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Schema.org – What does it really mean for us

13 June 2011 BY

Its now been just over a week since the three major search engines announced a unified approach to “create and support a common vocabulary for structured data markup on web pages”. The announcement made almost simultaneously by Google, Bing and Yahoo is in simple language a way of standardising markup – such as microformats – for any party wishing to utilise the schema.org framework. According to the official schema.org site the requirement for a new schema was bourne out of three main issues

  • Webmasters – Schema.org provides a single resource for webmasters to go to rather than the existing fragmented approach.
  • Search Engines – Provides a centralised structured approach required in order to ‘improve search’. In real terms – pages can be interpreted as required with no potential for misintepretaton’
  • Users – With structured data – users will have a better experience from services such as search engines. We have already seen evidence of this via Googles Microformats adoption however further takeup of schemas.org should see this translate across multiple engines.

So how does this differ from previous incarnation such as Microformats. Well quite significantly as it happens. The conscious decision to utilise Microdata is surprising given the adoption by Google of RDFa and Microformats. However whilst Microformats are concise and easy to understand, they don’t offer an open extensibility mechanism and the reuse of the class tag can cause conflicts with website CSS, whilst the complexity of the RDFa language has often been associated with the slow takeup within the community. Microdata is the most recent well-known standard, created along with HTML5. Whilst schemas.org uses the Microdata format – the likes of Google and Yahoo which had utilised Microformats and RDFa for certain schemas will continue to support these moving forward – something which I had been slightly concerned about given something Richard Baxter said recently during his Sascon presentation.

This may not sound a particularly big deal however it has potentially massive significance to markeeters. Standardisation in my opinion has been one of the main issues behind mass takeup of frameworks such as RDFa etc due to the fact players such as Bing hadn’t adopted these – and only really Google significantly utilised such a framework within their mainstream search results. Thus a more standardised way of working theoretically means greater takeup, greater incorporation and ultimately greater development of these frameworks moving forward.

As with microformats a variety of data types are available including

  • Events
  • Organisation
  • Person
  • Place
  • Product
  • Product
  • Review

Which many people will already have in place in existing formats. Further support is also provided for

  • Creative Works such as Books, Movies, Recipes etc
  • Non Text objects such as Audio, Images and Video

Further information regarding current schemas can be found on the schemas.org website

One can already see the incredible potential and scope for the takeup of the new data types. Furthermore greater expansion of this into areas already not covered by the existing data types should follow suit quickly and I would be very surprised if we didn’t see any new rollouts over the coming months.

However closer integration by the three engines could be significant in a different way. Closer integration of XFN in particular to identify relationships for me could be one area where we could see significant movement moving forward – although Google’s utilisation of Author markup could yet prove me wrong. However where this collaboration does come into its own is by the fact its not just about Google (in theory) and as such we could find greater innovation and collaboration yet coming through.

One thus would suggest this does paint a relatively positive picture, however I personally do have some concerns

  • Will search become better because site owners are making it easier for search engines to index content? One would suggest this is already happening as SEO has become more ‘in-vogue’
  • Will this technically-heavy approach benefit those more technical operators in favour of more relevant content which has not been marked up
  • Will this collaboration truly be collaborative

My over riding opinion is its a massive step in the right direct. Greater working together in the current circumstances and in a marketplace as volatile as search can only be a good thing and provide us a with a scalable and long term approach to search engine management. Only time will tell however whether the take up of this as a framework is successful or not though.

AUTHORED BY:
h

Peter has been around the industry for a while now, having previously headed up both search and SEO operations at Connectpoint (now Amaze), Mediavest, Brilliant Media and now Search & Social Director for Mediacom.
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