page and why it’s relevant to their search. If you properly format the content on your pages with structured data (i.e. microdata), search engines can deliver more detailed information to help users with their search.
Schema.org provides a collection of shared vocabularies lawyers can use to mark up their pages with microdata.
If you use Google, you have probably already encountered a variety of rich snippets without even realizing it. Here are some of the more common types that are useful to lawyers.
Google’s authorship snippets enable publishers to display author information in search results:
Since authorship doesn’t require marking up your pages with microdata, it’s one of the easiest snippets to generate.
Google offers two primary methods for setting up authorship:
1. Linking your content to your Google+ profile using a verified email address.
2. Reciprocal linking between your content and your Google+ profile.
If you don’t have an email address associated with the domain for which you want author information to appear, but you do have the ability to add a link to your content, you should follow the instructions for option 2.
You can test to see whether you have properly implemented authorship on your website or blog with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
If you publish online, displaying author information in search results can help your readers find you. These results attract eyeballs and clicks. Finally, it’s likely that search engines will soon use authorship signals as a factor in serving results. In other words, helping search engines identify what you publish online will likely lead to your content surfacing more prominently in the future.
If you’ve created a Google+ Page for your law firm, you can connect it to your site or blog. Linking your Google+ page and your firm’s website can generate results like this:
This enables searchers to quickly find contact, location and review information. It also generates a “knowledge result” which appears very prominently to the right of the traditional search results. I suspect that such results will become increasingly common in future search engine iterations.
To generate results like these, simply create a Google+ page for your firm, add the appropriate publisher code to your home page and link to your website from your Google+ page’s profile. You can find Google’s full instructions here.
It has been predicted that in the near future, as much as ninety percent of online content will be video. Whether or not the web goes “primarily video,” video content is already an extremely popular format, and search engines continue to show more video content in results. Adding schema markup for videos is another very effective tool for lawyers to get their content to stand out in search:
In addition to adding appropriate video schema markup to your video content, you should also be sure to add your video content to a video sitemap. You can test your video sitemap in Google’s Webmaster Tools.
You should also notify search engines when video content is removed from your site and use high-quality thumbnail images. While Google can automatically generate thumbnail images, you may want to experiment with seeing what impact different thumbnails have on click-throughs to your video content pages.
Among the information that people who search for lawyers online might want to see are reviews and ratings. Google provides a variety of ways to help ratings and reviews stand out in results.
In terms of attracting attention in search results, one of the most effective techniques is marking up your rating information to include image rating information, like stars. Rating sites like Yelp and Avvo use this markup on their sites:
You may also be able to generate review snippets for pages on your own site. However, before you publish any testimonials on your site, make sure that it is permissible under your state’s rules of professional responsibility. In some states, lawyers will not be able to include this information without following very specific guidelines. You should also consider keeping a signed paper copy of testimonials in case there are ever any issues with testimonials published on your site.
If publishing reviews and ratings on your site is permissible in your state, adding review rating microdata is fairly straightforward. However, be sure that your pages follow applicable rich snippets guidelines.
Search engines will increasingly use microdata to gain a deeper understanding of web pages and, perhaps, use this information in their ranking algorithms.
While not an officially recognized type that will generate a rich snippet today, there is a schema for attorneys.
Adding this markup probably doesn’t do much of anything today. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this becoming a more significant signal that search engines use to deliver more specific information about attorneys to their users. Since it’s relatively easy to add this markup, it’s probably worth considering to future-proof your pages.
Rich Snippets Guidelines
Because rich snippets can be so effective in helping search listings stand out, some webmasters will abuse rich snippet markup on their sites. Creating “rich snippet spam” violates Google’s rich snippet guidelines and may cause your rich snippets to be removed from your results. Google specifically urges webmasters to avoid:
Some lawyers are already attempting to “game Google” by adding review markup to pages that have nothing to do with authentic testimonials. This is one of the most surefire ways to get snippets to stop appearing for your pages. Further, publishing fake reviews is a misrepresentation that violates attorney ethics rules. Don’t do this.
If you’ve already seen rich snippets in your search results, you probably already know how well these results jump off the page. When used in compliance with applicable ethics rules and webmaster guidelines, adding microdata to generate rich snippets in search results is an effective way to get your search listings to stand out from your competition.
Most of these rich snippets can be generated by adding some simple markup to your pages. All signs seem to indicate that structured data will play an increasing role in how search engines display information about pages and might eventually play a role in how pages are ranked. You can learn more about rich snippets at Google’s Webmaster EDU.
Gyi Tsakalakis operates AttorneySync, a web strategy consulting firm for lawyers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Micah U Buchdahl, HTMLawyers, Inc
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Andrea Malone, White and Williams LLP
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