Structured Data Mark-Ups for SEO: What I Learned at Searchfest 2014

by on March 25, 2014

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SEO is perhaps one of the most recognized and problematic words in digital marketing.  What really is SEO?  How do we measure it?  What’s included in SEO when it’s offered as a service?  What all does it encompass? Search engine optimization is what a majority of digital marketing is, right?  No matter what channel we’re operating in, we’re usually working to optimize our site, our content, our brand, for the Internet.  Until search engines go the way of the dinosaur, SEO will remain the ways in which we get our online properties in front of the right audiences at the right times. 

“Structured Data for SEO” is the 2nd session I attended while at Search Fest 2014 and it was all about semantic SEO.  I’ve heard the term “semantic SEO” for a while now, but I really didn’t know much about it going into this session.  For those of you who don’t know what semantic SEO is, simply put it’s sending detailed information about your content to search engines so that those search engines can easily process that data and understand what that content is.  In order to understand this current cantation of SEO, Simmonds explained that the evolution of SEO has evolved with the evolution of indexation.

The Evolution of Indexation

  1. Crawling
  2. HTML Sitemaps
  3. Directories
  4. XML Sitemaps – locations, 2005 (Images, Video, News)
  5. Structured Data – where we’re at NOW.

Why structured data now?  Simmonds put it simply, “Search engines are dumb.” They rely on cues to tell them what content is on a page.  Simmonds then explained that SEO today is three parts execution and one part future-proofing.  This means that while Google might not use certain data right now in terms of assigning SEO value, they may begin to in the future, and so letting Google have access to all that data upfront helps you stay ahead of the curve as SEO continues to evolve.

Simmonds had conducted a series of tests for determining the value of certain structured data mark-ups, here’s a quick overview of those tests:

Methodology (to test SEO) – metrics to consider:

  • Seasonality makes it really hard to look at data YOY
  • Speed of discovery/indexation
  • Format time (schema, microdata, RDFa, etc.)
  • Traffic increase
  • Sustained traffic
  • Domain authority

Tactics:

1. Authorship – Filling out Google+ profile, connecting to CMS for authorship/picture attribution in SERPs.

Factors that affect SEO – at the content level:

  • Authority of the site
  • High quality content
  • Domain longevity
  • Varies based on query

Factors that affect SEO – at the author level:

  • Reputation
  • Quality of content
  • Authority of site contributing to – guest blogging is ok!  Just don’t do it for links, make sure it’s quality content.
  • Varies based on query

Not a huge impact, and should not be a top priority, but is still important.

2. Online Reviews (product specific)

In this test, Google picked this up really fast, there was a quick spike in traffic at the very beginning of implementation, then it returned to normal levels, but looking at YOY there was a 100%+ increase in traffic.

3. Recipes 

When searching with highly specific search queries (using general search, not advanced), the snippet/structured data disappears.  If something gets screwed up somewhere else in your site, it can strip your structured data/rich snippets.  Rich snippets, if paired with a high authority site, don’t necessarily matter.  However, they’re still important.

*Use schema – quickly indexed.

Results:

  • Authorship: slow-medium, sporadic appearance, minimal traffic impact
  • TV reviews: fast indexation, slower appearance (seasonality) medium traffic impact
  • Product reviews: fast indexation fast appearance good traffic impact
  • Recipes: fast indexation, fast appearance, minimal traffic impact
  • Article: difficult to track, doesn’t require schema – favors big brands good traffic impact
  • Video: fast indexation, very fast appearance – significant impact.

Takeaways:

  • It’s early in structured data – and SEO is always changing
  • SEO is one checkpoint in many
  • Structured data mark-ups may help you standout
  • Future proofing is important
  • Google wants as much data as possible
  • Video and product reviews rank really well with structured data mark-ups
  • YOY is a more valuable reporting dimension than MOM

Tools for Structured Data Mark-Ups:

At this point the second presenter Aaron Bradly took over with his “Approaches to Structured Data for SEO.”  His presentation was really interesting, but I’ll sum up the best of the best with these 10 takeaways:

  1. “Schema.org is a vocabulary in progress, but taking off.”
  2. “Providing consistent data is important for connected entities: approaching resources as things with properties helps to ensure consistency for all data consumers.”
  3. “Verification precedes trust in your data, formally verifying your corporate or personal identity is a trust building measure for data consumers.”
  4. “Merging keyword and entity research covers more bases, think of keywords being one of the properties of an object, instead of what a web page is about.”
  5. “Remember shopping feeds are a type of structured data too, properly encoded and managed feeds are critical for ROI on advertising and impact other areas as well.”
  6. “Identify and embrace new data optimization opportunities.”
  7. “The revolution may not be evident at first blush – people may be overwhelmed at first as everything happens in the backend, there’s no front end difference.”
  8. “Structured data on the web is fairly revolutionary, and the impact of a thoughtful structured data strategy is greater than the sum of its constituent benefits.”
  9. “The change in the digital landscape is exceptional, and recent – search engines are starting to figure out how queries relate to relevant content.”
  10.  “Enumerate once, declare properties multiple times: by approaching resources as types the focus is on the data and to whom it is useful, rather than on any given protocol.”

Methods of “Declaring Your Stuff”:

  • Contemporary structured data markup (Schema.org –microdata, RDFa, RDFa Lite, JSON-LD – open graph protocol, twitter cards)
  • Legacy structured data markup (data-vocabulary.org, microformats) – dead vocabularies, only use to update what’s already been created in this lang.
  • XML provided data (product feeds, sitemaps, RSS)
  • Specialist structured data DCMI (GoodRelations)
  • Data provided by verified identities (google authorship)
  • Semi-structured data (rel=canonical”, href lang.)
  • Structured data’s little helpers (ex: Wikidata)

Questions & Answer Portion:

Q: How does HTML5 Markup fit in here?

A: Nothing but positive results for companies they’ve seen do it.  HTML5 is the backbone of microdata.

Q: KML impact on local SEO

A: The quickest way to get updates across listings, update the KML file, quick updates.

Q: What about people trying to game markups?

A: Google tries to match the query with semantic markup, penalty = removal of your rich snippets.

A: Don’t fill rich snippets with irrelevant keywords, they can remove all of your sites rich snippets as a penalty.

Q: What about video site map vs. XML site map

A: Do both.  Video sitemaps are extremely effective – but the data needs to included in the backend, don’t just create a video.

Q: Migrating data vocabulary sites to schema.org?

A: Don’t do it unless you need to.  You can add schema markups on top of other markups/languages.

Related Posts:
Video Marketing: What I Learned at Search Fest 2014
How to Get Found Online – 5 Tips to Improve SEO
Press Releases Online: The Truth About Their SEO Value

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