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Why you should be using Microdata for SEO, increasing CTR and Social Media

Why you should be using Microdata for SEO, increasing CTR and Social Media
James Phillip
29th October 2014
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Why you should be using Microdata for SEO, increasing CTR and Social media

What is Microdata?

Microdata is an HTML specification used to nest Metadata within existing content on web pages. Typically, Metadata is reserved for the "head" of a web page only and as such cannot be added into the body of a page, however with Microdata you can now add important Metadata to the content of the page. This Metadata can then be used by search engines, web crawlers, and browsers in order to provide a richer browsing experience for users.

Below is a quote taken from schema.org

"Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag. For example, <h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string 'Avatar' in a 'heading 1' format. However, the HTML tag doesn't give any information about what that text string means -- and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user."

Why use Microdata?

So why exactly should you use Microdata? Well for a start it’s easy to implement, and offers several really attractive benefits for the business, and more importantly, for the end users. ‘Rich snippets’ are a great example. A ‘rich snippet’ is an enhanced listing where more details can be provided to the end user about what your website has to offer. For instance, if you have an eCommerce, your products can have a star rating, average review score, price, stock indicators and even a before and after sale price. You may be wondering how this might look but don’t worry, we have included a handy example below, courtesy of Google.

An example of microdata

'Rich snippets' merely scratch the surface of what is possible with Microdata. Another primary benefit is that search engines can understand your content by providing context for it. Traditionally, if you were to produce some content about 'Avatar', Google would have to refer to the context of the page to understand if you were talking about the movie, the TV show or just avatar images. You can tailor Microdata to ensure this is clear and that your pages are ranked for the keywords that matter.

One of the other big advantages of Microdata is that it allows other services and websites to utilise your website’s data meaningfully. Pinterest has recently introduced a feature called 'Rich Pins' which allow you to do just that. By adding Microdata to your product information, if your product is pinned, it will display product information right there on the pin. This makes your pins more attractive and engaging to end users and results in more traffic through to your website via social media. Twitter has recently introduced a similar feature, and Google is implementing Microdata in their own shopping platform. It's only a matter of time before other social media sites follow suit.

So, how does Microdata work?

We have already established that Microdata works by injecting Metadata into the body of the website, but what exactly does that mean? Imagine a product on your typical eCommerce website; we will now take you through three examples for the same product: What the user sees; what the browser and Google see; and what the browser and Google see with Microdata:

What a user sees

Superga 2750 Cotu Classic - White
An image
With an extra strong, fully breathable pure cotton upper the timeless 2750 is a lightweight.....
£45.00

The above is a typical product information summary. You can see brand, model, image, description and a price; this is what you would expect to see for each product at a basic level.

What the browser/search engines see

<div>
	<h1>Superga 2750 Cotu Classic - White</h1>
	<img src="img.png" alt="Superga 2750 Cotu Classic - White">
	<p>With an extra strong, fully breathable pure cotton upper the timeless 2750 is a lightweight.....</p>
	<p id="price">
		£45.00
	</p>
</div>

Now, the above looks quite different to what the user sees; this is the HTML code that determines the content of the page and, along with the CSS files (not shown), how it will be displayed by the browser. It has tags which denote images, headings, text etc. but no clues as to the context.

What the browser/search engines see with microdata

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Product">
	<h1 itemprop="name"><span itemprop="brand">Superga</span> <span itemprop="model">2750 Cotu Classic</span> - <span itemprop="color">White</span></h1>
	<img itemprop="image" src="img.png" alt="Superga 2750 Cotu Classic - White">
	<p itemprop="description">With an extra strong, fully breathable pure cotton upper the timeless 2750 is a lightweight.....</p>
        <p id="price" itemprop="offers" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Offer">
         <span itemprop="priceCurrency" content="GBP">£</span><span itemprop="price">45.00</span>
       </p>
</div>

This may seem daunting at first, but if we break it down piece by piece we can see that each new tag is simply describing what our content actually is, rather than relying on context to do that for us. Just in the heading, ‘Superga 2750 Cotu Classic White’, we have allowed search engines and other websites to recognise what the brand, model and colour are without any additional effort.

From the above example, we can see it is clear how much more information has been provided to Google. Previously, Google would just read all the text inside the tags, and try to determine the context by relating the words to each other by previously recognised patterns. By providing contextual information directly in a machine-readable format, we take the guesswork out and allow search engines to rank our products on the criteria that really matter, making it easier for users to locate your products and resulting in higher traffic through search.

A encompassing between a search result with and without microdata

Above, you can see the difference in two Google listings, identical except for the inclusion of Microdata. Straight away, we can identify that we are looking at a product, that it has a great rating, and what the likely price range is for this product. Compare this to the second listing, which is a lot less eye-catching and does not provide as much meaningful information within the search results themselves.

Although we have mainly discussed the implications for eCommerce selling here, Microdata can also be used for many other types of content such as books, movies, places and recipes.

The draw backs to Microdata

The only drawback to including Microdata is that it does add to the ‘bulk’ of the page a little, as you are asking the server to store and retrieve slightly more content for each page. The overheads of the additional code required on a typical page are absolutely marginal though, and should not affect the user experience at all.

So should you use microdata?

The benefits of adding Microdata to your website for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and as a method to drive an increase in the click through rate (CTR) to the website are clear. With the additional benefits provided by the uptake of social media sites, it's clear that Microdata has a bright future in this constantly evolving industry. As the web moves closer to the 'Semantic Web', Microdata is and will continue to play an important role in providing context to your content, and we foresee a future where something seemingly as trivial as the tone (sarcasm, serious, shouty) of a particular word or article can be portrayed to enhance the user experience.

So if you have managed to stay with us during this ramble, why not get in contact with mtc today? We have a whole department dedicated to marketing websites which specialises in everything from SEO, PPC, Google Shopping to Social Media. We have the track record and client base to prove we are one of the leading SEO and website marketing firms in Dundee, Edinburgh and who knows, maybe the whole of Scotland, UK, The World, we'll let you decide :).