Since the release of Google Hummingbird with its emphasis on “Semantic Search” and promise of “Rich Snippets” content developers have been trying to figure out the keys to marketing via this new indexing scheme. After months of review and analysis, some light is starting to be shed on how Google awards placement and result presentation enhancements under the new system. One good article on this was found on searchenginejournal.com – authored by Rich Benci and entitled Rich Snippets: The Now-You-See-Them-Now-You-Don’t Phenomenon. Mr. Benci doesn’t dwell on the meaning of “semantic search” – so for those who are a bit behind the curve on this it is important to understand that semantic search focuses more on the meaning in the phrase being searched for and the content returned. The objective is to return more meaningful search results and reduce the time required to locate whatever the user is seeking. Examples – not just “plumbers” but “plumbers in Dodge City, Kansas” , not just “SEO Speakers” but “SEO Speakers at Omnidex in July, 2013” (See Mike Arnesen’s article Structured Data & Semantic SEO – The New Frontier). While many search engines have depended in the past on data feeds to provide context such as whether page content is related to an event or a product or a collection of products, the results were less than satisfactory. Enter Schema markup. As I have mentioned before elsewhere, schema markup is a way to provide meta data about specific pieces of data and how they relate to each other. Much more information on this, including the specifications for various types of schemas can be found at http://www.schema.org, but for our purposes, it is sufficient to understand that implementation of the schema in an existing site consists of adding scheme specified attributes to the markup used for critical content on a given page. We’ve been doing this for a while now, and like many other specialists have noted that the results were frustrating, to say the least. Snippets would show up, then disappear and reappear in apparently random fashions. Benci reports the following pattern:

About 10 to 14 days after the Schema.org markup is done, Google will crawl a site and analyze the markup. If all’s well, Google will then award Rich Snippets to some of the site’s pages. In roughly 5 days, those Rich Snippets disappear, only to come back several days later. This cycle may be repeated several times, on the same pages or on a new set of pages. After about 8 weeks, if the repeated analytics don’t turn up any problems, Google will likely start awarding permanent Rich Snippets throughout the site’s products and articles when it matches all the algorithm criteria for any given search query.

This matches closely with our experiences in adding schema markup, and in follow-up observation of the modified sites. Mr. Benci’s final phrase should be given careful consideration. The most significant implication is that Rich Snippets are awarded not to the submitted URL – but to the relationship between the URL and the visitor submitted search terms. In short, the URL to any given page, may generate Rich Snippets for a variety of search terms which Google determines best match the page contents, but may not generate them for less appropriate matches. Lower traffic with higher conversions should be the expected outcome. Mr. Benci’s recommendations for strategic management of rich snippets closely match my own and are as follows:

Leave your markup code as is for at least 8 weeks and just monitor the ups and downs of your Rich Snippets. They mean Google is continually analyzing your site. As long as your Rich Snippets don’t disappear for more than two weeks in a row, there likely isn’t a problem with your markup. If you panic and mess with your markup during this phase, you risk sending Google mixed signals about the authenticity of your web pages. If you’re genuinely worried about the correctness of your markup implementation, have someone in the know audit your site for errors before you make any changes. If after 8 weeks or so, you don’t have any Rich Snippets, or if you had some early on but they’ve been gone for weeks, something’s not right. If you never received any Rich Snippets, there could be errors in your Schema.org implementation. If you got some Rich Snippets initially but they disappeared permanently – without your making any modifications to your Schema.org markup – there are a couple of possibilities: If the markup was manual, not automated, there could be what are called coupling code errors; you’ll need a Schema.org pro to sort this out. Alternatively, Google may have tagged your site for suspected nefarious black-hat SEO practices, and the punishment is holding back on Rich Snippets.

This list should be helpful in managing follow-up after implementing markup automation or inserting schema objects via manual markup.