An Introduction to Structured Data for Merchants

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In June 2011, Google, Yahoo! and Bing came together to create Schema.org, a website showcasing a unified effort that aims to ensure the consistency of structured data use across the Web. Merchants can especially benefit from the use of structured data by taking advantage of product microdata, the special content included in a Web page’s HTML that helps define specific details about products available on a merchant’s website.

What is Schema.org, Exactly?
The unified agreement by the three major search engines (especially Google’s involvement) ensures the importance of Schema.org as a tool for webmasters, and means that merchants have no reason not to use product microdata. In fact, those who don’t will most likely be hindered.

Structured data is easy to implement; it’s simply a matter of adding the necessary tags to the HTML and filling in the desired information. It shouldn’t take much time to attach microdata to a single product on your website. Of course, the time it takes to fill out the necessary information for each product and complete the entire task will be relative to the number of products you offer.

Schema.org lists all of the language necessary to include in a Web page’s HTML code that any type of structured data that will be picked up by the search engines, including product microdata. Simply visiting www.schema.org/product immediately takes users to the Web page that details the different markups for product microdata and shows examples of how to implement them into HTML.

What’s the Big Deal?
Structured data changes the way that search engines crawl Web pages, affecting both the information they use and how they present it on search engine results pages. Before, all of the content included in a site’s HTML was more or less classified together, with the exception of meta descriptions, meta keywords and other special content, but now search engines can identify individual pieces of information and display it on SERPs, allowing them to provide user queries with the most accurate results available.

Product Microdata, You Say?
Product microdata, a specific form of structured data, means merchants can distinguish individual products from those on their own Web pages and from competitors based on their unique qualities and characteristics. This helps consumers get the most appropriate product results available for their search queries, and it especially helps merchants because you’re now able to market your products to the most promising consumers to generate more sales and increase conversion rates.

The information encoded in product microdata includes the type of product, the brand, the product category (i.e. “Books-Fiction”), the product description, the name, an image of the product, a review and/or aggregated review data, a product identifier (i.e. an ISBN or UPC number) and offer details for the product.

What Do I Need to Know?
The most important thing about microdata is that it primarily uses three new attributes to distinguish the content in the HTML: itemscope, itemprop and itemtype.

Itemscope creates a new item when the tag is attributed to an element; the descendents of this element will contain information about it. 

The itemprop is used to define the value attributes of the item, and each tag contains specific information such as names or colors being referenced inside the tag. This is the most important tag to understand, because each piece of information about a product (name, price, description, availability, etc.) is included in an itemprop tag.

Finally, the itemtype tag gives items a type, meaning that it provides a valid URL where the vocabulary for an item is defined and its context explained. This helps standardize data markups so that what is being communicated is clearly understood. Items can only have one itemtype tag.

Also important is the itemid tag, which provides the item with a unique identifier.

Keep in Mind …
A term like “microdata” can sound complex, which may turn off some merchants, but in reality it is an easy concept for webmasters to integrate into a site. For ecommerce companies, product microdata ensures that users get the most accurate information about the products most relevant to their searches, and differentiates your company from the competition.
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