The days of ranking high in search results with keyword optimization and title tags is long gone. Google now has thousands of ranking factors that determine a company’s place in search. In this article, John Marcinuk, head of marketing at Blue Fountain Media, a Pactera Group, offers insight on the role “structured data” plays and how to utilize it for long-term success in SEO.
THE MODERN CONTENT MARKETER’S BUYER GUIDE
Welcome to the 2019 edition of The Modern Content Marketer’s Buyer Guide. About 10 years ago, marketers realized that content is a critical piece of their pie, and have since been working overtime to generate content to help win the prospect’s attention.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is often dismissed as “trickery,” “not real marketing,” or even “dead.” This trash talk is nothing new. In fact, for as long as webmasters and technical marketers have attempted to win top spots in search results, we’ve heard rumors that the discipline is on the verge of demise. The reality is that the old SEO—with its keyword obsession and bot-first approach—did indeed die out nearly a decade ago. But it did so quietly, ushering in an (albeit slow) SEO renaissance. Perhaps those SEO skeptics are simply catching up to the current state of digital affairs.
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Understanding Today’s SEO
Optimizing for search engines – or, let’s call it like it is, optimizing for Google – is no longer solely about capturing keywords and organic traffic to a brand’s website. Of course, a relevant webpage link in the top position for a business-critical keyword remains valuable. What has changed in the past decade is how we use search engines and how Google has adapted.
Mobile is now the dominant search source. Data like store hours, phone numbers, and reviews appear right in the search engine results. Text answers to questions appear prominently at the top of search results for an increasing number of search queries. If we are to believe that Google is continually improving search experience for its users, it’s clear these moves are no accident. Google is limiting our need to click away from an ecosystem populated with data.
The future of SEO, therefore, lies with the brands that play nice in Google’s ecosystem. Keep in mind: the bots are smart, but they could use your help. While some of the data we see living directly in results pages comes from a brand’s Google My Business profile, other data has been scraped from within the content of websites. For example, a brand could add simple code from Schema.org’s library of structured data to its webpage, providing search engines with a better understanding of how to read page content and then display it in search results. Taking advantage of structured data in this way allows your brand to evolve alongside Google’s ecosystem.
Spotting Schema in the Wild
An SEO specialist working with a frontend developer can make significant progress in instructing search engines where to look for data and what to expect to find. For most businesses, one of the best places to start is with Organization Schema: a company’s legal name, website URL, address, and contact data, all of which can be verified and tied back to Google’s Knowledge Panel in search results. Moreover, by using Organization Schema, the Knowledge Panel can tie social media profiles back to the brand, a real visible benefit in today’s digital landscape. Finally, Google (v.) your brand or your client’s brand from your desktop. Notice what displays to the right of results. Organization Schema can influence a good deal of that key information.
In search results today, Google Answers, otherwise known as “instant answers,” “featured snippets,” or “position zero,” are some of the most prominent examples of structured data in action. A mix of Question and Answer Schema tags can help Google turn on-page copy into rich results in the search engine. Additional opportunities for rich text snippets exist on webpages that detail processes with a “how to” (using HowTo Schema) and Q&A pages on a website (using QAPage Schema). Mobile searches are increasingly displaying Answers text right in results pages so users don’t have to wait for a second click to load.
Additionally, marking up organized events (using—you guessed it—Events Schema) allows for a business’s events and conferences to appear alongside others in a nicely organized table, displayed right in Google Search and Maps. Consider a search query like “marketing conferences in nyc.” You may assume that featured events in the search results are reserved for the big players, but getting featured is quite possible with a bit of research and technical effort.
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Utilizing Structured Data for The Long Term
Using structured data for long-term success means working within Google’s ecosystem to support the company’s stated desire to deliver the best experience for its search users.
Note that there is no evidence to support the use of structured data in improving ranking keywords in search. In the new reality of a feature and data-rich search experience, this shouldn’t be too much of a disappointment. It’s time to break the long-learned habit of keyword obsession. Rich snippet impressions and clicks-through from snippets are the KPIs that a future-focused SEO team ought to be measuring.
A complete list of rich snippet producing structured data, along with implementation guidance, is available on Google Developers. To get a picture of how rich snippets appear for different search types, simply pop those relevant queries into Google search on mobile, desktop, and tablet devices. Imagine the structured data possibilities for your brand or your clients.
When we treat Google like a friend, and when we remember that there are potential customers on the other end of each query, we can better appreciate that SEO is, ultimately, about optimizing our brands for the search engine.