For several years, Google has allowed webmasters to apply structured data markup on their webpages using standards such as microdata, microformats, and RDFa. In June 2011, Bing, Google and Yahoo launched Schema.org, a new standard for structured data markup. Currently, Google recommends using Schema.org markup, except for a few items for which Google offers a separate protocol (eg Google+ Authorship).
What Is Structured Data Markup?
Structured data markup is code used to identify and label structured data on a webpage, so Google can process and display the data in search results. This screenshot shows code for one type of markup:
The highlighted code above is Google+ Authorship markup code we added to the article How To Pick a Fight with a Panda and Lose. As a result of setting up Google+ Authorship, Google shows an enhanced SERP listing for this article, as shown in this screenshot:
Why Use Structured Data Markup?
Google uses structured data markup to create rich snippets, which are enhanced or expanded listings for your website in Google's organic search results (as shown in the screenshot above). Rich snippets can increase your SERP listing's click-through rate, which translates to more visitors from an existing ranking (see screenshots of the various types of rich snippets below).
For example, a SERP listing with a profile photo from Authorship markup will usually have a higher click-through rate, (see also this case study) but results can vary based on the page/keyword and the specific image used.
Are There Any Drawbacks?
Some SEOs argue that structured data markup (such as Schema.org) is part of Google's strategy to display content directly in search results, meaning users will not need to click through to a website. While this is a valid issue, we believe webmasters should still implement structured data markup:
- If you don't implement structured data markup, your competitors likely will. (In other words, play by Google's rules or Google will find someone else to play with.)
- In many cases, SERP listings with rich snippets have a higher click-through rate. This will usually more than outweigh any negative effect.
- Most types of rich snippets, rather than replacing the need to visit a website, help the user choose which website to click through to. Having rich snippets usually gives you an advantage over your competitors.
- It is important to note that implementing markup code is not a guarantee that Google will always show an enhanced SERP listing (aka rich snippet). Google has an undisclosed algorithm they use to determine when to show enhanced SERP listings.
Which Of These 10 Markup Types Can Your Site Use?
1) Google+ Authorship
Setting up Google Authorship for your content can result in your profile photo and Google+ profile link showing in SERPs, as shown in this screenshot:
Setup: Follow these instructions, linking your content to your Google+ profile, and adding a link to your website on your Google+ Profile. For more details, read this post outlining the two Authorship setup options. Also, review Cyrus Shepard's post on optimizing your Google+ photo for maximum results.
This markup is ideal for any page that is about an individual person. A "people" rich snippet looks like the following in SERPs:
Setup: Use the Schema.org Person markup.
This markup is ideal for sites that promote events, such as sports events or concerts. This screenshot shows a rich snippet TicketMaster has gained by using Schema.org markup:
Setup: Use the Schema.org Event markup.
This markup allows websites to have ratings data (including star ratings) for products appear in Google SERPs, as shown in this screenshot:
Setup: Use the Schema.org AggregateRating markup.
This markup allows ecommerce stores to display product data such as price in Google's SERP results.
Setup: Use the Schema.org Product markup.
This markup is intended for sites that publish recipes, as demonstrated by this screenshot. This markup can be used for recipe sites, as well as blogs, ecommerce sites, and other website that publish recipes on occasion.
Setup: Use the Schema.org Recipe markup.
7) Breadcrumb Navigation
Google uses this markup to include breadcrumb navigation links in SERP listings, as shown by this screenshot:
Setup: Use the Schema.org WebPage markup.
If your site includes videos (whether hosted locally or embedded from an external site), Google may show a video thumbnail for your site in SERPs. Using correct markup increases the likelihood that Google will display a thumbnail and video data.
Setup: Use video code markup along with a video sitemap.
For websites that sell or otherwise provide songs for listening or download, this markup can be used to gain enhanced SERP listings. This screenshot shows how Last.fm uses this markup to gain enhanced SERP listings for artist pages:
Setup: Use the Schema.org MusicRecording markup. You can also use other Schema.org music markups in addition.
10) Organization Details
Google sometimes displays organization details, such as physical address, for websites displayed in organic results. In addition, Google recently announced support for Schema.org logo markup, which is part of the Organization schema. It's unclear to what extent Google plans to use logo markup in search results, although their post strongly suggests that the markup is currently used to help create Knowledge Graph content. It's quite possible that Google will experiment with inserting company logos into some SERPs.
Setup: Use the Schema.org Organization markup, along with a Google Places listing.
Getting Rich Snippets Without Code Markup
In addition to the above 10 code markup strategies, Google may also create rich snippets for websites who have unmarked structured data. You can increase the likelihood that Google will correctly parse your data by using Google's Data Highlighter tool. The data highlighter can be used for:
- Local Businesses
- Software Applications
- TV Episodes
This video from GoogleWebmasterHelp explains how the data highlighter works and how to use it:
How have you used markup to enhance SEO results? What effects have you measured?
Chris Ainsworth is Senior SEO Consultant at High Position, a leading UK based digital marketing agency. With 9 years experience within digital marketing, Chris has a deep technical knowledge of SEO.