Schema Markup is a standard defined by Schema.org which is used to improve the way that a website is represented in the search results.
Schema is becoming more and more mainstream, now, as webmasters are learning the value of helping the search engines to understand their sites.
What is Schema Structured Data?
Schema is the result of a collaboration between the four main search engines – Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex. Yes, there are still people out there who use search engines other than Google! Indeed, Yandex is incredibly popular in Russia, because it is a search engine that caters to the language and locality.
Schema is a collection of tags, known as micro-data, that is used to describe the content of the page – it describes things like the type of content, the title, the author, and things specific to the content in question – star ratings, prices, or quotes, for example. This means that the search engine can provide richer and more accurate information about the content, and display it in a more eye-catching way. For example, if you have a book review, then you could show star ratings and the number of reviews, and this would give people an at-a-glance idea of what’s on the site and help them decide whether the content is useful for them.
Schema.org’s vocabulary can be used in a number of different ways, with encodings including microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD all being supported. There are lots of different extensions on offer, and Schema can be used not just to mark up web pages, but even email messages. A lot of the more sophisticated sites, such as Pinterest, use Schema to offer richer and more engaging, searchable experiences.
Because the vocabulary is standardized and shared, this means that it can be used worldwide and will benefit webmasters, searchers and users for a long time to come. In the event that Google were to be overtaken as the biggest search engine one day, Schema would be robust enough, and useful enough, that it would survive the changes and would therefore be of value to whatever replaces Google. It is a collaborative standard, with lots of consultation going on for new standards, and with plenty of opportunities for people to share their thoughts.
If you have programming skills, then it may be worth looking to get involved with schema yourself. The vocabularies are developed using an open community process, and anyone can contribute to the GitHub, or get involved via the mailing list that is hosted by w3.org. There are still opportunities to get involved with the development of the web today, albeit in a small way, and change the way that we interact with search engines and gather information about the world around us. Yes, even a developer in their bedroom or garage can still have an impact on the online world.
Tools for Making Schema More Efficiently
Google provides its own structured data markup helper, which offers some useful features for creating structured metadata for a range of different content types, including:
- Articles & Book
- Local businesses
- Software applications
- TV Episodes
- TV Episodes that have ratings
Schema is a form of structured data. Structured data is the term that is used to describe a system of pairing names and values, to help search engines better understand the content they are looking at. Microdata is a particular form of structured data which works well with HTML 5. The Schema.org project was created so that the main search engines could all agree upon the definitions for specific tags, to allow webmasters to more easily make pages that all of the search engines could understand.
Open Graph is another form of markup, which was used by Facebook – Open Graph is less detailed than Schema. The two standards can be use alongside one another, but the Open Graph standard does not replace, and is not compatible with, Schema.
Google offers a Structured Data testing tool which can be used to test a snippet of structured data, or to test a URL, to determine whether the structured data is valid and what it looks like. You can use this to test your snippets and see how they will look in the search results, without having to wait for Google to re-index them.
The Structured Data Markup Helper – again, provided free by Google – makes it easy for people who do not know much about HTML or web editing to put together pages that are properly marked up. With the helper, webmasters can view their own pages, and mark them up using Schema inside their browsers. Simply highlight the part of the page that is significant, right click, and then select what that content refers to. For example, you can highlight your telephone number, right click on it, then select telephone number from the list. Do the same for opening hours, and so on, until you have the full layout.
Once you have marked up the whole page, it’s simply a matter of selecting ‘view HTML’ then copying the new Schema-complete markup. If you use WordPress for your website, then you can view the source of the page/post that you have just edited, and paste the affected section over the top, then save it, to have your new Schema-rich page.
It will take a little while for Google to catch up. Exactly how long depends on how popular your page has proven with Google historically. Wait a few days and hopefully you will see the results of your work in the SERPS.
Schema for SEO
If you want your website to rank well, then you will need to use Schema as well as other on-site elements to provide good SEO. Your site must be mobile friendly, otherwise the search engines will penalize it. The site must load quickly, and the content must be fresh and unique.
Structured data can be used to provide information about people, places, organizations, products, events and works of art/creative works. Within each category, there are details that can be added. For example, books can have an ISBN, an author, an illustrator and a title, amongst other things. Events can be classified by the type of event they are, and when they are held. Products can have prices and star ratings.
Pages which use structured data – in particular the type that creates rich snippets – tend to see much better click-through rates in the search results. It is not completely clear how much influence the metadata has on the actual ranking itself – although it is going to be considered as one of many factors when a site is ranked, and considering it affects the CTR – which is another factor that Google considers among its many signals – it does matter.
Schema is just one tool – and it won’t help you if your site is rarely updated or if it is full of duplicate content, then simply adding schema to it won’t make it any more appealing to the search engines.
Schema won’t help you to hide bad reviews, and it won’t make you appear on map searches that aren’t relevant to you. It’s a useful tool, but it is still purely for processing the data that is on the page. You are not giving the search engines instructions with it. If you want your site to rank well, then you will need to make an effort to provide engaging and informative content at all times.