Microdata, an Important Update to Your Website, That No One Will Ever See

March 4, 2013 Laird Rixford

In previous posts I have mentioned that search engines are becoming smarter. They are no longer looking for backlinks to determine your website's content relevancy. They are looking at the content itself. They are looking for data.

Your website is littered with data: phone numbers, product offerings, address information, company facts and figures, employee details and much more. More often than not, the data is placed in the web page HTML, formatted to look good for a visitor and forgotten.

The search engines' smart bots try to interpret what that data means. For example, a phone number has a specific format. The bot can figure out that it is looking at a phone number when it sees that format, but not what kind of number it is. Is it phone or fax? Whose number is it? The bot will guess based on the content around it. Using algorithms it looks for words like 'phone' or 'fax' preceding or following the found number. As I mentioned this method is nothing but a guess. Take, for example, my profile on our sample insurance website.

To a search spider, the content of the above page would look something like this:

Laird Rixford's Profile and Contact Information - Sample Insurance Agency Home Laird Rixford's Profile and Contact Information Laird Rixford VP of Products and Marketing Insurance Website Builder Corporate Office Phone Number (972) 245-3660 Alternate Number (800) 383-3482 Fax Number (800) 687-5454 Download vCard Profile This is my profile.
To a human, this might be clear. However, it is easy for a bot to get it wrong. So what can you do? Add microdata to your website.

What is microdata?

Microdata is hidden code embedded into the HTML itself that does not render to the screen for a normal visitor to see. So instead of simply putting the phone number in the code like this:
Laird Rixford<br />
Phone Number (972) 245-3660<br />
Fax Number (800) 687-5454
You would change it to this.
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Person">
<div itemprop='name'>Laird Rixford</div>
Phone Number <span itemprop="telephone">(972) 245-3660</span><br />
Fax Number <span itemprop="faxNumber">(800) 687-5454</span>

To a user on a website, the above code will look the exact same as the previous example. However, a search engine now has a clear directive as to what the data means. Search engines and other sites, such as social media, use this microdata to better sort and display data from your website. In fact this data is often used to liven up search results with your data. This can include company ratings:

Or even include your picture on your profile.

The microdata format I recommend is schema.org's implementation. This is the format that is recognized and pushed by the major search engines, including Google, Bing and Yahoo. In fact, both Google and Bing Webmaster Tools have built-in markup validation tools. When targeting Facebook you should also include OpenGraph microdata.

To implement microdata on your website takes a lot of time. You have to use a lot of trial and error to format the snippet data in a logical order that the search engines can understand and cite. For example, the WebPage schema does not include a telephone element. That is only available under an entity such as an Organization or LocalBusiness. Do it wrong, and the search engine will go back to guessing.


Don't know where to start? Don't worry; we do it for you!

The Insurance Website Builder system includes complete schema.org and Facebook OpenGraph markup by default. As you add and remove content, employees, locations, partners, blogs and more to your website, the system will do the rest for you. Click the following links to see some of the data that is marked up in some sample website pages.

Above are only a few examples of pages that include microdata with Insurance Website Builder. If you currently have a website with us, your schema.org microdata is already on your site.

When you have an Insurance Website Builder website, you will feel confident that as new data points are added to the schema, your site will continue to receive updates that help the search engines better understand your website and your agency.

Update : Since posting this article we have added breadcrumb markup to the system.

About the Author

Laird Rixford

As CEO, Laird Rixford is responsible for providing strategic direction and leadership for the company. Rixford has a proven executive management track record and has more than 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship and insurance technology. An expert in insurance technology and marketing, Laird is a recognized public speaker and has presented at industry events across the United States.

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