Semantic Markup: Adding Context To SEO

The Internet world has been up in airs the past few weeks in response to Google’s recent changes. And the changes this summer were quite large indeed! First, we learned that we no longer have access to full keyword-level data for our Organic traffic. Then, Google announced that they have moved to a whole new algorithm named Hummingbird, which focuses on context over exact match keywords.

In combination, these two changes make one thing abundantly clear: the Semantic Web is here to stay. Fortunately for SEOs and webmasters, semantic markup provides us with a vehicle to suggest context to the search engines directly.

Defining Entities with Semantic Markup

When we mention context, there is a need to identify entities for the search engines. Semantic markup allows us to designate a content type, or entity, that should then be indexed and ranked for a particular type of search.

Let’s look at some of the best ways to provide context via entities using semantic markup.

Authorship

Authorship markup has been a topic of discussion for a long time now, and many of us have already adopted good authorship practices. Why is this important? At the core of content marketing, the single most important entity that ties together disparate pieces of content is the author, assuming they are all written by the same individual.

Once Google knows who you are as an author, there are several benefits. First, you will be more likely to rank for topics in which you specialize. Second, you will be more likely to show up in SERPs for your Google+ connections.

Most importantly, this type of semantic markup enables your content to show up on the SERPs with a rich snippet that shows your headshot from Google+. This has been shown to boost CTR in the SERPs by up to 150%. Below is a sample of my own listing in the SERPs with the rich snippet (headshot) included:

Semantic Authorship Markup with Rich Snippets Tommy Landry

Events

Similar to Authorship for an individual, you can add semantic markup to events that are represented on your website. Although this markup does not result in as rich of a snippet as Authorship, it does allow Google to show a listing of events within the SERP details itself. Below is an example of how this looks on a SERP when marked up properly.

Semantic Markup for Events SERP Sample

Videos

One of my favorite semantic markup opportunities, and one that far too many of us overlook, is the ability to markup videos. This results in a very rich looking snippet, and can also push new content to page 1 faster than you might think.

YouTube comes standard with video markup if you are less technical. Post your videos there, and it will show the rich snippets when it comes up in the SERPs.

For those of you who are more adventurous and comfortable with the code part of the deal, you can benefit from having your videos show up in searches similar to the Disney video below. Again, rich snippets are helpful in increasing CTR, in addition to possibly pushing you up the rankings above other text-only content.

Sample Semantic Markup for video: Disney

Products & Reviews

Did you realize that there is semantic markup for products? Sites like iTunes include this markup as a standard practice, in addition to semantic markup for reviews. Together, these two schema can help you show up with rich snippets for reviews/ratings and also rank better for product-related searches.

The screenshot below came up second on the SERP for “Magic Egg”, right behind a YouTube video with full video semantic markup in the first place. On this same SERP, we also found a second video with rich snippets halfway down the page and another text listing with Authorship Markup toward the bottom of the page. In other words, 40% of the SERP had rich snippets, so this stuff really works.

Semantic Markup for Product - Magic Egg on iTunes

Local / Place

Aside from establishing a Google Places presence for your business, did you realize that you can also add metadata to your site to mark it up with details about your company? Whether you choose to dive headfirst into local SEO or not, you should absolutely consider adding semantic markup for your location and business details.

Although this markup does not overtly drive any rich snippets, it does affect your ranking for location-based searches or queries about your business information. Some of the details you can markup are address (Postal and Street address are both available), region, state, business hours, geographic coordinates, company name, and even your logo.

Read more about the LocalBusiness category of semantic markup.

Other Semantic Markup to Consider

The above are some more common uses of semantic markup, but there are many more options you should consider. Here are a few of the other areas that may or may not apply to your business and/or website:

  1. Recipes – That’s right, you can designate that a piece of content is a recipe and it will impact how and where it appears in the SERPs.
  2. Testimonials – Using the semantic markup for reviews, you can influence whether Google grabs a snippet from the testimonial itself to show in the SERPs. Even though a custom meta description normally appears, this can sometimes replace the meta description when Google is doing a contextual match, and the content of the customer quote matches the query better than the page itself.
  3. Offers – If you make offers on your website, for example provide coupons of some sort, you can mark it up using Offer Markup. As of now, there is very little impact on the search experience based on offer markup. That said, if the search engines advocate for it, you can safely assume that they have plans to use it eventually for ranking and SERPs.
  4. People – For individuals in the company who are not authors, you can still mark them up as a person of interest. This is typically done on the Executive / Leadership page, and can help a website rank for the names of these individuals. This is especially useful for searches such as “Tommy Landry Austin TX”, where people and local combine to show the most relevant result from your site.

Summary

Although this post highlights the impact of semantic markup, it is important to understand the code and syntax required to properly markup your own websites. For more information on the specific technicalities of semantic markup, the best resource online can be found at schema.org.