Last week, SMX East experts shared structured data tips, but one panelist got an earful from Google over potentially bad semantic markup advice.

There are a number of benefits to applying appropriate markup code to your brand content. At the recent SMX East 2013 Expo, New York Times Lead Architect Evan Sandhaus listed three:

1. You get rich snippets in SERPs (and more search real estate)

2. You get superior tool support (on places like commenting platforms, in vertical search, etc.)

3. You get better analytics with semantic metadata

Sandhaus is not just an expert about structured data, he also helped design and implement rNews, a data model that created an industry standard for information contained in online news stories. This helps search crawlers understand the value of different content, such as the title, extract, photo, author and text body. Previously, publishers used their own systems of marking up information and left it up to search engines to interpret and display it properly.

Semantic markup for more accurate crawling

The model, rNews, was designed to align with Schema.org – the collection of schemas that help search engines understand pages and provide more information in results pages. For instance, supported markup can alert crawlers if the page contains:

  • Reviews
  • Authored content
  • Products
  • Music
  • Videos
  • Recipes

By using the proper codes, webmasters basically have more control over the way Google understands and displays their content, stated Adobe SEO Manager Warren Lee.

“[It] provides clues and contextual information, which eliminates mistakes during crawling,” added Chris Silver Smith, President of Argent Media. The better Google (or any other search engine, for that matter) understands the content on the page, the greater the chances it will rank well for targeted key terms and attract qualified traffic.

Rich snippets for prominent search presence

Adding markup for rich snippets increases the chances that content will rank in search, but it can also help brands score more SERP real estate. Smith asserted that by increasing the number of links in search results, brands’ content becomes more eye-catching and thus, tends to earn higher clickthrough rates. In some cases, he has seen his clients’ CTRs rise between 15 and 20 percent after adding schema.org markup.

Watch your back: Markup isn’t always Google-approved

Smith suggested that companies also add markup for other types of content to increase their search presences. For example:

  • Adding snippets for pages that contain music
  • Creating markup for corporate logos
  • Aggregating reviews for product pages with similar items

“You’re not helping Google to understand product pages. If you have product pages with reviews and you aggregate reviews, it’s considered spam,” said Far.

However, this isn’t necessarily seen as best practice in Google’s eyes (or potentially its search crawlers’, either). Session attendee and Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far commented that it’s against the search engine’s quality standards to aggregate information for product pages.

“You’re not helping Google to understand product pages. If you have product pages with reviews and you aggregate reviews, it’s considered spam,” said Far.

Of course, he added that if Google flags rich snippets as spam, publishers have the chance to revise their markup to regain search exposure. And there are vast advantages to using structured data correctly and transparently to enhance SEO campaigns.

How do you use markup for SEO gains?

1. Use the data highlighter in Webmaster Tools (However, Smith cautions that this should only be used on static pages because it can break if webmasters make updates to content.)

2. Use an HTML markup tool – this provides markup for you and adds rich snippets to all of your data items, according to Lee.

3. Design your snippet code on Google Developers’ platform.

4. Test it using the Structured Data Testing Tool – this feature shows how Google interprets and will display the information in SERPs.

While some snippets are questionable in Google’s eyes, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. If you rely on white hat practices that are transparent rather than deceptive, adding markup to your content will only help you build a stronger SERP presence and improve your content ROI.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.