Rich snippets penalty can hit your site?

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Google's new "rich snippets" penalty: can it hit your site?
Actionable checklist to make sure you're on the safe side.

Urgent: last week Google started issuing a new type of manual penalty — targeting rich snippets considered fake and spam-like. Some webmasters have already received the new type of alert:

Spammy structured markup

Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google's Rich Snippet Quality guidelines.

The update is aimed to target websites that use rich snippets in a black-hat, spammy manner. But the exact factors triggering the new penalty are not yet known.

And as lots of our users send worried emails, asking if their sites can get de-ranked by mistake (because they don't know how to manage rich snippets properly) — we put together this quick check list to make sure your rich snippets are in order.

Read on to get a quick idea of what rich snippets are and how to set them up, or jump straight to the checklist.

What are rich snippets?

Rich Snippets are enhanced displays of web page results, including images and other extra information about the website.

As Google puts it, "rich snippets are designed to summarize the content of a page in a way that makes it even easier for users to understand what the page is about in our search results."

Obviously this extended information is likely to attract attention and stimulate higher click-through rates. Thus if you haven't already heard of rich snippets or incorporated them in your site, you're missing a great chance to attract extra organic traffic.

What data gets into rich snippets?

There are types of rich snippets you can use, depending on the type of your site's content. These types differ for various search engines. Current rich snippets supported by Google are:

Authors: Author photo, name and G+ connections (guidelines)
People: Photos, occupation, contact information (guidelines)
Products: Ratings, picture and price (guidelines)
Businesses & Organizations: Location and customer review. Some other results can also shop up here — say, for restaurants rich snippets may include price range (guidelines)
Recipes: Photo, recipe, rating, time required and calorie content (guidelines)
Events: Event date, location and time (guidelines)
Music: Lyrics and link to play (guidelines)
Videos: preview thumbnail (guidelines)

How to set rich snippets data for your website?

Rich Snippets are the result of properly implemented structured data markup. By marking up your page data, you show the search engines — and enable them to show users — some of the most important information on your pages.

And here's where it gets a little more complicated — there's no easy on or off button inside your CMS that will implement structured data automatically, so you'll have to apply some tech knowledge and read guidelines for the markup format you prefer:

  • Microdata as outlined at (view markup example).
  • RDFa (view markup example).

One more thing you have to understand is that implementing structured data doesn't guarantee that your site will get a rich snippet displayed in search results. It just makes rich snippets possible. With the last word still left for Google.

"Don't get hit by Google's penalty for spammy rich snippets" checklist

Ok, so here is the actionable checklist to make sure your rich snippets are in order — the easiest ways to validate your structured data markup and the main points to consider.

Tools to use:

1 "Structured Data Dashboard" in Webmaster Tools account

First of all, check out the "Structured Data Dashboard" which you can find at Search Appearance > Structured Data in your Webmaster tools account. There you'll see a list of the structured data types found on your site and any no errors and technical issues related to them.



2 Rich snippets testing tool

The rich snippets testing tool lets you check your markup and make sure that Google can extract the structured data (rich snippets markup, meta data, authorship information, and PageMaps) from your page.

This tool will display the following:

— Rich snippets markup found on a specific web page
— PageMap data associated with the page
— Meta tags found on the page
— Author information found on the page
— Keys available to use for restricting and sorting/biasing search results
— A preview of how that page might appear in Google search results
— Examples of extracted markup for specific information types.

Faults to avoid:

1 Hidden content

The first no-no for your rich snippets is the content, seen to search engines and hidden from your actual visitors. Even if the data you'd like to be displayed in the rich snippets does not match your design or isn't really needed to your visitors — never use CSS, value-title, display:none or any other means to hide this data, because this is what Google can potentially see as spamming.


2Structured data not matching your pages content

Make sure the info represented in your structured data markup actually matches the page content, the products or events described on it.

Google sees the main function of rich snippets in making it easier to understand, what a page is about. So, rich snippets that are "alien" to your page can be seen as misleading and manipulative.


3Different markup formats within one page

Make sure rich snippets (at least within one page) are built using one specific markup format. Otherwise Google may find it difficult to read your data correctly.


4Incorrect nesting

Some items of you structured data can include other items. For example, a restaurant review might include a Person as the author of a review. In this case, you can convey the relationship between these types of data by nesting Person information (reviewer details) inside that review.

Incorrect nesting is a technical issue that is not directly related to spamming, but makes it difficult for Google to correctly interpret your data and may potentially put you into troubles.
You can read Google's guidelines for proper nesting here.

Ok, it's time to look at your site's structured data markup — hope this guide helps you make a better sense of how to check if your rich snippets are in order.

And if you found this guide useful, send your thanks to SEO PowerSuite team, and share it with your contacts via the social buttons on the left!

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