Announcing Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper Tool

Just when we marketers and online businesses alike think that Google just hates us and has forgotten all about our hard-working existence, they go and release something like they did yesterday – the Structured Data Markup Helper Tool.

You’ve probably seen search results that look a little something like this:

Complete with a yummy-looking image of some ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookies and a 5-star recipe rating, along with the first several ingredients needed to make these little delights. Or you might have seen something like this:

How convenient – a list of events happening in the city of Philadelphia this weekend, all from the same website, appearing naturally in my Google search results.

These kind of search results are considered rich snippets, meaning these websites are returning query results that contain additional information rather than just the title and meta description of the page that ranks for the query. The results with all of this additional information tend to stand out from the rest of the “normal” organic search results, meaning they can help a website increase click through rates and keyword rankings in the long run.

So, how do you get all of this additional information that appears on your website to actually start appearing in organic search results? Well, thanks to Google’s new tool, it’s actually pretty easy. These kind of search results are accomplished using Schema.org structured data markup – which is basically just a fancy term for feeding the search engines (namely Google) additional information about any given page that you want them to see.

For example, if you are working with a product page, you have the ability to tell Google additional information about the product using structured data markup, and the new Google tool helps automate all of that markup for you, so even if you’re not familiar with HTML5 or Schema.org, you can still begin sending this additional information to Google.

Say you want to tell the search engines how many of the particular product you have in stock, or what the brand name is, or what the price is or even what customers are saying about your product. It’s all possible, and now, it’s all pretty simple to automate.

So here’s how Google’s new Structured Data Markup Helper Tool actually works:

This is where you start. Choose what type of page you’re working on marking up, and enter the page’s URL. For example purposes, I’m going to use a wonderful seafood restaurant I visited recently with my family while visiting Houston, Texas, the Goode Company.

Once I’ve entered the URL for the webpage I’m looking to markup (in this case, I’ll be using the page on this company’s site that focuses specifically on their seafood branches), I can start assigning “tags” by highlighting information that’s actually found on the page itself. In this example below, I’m telling the Google tool what I want the name of the page to be in my structured data markup:

On the right side, I can see the tags that I’ve assigned to the page so far just by highlighting the information that I want to enter. Here’s what the right sidebar should look like once I’ve entered all of the information that applies. If there is any information missing at the end, you can either enter it manually, or skip over it, but know that skipped information will result in a less thorough rich snippet in the search results. In this case, I’ll be skipping over the “Review” information, as there are no customer reviews listed on the page itself:

You can see the information that I’ve highlighted on the page, and if you notice, the right sidebar is, for the most part, filled. When you’ve finished entering your page’s information, click the red “Create HTML” button. You’ll then see something like this:

The tool shows you an example of the HTML for the page in its entirety with the addition of the automatically generated structured data markup. If you scroll down through all of the HTML, you’ll see that the additional markup that’s been added is highlighted in yellow. You’ll find this markup in two sections – the first is before the closing </head> tag. All you have to do is replace the HTML that’s already there on your page with the HTML that this tool generates for you:

If you continue to scroll down, you’ll see more highlighted HTML that is embedded within the page content itself:

Again, you can copy and paste all of this HTML into the page content to fully markup the page that you are working with. Remember that anything in the content field that you mark up will be visible to viewers, while the markup that goes in the <head> of the page is just that – markup, not content.

Then just make sure your page is included in your website’s sitemap that is sent to Google, and keep an eye on your search results. With the video rich snippets that we’ve seen here at Mountain Media, we have found that results can take anywhere between 1 and about 6 weeks to begin to show in organic search results.

So with the help of the new Google tool and some patience, you, too, can have rich snippet results for your website that can help increase your click through rates and keyword rankings, resulting in more overall search engine traffic to your website!

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Google Penguin 2.0: What the Future Looks Like For SEO

Penguin 2.0 is finally here! As Google’s latest attempt to combat spammy websites and black hat SEO tactics, this algorithmic update is said to be more comprehensive than the first Penguin update. However, unlike its Panda counterpart, Penguin 2.0 will focus primarily on backlink patterns, anchor text and poor link building practices.

According to Matt Cutts, websites that visitors naturally want to explore and share its content should not be negatively affected. Cutts urges that webmasters and practitioners of white hat SEO continue doing what they’re doing as Penguin 2.0 rolls out. However, with big algorithmic updates come big changes for SEO. Here’s what you can expect:

Content marketing is the new link building

As I mentioned back in April, content marketing has become the new buzz phrase in the SEO industry. And while some SEOs will argue that content marketing is no new SEO tactic, it certainly is the future. Gone are the days of free backlinks. Content marketing forces SEOs to earn quality backlinks through great content and social networking. Therefore, the future of SEO relies heavily on the ability to produce quality content as well as the promotion of this content. Content can be in the form of text, video, infographics, or whatever else you can produce and put on your site. For instance, video marketing is a perfect example of quality content and it’s extremely under utilized by small businesses.

Online PR thrives post-Penguin

PR professionals are used to generating organic search and referral traffic. Unlike traditional SEO tactics, online PR is about creating quality content for the media and blogs in order to drive traffic to a website. Press releases can build domain authority through the acquisition of backlinks from distribution services and more. The press release can also increase brand awareness, sales and thought leadership. In a post Penguin 2.0 world, traditional link building tactics will begin to fail and online PR will thrive. If you’re not already using online PR, you better get familiar.

Google will look into guest blogging

After Penguin 1.0, many SEOs turned to guest blogging as an alternative method for link building. Why? Because it’s very easy to add a link and anchor text to the bios below guest authored posts. As a result, there have been an overwhelming amount of links from guest blogging. And Google has begun to take notice. However, guest blogging has more potential than just link building. It can also be a great branding tool for any company or organization. As SEOs, we have to become more selective about the guest blogs we choose. We should always avoid blogs that have a low domain authority and ones that accept all guest posts. SEOs should also switch up author bios. Focus less on keywords and more on branded anchor text. When possible, include the author’s social profiles and their company website. This will allow Google to recognize a guest blog post as authentic. Lastly, publish content that is targeted and relevant to that particular audience and you will save yourself from the inevitable iron fist known as Google’s Search Quality team.

Long-tail keywords gain more search traffic

Long-tail keywords will become the new way to gain search traffic post-Penguin. Simply put, they are far less competitive than short-tail keywords and they are fairly easier to optimize on landing pages. With Penguin 2.0 forcing SEOs to focus on the customer rather than search engine rankings, long-tail keyword targeting is the key to meeting exactly what the customer is looking for. What’s more is that long-tail keywords produce highly relevant results, which can translate into high conversion rates for folks on the top of search engine results. Most importantly, the world has gone mobile. Think about how many people use iPhone’s Siri or Android’s Google Now for information. And when they talk into their phones they’re asking questions, not stating keywords. In essence, search is becoming conversational, which means SEOs need to start focusing more on long-tail keywords.

In conclusion, Penguin 2.0 is just another step in a positive direction. Rather than freaking out, embrace the chaos. Like every algorithmic update prior, Google stands by its core messages: create a website that users will love and write great content. If you can do that, Cutts assures us that Google will work hard to recognize it. Fear no more! SEO will always be a valuable tool to any business—that is, if it’s practiced correctly.

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How I Overcame the Worst Case of Writer’s Block Ever

As I sat down at my desk this morning, I asked myself – what topic do I feel like writing about today? I’m always looking for engaging and shareable content that not only I would want to read about, but I think others are generally interested in reading as well. I must admit, sitting in front of the computer with writer’s block might be the worst possible thing that can happen, especially during billable work hours. As I jump from one idea to the next, I find myself having some pretty scattered thoughts and I wonder, how can I possibly write an article in this state of mind? The answer – you can’t.

Rather than wasting time trying to come up with a topic that you can’t stay focused on for more than two minutes, here are the things I did in order to get myself over my writer’s block. If you’re facing the challenges of writer’s block, hopefully this article can help you get back in the zone too!

Get organized

Just as I mentioned above, my thoughts this morning were all over the place. Rather than having a topic in mind to write about, I was browsing online to see what was trending in the industry, what others were talking about, etc.

I got a little excited when I thought about writing how one of my favorite shows, ‘The Office’, came to an end last night, and how the show taught me what to expect in the professional world. After about ten minutes spent on that topic, it was on to the next idea, and finally I noticed that I had about four different articles partially started, each with zero direction. If you’re faced with writer’s block, don’t keep perusing the internet to help you come up with an idea. If you don’t have an idea, focus on something else until you do. This will save you time and frustration, I promise.

Find the right jams

Growing up, I never had a very long attention span. In high school and college, it was impossible for me to write a paper unless I had complete silence. This became a huge challenge to overcome once I joined the professional world, especially in a field that is ALL about talking. With time comes great skill though, and now I’m proud to say I can bust out an article while listening to multiple people talk in the background.

Unfortunately, when writer’s block hits, it’s not that easy. If you’ve got headphones at your desk, use them. Having only the sound of music blasting in your ears will certainly be a factor in helping you concentrate when writing. Whether it’s rock and roll or classical music that gets you focused, this tactic will certainly help you overcome writer’s block.

Get focused

With a dozen distractions in the traditional workplace, it’s especially challenging in these instances to close yourself off to everything going on around you long enough to write read-worthy content. I know this, because I spent half my morning trying to write when I always just found myself landing on Facebook, Twitter or both.

When you’re serious about getting over your writer’s block, there’s a few specific things you can do. First, go outside and breathe in some fresh air. Second, close out of any websites that could take your attention from writing your article. For me, this meant closing out of all social media networks and only having your text document and your thoughts. Another helpful tip is to move your workstation somewhere else, which can help with concentration and perhaps even a burst of creativity.

If I can stress one thing through this article, it would be to not write until you’re confident that the content you’re creating is worthy of being published. Regardless of who you’re writing for, don’t just publish content for the sake of publishing it. Make it something worthwhile that’s not going to waste people’s time. This way, no matter how long your article takes you to write, when it’s finally finished, you’ll have something you’re genuinely proud of.

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6 Things Sports Have Taught Me About Life in the Professional World

As some, not many, of Mountain Media’s clients know, I’m a former high school and college athlete, a swimmer, working my way through the professional world after having survived four of the most physically strenuous years of my life known as my collegiate career. While my former athletic glory ended several years ago, there are still plenty of times throughout a normal work day when I actually stop and think about something and realize, “Hey, I learned this from swimming all of those years!”

Unfortunately, there are some things I never learned, and will never learn, about the real world from my sport – like the fact that I cannot, actually, eat whatever I please and drink whatever I please and never gain a pound, that working out isn’t as easy to fit into your daily routine as it once was and that not every man I meet will look as good as a Division 1 swimmer in a Speedo (bummer). But there are some truly amazing life lessons that I’ve learned from sports that I will never forget, and that have helped to shape me into the young professional that I am today. I figured my company’s lovely blog would be as good a place as any to share these lessons with all of our loyal followers, and all of you athletes with bright professional futures out there!

Problem Solving is Like A Competition

You know that feeling that you get when you’re in a game or competition (or, in my case, a meet), and you glance over at one of your competitors and just stare them down because you want to beat them so badly? That competitive drive isn’t a bad thing – it’s something that good athletes are born and bred with, and it’s something that I’ve found really helps me in my problem solving skills, believe it or not.

When I’m faced with a problem or situation that I don’t know how to solve, I feel that same competitive drive within me to challenge myself to be better than I think I am and solve whatever problem it is I’m facing. I dig deep, I mentally pep-talk myself into believing that I know the solution, and I do things that I sometimes never thought I was capable of doing. That’s the competitor in me – no problem is too big to beat, even at my job.

Nerves Are Good

When you’re preparing for a big competition, the butterflies and knots in your stomach are natural, because you know how badly you want to win and you know the work that you’ll have to put in to accomplish your goals. When you finally get to game day, the nerves get even crazier, then turn into great energy that propels you to win.

The same is true in the professional world. When I have a big presentation or meeting that I’m preparing for, I feel nervous. I want to sign new clients and impress existing ones, and I can relate that feeling back to the way I felt when I would step up on the blocks to race. I turn my nervous butterflies into internal energy that drives me to put in my best efforts to prepare the right way for whatever it is I have coming up. Then I use the nerves to my advantage – they give me more external energy during presentations and meetings that show an excitement for what I do, and that excitement shines through to current and potential clients.

Teamwork is Awesome

Probably one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in a sport is that sense of family that you get from your teammates. My teammates were my family – we lived together in college, we trained together, we ate together, we partied together. They were my life. And when I would be in a race, I would see and hear their cheers the whole way through, knowing that they were there supporting me while I struggled to beat the girl in the lane next to me.

Even though swimming was an individual sport, I learned so much about teamwork because I could never have swam the races that I did without the encouragement of my teammates. The same is true here at Mountain Media – I couldn’t do what I do without my team. Everyone contributes, everyone’s ideas count and everyone is there to support each other when one of us is struggling. That’s the only way that we succeed, that we win, as a marketing department – when all of us work together. Thanks, swimming, for teaching me how to be a part of a team!

I’m Really Good at Math

To be honest, I was a broadcast journalism major in college. I studied writing and interviewing and I learned how to speak well in front of a camera. I always thought I was terrible at math, but I’ve been wrong all along, and it took working here at Mountain Media for me to realize that.

As a swimmer, we train on interval times, and our workouts consist of “sets” of repetitions of specific distances. Long story short – there’s a ton of math involved in a swimming workout. I never realized this until suddenly I started breaking down numbers at my job like it was nothing – things like hours on a project, hourly rates, the amount of work that should be done under a given client budget, analytical numbers, ROI statistics, etc.

My point here is that my sport taught me about something that I never considered myself to be good at, and it took me until my fourth year in the real world to realize all of the skills that I possess that I’ve never really put to use. Don’t sell yourself short in any aspect of your professional life. Your sport might have taught you something you never knew until you try it at your job!

It’s OK to Have Good Days and Bad Days

Every athlete has good days and bad days, both in practice and in competition. And it’s hard not to walk away from a bad practice feeling frustrated and disappointed in yourself for not performing to your usual standards. But despite that feeling, you go back the next day for more, without missing a beat.

Even in the professional world, it’s perfectly fine to have good days and bad days, and everyone has them. What sports taught me was how to move past the bad days and keep on the track towards totally rocking at my job. Nothing can bring me down for more than a day at a time.

Early is On Time!

Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my swimming career came from one coach that I had from the time that I was about 11 years old all the way through my college career – “Early is on time.” As terrible as it was to drag my tired self out of bed at 5am for morning swim practice, I knew that I couldn’t be late, because if I was, there would be a treacherous punishment just waiting for me when I finally arrived at the pool (have any of you ever done 1,000 straight yards of butterfly in a pool? A recommendation – if you don’t know what it’s like, don’t find out!).

As a result, I was never late. Ever. Not for practice, not for classes in college, and now not for work or meetings or presentations or anything else. In fact, I’m usually 10 or 15 minutes early to the things that are most important to me (social events aside, since we all know that being fashionably late is way cooler than being the first one at a party – duh). It’s this engrained little seed in the back of my mind as a result of that one coach – being 15 minutes early to everything means that you’ll always be on time.

While I may not be quite as ripped as I used to be in college, and I can’t eat my way through rough days without facing the consequences, I can still relate a lot of what I do in my professional life back to my sport. I’ve grown up since my major swimming days (I do still train and compete, but it’s for me now, not anyone else) and I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I know that the majority of elite athletes out there have futures in something other than their sports. So take what you can from your sport and learn from it. It’ll make you a better person, and a better professional, in the long run.

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