Improving SEO using Microdata and the Semantic Web
A few weeks back I wrote a blog post about increasing the performance of Telligent Community using the .NET 4 bundling features. In that project, we used a number of tools but at the core of the solution was the CsQuery library which allowed us to use jQuery selectors to alter the content of the mark-up before it was delivered to the client. In that blog I mentioned that the whole project started because of a desire to add semantic markup to community pages.
You may be asking yourself right now what is semantic markup and whats it got to do with SEO?
The concept of the semantic web has been around for quite a long time, the idea is that information contained on the world wide web is not purely text, images, music and videos. Content can be described as a graph of connections and associations based on the metadata of the content. I have had an interest in this subject since working in R&D at Content Technologies with Andy Harris, the CTO of a suite of products called MIMEsweeper. Andy and I had a few conversations in which he described what he thought the future of email archive and retrieval would be and I was assigned the task of taking a fledgling product MAILsweeper Archivist to read the data and use tools of the time to create a graph of connections between emails. By doing this, Andy was hoping to demonstrate that the value in the emails goes way beyond the scope of the people that are included in the original recipient list. Interestingly, if you think about it, he was attempting to solve the issue that is now solved by community platforms; liberating the data from the owners and from silos.
Since I worked at Content Technologies in the late 90's, things have moved on somewhat and search engine indexing strategies are looking to provide the rich contextual results that end users are looking for, meaning the data has to be indexed beyond keywords.
Unfortunately there is no simple way to extract the metadata directly from HTML because HTML was never designed to be anything other than a presentation markup. To solve this problem, Microdata was created. Microdata is a meta language extension that can be included into HTML mark-up that enables the content to describe the semantic components of a page in a recognizable and consistent format. For example in the case of a blog post, the title, text, author and many other fields can be described regardless of their position on the page. This gives search engines the information they need to tie together the semantic structure and provide the experience that users are wanting; for example, who authored this blog post and let me look at their Google+ profile so I can see their authenticity.
Going back to my original question, the semantic web now has a lot to do with SEO and indeed if you want your content to be pushed to the top of search rankings it has to be taken seriously.
What have we produced?
Using CsQuery we have produced a configurable plugin for Telligent Community 8 that allows us to inject microdata into the content of a page. Giving your public community better search rankings and additionally better relevancy in search results. The results of which can be demonstrated using Google's Rich Snippets Tool the images show before and after.
Our plugin which is available for free along with the performance plugin can be obtained by contacting us here