Last month I took a look at how SEO has evolved over the past decade. In that article I touched upon the concept of structured data, sometimes referred to as rich snippets. While the term structured data has come to have several definitions over time, from an SEO standpoint, it refers to special coding you place within your HTML tags that help search engines better understand the content on your page. Previously, search engines had to refer to words found on your page. But words alone without context may have several meanings. The query [rotten tomatoes], for example, could be used to describe something in my refrigerator or a popular Website for movie reviews.
Structured data are simple, (mostly) standardized data formats for organizing and better describing the content on your site's pages. For example, if you write a blog about a restaurant, it has properties. It has a location (address), a phone number, hours of operation and so on. If your blog post is a review, that review could also be a property. If you give it a star rating - like most MP3 players allow - that star rating becomes a property. When you insert these microdata elements into your webpage, they become rich snippets of data that search engines can read and interpret.
As you can see, there are several elements of rich data present. An address, that is not only listed in-line, but also plotted on a map. There's a phone number, hours of operation and even a notice stating the establishment is open today. The last element, in-line with the date and phone number indicates how expensive the restaurant is. The more dollar signs, the more expensive the menu items are.
Rich Snippets For Everyone!
Even if you're not writing restaurant reviews, you can still use structured data. Any business with a local presence (storefront) can benefit from the localBusiness tag. If you sell any products, you want to use the product tag, which includes color, brand, model, logo, weight and many other descriptive elements.
If nothing else, now is the time to get your business on Google+ and use authorship markup. Similar to star ratings, reviews and price ranges, whenever you see an author's face next to a search result listing, it is the result of authorship markup. It is helping Google and other engines prove identity and original authors of content.
Sometimes referred to as microformats, structured data comes in many flavors. The names of these include, but are certainly not limited to:
Schema.org is a joint effort between Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask launched in 2011.
Getting started is quick and easy. You can find documentation on the websites of each of the respective formats. If you use a content management system (CMS), you can likely find a plug-in to assist you. There are certainly several structured data plug-ins available for WordPress.
If you haven't started using structured data, this is the year to do it. Wait no longer. Early tests already suggest that sites using authorship markup are getting a boost in rankings above those sites that do not. Even without a boost in ranking, having extra data attached to your listing in the search results certainly makes visitors do a double-take on the result. It gives them a better sense of trust that the listing has more of a connection to the real world. Rich snippets not only have ties to search, but also to Facebook's Open Graph. Isn't it time you started marking up your pages?