Google’s web crawlers have a daunting job: they scan every web page they encounter to analyze its contents and determine which information pertains to specific elements without any standardization. While this sophisticated program does an incredible job, it’s not perfect and it can incorrectly index content on your website. When that happens it hurts how well your site does in search engine rankings can lead to inaccurate search result preview information. Fortunately, Google has provided a tool called the Data Highlighter which can be found in Google Webmaster Tools that prevents indexing problems. This is a great tool for any website that produces news, article, and blog content because it teaches Google how to properly interpret data on your website so you can rest assured content is being properly indexed for search results. Your site will need to be activated with Webmaster Tools for the Data Highlighter to work.
Bad Scan, Bad Results
Indexing errors can have comical to conspiracy theory driving results. For example, if you haven’t used the highlighter to tell Google where your content’s publication date is stored, the program has to make its best guess as to when the content appeared on the Internet. Since the crawler has to come across the page through a link to find and index it, it may take a while to find it so just using the time the crawler found the content is inaccurate. Instead, the program is going to look for anything that resembles a time and date pattern on the page to determine this information. This means the crawler may grab the wrong publication date if other date information appears in places like the comments section, an advertisement, in the title, text body, or from a list of other content on the site with included publication dates. In the case of an error, you could have a breaking news story scanned with a date from several days ago related to a previously posted blog that’s linked on the page. So Google may preview your breaking news story with a publication date of three days ago, which may convince some of your visitors that you knew about the news before it happened.
What to Highlight
Outside of hub pages, you should run the highlighter tool over any sort of recurring produced content you regularly create that uses a shared page layout. Running through the tool will make sure Google correctly identifies things like the title text, author, featured page image, publication date data, and other features. When completely, it will help avoid errors that can harm SEO performance and provide better search results previews. The tool features an “Articles” preset that covers things like blogs, news updates, and its namesake. The “Products” preset is particularly useful for indexing anything you sell on your site. The tool also provides presets for book reviews, events, local businesses, movies, restaurants, software applications, and TV episodes. The tool will ask for the URL of a sample article and provides a user interface that lets you tag important page elements. The tool is also helpful for identifying cases where things like the featured image or title text move around on content pages under different circumstances like the inclusion of video content. For example, if your site handles Technical Article Writing, you’ll want to use the tool on all of your article content. So plug an example page into the tool, highlight things like the title, author, publication date, and main image. If you provide some sort of categorization information in the bread crumbs, include that too. For example, you may have categories like “manuals” and “whitepapers.” You can also tag any sort of rating or voting information displayed on the page if it applies.
Using the Data Highlighter tool will make sure you and Google are on the same page. Combining the tool with an already optimized page with accurate metadata will not only help place your content higher in search engine results, but also provide accurate preview information that makes it more enticing for people to click on and read.
Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.