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.