When you are paying a Web marketing team thousands of dollars for the development of a new feature for your website, it is remarkably easy to get caught up in details such as the web design of the application or the functionality. These are things that a layman can evaluate on their own, but how do you judge the web development’s effect on your ranking in search engines? Use the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool.
The Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool is a simple form where you just paste in the URL that the application resides upon and it will display any structural information (e.g. reviews/ratings, personal data such as what is typically shown in a vcard or a member directory, organizations, product information, events, etc.) contained on the page. If the Web design was done properly then the effort to include structural information into the design will be negligible, and the appearance of the content will not change. All the structural information does is make it easier for search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. better understand what is going on in the HTML that comprises the Web page, and in some instances allows search engines to provide more useful information on the Search Engines Results Page (SERP). Using structural information of course will not cause a huge jump in your placement on the SERP, it just means that you can test to make sure search engines are getting the right information.
There are three formats for structural information that the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool supports. They are:
Using a microformat is the easiest method of including structural information on a page. It uses the
class attribute that has been present in HTML for a very long time and is available on every HTML element. It uses this attribute to structure conventions such as a person into something they refer to as entities, and each entity has its own properties such as a person’s name, e-mail address, company, etc. Because microformats repurpose the long standing
class attribute microformats can be well understood by anyone that knows HTML, and they can easily be supported by any Content Management System (CMS).
Microdata is similar to Microformats, but they use attributes that did not emerge in HTML until HTML5, and like many things with HTML5 are quite new to many people. Microdata refers to structural conventions using a vocabulary that uses item-value pairs. In July of 2011 Google, Bing, and Yahoo announced the creation of schema.org which are a list of vocabularies that they refer to as schemas. These search engines encourage the use of these schemas for marking up structural information to maximize the web developer’s work. Because Microdata uses new attributes that were introduced in HTML5 it is entirely possible that a CMS may strip out these attributes because it is trying to “clean up” what it thinks is invalid content. Unlike many CMS out there, SiteBrandBuilder does support microdata.
RDFa is a W3C Recommendation whose purpose was to allow RDF subject-predicate-object expressions into XHTML. Effectively, this is a mechanism for embedding XML information into HTML via XML namespaces as attributes to HTML elements. Basically, unlike microformats and microdata which try to mark up content into common, pre-defined structural information, RDFa allows you to create your own type of structural markup (though there does exist agreed upon vocabulary out there for common schemas that are also present in microformats and microdata). Like microdata, RDFa’s use of non-standard HTML attributes means that it is not supported by many CMS out there (including SiteBrandBuilder at this time). My opinion of RDFa is that unless you are already using XML then it is not really beneficial to include this information because of the complexity of implementation involved.
Structural information only needs to be used for content that is the focus of a page. While you can mark up things such as your business address in the header or the footer of every page in your website, it is not really helpful to search engines. They really only care about the main content of the page, and the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool will even warn you that information will not be displayed in the SERP because it is not the focus of the page. I personally include it in such areas just out of a personal preference for seeing it that way (who knows, Google could change their opinion and use it for something in the future and I’d rather have it there and not have it do something then it possibly be able to do something and not).
Feel free to copy and paste the URL for this page into the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool and see what it does. This will give you some sense for what you can do when you extend your content using microformats, microdata, or RDFa.
This post was originally published as How to Evaluate a Web Developer’s Work in Regards to Search Engine Optimization for The BrandBuilder Company.