Google’s Data Highlighter: Your New Favorite Backup Plan

We all know the importance of Schema markup and rich snippets on your search results. We’ve written about the importance of getting markup implemented on your web page and getting rich snippets showing in your search results. And you should. Schema markup is the best solution to getting rich snippets to show up in search results.

But what if you can’t? Implementing schema markup requires dev resources, coding skills, and file access that aren’t always the most available. Maybe you need something quick and dirty. Well, that’s where the Data Highlighter in Google Webmaster Tools comes in.

What is the Data Highlighter?

The Data Highlighter is your new shortcut to rich snippets in Google. If you haven’t played around with it, you definitely should.


Let’s say, for example, you have an event that you want to promote. You’re on a bit of a time crunch so you don’t have time to wait for resources to free up but you also know that this is only applicable for a few pages, so you shouldn’t have to derail an existing development project.

Simply log into Google Webmaster Tools and go to the “Data Highlighter”. Then select “Start Highlighting.”

Select item type:


Use your mouse to highlight text and notate it:


When you’re done, hit “Publish”:


You did it!

What data can I highlight?

The Data Highlighter isn’t nearly as robust as, but it does offer its share of data types to markup.  You can do Articles, Events, Locations, Book Reviews, Movie Reviews, Products, Software, and a few others.

This is especially useful for small businesses who want to highlight their location pages:


Or for business that only have a few products to sell online:


What are problems with the Data Highlighter?

The Data Highlighter isn’t perfect, which is why it really is the quick and dirty method. First, if you change any aspect of the page’s coding, it will break the Data Highlighter project even if the content remains the same. In order to get pages to re-cache, you’ll need to delete the old project entirely and start from scratch.

Secondly, you can run into problems if you have a lot of pages. One of the Data Highlighter’s features is that it will try and guess what chunks of content go with what data item, and it’s pretty good at it, but not perfect. It leans pretty heavily on placement of text and images on the page. So if a specific item isn’t constantly located in roughly the same spot in the page as it is on others, the Highlighter will have difficulty finding the items to notate.

For example, it has no problem identifying the different items on this most pages when I set up the page set for the Portent blog, but when the featured image is removed, the guesses are completely off:


It also requires patterns in the URL structure to group pages together. For example, here it’s looking for URLs that contain the word “blog” in the file path.


You can use regex to refine this a bit, but at that point its probably worth going straight to Schema to markup the data on the pages, since that’s easier to implement on a template-level.

Lastly, it’s only visible to Google. Other search engines and sites that may crawl your site for data won’t be able to use the markup at all, so you aren’t communicating the data categories to Bing or anyone else.

When should I use the Data Highlighter?

You should use it when you have no other choice! Maybe you got an enormous development queue and want to start seeing rich snippets earlier. Or maybe you want to measure the impact of a rich snippet to see if implementing schema markup site wide is worth the effort. Perhaps you have limited coding resources and just need to markup a few things, like your product or physical location.

All in all, the Data Highlighter is what it is: a quick and dirty method for rich snippets. If you have the ability, you should absolutely use schema to markup your code directly. It’ll make a difference in the long run and is much easier to scale. But if you’re a small business or just have a few things to notate, the Data Highlighter might be the perfect solution for you.

Have you used the Data Highlighter before? Was it a headache or a revelation? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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