Google’s new snippet control markup, which it announced in a September 24, 2019 blog post, will begin rolling out soon. The company announced this via its Google Webmasters Twitter account:

It also made an announcement via its Search Liason Twitter account:

The rollout will start in "a few days" and will be fully live by October 24.

What’s Changing?

Basically, website owners can now opt their content out of appearing in snippets displayed by Google in search results.

Google is introducing a new HTML attribute as well as content website owners and marketers can add to a page’s robots meta tag in order to better control how their content is previewed in Google search results.

The robots meta tag is an HTML tag that’s added to the <head> attribute of a page (so between then <head> and </head> tags) or specified via the x-robots tag in the HTTP header. It gives instructions to robots such as search engine crawlers regarding how to crawl and index a page.

New robots meta tag attributes

The new content for the robots meta tag are:

  • "max-snippet: [number]": Specifies a maximum character count for a page’s snippet in Google results.

  • "max-video-preview: [number]": Sets the maximum duration, in seconds, of a video’s preview. You can see a video’s preview in search results by hovering your mouse over the video’s card in the carousel:

    Video carousel preview

  • "max-image-preview: [setting]": Specifies the maximum size of an image preview shows in Google search results. This new attribute recognizes settings of “none”, “standard” or “large”.

If you don’t want your content to appear at all in your pages’ snippets, you can still use the existing "nosnippet" command.

You can use these commands individually. For example, if you have a video and want to limit the preview time to 5 seconds but don’t care what text Google uses for the page’s snippet you could use a robots meta tag like this:

<meta name="robots” content=”max-video-preview: 5”>

However, you can also combine these new attributes to better control a page’s snippet. So you could, for example, limit a page’s snippet to just 25 characters and reduce the size of the image preview:

<meta name="robots” content=”max-snippet: 25, max-image-preview: standard”>

New data-nosnippet HTML attribute

Webmasters can use the new HTML data-nosnippet attribute to directly markup their content to prevent it from appearing in a page’s snippet. This attribute works with <span>, <div> and <section> HTML tags:

<p><span data-nosnippet>I don’t want this text to appear in Google’s search snippets.</span></p> But I don’t mind if this text does appear in Google search results.

In this example, the text that appears between the <span> and </span> tags won’t be used by Google when it displays a page’s snippet in search results. The text that appears outside the tags can be used.

Structured data, rich results and featured snippets

It’s important to note that these new controls allow webmasters to control their content in Google search snippets only. All content that is marked up using structured data such as schema.org or microformats is eligible to appear in rich results.

If you want direct control over what content can appear in Google’s rich results, you need to change the content within the structured data markup, such as the ingredients contained in a recipe.

And while Google won’t look at the new snippet commands when creating SERP features such as featured snippets, you can indirectly impact your content’s eligibility to appear in these results.

Because Google’s SERP features require a minimum amount of content that’s eligible to appear in snippets, allowing too few characters can eliminate your site from consideration for featured snippets.

So while you can prevent your site from appearing featured snippets by using the new "max-snippet: [number]" command or new HTML data-nosnippet attribute, you can’t make some content unavailable for search snippets while still having it possible to appear in featured snippets.

Why is Google Introducing New Snippet Controls?

Basically, Google is doing this to avoid paying licensing fees to European press publishers to show their content in search results in France.

Earlier in 2019, the European Union reformed its Copy that gave publishers the right to ask Google for money to display their content in search results. France then wrote these new rules into law. So now French news publishers have the right to copyright licensing fees from Google, Facebook and other tech companies that display previews of the content on their pages.

However, Google has said they’re not going to pay licensing fees and will instead stop showing preview content in search results unless the site publishing the content opts into it.

These new commands are how websites can opt into having their content appear in search snippets.

What You Should Do Now

How this impacts your website will depend on what type of site you have, where you’re located and who your audience is.

Obviously, European press publishers who target users in France will be potentially heavily impacted by this change. These websites faced with basically 2 options:

  • Refuse to opt into preview content using these new commands introduced by Google

  • Opt into allowing Google to show snippet content by using these new commands

While it might be tempting to go the first route and try to get copyright revenue from Google, bear in mind Europe’s largest newspaper publisher tried in this in Germany and saw their traffic drop by 40% from Google.

For websites not in Europe that don't care about appearing in search results in France, you can use this to have some control over how your content is shown in search results. However, it's not mandatory and your content will continue to show in Google's search snippets.