Highlighting Your Way to the Top

February 19, 2014

By Kristina Zaremba

Ever wonder how Web marketers get their products to appear in Google Shopping?

Google’s shopping, map, news and image searches use structured data to serve users these special result sets. Structured data refers to pages webmasters have marked up on the backend with tags to describe each content field for search. On a product detail page, for example, structured data can help search engines index a product’s name, brand, price, color(s), size(s), image(s), description, customer reviews and more.

This markup information not only helps the product appear in specialized search sets, such as Google Shopping, but also helps the product surface in regular searches, regardless of the engine, by supplying detailed information about the item that search bots can understand. So, a product page that uses structured data will have a better chance ranking for long-tail queries—such as “Nike, blue running shoes, women’s size 7″—than one without markup, because structured data enables search engines to better parse a product’s specifications.

Leveraging Structured Data
Structured data gets content in front of users who might have otherwise filtered it out by refining their search results. In the product page example, without structured data, the page won’t appear in Google Shopping and, therefore, will never rank for users who use this advanced search function. Even if users don’t consciously choose to use Shopping search, Google is now integrating results from its other search properties into its regular search results page by serving video, image, map and shopping results along with Web results whenever relevant to a user’s query.

Therefore, it’s important to leverage structured data to help content appear in more searches—thereby maximizing impressions and awareness. Structured data comes with an added bonus, as well, by enhancing the appearance of pages in search results by generating rich snippets.

Snippets are the descriptive text blurbs that appear under every search result. A rich snippet is any search result that appears with extra information, such as a thumbnail image, star rating, runtime (for a film), or cooking time (for a recipe). Rich snippets look much more appealing and can help increase clickthrough rates by helping content stand out on a noisy search results page.

Structured Data in Mobile 
Structured data may become more important as mobile search continues to grow. According to Mobile Marketer, mobile search will generate 27.8 billion more queries than desktop search by 2016. Google recently updated its algorithm to better process conversational queries, or searches posed as a question, due to the popularity of voice search among mobile users.

In some cases, according to Mobile Commerce Daily, mobile searchers may be closer to converting than desktop searchers. Researchers found mobile searches about restaurants had a 90 percent conversion rate; 64 percent converted within the hour. Applying structured data to pages may help search engines provide better results for mobile searchers’ queries, especially those related to locations.

Coming Together in the Name of Search
Bing, Yahoo and other search engines use structured data to inform their search results, as well; which is why these normally competitive search engines decided to work together to create universal structured data tags. The result was Schema.org, a wiki of all of the structured data tags and content types currently recognized by the major search engines.

Search experts have been using the Schema.org markup to add structured data and craft rich snippets for several years. Brands can add Schema.org markup to their product details, brick-and-mortar locations, blogs/news, recipes, mobile or Web apps, events, or user-generated content pages.

But Schema.org markup must be hardcoded into pages manually. While many free online tools can partially automate the process for some content types, adding Schema.org markup to your site may seem like a time-consuming and confusing task.

Enter the Highlighter
Now, implementing structured data is easier than ever thanks to Google’s Webmaster Tools Data Highlighter. To enable webmasters to easily and quickly implement structured data on their sites, Google has introduced the Data Highlighter as a free WYSIWYG tool designed to add markup to pages about products, articles, business and restaurant locations, events, movies or TV episodes, book reviews, apps and more.

To begin using Data Highlighter, log in to or set up your site in Google Webmaster Tools. Expand the “Search Appearance” drop-down menu in the left-hand navigation, then click on “Data Highlighter.”

On this page, you can watch a video about the Highlighter or skip right to the tool. Enter the URL of the page or set of pages you want to add markup to. (Pro-tip: the page(s) must be in Google’s index to be eligible. If they’re not, try uploading an XML sitemap and make sure it includes the non-indexed URLs.)

The page will render in Webmaster Tools, so you can easily highlight the important content fields with your cursor, then label them appropriately with tags such as Name (or Title), Date, Description, Price, Image, Address and more. Within minutes, the markup will be ready to preview.

If you’ve selected to mark up a set of pages, the Data Highlighter will automatically generate a preview of markup for the remaining pages in the set and ask for corrections. This method allows you to mark up an entire set of similar pages in a matter of minutes. While this may be a lot easier and faster than hardcoding HTML, keep in mind that information marked up using the Data Highlighter will only appear in Google searches, not Bing or Yahoo ones (Hardcoding Schema.org markup is the only option that works with all three search engines at the moment).

Once completed, you can review and manage the appearance of your structured data pages for Google in Webmaster Tools. Structured data pages will begin appearing in Google searches with rich snippets almost immediately.