Google has recently been testing Pros and Cons annotations on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Displaying below the meta description (the main description of a web page), Pros and Cons is a short list of extra information presented to users to help them make a decision about clicking through to a website. The text highlights some of the good and the bad elements of a particular product based on information that Google appears to extract from multiple sources.
Although Pros and Cons doesn’t yet seem to be widely available, SEO experts have already delved into the new annotation to try and work out exactly what Google is looking for. By understanding when, how and why they appear, website owners can update their content to improve user experience and gain more valuable traffic.
What are annotations?
Usually, when additional information appears on the search results, it’s because it has been coded on the original website as structured data. This includes things like star ratings, images, bulletted lists and product prices. Basically, your web developer has added code to your website that tells Google to highlight certain useful information when the page shows up in search.
Annotations, on the other hand, appear to be picked out by Google without any help from your website code. The search giant uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to compare what’s written on your page with user intention, and then brings those elements together in the results.
It seems that, in order for Google to form annotations, it can use information from multiple sources such as your website, reviews of your products, and mentions on external websites.
It’s worth noting here that we aren’t yet 100% sure that this is how annotations work and how they’re created. The information we have comes from intelligent guesswork and a patent filed by Google in 2021. However, the evidence so far is strong.
Today, I’m focusing specifically on Pros and Cons, but annotations cover a wider variety of other information too.
Are Pros and Cons annotations or structured data?
The answer, as of the 5th of August 2022, is both. Although Pros and Cons started life as annotations, Google now allows some sites to indicate pros and cons of a product through the use of structured data.
However, at the time of writing, Pros and Cons structured data only works on review sites. If you sell products directly, this option isn’t available to you yet, so you’ll want to focus on the annotations.
If you do have a review site, and don’t utilise the structured data, Google may still try to identify Pros and Cons using annotations. Fortunately, it seems that the search engine is quite capable of doing this effectively, picking out accurate and relevant snippets most of the time.
Why optimise for Pros and Cons
Like any of Google’s updates, Pros and Cons annotations are designed to help the user get what they want. Google has an unbelievable amount of data on user experience, intention and behaviour, which it then uses to improve its own results. By keeping a close eye on what Google is doing, you can understand your audience better and improve their experience.
By improving their experience, you make users more likely to visit your site, purchase from you, and become a repeat customer.
Have you ever tried looking for specific information on a product, and had to click through to several different websites until you find the right information? If you buy a new set of earbuds, for example, are they actually going to stay in your ears when you’re running? Will they block out external sound? How does the price compare to other earbuds on the market?
Pros and Cons aims to answer these kinds of question for the user without the need to click onto multiple websites. Instead, the searcher will be presented, on the SERPs, with several results, each with a summary of the pros and cons. They can then scan the results and more effectively pick a website that suits their requirements.
If that website is yours, you’ve not only gained another user, but have obtained a more informed visitor who is more likely to purchase from you.
By providing the information that a user requires, you may also reduce the time you spend answering follow-up queries. And the customer saves time trying to extract this information. It’s a win-win.
How to optimise for Pros and Cons annotations
Encourage detailed customer reviews
Because Google can use reviews to create annotations, detailed testimonials from customers are extremely valuable. Encourage longer, more specific reviews from your customers that will give future customers lots of information.
You can do this by providing an excellent service, of course, but also by telling customers exactly what you want. Don’t just ask for a review, but tell them why the review is important, provide writing prompts, and ask questions that will guide them to include the information you want.
Analyse your competitors
If annotations are showing on search results ranking higher than yours, use this to your advantage.
A higher rank means that a page is more likely to satisfy a user’s needs, so take a look at the phrases displaying in Pros and Cons annotations. Do you provide the same kind of information on your site? If not, consider updating your content.
Write about the pros and cons
If you hope to see Pros and Cons on your search listing, make sure to include some pros and cons within your content!
You might be worried about highlighting the cons of your product, but no item is perfect for everyone. Don’t think of the cons in negative terms. Instead, think of them as a way of filtering out customers that aren’t right for you. By filtering out those customers, you’re more likely to have better overall customer satisfaction and better reviews and reputation.
If you sell similar products with slightly different pros and cons, then direct your users to alternatives if the current product isn’t quite right for them.
For example, if you sell bikes, a con could be the weight of the bike. To some people, that won’t matter at all, but to others – perhaps those who need to carry it up a lot of stairs – it’s very important. The con isn’t an issue with your product as such, it just doesn’t match a particular user’s requirements. But you may have another, much lighter, model. This second model will also have its cons, but they may not be so important to this customer.
Encourage product mentions on external sites
There are all sorts of advantages to having your product mentioned on quality sites. For Pros and Cons, information can be extracted from an external site to provide additional information that may not be found on yours.
For example, you’re unlikely to give a completely unbiased review of your own product on your own site. You want to make sales after all, so you’re not going to highlight lots of negative elements. As a result, you’re not an entirely trustworthy source.
However, if an external site reviews your product, there’s a good chance they can provide a more balanced review. Their pros are more believable because they balance them out with the cons. And that helps users make a more informed decision. If they go ahead and buy your product knowing so much about it, they’re much less likely to be disappointed and leave a bad review.
No product is perfect, and cons just help users find something that’s right for them.
Pre-empt customer questions
Pros and Cons annotations are designed to give a brief answer to a customer question. So find out what your customers are asking and answer them on your website. This not only makes it more likely that effective annotations can be extracted from your site, it also prevents additional emails and phone calls from customers who can’t find the information they need.
Identify key decision-making factors
What makes your ideal customer want to buy a product? Is price their main motivator? Do they prefer slick design? Or maybe excellent functionality is the number one concern. Whatever their decision-making factors, make sure you address these in your content. If your target customer cares mainly about battery life is, and you don’t provide that information, you’re likely to lose a sale.
Find out what users want to know by checking your own customer correspondence. Do certain questions crop up repeatedly? Do any reviews highlight missing information that could have helped a user make a more informed decision?
You can also utilise sites such as Reddit and Quora to analyse user-generated content. Find discussions around similar products and see what the major pain-points and questions are. Then address them on your website.
Write good product reviews
If you write product reviews on your site, make sure to follow Google’s product review guidelines to improve your chances of ranking well in the SERPs.
Use natural language in your content
Because annotations are created using AI, clear and natural language is an important factor in ranking well. If your text is garbled, unclear, or poorly presented, then Google (and your users) may have difficulty extracting the relevant information.
Write naturally – without trying to stuff your page with keywords – in a style that will be attractive and relevant to your customers. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes and ensure the text makes sense.
Look through Google Search Console to discover keywords customers are searching around your product. These will offer some useful clues into the attributes users are looking for. Where possible, update your content to include mentions of these attributes.
Pros and Cons attributes is a relatively new feature on Google search. While we don’t know a huge amount about them yet, there are some strong indications of how they’re collated and how to optimise. User satisfaction is key, and the appearance of Pros and Cons in the search results will enable customers to more effectively pick a relevant site to visit. This means less time wasted for the user, and warmer customers reaching your website.