A rich snippet is tool that Google introduced to help structure the way that a search result is displayed. It is a concept that is a little difficult for some people to get a handle on, but it is really not that bad. First, a user should understand that using rich snippets do not affect where a website appears in the search results. It affects what information is displayed as a search result.  Normal Meta data handed the search engines certain information to display in a search result. The Meta description is the small mini paragraph that appears under the title of the search result and gives the person searching a better idea of what a webpage is all about. This is generic information that will be displayed to every search user that sees the result.

A rich snippet is a form of internal annotation that gives specific information when a search is more specific. For example, Company XYZ sells Product X. When a search user searches the internet for Company XYZ, they will see the standard search result. If a search user includes Product X in their search or searches for simply Product X, then the annotation will be picked up and brought into the search result.

The information is displayed just below the search title and in this case may include information about “reviews” of Product X. At the moment, there are only two types that Google uses to a great degree, they are “reviews” and “people.” Reviews are a fairly straight forward piece of information and people may include company members and/or band members.

The great thing about rich snippets is that is cannot hurt your websites search results, only help them. Think of it as a business card that you would hand someone walking in the door of your business. No one will ever turn and walk out based on the fact that this information was given to them. Also, Google looks for the information, but it is not likely that the search ranking is going to be lowered ever based on the fact that a rich snippet is there.

The use of these is fairly simple. Let us say that there is already an <H1 /> tag on the front page of the website and it has a small piece of employee information inside of the H1 layout stating “SEO John Smith.” In order for this same information to be passed to Google as a rich snippet, addition <DIV /> class information should be included with the H1 tag.

To do this in “microformat” style, enclose the H1 tag in two DIV tags, the outermost DIV should include the CLASS information of “h-review aggregate” without the quotes. The second DIV tag should include the CLASS of “item vcard” without the quotes. Then within the H1 tag itself should be includes the CLASS of “fn org” without the quotes. This sets up the H1 item to still display as it normally would on the webpage and at the same time be picked up by the Google Spider as a review annotation. The information included in the tag would then appear just below the search result title.

An RDF markup style can be used; however, if rich snippets are a totally new concept to the webmaster, then the simpler version will most likely be the best way to go. These are both forms of standard annotations and have served as information holders in webpages for some time; it was not until 2009 that Google started to use this information to improve search results.

Bear in mind that these only appear if the specific information in the snippet is searched. In the example we used earlier a search for Company XYZ would not display the snippet for Product X. This is designed so that a company can include a bit of information about multiple people and multiple products. The more general the search, the less likely that the snippet will display, which is not to say that the snippet is not doing its jobs, just that it did not apply in the given situation.

There are several online tools that can check a webpage and look for rich snippets. If someone has just started using these and is unsure whether they are configured correctly should check them through one of these and ensure the proper formatting. Once a webmaster has done a few of them, they will become an old hand at it and never look back.

While the page ranking and search results position is most likely not affected by the use of rich snippets, it is a helpful tools to separate your search result from those of the other companies around you. It is easily a one-liner of ad text that can bring in a few extra visitors every day. When thinking of this tool as a small ad, include only the pertinent information and do not attempt to abuse the tool. There is no reason to take something that is very useful and go too far with it.