Data Highlighter: a Hidden Gem in Search Console

Data Highlighter

Data Highlighter

Adding Schema markup microdata to our webpages is helpful in acquiring more organic traffic for our sites. Though Google has not declared it as a ranking factor, the search giant has acknowledged that it uses structured data to better understand the HTML elements of a site so it can use them for rich snippets.

Having rich snippets may not directly improve rankings, but they allow search listings to display elements that may result in higher organic click-through rates. Author names, prouct review scores. Prices, event dates, etc. are some examples. It’s definitely something that every webmaster should implement on his or her site but to this day, very few of us actually do it properly.

Reasons why Schema markup isn’t implemented on a site can vary widely. Regular bloggers may not have the coding knowledge to apply microdata while ecommerce site owners might find it to be a daunting project especially if they have thousands of pages. Still, it’s a worthwhile project and it’s something all of us have to address at some point.

Fortunately, Google provides a quick and easy way to mark up elements of your site without having to dig into your HTML for inordinate numbers of pages. The Data Highlighter tool provides a point-and-click suction for quick and easy markups. While it’s not exactly new, Data Highlighter is often ignored despite the benefits it brings and its relative ease of use.

How to Use Data Highlighter

If you’re reading about this, you probably have Search Console all set up. If not, here’s a quick guide. If you’re installing SC for the first time, please note that it may take a few days to a week for the data to start showing up in your account.

Once that’s been taken care of, go to Search Console, choose the property you want to work on and go to the menu at the left hand side. Click on Search Appearance>Data Highlighter:

Search Console-Data highlighter

If you’re using Data Highlighter for the first time, you’ll see an introductory video with a blue button beside it that says “Start Highlighting.” Click on it.

Start highlighting-Data Highlighter

You’ll be asked to enter the URL of the page.

Data highlighter enter URL

Next, designate the type of content in the page. The selection is a little limited at this point, but most of the major types are covered. Articles, Events, Movies, Products, software, etc. are some of the types you can expect to see:

Type of information-DH

You will then be asked whether you want to apply the data highlights to just the page identified or if you want to apply the same markups to every page similar to it. Choose an option that suits your needs.

From there, you’ll be shown the page within Search Console.

Data highlighter screen

Highlight text, images and other elements on the page. After releasing left click on your mouse, you’ll be shown a choice of different markup types that you can tag on-page elements as.

Data highlighter tagging


Data highlighter-author markup

image data highlighter markup


Hit the Done button to publish the markups. It’s that simple.

Substitute for Schema? Not so Fast

While Data Highlighter offers quick markups and ease of use, it’s not a perfect alternative for Schema microdata application. For one thing, the fact that it’s on Google Search Console means that only Google can see the markups. Bing, Yahoo and other search engines can’t see it and therefore can’t display rich snippets on their search results.

George Freitag also pointed out that changing the content in your pages can mess up the Data Highlighter project after you publish it. When this happens, you will likely need to redo the highlighting. George also noted that while Data Highlighter was good at identifying tagged items across multiple pages, it’s not 100% accurate. Subtle changes in the positions of the page’s marked elements may confuse Google and leave it unable to recognize HTML elements. To improve data pattern recognition, Bill Slawski recommended unblocking CSS and JavaScript files in robots.txt.

Even with these limitations, Data Highlighter is an amazing tool as far as I’m concerned. The fact that it allows non-coders to mark up their data and potentially display rich snippets in Google’s SERPs is a lifesaver for some of us. The tool is perfect for smaller sites owned by bloggers who can’t be bothered by technical SEO. It’s also a quick and dirty markup solution for bigger sites with web development teams that are often too swamped to put Schema markups on top of their priority lists.

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