What is Structured Data Markup and Why Should Realtors Care?

With Google changing seemingly on a whim to new search technologies that make the process of finding what seekers want more precise, it’s good to be aware of what can help you in the page ranks.

Recently, you may have noticed that some sites stand out from others in the search engine result pages (SERPs). They often have pictures, pullouts, reviews, and pricing information along with the standard site description, and they always seem to rank at the top of the SERPs for a variety of search terms.

You might think that search engines charge a premium for these “special” site descriptions. You would be wrong. It costs nothing but a little time and understanding of data tagging to incorporate the data tags necessary to make your site stand out from the rest. Web designers now use structured data markup to specifically remove any doubt and instruct search engines exactly how to display their sites in the search engine results. Google likes these specific instructions and ranks these sites higher than sites without specific instructions.

Structured Data Markups (SDM)

Structured data means information formatted in a manner that is universally understandable.  Structured data resides in fixed fields within a database or a file. Real estate MLS database is a perfect example of structured data. IDX vendors like us use those databases to create listing searches and listing detail pages in real estate website, but when the data is combined in HTML pages, it becomes very difficult for search engines to recognize the original structure of the data, and therefore recognize that the page contains real estate listings information.

As a solution to this recognition issue, Google, Bing, and Yahoo!  have united to provide a shared collection of schemas (that is, a shared vocabulary) for webmasters to use.

What are Schemas?

Schemas are the html tags used by web developers to mark up web pages so they are recognized by search engines. The shared collection provided by the big search engines is available at www.schema.org.  You can also view the structured markup hierarchy for real estate on schema on that site at:  http://schema.org/RealEstateAgent.

Adding structured data markups (or schemas) to a website (which appears behind the scenes, not on the viewable page) helps search engines like Google refine and filter search results to reflect greater accuracy. This all makes it easier for seekers to find the information they’re looking for. Happy searchers make for happy search engines.

The primary benefit of utilizing schemas in your website is that critical data relating to your real estate business found on your website—name, location, specialty, phone number, listings information, etc.—is easily identified by the search engines based on data hidden in the html code and remains invisible to humans.

For example, if someone is trying to find real estate agent in Orange County, California, what does that convey to a search engine?  Probably a vague mish-mash of clichéd information of all the realtors and sites in Orange County for page rank.

Below is a sample of how business and contact information might look on a real estate website:

Without schemas, there is no guarantee that a search engine will be able to identify that the information provided is about a real estate agent in Orange County—or even which Orange County the real estate business is located in.

Using schema, your webpage source (code) will identify that information with special HTML markups:

Now, with the special markups, there is no question that the page content is about a real estate agent in Orange County, California. All guesswork by the search engines has been removed with the specific “instructions” in a language readily understood by the search engines, and your site will be returned in the results for a query looking for Orange County real estate agents.

Another significant benefit of using SDM on your real estate website is the ability to have rich snippets appear directly in the search engine results. Rich snippets are short summaries of what a visitor can expect to see on your site and are very powerful for getting searchers to click through. By using industry standard schemas, it is possible to highlight aspects of your website such as your name, picture, phone number, specific properties, and prices. This data will be displayed directly in the SERPs and help attract potential clients to your site. The better Google and other search engines understand the information, the more robust the snippets are.

Structured data markup is the future of SEO, and agents who utilize it today will have a definite edge over their competition. While there are few real estate industry specific schemas available on schema.org, that is sure to change as more agents and real estate professionals begin to use SDM in their websites.

You can use Google Webmaster Tools to test if your website has structured data markups:  http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

Have you tried schemas or other structured data markups for your real estate website? Tell us how they’re working for you in the comments.

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