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Schema.org Best Practices: Make the Most of your Markup

10 April 2014 BY

The conference attendees at ClickZ New York had been slipping away hour-by-hour and by the time the last afternoon session rolled around, the hallways were deserted. But not for people going home, a sizeable crowd has gathered in one room to have Schema demystified. Such a technical topic scheduled at the end of a three day conference that still managed to draw a crowd? We’re on to something here…

Schema, we’ve all heard of it, we all suspect we should be using it, however it has been difficult to find statistics about the positive impact it has on your site: until now.

Brian Ussery and Marcus Tober presented their observations, statistics and some insider tips.

But first, some statistics* to galvanize the crowd:

(*SearchMetrics ran a study, analyzing 66,463 keywords and 561, 704 domains looking at how those sites used Schema).

  •  99.70% of domains in the sample set did not have Schema markup
  • Only 0.3% of domains in the sample set have Schema markup (an increase of 0.03% from 2013).
  • In 2014, in this study, sites using Schema rank 4 places higher than those not using Schema.

Schema Table

Brian Ussery quoted Schema markup as only being used by 15% of websites across the internet at large.

By implementing Schema now you will be ahead of a large chunk of the internet and, most likely, your competitors. 

Best Practices to Make the Most of Your Markups

What was the thinking behind Schema in the first place? The internet is disorganized. It is a sprawling mess of chaotic, inconsistent information, some of which is useful, much of which is not. Google and other search engines try to find order in the chaos and Google, to reference one example, has done well at this, indexing some 50 trillion pages at the last count.

Google Indexation Figures

Google Indexation Figures

 

With such a vast array of information out there it is clear that the search engines often need some help understanding what all of these words, numbers, images and videos mean, enter Schema, a type of structured data that helps search engines better understand the entities on a page and their relationship to each other.

For example, on smaller publishing sites, it might not be obvious to the search engine crawler how the author’s name relates to the story, is it the name of the author, the name of the contributor, the publisher or the name of an individual featured in the story itself? Structured data, such as Schema helps to put details like this in context, which helps search engine crawlers understand the content.

Larger sites, such as Wikipedia and established publishers such as The New York Times, and The Guardian have an advantage because of their dominance, crawlers will crawl their site anyway and will make an effort to understand their content as it is valuable for the users. The same cannot be said for smaller sites. Whilst this might seem unfair, Schema is your opportunity to communicate with the search engines and put your content in context.

Right, but why would anyone want to do this?

The theory is that by communicating your site content more effectively to the search engines, your content will be better understood and more likely to be shown correctly in the search results. In particular, Schema markup contributes towards rich snippet search results, so whilst Schema does not affect your organic rankings, it can give your keywords a richer search result, with images, videos, ratings, reviews, offers or product details (to list just a few examples) and it is these richer features that we are all chasing as they get a higher CTR.

Examples of Schema in action

Star Ratings

Schema Star Ratings Example in Search Results

Schema Star Ratings Example in Search Results

As you can see from the image above, star ratings appear in the search results and the knowledge graph on the right hand side of the SERP.

The code is as follows:

itemtype=”http://Schema.org/AggregateRating”

Recipes

Schema Recipes Example from Search Results

Schema Recipes Example from Search Results

Recipes also have their own Schema type, as indicated in the image above.

In the examples above, for recipes and film reviews, it is clear that the public’s opinion of this entity, whether a film or a recipe, is a clear indication of the quality, so the reviews are particularly useful for the end user trying to decide what to make for dinner or which film to watch. This sounds like a moot point but it isn’t.  Rich snippet results including images or ratings tend to be shown for informational queries, when the rating of the product (whether a film or a recipe or anything else) is useful to the user, a well-reviewed recipe or film is more likely to be rewarded with a click, so that information is useful and this is why the search engine will surface it.

Ratings

Much like reviews above, ratings are useful for consumers as the research stage of a  purchase.

Schema Review Examples from Search Results

Schema Review Examples from Search Results

** Ratings Pro Tip Ratings must come from your site and be on display there. Schema does not work with 3rd party ratings, from Yelp for example.**

Generic Schema Types to Test

Adding Schema markup to your pagecode might seem like a daunting undertaking,  implementing Schema does not guarantee rich snippet results and it therefore might be difficult to secure developer resources. Throw in the fact that the most commonly-occurring number of Schema markup showing up in the search results is only two, it becomes clear that implementing Schema is not a one-and-done sort of project, implementation will have to be done incrementally.

It makes more sense to select some of the more generic Schema markup initially and gauge the impact this has on your CTR and traffic. By so-doing, if your results are successful, you still have the option to gradually experiment with new Schema markup. For although Marcus Tober only had data for 2013 and 2014 so far, the results suggest that Schema-derived (or Schema-like) results are an increasing presence in the SERPS.

In the meantime, experimenting with breadcrumb navigation, logo and organization markup (the latter allows your location and telephone number to potentially appear in the knowledge graph for your business) is the best first step.

Schema Breadcrumb Search Result

Schema Breadcrumb Search Result

** Pro Tip  How to quickly check if your users are using Schema **

If you are concerned that your competitors are rolling out Schema markup, search [Site:domain.com Schema.org] in Google and find any marked up pages.

Quality Control

As a final note of caution, rich snippets are algorithmically generated and therefore any abuses will be algorithmically penalized. The opportunities for businesses using Schema are incredible, however it is important that you do not try to game the system. One example mentioned in the presentation was that of sites trying to pass off coupon codes as offers. This falls foul of many search engines’ best practices and once you have been penalized for those tactics, it is extremely difficult to recover and get rich snippet results back. Brian Usser’s shared his high-level tips for general best practice in using Schema:

1) Avoid invisible content – mark up that leads to nowhere, whether a review or a discount offer.

2) Avoid misleading content – marking up an incredible price offer for example that isn’t real, just to get people to your site

3) Only use one structured data language – anything else is just confusing to the search engines.

Essentially, avoid using Schema that compromises your user’s experience.

Overall, the opportunities for smaller businesses are tremendous, it is virtually impossible to communicate with search engines to complain about injustices in the search results. Schema is one of the few solutions, along with your site itself and your xml sitemap, to focus the search engine crawlers on the content the matters. By marking up your site content in this way you are telling the crawlers about the most important component of your business.


 

About the author

Sarah Kershaw is a search analyst based in New York who engages in freelance writing in her spare time, writing about trends in digital marketing, the future of news and fine art. As a search analyst, Sarah is interested in UX and IA and tends to get very animated when talking about fonts and colours.

AUTHORED BY:
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This post was written by an author who is not a regular contributor to State of Digital. See all the other regular State of Digital authors here. Opinions expressed in the article are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of State of Digital.
  • Arne van Elk

    Sarah, I tried your PRO TIP (How to quickly check if your users are using Schema) but I’m afraid it’s not helpful since Google doesn’t index the “schema.org” syntax (I mean, Google obviously uses it but that text is not part of the cache). One example, cache of the IMDB entry on ‘American Hustle’: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:IK2CkwOQZg4J:www.imdb.com/title/tt1800241/&hl=en&strip=1

    • SEOWeasel

      Yeah, me too. That combo of site+schema operator doesn’t work.

    • http://johnvantine.com/ John Vantine

      Came here to make the same comment. Great article otherwise.

      Rich snippets also seem to be triggered by user intent (based on the search query). So doing a site:domain.com search can return pages that contain Schema markup, but these pages may not necessarily be accompanied by star ratings on the SERP for the site:domain.com search, whereas these pages may have star ratings if they rank highly for a term that they’re relevant for.

  • Sarah Kershaw

    Hello Arne and SEOWeasal – I just tried it for [site:toryburch.com Schema.org], the example given in the lecture, and it worked. Rather confusing – but just to illustrate. URL: https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3A+toryburch.com+schema.org&oq=site%3A+toryburch.com+schema.org&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i58.15854j0j1&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=119&ie=UTF-8#nirf=site:+tory+burch.com+schema.org&q=site:+toryburch.com+schema.org

    The aggregatereview schema is used in the page code.

    This at least is a working demo…

  • Arne van Elk

    Sarah, the fact that text is present in the source code of a page doesn’t mean you can find it by using Google. Why should Google index text that isn’t relevant to the topic of a page? Your example is sort of a coincidence. For instance, when I look at Google’s cached text version of this page: http://www.toryburch.com/lip-color/56GJ01.html , I see one occurence of “schema.org”:

    Lip Color
    USD http://schema.org/InStock
    $32.00

    And that’s the only reason why you see it in your results.

  • Brian Ussery

    @Arne van Elk typically you are correct, something like this usually does not work. This was a little known “trick” that seemed to miraculously VANISH a few days after I mentioned it. :) That said, you can now create a Google custom search engine for schema.org content. See https://www.google.com/cse/create/new > Advanced Options. Here is an example search engine for schema.org/Movie

    https://www.google.com/cse/publicurl?cx=002399142731388418853:qwytifjacwu

    Either way, thanks for your interest for the great coverage!

    • Sarah Kershaw

      Thank you Brian for the update. The custom search engine is GREAT, thank you for sharing.

      • Brian Ussery

        My pleasure, thanks for the fantastic coverage!

    • Arne van Elk

      Nice tip Brian, thanks! Have created many CSE’s in the past but didn’t know this was possible. Will try it out

  • Christian Greiner

    I’m confused by the disparity in these two lines;

    “Only 0.3% of domains in the sample set have Schema markup”
    “Brian Ussery quoted Schema markup as only being used by 15% of websites across the internet at large.”

    Am I missing something?

    • Sarah Kershaw

      Hello Christian,
      In the first lecture, Marcus was referring to the domains in his sample set specifically. Brian was speaking more generally about the use of Schema across the internet at large.

      Hope this clears up the data points a little.

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