On my site's home page, I have various products for which I display an image linking to that item's main product page. For each of these products, I could include a schema.org/Product tag, but to include the itemprop="brand" and itemprop="name" tags for each product, they would not be visible to the customer apart from being part of the img alt tags and I would include them as <meta itemprop="[name/brand]" content="itemName"> tags within the product div, next to the image.

Therefore the meta information for the structured data markup would not be visible to the user. Is this disadvantageous for SEO, meaning I shouldn't markup the homepage with structured data, or is it preferable to include the structured data with the non-visible information in meta tags?

The itemprop="url" property for each product on the home page refers to the product's main page, which is why I thought including these tags would be beneficial to Google to see how the site is structured - I just don't want to appear spammy.

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    microdata isn't for users. It's for search engines. Users aren't supposed to see them. In fact, they have no visible elements to be seen anyway so I am unsure what you're actually trying to ask.
    – John Conde
    Feb 20 '14 at 2:09
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    @JohnConde I thought that Google ignores or even penalizes data on sites that aren't visible to users - so for instance, microdata usually refers to information that is visible to the user. If you have microdata markup for a product's image, that image is visible. Usually the product's name would also be visible, but in my case it isn't. By including microdata for elements that aren't visible, might Google penalize me for the equivalent of keyword stuffing?
    – YPCrumble
    Feb 20 '14 at 2:21
  • There are situation where the search engine can't tell if the microdata is really about something on the page or not, the only thing it can tell if it is well structured or not. Also, microdata is a very expensive way of "stuffing" the page, it overloads the page, makes it slower and you know that is going to be parsed, so you know that if the data is not consistent, or redundant (in excess), it's going to cause troubles.
    – PatomaS
    Feb 20 '14 at 2:25

Structured data should only be used on text that is visible to users. The only time mark up should be added that is hidden is if providing both a machine-readable and a human-readable version of your content.

For example, while the text string "Elvis's birthday" is significant to a great many human readers, it's not as meaningful to search engines as 1935-01-08.

However, this doesn't apply in you case, so you should not be adding mark up for data that is not visible; which could most definitely result in being penalised for mark up abuse, as stated by Google:

While rich snippets are generated algorithmically, we do reserve the right to take manual action (e.g., disable rich snippets for a specific site) in cases where we see abuse, deception, or other actions that hurt the search experience for our users. In particular, you should avoid: Marking up content that is in no way visible to users.

More info from Google here:

Rich snippets - Products

and here:

Rich snippets guidelines

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    Thanks for the link! From here: support.google.com/webmasters/answer/146750 I see that "When using product markup, the main topic of the page should be a specific product, not a category of products or a list of products. Product markup on listing or category pages is not supported," so I believe I can safely say that including the product snippets on the homepage isn't best practice as it's a list of products. I'll remove these as well as the people tags on the homepage as well as this seems to make most sense.
    – YPCrumble
    Feb 20 '14 at 4:39
  • @YPCrumble: This only means that no Product Rich Snippet will be shown, which is obvious of course, as the page is not about a specific product. This does not mean that you shouldn’t use Schema.org for those category pages. Quite the contrary, it can be still be useful to provide Schema.org markup (search engines are not the only consumers of this data), and even Google might consider to display a different Rich Snippet for those listing pages in the future.
    – unor
    Feb 20 '14 at 9:44
  • Max, I don’t think that your first paragraph is correct. There are various cases for hidden markup where it doesn’t necessarily make sense to display the data to visitors (for example, Schema.org’s itemListOrder).
    – unor
    Feb 20 '14 at 9:47
  • Regarding your third paragraph ("which could most definitely result in being penalised"): This only applies in cases of "abuse, deception" etc. In YPCrumble’s case, the content is visible to users (just not parseable by Google), as it’s contained in an image. So any "manual action" by Google (which would probably never happen, unless YPCrumble misuses it) would see that the content is relevant and related, i.e., an alternative description for the content in the image. Dozens of official Schema.org examples contain hidden markup, there would be much to do for Google.
    – unor
    Feb 20 '14 at 9:49
  • I'm just repeating Googles guidelines, which I presume is what most people want to adhere to.
    – Max
    Feb 20 '14 at 9:53

There is no reason to believe that search engines penalize the use of meta/link for Microdata (unless you misuse them, of course, e.g., stuffing keywords not related to your webpage’s content).

(It may very well be the case that search engines don’t like this way very much (compared to marking up visible data), but this doesn’t mean that you’d get penalized, it would just mean that the benefit might be lower/ignored … if it’s the case.)

Microdata meta/link elements can be used in the body exactly because there are cases where the name-value pairs shouldn’t be visible to visitors.

Schema.org (which is a vocabulary initiative created by Bing, Google, and Yahoo!) documents it in their FAQ Missing/implicit information: use the meta tag with content:

Sometimes, a web page has information that would be valuable to mark up, but the information can't be marked up because of the way it appears on the page. The information may be conveyed in an image (for example, an image used to represent a rating of 4 out of 5) or a Flash object (for example, the duration of a video clip), or it may be implied but not stated explicitly on the page (for example, the currency of a price).

(They don’t mention link in that section, but you should always use link (instead of meta) in cases where the value is a URI.)

They also say:

This technique should be used sparingly. Only use meta with content for information that cannot otherwise be marked up.

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