How many times have you heard this before? “If you sell products online, you can have the best-designed ecommerce site on the planet, but you won’t break any sales records if your customers can’t find you in the SERPs.”
While it’s an age-old saw that you need to make your content findable, a huge percentage of retailers don’t know how to maximize product findability. SEOs have been optimizing websites for over a decade; yet, product findability is still a significant challenge for merchants and consumers alike in today’s crowded SERPs.
How can retailers stand out from the crowd and make their products findable?
The answer lies in verified data and semantic SEO technology using structured markup language. When structured markup attributes are added to static and dynamic pages, this gives your content enhanced semantic meaning that will make your offers visible.
However, very few retailers know what structured markup is, and this puts them at a significant disadvantage… Why? Because, without structured markup on their content, they’ll be left behind in the digital dust in the not-too-distant future.
What Is Structured Markup?
Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), coined the term semantic web in the 1990’s, referring to a web of data, interconnected and forming databases online, much like the graphic below from Wikipedia. Linked data is a significant component of the semantic web community, as is structured markup (embedded structured data within HTML pages).
Structured Markup Is Not New
The W3C community has been encoding academic documents with structured markup to make Web content machine-readable for the past decade, as well as commercial documents for the past few years, using many types of structured markup formats.
For example, “rich snippets,” considered somewhat old-news by early adopters, are embedded structured markup on HTML pages that were initially used by Google in 2009 to enhance SERP displays of products, reviews, people, events, business organizations, recipes, local search, videos and images.
Look at what rich snippets can do to a Google recipe listing – you get an image, reviews, cooking time and more. This listing stands out, and you can see why it would garner more clicks.
Many Types of Structured Markup Formats
All of you late adopters, listen-up: microformats are structured markup codes used to identify very specific types of content on webpages (e.g., details about products, people, places, events and more). You saw the recipe listing with its rich description and image. That content was coded with hRecipe tags using microformats attributes.
Other examples of microformats include hMedia (audio-video content), hNews (news content) and hProducts (products), to name a few. By adding these attributes to static and dynamic webpages, you give search crawlers machine-readable metadata resulting in more detailed displays for users in the SERPs.
Another type of structured markup is RDFa, developed by the W3C community and used in ecommerce, biotech and other verticals. GoodRelations, developed by Dr. Martin Hepp, (Professor at University of the Bundeswehr Munich and Hepp Research GmbH CEO) is a Web vocabulary used for product, price and company data expressed as RDFa attributes.
GoodRelations can be used on static and dynamic pages to enhance product visibility in the SERPs, recommender systems and applications, and is now adopted and supported by Google, Bing and Yahoo via Schema.org. Incidentally, the Facebook “Likes” are expressed in the Facebook Open Graph protocol as RDFa.
Schema.org microdata are the latest structured markup formats to become newsworthy. Vanessa Fox wrote about Google, Yahoo and Bing supporting schema microdata in an effort to standardize structured markup across the Web. With microdata structured markup on product pages, retailers can make every important product detail machine-readable by the googlebot and other crawlers.
This, in turn, makes your products findable by consumers. Shoppers will get an accurate and complete description for their queries because microdata markup attributes make offers visible to humans by enabling machines to read underlying content.
The Promise Of Structured Markup
This is the promise of structured markup: search robots will better understand Web content that’s made machine-readable by the markup vocabulary; therefore, when search engines answer queries, they do so with a better understanding of user intent. Shoppers are happy campers because with less effort, they get relevant results they can trust.
Search engines are pleased because they improve relevancy and usability while reducing spam and manipulation. Retailers are delighted because they get more traffic and conversions – but only when they use structured markup to add semantic meaning to their product pages.
This is not black magic folks, and far from black hat SEO. It’s strictly 100 percent compliant white hat, and Google will be glad to give top visibility to pages encoded with structured markup attributes because the googlebot then knows what the content is really about − it’s verified data.
Not only that, this makes Matt Cutts’ and the Spam Team’s job easier on a scalable basis as structured markup can eliminate a lot of manipulation that is currently taking place to gain high rankings.
How Can Retailers Achieve Findability?
Most of you understand the principles of white hat SEO, which are based on a good understanding of what the search bots want from a technical and editorial point of view.
Starting now, you’re going to need good structured markup on your X/HTML in addition to your white hat tactics. I see structured markup as being equally important to authoritative inbound links as a ranking factor when optimizing content.
Why? Because search robots are designed to serve search engine users by matching their search query expectations, known as user intent. These bots are machines, and they’re trying to discern the human mind’s evaluation of information in answer to human-entered keywords.
To do that, the machines run a very complex algorithm that weighs the value and interaction of many different factors. And while machines have increasingly improved their answers to search queries over the years, users still get a lot of irrelevant non-specific results.
Semantic markup on your static and dynamic product pages provides content meaning so the machine can do a better job of understanding all the details of your product pages. At the same time, a multitude of inbound links tell the machine this is a good site because a lot of authority sites link to it.
These two things together are going to differentiate your site from those that don’t have semantic markup and powerful links. Therefore, if you focus on these two factors when optimizing your site, this will improve your products’ findability. Structured markup is another step forward in helping search crawlers satisfy user intent.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.