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Making Your Site Search Engine Friendly with Microdata April 11, 2014

Traditionally, structured markup has been found in three main forms: Microdata, RDFa, and Microformats. Webmasters worldwide continue to choose the one they think is most appropriate for their site, but a rare collaborative effort between Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft (aka Bing) in the summer of 2011 brought us schema.org, a standard, industry-wide markup schema for websites to convey data to search engines. This format is arguably king, and in this post, we’ll explore what it is, why to include it, and how to use it.

What Is Microdata?

First things first: Microdata is a sort of compromise between microformats and RDFa, both of which have been used in the past to achieve similar goals. Microdata allows webmasters to convey important information to search engines by including specific tags, which are outlined at schema.org (although traditionally they have been found at http://www.data-vocabulary.org. For example, a business can specify their name, address, phone number, and more. They can even specify what type of business they are: LocalBusiness, Restaurant, and Tourist Attraction are just three of the options provided by schema.org.

By including microdata to tell search engines about their business and website, webmasters make it easier for these search engines to analyze their site, figure out how the site relates to certain keywords, and display information about the site to searchers. Search engines can then also include this information in their search results in the form of rich snippets, which are bits of detailed information that appear below a search result.

Why Use It

Since this is a search-engine-sanctioned technology, it should go without saying that it can be beneficial as far as SEO. Bing seems to give the most weight to microdata, but the exact extent to which each SE algorithm actively promotes sites with microdata is unclear. Regardless, structured data can at the very least boost your CTRs by making your listing stand out from the rest of the page. For example, FoodNetwork.com and AllRecpies.com have done great jobs of incorporating this into their websites: search for virtually any recipe (try “squash soup recipe”), and you’re likely to see listings from at least one of those websites, complete with thumbnails, ratings, reviews, and even prep time and calorie content in some cases.

Impressive, yes, but also eye-catching. Bounce rates may also decrease, since users viewing on your result have more information about it and are able to better determine if it’s what they want prior to clicking. In short, microdata=increased CTRs + decreased bounce rates=better rankings=more traffic.

Making Microdata Work for You

Now that you know what microdata is, you’ll want to incorporate it into your own website. Schema.org provides fairly straightforward info for implementation, but here are few more tips to help you get going:

• Before you do anything, read through schema.org’s Getting Started page to familiarize yourself with the concept.

• Make sure all pages with microdata have DOCTYPE set to be compatible with the HTML5 format.

• Make it scalable. Look for plugins if you have a CMS platform, or use a tool like Dreamweaver to do a site-wide find and replace when possible. Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin is a particularly good one for sites using WordPress as their CMS.

• Use the free structured data testing tool provided by Google to check that all your information can be extracted correctly, and to see what it could look like on the web.

• Don’t get crazy. As with any other tool, microdata has the potential for abuse – and related search engine penalties – so always label items honestly. Although you hopefully won’t push it to this limit, Webmaster Tools now sends Rich Snippet abuse warnings, so you’ll know if you’ve gone too far.

• Understand that schema can be a scary word to developers. At SMX East this year, Benu Aggarwal recommended avoiding the use of the word “schema” with developers, and also to give them guidance rather than simply tell them to implement it. Mark up a sample page or two to show your developers what you’re looking for, and let them work from that.

The Inevitable Expansion of Microdata

The future of microdata is still unclear, and as with most search-engine-related technology, it has already fallen prey to black-hat SEOs. However, as time goes on and search engines appear to value this information more and more, it has become clear that microdata – or any markup format – is a valuable tool in the arsenal of any SEO.

Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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