How will Schema.org, GoodRelations, & Rich Snippets impact the web?

By Alex Giebel, SEO Analyst

Schema.org just got a huge boost in popular opinion by including GoodRelations tags in its vocabulary this past month. Many people envision this type of semantic mark-up to have the power to turn the entire search process on its head. However, this technology is still in its infancy and the jury is still out on how and, perhaps more importantly, when, it will impact the future of search.

But what does that mean for the average web developer/marketer/SEO? Well, at this point, we have all seen rich snippets rendering on search engine results pages but there is much more to it than that. Crawlers are using this data to build a more complete picture of a site’s content by adding context to the sites that they are crawling. By including details in the source code of a product page like UPC numbers, related items, or a simple “isAccessoryOrSparePartFor” tag, developers can give crawlers the ability to deliver even more targeted results to consumers, without violating one’s privacy.

Unfortunately, as with all new technology, there are some barriers to innovation. The first is, although some of the biggest search engines agreed upon the mark-up process and vocabulary; they are not yet displaying all of their semantics on SERPs. For instance, if you mark up a product page with review, offer, and availability semantics, it will most likely render. However, other tags may not render with the same prominence. Another drawback is that although crawlers on the back end are utilizing this data, it is not yet beneficial to users beyond SERP visibility. That, however, is rapidly changing.

Sure, a user may know the difference between a [recorder] that captures audio and the [recorder] we all learned to play chopsticks on in the third grade but how could a crawler figure that out? Ultimately, this technology is pushing us closer to a more open web, where users can vary their search using multiple metrics. The addition of GoodRelations semantics in Schema.org mark-up is yet another way developers are adding more granularity so that crawlers can learn the intricate differences between products too.

Sure, one can add adjectives and modifiers to the afore-mentioned terms but then you are forcing the user to do the same thing. Think about Mom & Dad getting a list of supplies on back-to-school night. If they go online to buy little Johnny a [recorder] for music class, are they going to think to add the term [instrument] to the end before the click search for the first time? Probably not. However, what if they were able to identify the fact that they were looking for kid’s products, back to school supplies, or musical instruments without changing the text query? With rich snippets from Schema.org, identifying terms, specifications, and references intrinsic to specific products could open up a new world of ecommerce possibilities.

So given the time it takes to for technology to be adopted by the masses, when should one begin to optimize their site for additional semantics? Ultimately, the answer to that question lies in knowing one’s target audience, the business’ objectives, and the opportunities that exist in the market. That being stated, whoever got ahead by lagging behind? Get out there and get tagging!

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