Structured Data: Make Your Listings Pop
Google’s most recent algorithm update, Hummingbird, has made it more important than ever to provide structured, easily indexable content to the search engines. As Google expands its knowledge graph to deliver more rich, contextual data in search engine results pages (SERPs), website maintainers and builders need to constantly consider how to make their content stand out when simply ranking high for a set of keywords will no longer be enough to entice users to click.
Fortunately, Google has provided a set of tools and documentation to aid site builders in enhancing their content and making sure search engine spiders are able to glean as much structured information as possible. These can come in the form of authorship, rich snippets and specialized sitemaps, all of which can increase content visibility in the SERPs.
Authorship is a great tool because it not only adds to the visual appeal of a search engine listing, but also ties the content to its author. Aside from the listing being more visually interesting, this can contribute to click-through rates because the user is given the opportunity to connect with the author and the content.
The person behind the content is a key component of authorship. The only caveat is that the author needs to have a Google+ profile with certain settings configured to allow some public visibility. Like anything else, it’s important to consider this as early in the content planning process as possible because there are a couple different ways to implement authorship, depending on whether or not author profiles will exist on the site hosting the content. For more details about the specifics of setting up authorship on your site, check out our tutorial.
Rich snippets are similar to authorship in that they allow content to be visually distinct and, hopefully, more useful in pointing users to the content they’re looking for in search results. Currently, Google supports rich snippets for everything from reviews to products to video, but check out their documentation for the most current list.
Each content type has its own set of microdata attributes defined by schema.org, so that information relevant, and specific to, certain content can be structured appropriately. Google also supports structured markup in the microformats and RDFa styles, but they recommend using microdata because it “strikes a balance between the extensibility of RDFa and the simplicity of microformats.”
Sample microdata taken from Google's documentation.
Microdata can be implemented at any point since it can be as simple as adding attributes to existing HTML content. However, for a new website build, microdata should be considered in the content planning and modeling stage to take full advantage of the entire set of attributes for a given type of content. Not to mention, well-structured content can contribute to the success of a website far beyond the realm of SEO.
In addition to structured markup, Google accepts specialized sitemaps to aid in indexing video, news and a few other types of content. These sitemaps can be created and submitted through Google Webmaster Tools in the same way that your main sitemap would; you can even create a sitemap index file.
Like a standard sitemap file, the point of specialized sitemaps is to aid crawlers in finding and indexing important content on your site. However, the focus is placed much more on the content and its unique features, rather than the page of the site on which it lives.
Shakeups like Hummingbird will continue to drastically change the SEO landscape, making it vital to take full advantage of the tools we’re provided to stay on top of the search game. The focus is shifting from keyword research and link building to well-written, intelligently structured content, which, if properly leveraged by the web community, will be a positive change.