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How Using Microdata Can Improve Your Website SEO

March 8, 2012
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223074

How Using Microdata Can Improve Your Website SEOSearch giants Google, Bing and Yahoo announced last summer a rare collaboration to support the use of microdata tagging to generate more relevant and more detailed search results. This offers business owners and other website publishers another opportunity to improve their search engine optimization (SEO) by making a few changes to their websites.

While microdata may sound like a foreign language initially, fear not. To help you get started, here's a primer on what microdata is, how search engines use it and why it could benefit your website.

What is microdata?
Essentially, microdata is one of three code languages designed to provide search-engine spider programs with information about website content. To understand how this works in practice, consider the following example provided by microdata listing website 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."

In this case, microdata elements -- also called "schema tags"-- could be added to clarify that the "Avatar" in question is a movie, not a graphic image designed to represent a person online.

Related: How to Build an SEO Team from Scratch 

Why use microdata to mark up your pages?
Integrating microdata into your website's code offers a number of potential advantages. First, microdata can give the search-engine spiders more context for the type of information on a website and the way the site should be indexed and ranked. In the example, adding microdata to mark up HTML code on a web page related to the movie "Avatar" would tell search-engine spiders to rank the page in relation to movie sites, not graphic design sites.

Another benefit of microdata is the creation of "rich snippets," which display more information on the search result pages than traditional listings. For example, a Google search using microdata tags for "squash soup recipe" turns up the following results, including images, reviews and cooking times.

If you were searching for a new squash soup recipe, chances are you'd be more inclined to click on one of these than on a traditional listing that displays only the site's title, meta description and URL.

Related: Three Steps to Optimize Your Website For Google's 'Freshness' Update

Who should use microdata tags?
The Google, Bing and Yahoo partnership has considerably expanded the range of options in the library of microdata tags. Some of the most popular types of microdata include:

Small local businesses, such as restaurants and stores, and online retailers stand to benefit most from the inclusion of microdata. But it can be useful to any business having trouble generating traffic through search results. The microdata tags can help your site get indexed and ranked more accurately, and the resulting rich snippets can help your site stand out from others on the results page and drive more traffic to you.

How can you get started with microdata tags?
To get a feel for what your finished marked-up code will look like, consider the following fictional HTML page for the "Avatar" example:

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Movie">
<h1>Avatar</h1>
<span>Director: James Cameron (born August 16, 1954)</span>
<span>Science fiction</span>
<a href="../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html">Trailer</a>
</div>

In this example, the "movie" microdata tag has been added to the "div" section, specifying that information in this text area of the site refers to a film. The "itemscope" tag tells the search engines that all content in this particular "div" section relates to the "itemtype" defined (in this case, "movie").

For more insight on how to integrate microdata into your site's HTML code, try reading the "Getting Started Guide" on Schema.org. After your coding is complete, consider running your website through Google's "Rich Snippets Testing Tool" to be sure your microdata is parsing correctly and providing the maximum benefit to your pages.

Related: A Six-Step Survival Guide for Search Engine Updates