Using the Sitelinks Search Box for Your Local Business

I don’t think anyone’s talked about Google’s sitelinks search box in the context of how small-to-medium local businesses can use it.

It will probably never be a big part of anyone’s local SEO efforts.  But having a sitelinks search box might help you in a few ways:

  • People might find it easier to find what they’re looking for on your site. By “people” I’m referring to repeat customers and to people who are serious enough to search for you by name.
  • Especially if you’re not getting any autocomplete suggestions when you type in your business name, the search-box usage reports might tell you what people want to know about your business. And that might tell you what pages you need to create, give you ideas for blog posts, or alert you to brushfires you need to put out.
  • It might be a very minor factor for your rankings. That’s pure speculation on my part, although Google’s soft spot for structured data is no secret.

This isn’t going to be a long post, but I’ll break it up into two parts:

Part One is my brain-dump of everything I know about the sitelinks search box.

Part Two is some Q&A with structured-data whiz David Deering (who’s given me some great intel in other posts).

Warning: this one’s a little technical.  If you’re not the resident geek, maybe you should ask your RG to read this between Hot Pockets.

Part One: My Observations

Do any small-to-medium “local” businesses (as opposed to Home Depot) have the sitelinks search box yet?  I wouldn’t call them a small business, but here’s the smallest I’ve seen so far:

OK, that’s all I knew before writing this post.

Sad, huh?

Well, that’s why I asked David some questions about how you can get a sitelinks search box up and running and possibly helping your local visibility – before everyone and his grandma has one.

Part Two: Quick Q&A

Phil:  What are the technical prerequisites for getting a sitelinks search box to show up when someone searches for your business by name?

David:  You actually don’t even need to use Google’s Custom Site Search Engine.  Any functioning site-specific search engine is fine.  For example, WordPress websites usually come loaded with one.

 

Phil:  How long will it take and how much will it cost for the typical small-business owner to get it implemented?

David:  If a website does not have their own site-specific search engine, one can be added, such as Google’s.

To add that to a site only takes a few minutes.  Creating and adding the markup to the homepage itself also only takes a few minutes.

So all and all, a person can add the search engine feature and the markup to their site in about 30 minutes.  But they will need to edit their site files, and some people might not be comfortable with doing that.

 

Phil:  Under what circumstances will Google not show your sitelinks search box?

David:  From their documentation on the subject (found here), Google will display the search box feature for navigational queries, and when it’s relevant for users.  And, similar to other rich snippets, Google’s algorithm will look at various quality signals.  They obviously don’t want to make low quality sites more visual in the SERPs, so they likely won’t display a search box for those.

(Great post on this by AJ Kohn: The Rich Snippets Algorithm.)

 

Phil:  Besides Google’s documentation for developers, what resources should someone refer to for getting this implemented?

David:  Google’s documentation seems to cover it pretty well.  But just a couple of things to add to what they’ve written:

Many people have asked about how to mark up a sitelinks search box when the website has several different homepages for different languages or regions, such as www.example.com/us/ and www.example.com/fr/.  Currently, Google does not support search box markup for second-level domains (such as either of those example URLs).  But they are aware of the need and it sounds like they might (hopefully) begin supporting that soon.  So for now, a website owner should place the markup on the canonical version of their homepage.

Also, when Google came out with this suggestion, they demonstrated the markup in JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data) instead of microdata.  So a lot of people started adding the markup to their site using JSON-LD, even though they’ve never used (or even SEEN) the syntax before.  People can use either JSON-LD or microdata to add the markup to their homepage.  The documentation page shows examples in both syntaxes.  Also, as the doc mentioned, you only need to add it to your homepage, not to every page of your site.  Just test it out to make sure that it works.

I’ve also had people say that they do NOT want Google displaying a search box for their search result in the SERPs because they felt it was not a good user experience (?? I don’t get that, but whatever.  And you can tell Google not to display the search box for your site in the SERPs).  However, there is good reason to add the markup to the site anyway.  Google does sometimes show the search box for sites in the SERPs even if the site does not have the markup on it.

And recently, AJ Kohn wrote an article where he found that Google displays a lot of ads for competitors when someone does a site-specific search (keyword + site:example.com), whereas if a person uses the site-specific search box, Google displays results only from that website.  So there’s good reason to add the markup–it prevents others from hijacking your visitors.

Thanks to David for the intel.  This is new territory for “local” businesses, so the dos and don’ts aren’t too widely known yet.  Follow David on Google+ if you’d like to absorb some of his savior-faire – or if you’d like to hire him to help get your search box squared away.

What questions do you have about getting a sitelinks search box?

Do you even want one showing up for brand-name searches?

Leave a comment!

 

P.S.  This is post #200 on my blog.  Thanks for sticking with me this long.

Local Business Schema.org Q&A: Tough Questions for David Deering

If you’ve wrestled with local SEO for more than a few days, you probably know what Schema.org markup is.  (And if you don’t, read this and this and loop back here.)

You probably have questions about how to use Schema on your site.  Me too.  That’s why I’ve turned again to structured-data ace David Deering of Touch Point Digital Marketing for answers.

As you might recall, he’s the guy who brought the insights to my recent post on Schema.  In fact, it was his answers in the comments on that post that reminded me how many questions I and other people still have.  (By the way, I suggest you read that post first, if you haven’t already.)

Let’s launch into the Q&A on Schema:

 

Phil:  What sorts of businesses simply have no use for Schema markup on their sites?

David:  I honestly think that every business has a use for structured data markup.  The more that you can help search engines understand about your business, the better.

 

Phil:  What kinds of “local” businesses have the most to gain by spending a little time on Schema markup – and why?

David:  Any business that sells a product or a service.  So, I guess that would more or less describe every local business, really.

 

Phil:  As you know, I’ve said that one’s name / address / phone info is the by far the most important thing to mark up with Schema.  What else – if anything – should the typical business mark up?

David:  Marking up the NAP is a great start, but it’s only the start.  It tells search engines where you’re located, but it doesn’t tell them anything about what you do.  So, I think that every local business should mark up what exactly they do or sell, whether it’s a product or a service.  The more you can mark up and spell out for search engines, the better.

 

Phil:  Multiple locations’ NAP info on the same page: is that a problem, not a problem, or doesn’t matter?

David:  It’s not a problem at all.  Schema.org has a means to handle situations like that.  If a business has one or even several additional locations, you can use the “branchOf” or “subOrganization” properties to mark up each unique location.  The key is to use a separate LocalBusiness schema type for each location.

 

Phil:  Besides marking up NAP with Schema, what’s your advice to most “local” business owners?

David:  Most local businesses only mark up their NAP, if anything at all, and that’s a huge mistake in my opinion.  Not to sound like a broken record, but if you sell anything or offer any type of service, you can and should mark that up as well.  By getting as specific as you can with your markups, you help search engines get a clear picture about what you offer, which can only help you.  You can either spell it all out for them, or you can hope they understand what you do and sell.  Obviously, it’s better to give them all of the information on a silver platter, which is what structured data markups can help you do.  But it’s a golden opportunity that most businesses aren’t taking advantage of.

 

Phil:  Are there any ways business owners can use Schema to influence what shows up in the Knowledge Graph for their business?

David:  In itself, Schema markup won’t help a business’ information appear in the Knowledge Graph panel.  Google uses a number of authoritative sources to gather the information that’s used in the Knowledge Graph.  Schema.org markup can help, but Freebase, Wikipedia, and Google+ pages all play an even larger role.

 

Phil:  What type(s) of Schema do you deal with most often?

David:  Besides the typical NAP markup and product markups, most local businesses are interested in getting help with the rating markup, because it can generate those much sought-after stars in search results.  Unfortunately, most do-it-yourselfers do it incorrectly and their markup has either technical errors or it doesn’t meet Google’s guidelines.

 

Phil:  Does a Productontology extension have to describe what your business is, or can it describe the main service a business offers?

For example, in the last post you mentioned that you can use http://schema.org/Dentist plus http://www.productontology.org/id/Pediatric_dentistry.  But “pediatric dentistry” doesn’t “tell” search engines what the practice itself is; pediatric dentistry is just the specialty of that dental office.

[If you didn’t get the question, read the post from June.]

David:  Productontology, which was created by a team led by Martin Hepp, was created primarily to be used for products, as the name implies.  And it can also be used to mark up services as well, since according to schema.org, a product can be tangible or intangible.  But Productontology can also be used to specify other Schema types, and so that’s why we can use it along with business type markups.

 

Phil:  Besides the Structured Data Testing Tool, what tools do you use for any Schema-related work?

David:  Another good tool to use is Yandex’s structured data validator, which can be found at http://webmaster.yandex.com/microtest.xml.  It’s a great tool to use in addition to Google’s, because Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool does not always pick up every markup error.

And speaking of Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, I should mention something very important that many people don’t realize:  Just because you don’t see any error messages after testing your markup does not mean that your markup is error-free, it doesn’t mean that it meets Google’s guidelines for rich snippets, and it’s no guarantee that your rich snippets will appear in the SERPs.  The testing tool is a nice tool to use, but it’s a basic tool, and it’s not designed to catch all technical errors and it definitely won’t tell you whether or not your markup meets Google’s guidelines.  I use Google’s testing tool all the time because it is very helpful, but again, it’s just a basic tool.  Don’t take the results as law.

 

Phil:  What’s the most common mistake people make in their markup?

David:  Most mistakes I see in markups are related to improper nesting and the improper use of various properties.  Schema.org does include example markups for most of the markup types that local businesses would normally use, so it’s a good idea to try to follow those examples.  I’d recommend creating the markup first, testing it out to make sure it’s good, then implement it on the site.  Doing that can save a lot of time and headache.

 

Phil:  In what ways do some businesses use Schema as a spam technique?

David:  Well, because those rating stars are so desirable to have in the SERPs, some less-than-ethical businesses make up fake reviews and ratings and mark them up.  Google has gotten better at sniffing those out, and most of those sites end up losing their rich snippets or never get them at all.

I’ve seen other spam techniques, such as using the recipe markup for a product in order to get an image in the SERPs.  But doing things like that isn’t worth it.  Google can and will take manual action against a site that is being deceitful with their markups, and regaining their trust will be a long, hard road.  So it’s best to stick to being ethical with things.

Even if you don’t get rich snippets right now, your markups are still valuable because they help search engines understand your content much better.  If you do get rich snippets, well that’s just an added bonus.

 

Phil:  Some people are concerned that if they botch up their Schema markup, Google will penalize them.  How accurate is that?

David:  Personally, I’ve never seen a site get penalized for using a markup with errors.  However, if Google believes that a site is attempting to manipulate things and is being deceitful with their markups, they will take action against that site.  But for the most part, if a markup has errors, Google simply will not be able to understand it or use it.

 

Phil:  Many people think everything Google does is a grab for users’ data, and ultimately an effort to make more money off of ads.  (Often I’m one of those people.)  Just for the sake of argument, what role do you think Schema would play in that “scheme”?

David:  Some people believe that by marking up their content with structured data, it’ll make it easier for Google to “steal” their information and use it in the Knowledge Graph panel to answer questions, which in turn eliminates the need for users to visit the site.

But not all of the webpages that Google pulls information from for Knowledge Graph answers are marked up with structured data.  However, when Google does pull information from a webpage, it’s because it considers the website and page as having some authority on the topic, and it always links to the page.  So, if Google views a website and webpage as having topical authority, well that’s definitely a good thing.  And there’s also a good chance that users will click on the link to find out more, because Google can provide only so much information in the Knowledge Graph panel.

It’s also been said that Google wants to go from being a search engine to an answer engine.  By marking up your content, you help Google understand your content that much better, which in turn helps your webpages become “the answer” to relevant search queries.

 

Phil:  What advice do you have for webmasters and SEOs?

David:  Mark up as much content as you can.  Make everything as clear as possible to search engines regarding what you do, sell, offer, or have written about.

You may or may not get rich snippets for your markups right now, but the real value of the markups is that they help make things much clearer for search engines.  Google and the others love structured data and want us to use it, so feed them what they love.  And we all know how quickly Google changes things in the SERPs.  One day nothing, the next day the local carousel, this new rich snippet, that new feature in the Knowledge Graph panel.   We never know what Google is going to do or what new feature they’re going to add, but if you’ve marked up your site as thoroughly as possible with structured data, you’ll be in position to benefit from whatever happens next.

 

Phil:  Besides the Google Webmaster Forum and Schema.org’s confusing documentation, what are some resources you’d suggest?

David:  There’s a great semantic search marketing community on Google+.  There are also a lot of very smart and helpful people in the structured data community, such as Aaron Bradley, Jarno van Driel, Martin Hepp and Thad Guidry, among several others.  And of course, if you’re going to use structured data markups on your site, you want to be sure to go over Google’s guidelines for your particular markups so that they can qualify for rich snippets.

Thanks to David, once again.  If you don’t want to wrangle with Schema yourself, contact him.

Any questions or stray thoughts?  Leave a comment!

How to Pick (or Improvise) the Right Schema.org Markup for Your Local Business

This one’s going to take a little ramp-up.  Hang with me.

What’s Schema?

Schema.org is a type of markup for your site that Google, Bing, and Yahoo promote.

The idea is it helps you tell search engines exactly what a specific piece of content on your site is.  For example, you’d use different Schema if you want to announce, “Here’s my business’s name, address, and phone number,” or “Here’s a customer testimonial, or “Look – a video.”

Some SEOs say Schema in general makes a big difference for your rankings.  I’m not one of them; I suspect it can help a little.  So let’s assume it helps a little.

How do you use it?

What is Schema’s role on your site, if your main goal is to get visible in Google Places and beyond?

For me, its main use is to highlight your basic business info – your “NAP” (name, address, phone number), which should be on every page of your site.

In some cases I also use it to mark up testimonials.  (Here’s a good post on that.)

But for now let’s just talk about using Schema on your all-important NAP info.  It usually looks like this in your code:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness”>
<span itemprop=”name”>Local Visibility System, LLC</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

And as you may know, you can use a free Schema generator to create a blob of Schema for your business – like MicrodataGenerator.com or Raven Tools’ generator.  (In fact, I suggest you use a tool to do it.)

The problem: vague “itemtype”

Notice that first line.  In your blob of Schema, it probably reads:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness“>

“Local Business” is vague.  All that tells Google & co. is that you’re not Amazon or Nike.

You should not settle for that lame “LocalBusiness” itemtype in your Schema name / address / phone blob: Either there’s an itemtype (AKA Schema) that’s specific to your business, or you can improvise one (more on this in a minute).

First, try to find a Schema that describes your business.  For example, http://schema.org/Dentist or https://schema.org/AccountingService.

That might be easy if you used MicrodataGenerator.com to generate your NAP blob.  There, you may have seen some common types of businesses:

 

If one of those categories describes your business accurately, no need to read on.  If that’s the case, go to MicrodataGenerator, select the specific Schema that describes your business (pictured above), generate your NAP blob, put it on your site, and pour yourself a cold one.

Find the right itemtype / Schema here

You’re probably 90% of the way to the perfect Schema NAP blob.  Again, the only blemish is that first line – with “LocalBusiness” in it:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/LocalBusiness“>

All we’re trying to do is figure out what to put in that line instead of “LocalBusiness.”  We’re literally looking for one word.  Once we find it, you can make the swap and then stick that whole NAP block on every page of your site.

Finding the right itemtype was tricky – until now.

That’s why first I scraped Moz Local’s huge list of local-business categories.  (You’ll see these under “Category Research” if you’re logged into your free or paid Moz account.)

Then I cleaned up the list.  There was a lot of junk and repetition.  I cut it down to the realistic categories – the ones that might conceivably describe your business.

Then I asked structured-data markup expert David Deering for help.  He’s a Level 10 contributor at the Google Webmaster Forum, where he answers markup questions every day.  He knows Schema like I know Judas Priest songs.

David looked at The List and found the right Schema for each category.

The result?  You can open up this spreadsheet (on Google Drive) and scroll through it to find your type of business and the corresponding Schema / itemtype.

Now look in the right-hand column and grab the single word that comes after the http://schema.org/ part.  That’s what you’ll want to replace “LocalBusiness” with in your Schema blob.

Let’s say you were doing this for my business.  And let’s say I retired from the local-search biz and opened my very own beauty parlor.

Where I used to have “LocalBusiness” in that very first line, I’d put “HealthAndBeautyBusiness” instead.

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness“>
<span itemprop=”name”>Face By Phil</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

Fix that one line of code, and then put that whole blob of code (like the above) on every page of your site.  You’re done here.

But what if you still don’t find an accurate Schema?

That’s what I asked David after he sent me The List.  What if the geeks at Schema.org left your type of businesses out in the cold?

Can you still use Schema to “tell” Google & co. exactly what kind of business you’ve got?

Or what if you don’t think your type of Schema is specific enough (like if you’re a pediatric dentist and don’t want to settle for the broad “Dentist” Schema)?

You’re in luck.  And the workaround should take you less than 5 minutes, if you carefully read this bit of explanation from David

(I put the extra-important parts in italics.)

Use an additional ontology called Productontology (productontology.org).  This is great to use to specify products and even services, but it can also be used to help extend other schemas to get more specific.

In simple terms, the process involves finding the matching entity in Wikipedia and then creating a URI with Productontology.  So let’s take for example a deli.  There is no exact schema type for a deli.  So we have to use http://schema.org/FoodEstablishment.  But since that’s not very specific, we should pull in the use of Productontology.

So first, we go to Wikipedia and find the page for Deli: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delicatessen.

Now we have to turn it into a Productontology URI.  A Productontology URI begins with “http://www.productontology.org/id/”.  We take the last part of the Wiki URL, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delicatessen, and add it to the Productontology URI.

So the full Productontology URI for a deli becomes http://www.productontology.org/id/Delicatessen.

Next, we have to add it to the markup.  In order to do that, we have to use the “additionalType” property.  So, the markup for a deli would look something like this:

<div itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/FoodEstablishment”>
<link itemprop=”additionalType” href=“http://www.productontology.org/id/Delicatessen”
 />
<span itemprop=”name”>Name of Deli</span>

<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>100 Main St.</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>New York</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>NY</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>12345</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(555) 123-4567</span>
</div>

Of course, more properties could be added to the above markup, but it’s just a rough example of how the “additionalType” property along with a Productontology URI can be used to help extend schemas and specify schema business types much better.

-David

So…remember a minute ago how if you found your type of business in the big spreadsheet, you just had to tweak that 1st line of code?  Well, if you didn’t find your type of business in the spreadsheet, what you’ll have to do is tweak that one line plus add an additional line to your Schema NAP blob.

Example time.  Let’s revisit my “Face By Phil” example.  (Don’t worry – it’s still fictional.)  Let’s say I didn’t run just any old beauty parlor, but specialized in laser hair removal.  I’d want Google to know that, so I’d want my Schema to make that point clear.  Here’s what my NAP code would look like:

<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness“>
<link itemprop=”additionalType” href=”http://www.productontology.org/doc/Laser_hair_removal” />
<span itemprop=”name”>Face By Phil</span>
<div itemprop=”address” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/PostalAddress”>
<span itemprop=”streetAddress”>86 Richards Ave</span>
<span itemprop=”addressLocality”>North Attleboro</span>,
<span itemprop=”addressRegion”>MA</span>
<span itemprop=”postalCode”>02760</span>
</div>
<span itemprop=”telephone”>(508) 308-4040</span>
</div>

As you can see, you’re only customizing the parts in green – although it would be smart to change both URLs completely, so you don’t make any typos.

Examples of Schema + Productontology

Here are some examples of the info you’d use to customize those two lines:

Dermatologist:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/Physician

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Dermatology

Fertility clinic:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/MedicalClinic

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Fertility_clinic

Funeral home:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/LocalBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Funeral_home

Graphic designer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Graphic_designer

Home inspector:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Home_inspection

Kennel:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/LocalBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Kennel

Landscape architect:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Landscape_architect

Laser hair removal service:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Laser_hair_removal

Magician:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/EntertainmentBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Magician

Music school:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/School

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Music_school

Pediatric dentist:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/Dentist

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Pediatric_dentistry

Personal Trainer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/HealthAndBeautyBusiness

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Personal_trainer

Resort:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/TouristAttraction

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Resort

Tailor:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Tailor

Wedding photographer:

Use in 1st line:  http://schema.org/ProfessionalService

Use in 2nd line:  http://www.productontology.org/id/Wedding_photography

Got the perfect Schema NAP for your site yet?  If you’re still stumped, feel free to leave a comment.

Or if you’d rather let someone else mess with it, contact David.  He offers all kinds of markup services, and has worked with small / local sites as well as with national brands.  This post wouldn’t have been possible without his know-how.  Oh, and follow him on Google+.

(By the way, here’s the spreadsheet again.)

This is the rare post where it takes longer to explain the step than to do the step.  But getting the right Schema should be a quick one-time deal for your business, and it may give you that extra little edge in the local results.