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Today, I spotted a website using the character '★' to highlight their meta description. Their snippet certainly caught my eye and I expect it to work for many other, less web-savvy users as well.
These characters serve a purely presentational purpose and I guess their usage will not make google's SERPs look much better. As such, I would expect Google to rather frown upon using this form of snippet decoration. However, the site in question is ranking #3 for a very competitive keyword...
My question really, is how does google really look upon sites using special characters like '★' to attract additional eyeballs? Because if done in moderation, it might just give you a small additional edge.
Snippets are supposed to grab attention. You can put prices in them, superlatives, 'free' and other attention grabbing things. They're not used by Google for rankings so they're not spammable.
Of course, it's an 'arms-race' technique, but if you're one of the first then you could grab extra eyeballs until others in your niche start doing it.
CTR affects ranking
Woah there. CTR on organic SERPs does not affect ranking as far as any test has ever shown. Just want to clamp down on that one.
I agree that there is no reason to crack down on it, except its a bit like the dollar auction*. If they allow it, the logical result is unusable SERPs, horrible user experience. They might stamp on it, or render it as the string "★" (as opposed to the character)
Dollar Auction [en.wikipedia.org]- An example of a series of perfectly rational decisions, but with an undesirable end result. Objective analysis would show the "most rational" decision would be to avoid the game
If special characters in snippets become widespread I don't see Google rendering them as the plain html - that really WOULD make for messy SERPS. They could just ignore certain ones. But hey, they could just ignore links they don't like too. That's not their style though is it?