About a year ago Google did an update to everything under the hood in terms of how the search giant handles search. Google dubbed it the "Caffeine" update.
If the pace of change in the way search results are being displayed is any indication, the effects of Caffeine have taken hold.
Google recently rolled out "snippet improvements for pages that contain lists." Snippets are the bits of text that are below the blue link. You control this for your website using the meta-description tag in the code.
"What sort of pages have lists?" you might ask. Real estate pages. If your real estate website displays search results or "browse-able" lists of property, then that page is a candidate for the new snippets.
This is one of those geeky technical search engine optimization things. The snippets, according to Google, don’t have an impact on your ranking.
But since the snippets are displayed on the search engine result page, the snippets may very well have an impact on whether people click on your link or someone else’s.
In other words, the snippet doesn’t effect whether you are No. 1 or No. 127 in the search engine. But it does effect whether anyone wants to click on your link.
If you’re feeling a little bit like grade school when the teacher says, "You can, but you may not," don’t worry. You’re not alone.
What does the new snippet look like?
The new snippets for pages that contain lists are formatted like the list itself. This means the listing will stand out in a search result page. Here’s what one of them looked like in a recent search:
There are few items to note here:
- The snippet tells about how many list items are on the page (in this example, 25-plus items).
- The snippet reflects all aspects of the list structure (in this example, the number of photos, the address and price are listed).
- The text or meta description becomes extremely truncated (in this example, "Search San Francisco real estate listings for homes for sale and …")
If you were looking for San Francisco real estate this might be more attractive to click on than another search engine result that is simply pulling from the meta-description tag.
Making use of the new list-based snippets: technical stuff
There are a few things to consider if you want to get search results that use the new snippets: One is technical and one is strategic. How your organization makes decisions or implements technology will determine whether you make any headway with this.
Let’s start with the technical side, because that’s the easiest to solve. If you want Google to show the new list-based snippets for your pages, you need to have lists.
This means the code on your website itself has to be written in such a way that the algorithm knows there is a list on the page.
Regular readers of this column know that websites can look one way, but the code under the hood can be written a totally different way. To find out if the page in question has a list you’re going to need to view the source code and search for the "list item" tag: "
If you have a lot of those (and if they are near to the brief descriptions of houses and so on) then chances are good the technical aspect of your site is already handled.
Google says that site content organized in tables will also work, but I was unable to find an example of a tabular data page that showed the new snippet format. So I think going with lists is the way to go for now.
In order to get the items in your list to appear in order with dashes and so on, you’ll need sublists within lists that contain each of the things you want to show up the search.
This is template adjustment work for someone who loves HTML: your coder or programmer, for example. It shouldn’t be too challenging to do, but that always depends on the quality of the original code and content management system.
Making use of the new list-based snippets: strategic stuff
A more important consideration than even the code on your site is how/whether you want to make this happen in the first place.
In order to get the list-based snippet your page needs to be primarily a list. We’re not talking about a three-item list on a page of 800 words. We’re talking a large list that occupies most of the page.
Many real estate websites have a home page that has some sort of message that puts their business in context and doesn’t show much property. Then the marketing team goes out and works very hard to get that particular page to rank for terms that include city, state and "real estate."
Since the home page doesn’t have many listings on it, you’d have to change the structure of how your home page works in order to continue with that plan — getting the home page to rank for those terms.
So if you don’t want to make that sort of change to your home page and you don’t want to change the way you direct traffic to your website, then you’re out of this issue altogether.
It’s worth considering, however, that the primary real estate aggregation sites that typically rank well for the generic city, state and "real estate" search phrase don’t lead anyone to a welcome page — they lead them to a page that contains a well-structured list of property in the city and state in question.
Perhaps it’s time to try to get pages other than your home page to rank for these kinds of searches.