Structured Data, Google Highlighter, and How Can They Help Your Business

Recently I spoke at SES New York about “Feeding Your Way to the Top of the Local Listings,” and what I focused on presenting was one of the easiest tools that small businesses can utilize in their efforts to let the search engines know more about the content on their sites. Of course, a lot of businesses don’t realize how easy this tool is to use because the terms “structured data,” “microformats,” and “microdata” are as sexy and interesting as “Facebook,” “Pinterest,” or “Twitter” and get highly overlooked, or the typical eyeroll/glass eyes because they are such “techie” terms.

Well listen up! Google’s actually made it pretty darn simple, easy, and cheap to implement structured data on your site if you have any kind of event information there. I would also like to think, within the next few months it won’t be limited to just “events.” Soon you’ll likely be able to tell Google what other types of data you have on your site. So what is this magical tool? It’s Google’s Data Highlighter. It’s free to use and is housed within the Google Webmaster Tools.

Before I step through the use of the Data Highlighter, let me explain a bit about structured data. Google’s reference to this is called microdata and Google along with Bing and other search engines adhere to the format laid out by If you check out the site, don’t get too overwhelmed with all the tech jargon, just keep in mind, Google’s tool was just released in December and only has “events.” shows you that’s there’s a heck of a lot more potential!

Structured data, also known as microdata or microformats, tells the search engine specific information about the content on your website. Think about it as having a recipe on your site and you are able to say to the search engine in a very specific way, “This is the title of the recipe,” “these are the ingredients,” “these are the instructions,” and “these are the ratings the recipe received.” By being able to point this information out specifically in a format the search engines understand, it helps them produce what technical folks call “rich snippets” of information about your website.

These rich snippets help to enhance your search engine listing for specific keywords. Let’s take the recipe example a bit further to demonstrate how the microdata in the page helps produce a more interactive and rich experience in the search results.


In the search for Jambalaya (being from New Orleans, this is a common dish this “Northern gal” is still trying to master!) you can see two rich snippets for the recipe. Both of these results draw me in not just because of the image that’s there, but because of the reviews, and it’s also listing the time it takes to make the recipe. If you take a look behind the code, you can actually see the Food Network on both recipes is utilizing microdata formatting of this content. The Food Network is likely getting the majority of the clicks for this search term even over Wikipedia because it’s giving the user so much more information and reason to click through.

While small businesses can’t yet use Google Highlighter to mark up recipes, you can use it to mark up events at your business. Having a seminar? Special guest performers at your establishment? Expert speaker coming to a happy hour you’re hosting? Running a special? You can utilize the highlighter to tell Google about the content in a very specific manner. The nice thing about this tool is that if you have numerous pages of information spread out through many pages, the tool can learn by just tagging three to five pages. After that Google can figure out the rest and even come back and update the information after you update it.

The first requirement though is that your site is registered with Google Webmaster Central. Once you have your site in there and verified, you need to proceed to (via the left-hand navigation) “Optimization” -> “Data Highlighter.” On the “Data Highlighter” page take a moment to run through the video; it explains how to utilize the tool in very easy-to-understand instructions.


Once you enter in the pages you’d like to highlight with the tool and are finished it will save your page or page sets under “Optimizations” -> “Structured Data.” That’s where you can go back and check on how often Google is updating the information and if it’s adding the new data to additional pages. It’s also a good way to verify that the information is correctly tagged.

Microdata, microformats, and structured data all may sound way too techie for a small business to implement, but Google’s making it a lot easier to do. In fact, you don’t even need to know how to code. It’s a point-and-click process and won’t take up a lot of your time. If you can use this free tool to make your search engine results look as sexy as your posts on Facebook do, why not take advantage of it!?

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