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Google’s Hunger For Structured Markup
Google is keen for structured markup — to put it mildly.
In the not-too-distant past, I wrote about Google’s Data Highlighter for event data, a tool which allows webmasters to indicate structured data for events without having to actually mark up the site’s HTML code. It has the charming feature that the resultant extracted data is viewable by the webmaster only in Webmaster Tools in the Structured Data section; and, of course, the data is available to Google itself.
As there is no actual structured markup ever placed on the page (i.e., no schema.org, microdata or any other markup), the information is extracted via human-guided machine learning and possibly other techniques. This extracted/consumed information resides internally in Google and is not available to any other search or social engine for consumption. Thus, my question at the time was, “Is Google Hijacking Structured Markup?” As you read on, you will certainly realize the answer is affirmative.
Google Structured Data Markup Helper
While perusing the new types of structured data supported by the Data Highlighter, I came across a far more interesting tool — a means Google is giving webmasters to add structured markup to their sites.
The Google Structured Data Markup Helper is actually a pretty cool tool. It allows you to enter a URL and then highlight on-page elements for which you would like to generate structured data markup, automatically mapping them into the appropriate schema.org vocabulary with guided direction as to the relevancy of that element in the schema.org ontology. To test it out and illustrate how it works, I used this product page as an example.
To start, I selected “Products” from the options above, entered the product page URL, and clicked “Start Tagging.” This brought up the screen below: the schema for “products” and its associated data items appeared on the right-hand side of the screen, and the webpage itself appeared on the left.
In this environment, you can highlight any page element — when you do, a drop-down menu appears from which you can select an identifier (Product Name, Product Image, Price, Brand Name, etc.) from among available schema.org markup. Once selected, this information populates within the “My Data Items” pane on the right. On my example page, you can see in the screenshot below that I indicated the brand name (“Rolodex”) and the price (“$21.90”).
(Also of particular note for you data quality folks out there (and I am presuming this is anyone who is involved in Google Shopping at a minimum): note that the date on which the price is verified above is recorded.)
After tagging all the page elements you’d like to annotate, click on the “Create HTML” button in the upper right-hand corner. This generates a new version of the source code for the page, with the added microdata markup (highlighted for your convenience). All you need to do is add the highlighted HTML markup to your page as shown. Very useful and elegant — and, unlike with the Data Highlighter tool, you actually do get the schema.org markup physically on your page (and thus viewable by other search engines, your Chrome plugins, etc.).
Another point worth observing is that Google gives you a choice of two formats. “Microdata” is selected by default, and “JSON-LD” is provided as an alternative option.
I was pleasantly surprised to see this, as I find it JSON-LD a far more elegant solution (see the JSON-LD code displayed below).
(For the record, Google does state that it prefers microdata for web content.)
As a final note, the Markup Helper supports a range of schema.org markup, but not all of schema.org’s data types. The types supported can be seen in the figure below, and more information can be found here.
Changes to the Google Data Highlighter
The Google Data Highlighter, found under the “Optimization” section of Google Webmaster Tools, was recently extended to support more than just events. As you can see, the new data types supported by the Data Highlighter are identical to those supported by the Structured Markup Helper.
There are clearly many other tools on the market that enable webmasters/users to generate structured markup for their webpages. However, the fact that Google has released two different tools to do this makes it clear that it intends to lead the charge (or at least be at the forefront) of the proliferation of structured data markup on the Web.
Google is definitely “hijacking structured markup” using the Data Highlighter, since this information is not consumable by the standard semantic Web community tools; so, its official support of JSON-LD within the Structured Data Markup Helper (an announcement of formal support to the semantic Web community) while simultaneously expanding Data Highlighter functionality is an interesting juxtaposition of events.
- Be sure to place semantic markup on your pages — search engines will continue to leverage this information to enhance SERPs, presumably in ways that searchers will find useful.
- Try to keep current with the latest supported microdata formats and schema.org markup (as well as other vocabularies supported by Google, such as GoodRelations).
- There are many tools on the market to generate static annotations using schema.org and microdata.
- Be on the lookout for commercially available tools that can dynamically interpret HTML pages in real time and apply relevant semantic markup.
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