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I've been working on marking up website's HTML with Microdata. There are Product, WebPage, WebSite, Organization and other elements. Eventually I managed to nest everything under one element, which is

<body itemscope itemtype="WebPage"

The hierarchy is

WebPage
  itemprop isPartOf WebSite
     itemprop SearchAction
itemprop breadcrumb
itemprop mainContentOfPage WebPageElement
  itemprop // Products, ItemList, etc. (depends on the page)
itemprop copyrightHolder Organization
  itemprop name
  ...

There are actually more elements, but what I want to ask is:

Will search engines process nested elements like Organization fully, as if it were found separately like this:

WebPage
Organization

I'm concerned that search engines may treat copyrightHolder Organization only as a property of WebPage and not as a full, standalone entity (worthy of showing up in search engine results on its own, like company information summaries show up on the side of search results).

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If a search engine supports a specific Schema.org type (like Organization) and also supports a specific property that takes another item as value (like parentOrganization), it would of course parse this nested item, otherwise you couldn’t really speak of "support".

So the question really should be: Which Schema.org types/properties does make the search engine use of, and in which context?

For example, it could be conceivable that a search engine considers only a top-level Organization item for doing something (e.g., displaying a rich snippet), but not a nested Organization item. This would be stupid, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

Every search engine (and other consumer) has its own rules and quirks. Unless you know about them specifically (in which case you could adapt, if your care about that consumer), you should stick to the official definitions and documentation on http://schema.org/, and you should not limit the expressiveness of your structured data just because there could exist consumers that can’t handle it.

About your example:

I'm concerned that search engines may treat copyrightHolder Organization only as a property of WebPage and not as a full, standalone entity (worthy of showing up in search engine results on its own, like company information summaries show up on the side of search results).

Well, it is "only" a property of the WebPage. Without denoting anything in addition, a consumer only learns that this Organization is the copyright holder of the web page. I wouldn’t expect a search engine to do anything fancy with this (except, of course, displaying who’s the copyright holder).
If you have a page about a Thing and an Organization holds the copyright for this page, the interesting part for displaying rich snippets in general-purpose search engines would typically be the Thing, not the Organization.

If you want to denote that the page represents the Organization, you could use the mainEntity property. Using this could make sense on the homepage and the about page of the organization’s official website.

By the way, this mainEntity property is what you probably want to use instead of mainContentOfPage in your example (background).

  • I put mainContentOfPage to denote the main elements of the page: WPSidebar, WPHeader, WPFooter and mainContentOfPage : WebPageElement (center column which holds the main content). The WebPageElement has itemprop="mainEntity" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Product". Would you say that it would be better to get rid of mainContentOfPage? – gskema Oct 20 '15 at 6:16
  • @gskema: Yes, I wouldn’t use mainContentOfPage and WebPageElement (and its sub-types) at all. -- I think they were introduced for non-HTML documents or emails, so that they can convey the same structure that HTML can with elements like nav, mainetc., but they aren’t really useful for the average HTML-based web page (my guess is that they might get deprecated or re-defined in the future, because many people ask on GitHub and the mailing list what their purpose is and no one seems to have a good answer; but who knows). – unor Oct 20 '15 at 12:34

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