Use Semantic Markup to Boost your SEO

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Semantic Markup & Intelligent Indexation

Before I jump into Semantic Markup, it’s worth briefly examining some of the challenges of search. Words, phrases, and even names can sometimes be so ambiguous, they pose a challenge for search engines to deliver accurate results. Before the advancements of search algorithms, the top result did not always mean the most relevant one.

A great example of this, taken from an NCSU research paper on Semantic Search, illustrates complications a search algorithm may have searching the query Mississippi River Bank. From the large archive of indexed webpages, an algorithm may have difficulty determining the most relevant result to return. Algorithmically, this string could be interpreted as a riverbank in Mississippi, semantically relating to fishing and recreation; or a financial institution in Mississippi, semantically relating to mortgage loans and banking. The latent semantic indexing may look something like this:

Mississippi Search LSI Example

Now, we can more accurately find what we are looking for quickly and easily through the introduction of the intelligent model, the Knowledge Graph, which searches real world entities and their relationships to each other as things, not strings.

Each day, there are billions of people from around the world using Google to find information they need, which in turn results to Google’s Knowledge Graph getting smarter and smarter by storing this information and matching it with the relevant data that it already has. It goes through the natural learning process similar to how a human being does. Knowledge Graph enhances Google search in three ways:

  1. Having a better understanding of language and its intent, which allows users to narrow search results to more closely match their goal. For example, if a user searches for Atlantis, the Knowledge Graph will provide a number of options including the bohemian resort, the movie, and the historical island mentioned in Plato’s dialogues.
  2. It will return a brief summary containing information concerning the user’s search, with active links to the most relevant web pages. This information will reflect general knowledge on the subject, as well as selected facts gathered from the most popular and often repeated related searches.
  3. Finally, it helps users to make new and unexpected discoveries by providing links to information tangentially related to their original search. In this way, the Knowledge Graph allows users to go broader, and deeper, into the subject of their original query.

With the evolution of Google search, we now get rich snippets of the information regarding our query. Semantic markup is a strategy being used to enhance the visibility, attention, and click-through of search results by marking up highlighted aspects and displaying it on the search results page. There are a lot of ways to increase the traffic to your website through various semantic markup techniques. Below, I’ve illustrated some of my favorates.

Google Authorship

There is a certain tag (or query string) that can be added into a page so that the Google search result will not only display a snippet of the content, but also include a picture and name of the author as well. This is called the Rel=Author tag, also known as the Google Authorship markup which links the authors Google+ account to their article. Leveraging this social circle not only gives recognition for the authors hard work, but also give mores trust to the readers and search engines.

Example of HTML:

rel author html

 Example of Results:

Rel Author in SERP

Open Graph

Open graph is a protocol being used to integrate content to social graphs, such as Facebook. Once a webpage is integrated in a social circle, it behaves the same way as the object in the social graph; for instance, gaining the same functionality of a Facebook page. This markup tells Facebook how your shared content is being displayed in their feed in terms of the title, picture, URL, and description of the webpage. You can lean more on Open Graph’s website.

Example of HTML:

Open Graph HTML

Example of Results:

Open Graph Result in facebook

Twitter Cards

Twitter is another social circle that is also commonly used in today’s age. While Facebook uses the Open Graph Protocol, Twitter utilizes Twitter Cards and Expanded Tweets which presents linked content in a much more detailed and highly engaging manor. There are three card types that can be attached onto tweets. Summary, which includes the title, description, thumbnail image, and Twitter account attribution. Photo, which includes a tweet sized photo card. And Player, which includes a tweet sized video/audio/media player card. You can learn more about Twitter Cards on Twitter’s website.

Example of HTML:

Twitter Card HTML

Example of Results:

Twitter Card Result

Rich Snippets & Structured Data

In 2009, Google announced that they would be parsing the hCard, hReview, and hProduct microformats and using them to populate search result pages with what they called Rich Snippets. Rich snippets are indeed more beautiful and attractive to look at in the search results page. This allows content to stand out from the rest by providing more visible information.

Rich Snippets Video

Rich Snippets Playlist

Rich snippets work by extracting data directly from websites and display them more visibly in the search listing. It is a little harder to integrate than other SEO methods but well worth the effort, and is perfect for increasing traffic. Microdata and other formats are used to define specific kinds of content, and can be coded via simple HTML tags, providing descriptive names for important data. Different types of rich snippets require unique installation strategies depending on the category.

Rich snippets can only be displayed in a SERP if Google can understand it, so testing it through Google’s Webmaster Tool is certainly wise. Google also provides a lot of useful information about about rich snippets and structured data. It usually takes time for rich snippets to appear in Google’s search results, so waiting and checking occasionally should be done periodically.

Schema.org

Schema.org is a microdata vocabulary and not a language itself. It is one of the most commonly used markup techniques to highlight your content for an even richer snippet in the SERPs. It has been in existence for a few years now but it seems that the use of it is still quite futile. However, large and small websites are becoming more and more savvy to implementing this markup. There are a lot of benefits in using Schema, especially for creating content that computers can better understand. Lets explore some of the wide vocabulary it offers:

Breadcrumbs Schema
Often left out and undermined by local businesses but is actually very effective in increasing the chance of having your page clicked on in search results by adding additional links, and through clearly defining a clickable path right under the Title in green. It also looks a lot cleaner.

Reviews Schema
Great for getting more visitors by persuasion through reviews in your SERP listing.

Events Schema
This markup is perfect for businesses that have events or special services at different dates during the year.

Offers Schema
This is also a good way to attract visitors by offering coupons and discount though it is still not widely used in Google and Bing.

Product Schema
By using this, your search result will display the price, ratings and availability of your items for a more comprehensive search result to increase your chances of conversion.

Video Object Schema
Incorporating videos on your website is also a great way to be clicked on in the search results with a thumbnail of your video.

Recipe Schema
Recipes get a lot of searches on the web each day making them great to mark up for better search results too.

The above listed are only a few of many, however I find those especially useful to enhance visibility and SEO. You can find the large index of schema.org vocabulary on their site. To make sure your semantic markup is working perfectly, always make it a habit to check it out on a Structured Data Testing Tool.

Example of HTML:

Schema Markup

Example of Results:

Schema Results

Finally, Meta Descriptions may not involve Schema but still extremely noteworthy, as they are the umbrellaed result of how your page will be displayed in the SERP. It’s one of the earliest and longest surviving semantic markup techniques there is.

Tools

After you finish implementing these semantic enhancements onto your site, you can use these tools to check if their coded correctly.

Google Data Highlighting tool
The Google Data Highlighting Tool is their alternative to microdata. By simply highlighting the content on your page and tagging those areas with title, description, author, etc., Google can index this information like it would microdata, and retain it for better search results. This tool is great for the beginning blogger who knows little about HTML, and can use this method in lieu of implementing more advanced structured data markup.

Structured Data Testing tool
Google’s Structured Data Testing tool lets you check your mark up and make sure that Google extracts the structured data from your page and is interpreting it correctly. It will display the markup lifted from the page and give a preview on how it will appear on the Google search results.

Twitter Card Validation Tool
The Twitter Card Validation Tool is used to preview your card and make sure it displays the correct information, essentially behaving the same way as the Data Testing Tool does for Google.

There are so many ways that your content can be highlighted and enhance your visibility in the SERPs. The methods provided above are massively effective in enhancing your visibility and SEO strategy. Remember, search algorithms work the most effectively with structured data. It is absolutely worth your time beginning to incorporate these methods one by one. In no time you will reap the benefits of increased traffic through better rankings and enhanced visibility visibility in the SERPs.


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About Author

Jourdan Rombough is a SEO Expert specializing in Website Visibility & Internet Strategy. He is an SEO Manager at MERKLE | IMPAQT, assisting Fortune 500 Companies with their visibility strategies. More...

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