The Optimized Publisher: Structured Data Markup

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The Optimized PublisherIn the old standard “Over the River and Through the Woods,” a trip to Grandma’s house exposes our noses and toes to the elements over an arduous journey by sleigh. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a shortcut to Grandma’s that allowed us to get there faster without exposing us to frostbite?

In 2009, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Yandex introduced schema.org, a shortcut for search engine spiders on their way to indexing your website, to help them better understand the location and attributes of the content on your site. This shortcut relies on “structured data markup language” and can be found in the HTML code of a website to explain the products and content to search engines. Quite an important shortcut indeed!

As an SEO factor, “structured data” is probably more on the advanced side. But there are specific items for the publishing industry that make this an important factor to consider implementing.

Structured data markup is still fairly new, and many of the independent publishers that we reviewed have not integrated it into their code (only two of our participants are currently using it). That is the reason for such low scores for this SEO Factor (an aggregate score of 1.4, or an “F” grade). Fortunately, there are some great tutorials to help you add this shortcut to your site and book catalogs.

Structured Data Markup

How the Structured Data Markup Shortcut Works

When schema.org was created, Google and the other search engines defined a “vocabulary” that would apply to information found within a website during indexing. This vocabulary was integrated into search engine algorithms to help them better understand the information on the page, enabling them to correctly categorize the content on the page in their indexes. For example, one of the schema.org items is “creative work,” such as a book or a song.

An item matching the vocabulary can be easily identified by a search engine and, through the use of structured data markup language in the website code can provide further information in the results. Some information can even be displayed in detail on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), improving your individual results and your click through rate (CTR) for your website pages. How does it do this?

By identifying a book as a creative work or book in the structured data markup, you now have access to additional signifiers that help further define the book and its attributes in the search engine index. Per schema.org, a search engine can find book details such as author, title, number of pages, genre and much more as long as the information is “marked up” and marked up correctly. This helps search engines identify your books as books and potentially gives users some extra information in their search results.

Structured Data Markup Examples from Our Participants

As I stated above, only two participants in our analysis of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for book publishers are currently using structured data markup (as of the date of our analysis). I hope these examples from Xist Publishing and The Doomsday Kids will show that providing a shortcut for search engines is worth the investment. You will probably need to get an SEO expert and/or a knowledgeable developer to implement structured data, but it will be well worth it.

The Doomsday Kids website uses the creative works schema for the books in its catalog and integrates the attributes for “book” into its HTML code. For the title Nester’s Mistake, the structured data markup includes title, author, book formats, ISBN numbers, publication date and additional information. We’re going to get a little technical here and look at the actual code for the page. I’ve bolded the attributes that are defining the book on this page for the search engines.

Code

Google has provided a tool that will let you test the structured data on your page, which can be found here.

While it’s great that Doomsday Kids has taken the time to implement structured data on its book page, when we run the page through Google’s tool, it comes back with five errors that it found in the structure of the code. Looking at the code, however, there are actually more than five. So Kudos to Doomsday Kids for implementing structured data, but its developers need to go back and fix the code.

The page is shown in the search results as:

nesters

For this title, the structured data markup identifies the item as a book, letting the search engine know to classify the item as such and not another sort of creative work or product. It also tells the search engine the attributes of this book (author, title, etc.). However, one thing that is missing is the presentation of the information in “rich snippets.”

If you look at another SERP listing for the book, you will see the following search result:

nesters2

Rich snippets present specific attributes of your books within a search result. In this case, you can see the added review stars, rating and the number of votes for the review—attributes that might help a user interested in this book make a decision about clicking on the link and then purchasing it. Google currently supports rich snippets product information and reviews (among other areas), which can contribute greatly to CTR for a website. A 2011 report shows that businesses that present structured data markup in rich snippets saw a 30-percent increase in revenue.

Xist Publishing features the book Mi Gato Es Gordo/My Cat Is Fat in the fiction picture books section of its website. To make this book page easier for search engines to read and understand, Xist is using structured data markup in the HTML code. But instead of using creative work, Xist identifies the book as a “product,” which comes with its own set of possible attributes, including:

Code

This book appears in the search results in the following format:

migato

As you can see from the example of the HTML code and its SERP listing, Xist is using the structured data markup to signal a shortcut for the search engine. It also displays some rich snippets: the price and availability are listed in the result description. However, by identifying the schema for products instead of creative works, Xist is missing out on a lot of attributes that they could include in its code that may then be featured in the search result: author, genre and book ratings, for example.

The Knowledge Graph

Another possible benefit from using schema.org and the corresponding structured data markup is something called a “knowledge graph.” Using data gleaned from indexing and user experience, Google and other search engines can take that information and present it as a separate section within the search results (usually found on the right-hand side of the page). This additional “search result” is perfect for independent book publishers whose potential customers are searching by author or subject name.

For example, searching for Mark Twain brings up a lot of information about the author: images, lifespan, a short bio and a list of books written by/about him. This includes Letters from Hawaii, a book by one of our evaluation participants, University of Hawaii Publishing. Clicking on the links provided in the knowledge graph could bring potential customers one step closer to purchase.

So how can a publisher take advantage of the knowledge graph? Follow structured data markup and schema.org integration on your website so that search engines know your book catalog and roster of authors .

Note: It should be mentioned that not all authors show up in the knowledge graph. A subject/author must be a known entity in order to appear.

Schema.org: Shortcuts for the Right Reasons

Search engines are not able to make the same decisions as people and/or come to the same conclusion or solution. Using schema.org and the corresponding structured data markup gives search engines the best directions available to locate information on your site and present it to potential customers. Without these shortcuts, books can be categorized incorrectly, possibly not even as books at all, with the information essential for purchase relegated to the bottom or back pages of SERPs (exactly where you don’t want your books to get lost).

Google has some great tools for integrating structured data markup into your website code, as do the other search engines. However, some of these changes to books in your catalog may be complex and will probably require the assistance of an SEO expert and your developers. Still, based on the benefits of structured data markup language, it is a worthwhile investment that helps search engines find your content more easily.

Our next post takes possible shortcuts to the extreme. I’m talking about page load speed next and the importance of giving search engines a quick route to your site pages. Please join me on our next road trip to SEO success.

Have you implemented any structured data on your site? If so, let me know in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “The Optimized Publisher: Structured Data Markup

  1. Thad McIlroy

    This is a wonderfully articulate description of the benefits of schema.org for book publishers. The subject, as you acknowledge, is complex, and you’ve rendered it with just the right amount of simplification without drifting into inaccuracy. In a perfect world, publishers will learn how to create a path to schema.org alongside their broader commitment to rich and timely metadata.

    Reply
  2. Charles Been

    Hi Murray, This post is really awesome to read and somewhat different to my field. as a digital marketer i read it first time and my mind gone lots of thinks around. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Reply

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