Feb 25, 2015

Define Your Website with Semantic Markup

As search engines have evolved, so has the process of getting your website indexed and ranking well on them. It’s no longer possible to add some keywords to your website and expect it will be returned in search results when someone searches using those terms. Search engines today return results based on what they interpret the searcher’s query to mean, rather than by just picking out certain “key” words or phrases.

In addition to the changes in how search engines work, you may have also noticed that there have also been changes to what some search results look like. You’ll still see the standard ten blue links and ads above and beside those links, but depending on what you are looking for, you may also see a carousel of results above the paid/organic links. At other times, you may see a large area of formatted details about your topic on the right-hand side of the page (above any ads). Some of the data for these additional pieces on the results page are gathered from business directories, but a majority of it is pulled from the search engine’s collected of data (Google’s Knowledge Graph is one source).

Here are some examples of what you might see in Google and Bing search results:

Example of Knowledge Graph results displayed in the right sidebar of search results.

Example of part of a Google Carousel displayed above organic/paid search results.

Example of part of a Bing Snapshot.

Search engines are able to collect data from websites on their own based on their interpretation of its content but to help them interpret content correctly, semantic markup can be added. Including semantic markup on your website is fairly easy and you can cover the largest search engines (including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!) all with one set of markup called Microdata.

So what are the most advantageous areas to markup on your site? Think about what you want searchers to know about your site. Here are some of the content areas that I believe meet this criterion:

  • Information that identifies your business.
  • Information that answers questions about your business.
  • Information that details the products and/or services you offer.

Now that you have an idea of what to markup, how do you do it? Semantic markup is additional code that is added to your existing HTML markup. There are several really good tools you can use to get details about how to mark up your pages as well as verifying that your code is correct once you’ve added it. Here are my suggested tools for getting started with semantic markup:

  • schema.org – The site provides background information on semantic markup, details of each available schema (set of data you can markup), examples of how to use the schemas.
  • Structured Data Testing Tool – If semantic markup has been added to a page you can use this Google tool to verify your code is correct. The tool will display the markup it has found on a page and what the markup represents.
  • Structured Data Markup Helper – If you want a little more help determining the code needed to markup a page, try this Google tool (it requires a Webmaster Tools account). You enter the URL and make selections by highlighting portions of the text on the page. Then specify from a drop-down what type of data it is and you can see the code you will need to add to you page and where.

There are still many websites that have not taken advantage of semantic markup. So, why don’t you take the plunge and get the upper hand on your competition?

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