Using structured data to create a semantically enhanced web

Using structured data to create a semantically enhanced web


To me, one of the more exciting developments in the SEO world in recent years is the growth and development of semantic markup and related technologies.

It’s somewhat dizzying to think of the full potential of a true Semantic Web – that dream of a meaningfully interconnected network of information that has been floating on the margins of the web-as-it-is since the very beginning. But recent practical applications of semantic organization, from Knowledge Graph to to the machine learning behind voice search, have together seemed to indicate some real momentum in that direction.

Perhaps we aren’t creating one all-encompassing Semantic Web; perhaps it’s something more like a gradually evolving Semantically Enhanced Web, where the old architecture is not so much replaced as augmented by the new. But it’s still pretty cool.

In this light, I’m glad to see that this year’s SMX events have consistently given airtime to developments in structured markup and other topics one might class as semantic in nature. I was glad to attend one of these sessions at SMX Advanced, “What’s New With Schema & Structured Data,” hosted by Chris Sherman and presented by Cata Milos, senior program manager at Microsoft, and Max Prin, head of technical SEO at Merkle.

News flash: Bing wants your structured data, too

It should come as no surprise that Bing has been consuming structured markup at a pace and in a manner that mirrors the approach taken by Google. After all, Microsoft is a member of the consortium, along with Google, Yahoo and Yandex, that gave rise to in the first place. But given that a lot of SEOs probably spend a little less time thinking about Bing than Google, it’s worth being reminded that structured markup matters for Bing – and that, although the two engines treat such markup mostly in the same way, there are some notable differences.

Milos explained that Bing has undergone a transformation in recent years from thinking of the web in terms of HTML to thinking of the web visually. The HTML view was appropriate, he said, when the web was much more text-heavy, and where the bulk of the information communicated on web pages could be reasonably distilled down to its text content. But today, with the extensive use of CSS, JavaScript, and multimedia content like images and videos, information is communicated in a much more visual manner. In response to this change, Bing’s web indexing process now renders web pages so they can be examined visually, and no longer relies merely on the HTML code itself.

Milos had several recommendations for how to build web content so that Bing can properly understand it, all of them grounded in this basic sense of visual orientation. He recommended that we think of the way humans apply visual understanding to complex documents. Human readers are trained to look for important elements like title, author, text, and images, and are trained to ignore secondary content such as additional links, ads, site navigation, and social media buttons. Given these expectations, web pages should be built in such a way that primary content is clearly identifiable and secondary content is minimally distracting.

Milos recommended HTML5 markup as a great way to tag page content semantically, since HTML5 contains tags like