With no shortage of retailers on the
Web today, merchants are finding
it difficult to market their products in
the natural listings of search engines,
such as Bing and Google.
And in the hopes of getting their products
to stand out on the search engine
result pages (SERPs), merchants are
turning to sophisticated product microdata
integrations as part of their search
engine optimization (SEO) practices.
For the unfamiliar, product microdata
is a type of structured data that allows
merchants to better define and distinguish their
products (based on qualities and characteristics) from
those of their retail competitors. Consumers, as a result,
are able to discover products listings that are
most appropriate for their unique search query and
merchants can market their products (more effectively)
to interested buyers.
Merchants use product microdata in a variety of
ways, primarily in product feeds and on reviews. These
days, however, there is a growing need for more detailed
and granularly specific product-based vocabulary.
Of course, growing reliance on microdata markup
is having an impact on the way merchants approach
SEO — and the way many are building their digital
presence from the beginning.
The “Good” News for Merchants
Last year, Google, Yahoo! and Bing joined forces to
help develop Schema.org, a site that provides webmasters
with a set of guidelines for utilizing structured data (including product microdata) based on a
unified agreement between the three search engines
and others, including Yandex. However, Schema.org
has proven to be insufficient for many e-commerce related
For those interested in a markup language with
more of a focus on merchants, several years ago
Martin Hepp developed a standardized vocabulary, or
“ontology,” known as GoodRelations. It is meant to
simplify product microdata usage for retailers, while
also increasing the visibility of their products in search
engines, as well as recommendation systems and
Hepp’s goal with GoodRelations has been to offer
an industry-neutral data structure, one that is equally
valid across the different stages of the value chain, and
to be syntax neutral. This means it should work with
microdata, RDFa, RDF/XML, Turtle, OData, GData,
JSON and more.
To do this, Hepp followed the Agent-Promise-Object
Principle, which correlates with most industries
that use four simple entities to represent e-commerce
scenarios: an agent (e.g. a person or organization), objects
(e.g. products) or services, a promise to transfer
the rights to the object or provide the service and the location
of the offer.
Markup languages do more than just show rich
snippets to search engines. They indicate the relevance
of a page for a specific query by allowing webmasters
to include a different layer of information for search
engines, which could result in a higher page rank
when it is a relevant match. This can include a store’s
location, the countries it ships to and the payment options
it accepts. GoodRelations gives retailers the opportunity
to not only improve their Google ranking,
thanks to greater data specificity, but it also makes it
possible to include pricing information in Google
search results, allows for data reuse and gives retailers
the ability to preserve as much of the data semantics
and structure as they have at the origin.
The Future of Merchant Microdata
More than 10,000 Web and e-commerce companies, including
major brands like Best Buy, Sears, Kmart, Volkswagen
UK and many others, already use GoodRelations.
Big business’s widespread adoption has led both Google
and Yahoo! to recommend GoodRelations for publishing
structured information about a merchant’s products or
services, with Bing also indicating that it will add
GoodRelations support to its crawlers in the future.
Unlike Schema.org, GoodRelations was specifically
designed to be used by retail brands, as opposed to
a broader range of websites. Its vocabulary focuses on ecommerce
scenarios, such as business, store, product,
offer, warranty, payment, delivery and other information.
This enables merchants to identify their most valuable
data and share it with consumers that are using search engines
to find a specific product or service.
Surprisingly, there is very little overlap between the
GoodRelations and Schema.org vocabularies. A minimal
amount of Schema.org and GoodRelations’ classes
cover the same entities. Consequently, online retailers
that are utilizing product microdata without referencing
the GoodRelations vocabulary may be missing valuable
opportunities to increase the visibility of their
products or offers. That being said, merchants can combine
GoodRelations and Schema.org to maximize the
impact of their markup; and, the two are currently devising
a way to integrate GoodRelations into
Schema.org’s core — so stay tuned.
The use of e-commerce-specific microdata will likely
become the norm for SEO-conscious merchants. So how
can merchants get started with GoodRelations?
Good to Have GoodRelations
For interested merchants, there are a number of ways to
implement GoodRelations. Those using popular Web
shop applications (e.g. Magento, Joomla/Virtuemart,
WordPress/WPEC and others) can download free extension,
modules or plugins that add GoodRelations RDFa
for semantic SEO, which is the simplest way to incorporate
the ontology into your e-commerce store. If a software
package doesn’t offer a GoodRelations extension,
users can ask their platform providers to add it using a
special “recipe,” which comes with free support from
On the other hand, users can also integrate
GoodRelations vocabulary the old-fashioned way using
various HTML patterns. On the GoodRelations wiki site
(http://wsm.co/RBBCn8), users can copy, insert and customize
the patterns of additional HTML markup into
their Web pages. Of course, the customization part is essential,
as that is what identifies each product or page as
unique to the user’s business. Then, all they must do is
add links between the patterns and modify the header information
of each respective page.
The wiki site offers three distinct pattern classes for
a “Company,” “Product/Offer” or “Shop, Restaurant or
Store and Opening Hours” to add to a Web page. It also
provides code for adding links. This allows users to link
an offer or product back to the original company or
from the company to its stores, shops and restaurants.
Finally, it provides copy-ready code for updating
XHTML/HTML page headers, including a minimal solution
and code for XHTML 1.0 Strict, XHTML 1.1,
XHTML 1.0 Transitional, HTML 4.x and, of course,
As you can tell, utilizing GoodRelations can be a relatively
simple process that, like using other types of structured
data, increases in complexity based on how much
information you want to expand upon (e.g. how many
products or offers you have).
E-commerce-specific product microdata will no doubt
become an area of considerable interest to online merchants.
They should make it a priority to provide search
engines with unique information for a better shot at appearing
(high) in the rankings for particularly relevant
queries. As merchants try to stand out on the Web, they
should know that the ability to display their products to
the most interested consumers is doable by using a retailspecific
markup language like GoodRelations.