Abusing Semantic Markup? Leaked Webmaster Guidelines Update May Suggest Your Days Are Numbered

September 24th, 2012 by

Last week I posted about the ugly state of Google’s SERPs thanks to rich snippet abuse over at Search News Central.  the post drew a lot of feedback both in the comments as well as through social media, and one theme continued.  Nobody really liked how people were misusing semantic markup to generate rich snippets, but nobody had a clear definition of what was right or wrong either.  Thankfully, thanks to a prematurely released revision to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines we may receive some guidance after all.

Avoid Abusing Rich Snippet Markup

When I read the leaked contents on Patrick Sexton’s feedthebot (the post has since been removed since the updates were launched prematurely), I noticed that Google used this update to focus a bit more on abuse of semantic markup, which fuels the appearance of rich snippets.  In the original post, which Eren Mckay was kind enough to retrieve via cache for me, Patrick highlighted two points specific to rich snippets.

First, in the document Google recommends webmasters review their recommended best practices for rich snippets, but more specifically Patrick points out that Google specifically says to avoid “abusing rich snippet markup”.  Could the writing be on the wall for webmasters, SEO’s and the like who are using rich snippet markup to falsify ratings and author information like I outlined in my Search News Central post?  As someone who is tired of having to explain to clients why they shouldn’t follow some of these spammy practices, I hope so.

Penalizing Rich Snippet Markup Abuse

The one thing that still isn’t clear is how Google might penalize violations related to rich snippets.  Currently the abuse of semantic markup can be reported to Google, and as one commenter on my post on Search News Central pointed out Google does in fact take action.  However besides removing the snippet, the overall penalty is uncertain.  Does it impact only the violating snippet, or does it prevent rich snippets from displaying at all in the search results for your website? The outcome is still to be determined.

Regardless of the outcome, Google is clearly looking closer at rich snippets and hopefully in the coming weeks/months we’ll have some deeper insight into what they are looking at with the help of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.  While the true use of semantic markup can be argued, I suggest that you read the intent of the markup and decide from there if you are actually using it as it was intended, or are you simply looking to get another shiny thing added to your result in the SERPs in hopes of increasing click through.  If the answer is the latter, you may want to rethink your strategy.

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3 Responses to “Abusing Semantic Markup? Leaked Webmaster Guidelines Update May Suggest Your Days Are Numbered”

  1. Hello Mike,

    I responded to your post over on SNC earlier today as the SEO who was experimenting with the schema markup – thereby creating the content for your post. I agree with you regarding the definitions of rich snippet use being unclear. As you know, it appears one can practically markup the exact amount of corn flakes consumed for breakfast and Google might parse it into SERPs. I read-through much of the guidelines offered and felt I was within reason to apply the markup to original content and reviews which I personally knew to be authentic.

    What I had not counted on, was the rapid manifestation and depth within the SERPs! I honestly placed the mark-up in the footer, hoping that Google might pick-up on one or two pages (e.g. the testimonial page, specifically). However, over the course of the next couple of weeks, I began seeing the star ratings parse into SERPs for a multitude of related queries and began questioning whether or not this would confuse or deceive visitors. In my response on SNC, I conveyed the fact I had been pondering pulling the site-wide markup, as I didn’t like what I was seeing in the SERPs, and as an alternative, perhaps attempting to align a single review with the specific procedure. Reading your post was enough to entice me to pull the trigger and remove the site-wide markup.

    Suffice to say, you stumbled across my experimentation with Schema shortly after I implemented it on my client’s site. The “experiment” blossomed beyond my expectations and I am in the process of reeling it in and focusing upon an accurate and useful user experience for visitors to my client’s site. Any suggestions you may have in that regard would be appreciated.

    The authorship markup is not site-wide – only on pages containing articles written by my client. I feel this is a perfectly legitimate usage and plan no adjustments. My client plans on writing many more articles for our blog section and should receive credit and acknowledgement.

    I will be looking forward to your response.

    Thank you.

    • Mike says:

      Dino, thanks for reaching out. I responded to your comment on Search News Central so I won’t regurgitate it all here. Long story short, your “test” was the straw that broke the camels back for me. You weren’t the sole person or website responsible for the post, you just happened to wind up as the poster child. Please take a look at my post on SNC for my thoughts on the whole thing.

  2. [...] the final version of the recently leaked updated webmaster guidelines, which I wrote about today (Abusing Semantic Markup? Leaked Webmaster Guidelines Update May Suggest Your Days Are Numbered – Mik…). I'd love to hear the thoughts of some of the forum members on this. Am I one of the few with [...]

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