One of the SEO failures many enterprises make today is not taking advantage of semantic markup - the code that's written to define the context of the content enclosed within it.
While the use of semantic markup doesn't guarantee that a website will improve its search result position, there are most definitely some interesting benefits. Sites using semantic markup increase the chance that information from their websites will appear on search results as rich snippets - that's big.
Since these listings are more noticeable to users, they receive more clicks (in theory, of course) and carry the potential to provide value to digital enterprises by way of a higher click-through rate (CTR), which many suspect is now a heavily weighted factor in ranking.
But the use of Microdata and semantic markup is almost woefully underutilized.
BuiltWith reports that just 2.5 percent of the top 10,000 websites were using Microdata and just 1.2 of the top 1 million sites as of mid-Feb. 2013. There's obviously an opportunity here, but knowing where to begin can prove overwhelming. Getting started is always the hardest part, so consider the following use cases, and how they could be used within your website for the benefit of your organic/natural search marketing efforts.
An important note; implementing semantic markup requires some moderate-to-advanced coding skills. It's difficult, if not impossible, to properly express how to apply the appropriate code so within each section, users are directed to sample snippets for further explanation. In addition, the Getting Started Guidance section below profiles two services for easier semantic markup.
Believe it or not, meta descriptions were actually one of the initial uses of semantic markup in digital history. Despite playing a dominant role in the discussions and actual efforts of SEOs for many, many years, countless enterprises still fail to take advantage of the opportunity. While it's true that search engines now rely less and less on meta descriptions, including them is important if only for some backup search engine result page (SERP) insurance.
There are of course, far more advanced uses of semantic markup that your enterprise should start seriously considering, from products to events testimonials to video.
Enterprises selling products can also get on the schema markup bandwagon and not just traditional physical goods merchants. Information publishers can sell whitepapers, ebooks or special paid reports, for example, by using the Product Schema to display elements including price, ratings and even availability (if it's a tangible product). This markup element supports numerous properties, such as those for similar and related items, as well as offers - each of which could prove particularly effective in combination with marked-up products.
Not every member of your enterprise plays a publicfacing role, but those that do (e.g. if profiled on an "about" page, such as an "executive management" team) should absolutely receive the semantic markup treatment. Schema.org provides a specific markup for individuals which can help individual listings appear far more credible than without. For example, properties under the Schema for Person include such useful information as organizations they are affiliated with, educational institutions they are alumni of and awards they've received.
One of the most accessible types of semantic markup is authorship markup, a feature available through the official Schema that enables authors, writers, bloggers, etc. to feature richer profile information including personal photos, the pages they've authored, and more including a link to their Google+ profile page). Authorship markup has exploded in use over the past few months, and provides a fast and relatively easy way to dress up those often traditionally dull listings on the search results.
Website Magazine has written extensively on the topic of authorship markup, but as the Web search results become richer and richer, those enterprises that fail to profile key players in content marketing initiatives will find they've lost trust and likely sales as a result.
By far one of the least used types of semantic markup is that which accommodates testimonials and reviews. Users reviews, as discussed in this issue's Ecommerce Express article, are a powerful means by which enterprises can influence the purchasing behavior of prospective customers. Using testimonials in your marketing should be on the minds of every SEO - using the Schema.org markup for reviews is a compelling addition to listings.
While the promotion of (or even attendance at) actual, real-world events may be out of the realm of possibility for many enterprises, those that do engage in the marketing tactic have an additional exposure opportunity on the search results pages thanks to the schema markup for Events.
Google gave the Web marketing community a gift in Dec. 2012 with the release of its Data Highlighter (available within Google Webmaster Tools accounts). The tool enables users to tag data (name, location, date, etc.) for events that are listed on a website to create structured markup and rich snippets using a simple point-and-click method.
If you have a video featured on your website, it too can have the semantic markup treatment. Using Schema.org's VideoObject provides SEOs an opportunity to include information that can help the search engines understand what the video is about. Google has long provided video sitemaps, and that approach certainly aids in efforts to crawl and analyze video content, but support for VideoObject takes helping Google understand what video content is about several steps further.
During the development of this article, several resources were discovered that help those interested in schema markup to actually create the code that can be included on their website properties. Check out both Microdata- Generator.com and Schema-Creator.org - both of which enable users of their free services to enter the data and copy and paste properly.
Search engines are actively beginning to include more of this information within the search results. As to what the future will hold for semantic markup, well, that depends greatly on whether digital media workers see the benefits and take the time to do so.