Why Google’s Data Highlighter Shouldn’t Be Used As a Replacement For Structured Markup

June 3rd, 2013 by

Schema structured markup

Last December Google released Data Highlighter.  The tool was designed to allow webmasters a means of easily letting Google know about structured data on a page, without having to add any additional code to their website.  In its initial launch it was only available for events, however last week Google announced updates to the tool that expanded its use to products, local businesses, articles, software applications, movies, restaurants, and TV episodes.  But as I pointed out in my post last week, SEO tools can be dangerous, and Google’s data highlighter is no exception.

Google’s Data Highlighter is a great tool, in fact I used it to teach Google about the content in the event calendar on my hyperlocal blog Life In Corona because the event calendar plugin I was using didn’t provide a means for me to hard code it myself.  However, what I have seen many SEO’s and even small business owners do with the tool is use is as a shortcut to get their structured markup in front of Google.  And while this is definitely a quick point-and-click solution for teaching Google about structured data on your website, it’s perhaps a bit short sided.

While the Data Highlighter can quickly communicate to Google about patterns of structured data on a website, the problem lies in the fact that it only communicates with Google.  By using Data Highlighter you are only helping Google understand the context of your content and not other search engines or machines accessing your content.

The tool was designed to help website owners who may not be able to implement structured data on their site, but want to benefit from the enhanced search results Google is providing for certain queries.  Like in the case of my blog, I had exhausted all means available to me to code the structured data myself, and in the end I couldn’t.  The Data Highlighter was the only way I could provide Google with structured data recommendations for my website.  Sadly, many SEO’s and small businesses aren’t using it this way.  Instead they are using it as a replacement for applying structured markup to their website, ignoring the other engines and other machines accessing their website.

Making Structured Data Implementation Easier

For many, the reason to rely so heavily on the Data Highlighter tool lies in the fact that structured markup may just be too to implement.  Fortunately, along with the Data Highlighter updates, Google launched another tool to help you in the process.  Along with support for new structured data types, Google launched the Structured Data Markup Helper.

Like Data Highlighter, Structured Data Markup Helper is a point-and-click tool that allows you to highlight to key properties of the relevant data type, but in the end Google provides you with an HTML output that includes the microdata markup.  This code can be downloaded and used as a guide as you implement structured data on your website.

As search engines and the web continues to evolve, the use of structured data will grow in importance. Even Pinterest is enhancing its experience with the help of structured data as a means of providing more useful pins.  Appeasing Google is great, but why stop there?  Do the work and ensure that your content is found and understood by anyone who wants to better understand it.

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8 Responses to “Why Google’s Data Highlighter Shouldn’t Be Used As a Replacement For Structured Markup”

  1. That’s a good point! Just because Google can see that markup doesn’t mean that there aren’t/won’t be more resources that would use the mark-up that you could benefit from with that extra effort.

  2. Mike says:

    Agreed Jeremy. Google alludes to this in heir announcement about the upgrades to the tool and with the launch of the Structured Data Markup Helper, but a lot of folks seemed to care more about highlighting the data as a shortcut, rather than making the data accessible to everyone.

  3. Hector says:

    Good insight into structured markup. It’s definitely become increasingly important to markup website data, particularly for local seo. Providing search engines this valuable information such as business type, address, phone, etc can help you stand above the rest, as long as all other local seo metrics are being met such as consistent NAP, citations, reviews, local onsite seo, etc.

    Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is SUPER useful, and allows beginners to get a visual of how the code is supposed to look. There are also other free Schema Markup creators which can be useful as well. Schema.org is a great resource, but can understandably be a bit confusing for newcomers.

    Thanks for the article!

  4. EVy says:

    So are you saying to use both the highlighter and data markup helper or is it better to just to the data markup?

    • Mike says:

      Evy, the two tools do two different things. If you can go in and physically implement the code provided from the data markup helper you will always be better off. As I mention in the article, this will ensure that not only Google is aware of the markup, but any crawler that may access your site.

      If you don’t have the means of going in and changing the code, the data highlighter will at least ensure Google understands the context of the content and will be better than nothing, but any time you can use the data markup helper to get correct code that can be implemented into your source you’ll be better off. I hope that helps! Thanks for the comment.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah this is interesting. In my WMT my Structured data has no errors (66K items, 0 errors) but 29 pages says to edit in the Highlighter. If I have valid schema markup in my HTML, should I address these 29 pages in the Highlighter, or will this physically overwrite my code?

  5. akhil says:

    Thanks for the valued info, but i just want to know how to use this data highlighter in my blog?

  6. PrasHant says:

    Hi Mike,

    I have been trying to use this for few clients. This can be very useful for blogs, eCommerce sites or even ticket booking sites.

    However, I found it rather hard to implement for service providing sites. For example, for IT company site it is very hard to mark up services using current tags. Even if I use local business, there are too many irrelevant tags to include.

    It will be great if you can provide more details on this.

    Regards,
    Prashant

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