Abusing Semantic Markup? Leaked Webmaster Guidelines Update May Suggest Your Days Are NumberedSeptember 24th, 2012 by Mike
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.