Ever wondered why some websites get featured all over Google? They’re in the featured snippets and drop-down answers. Some websites feature prices, reviews and phone links in Google search results.
Well, it’s all because of something called schema markup.
Let’s get something straight right off the bat. Schema markup is NOT new. The major search engines – Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex – have been collaborating to create Schema.org since 2011.
Yet it remains one of the least utilized forms of search engine optimization. In fact, one study shows less than one-third of Google’s search results include a rich snippet with Schema.org markup.
For you, this presents a huge opportunity to get ahead of the competition.
Schema markup is proven to boost your website visibility in the search engine result pages (SERPs) and increase click-through rates.
If you’ve read our Ultimate SEO Checklist, you’ll already be familiar with this tool. If not, don’t panic – you’re about to learn everything you need to know to get started.
What is SEO schema markup?
Schema markup, also called structured data, is microdata that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative and detailed results to searchers (commonly known as a rich snippet).
You already know how search engine bots crawl and index the content on your site so they can return it in relevant search results. These are the basics of SEO.
With schema markup, that content gets indexed and returned in a different way. Because your schema markup code tells the search engine what your content means.
It all came about because major search engines recognized how useful microdata was to provide much-needed context to an otherwise ambiguous webpage.
But they faced the challenge of incorporating all the different markup vocabularies into their algorithms.
Imagine the confusion!
To solve the challenge, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex came together to create a standard microdata library, and they called it Schema.
Here’s how Schema.org explains it:
Most webmasters are familiar with HTML tags on their pages. Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag.
For example, <h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format.
However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means — “Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.
Another term you might come across with schema markup is JSON-LD.
In terms of SEO, JSON-LD is implemented using the Schema.org vocabulary. It’s actually considered to be easier to implement as you can simply paste the markup within the HTML document, rather than wrapping the markup around HTML elements.
However, search engines currently only display a few types of JSON-LD markup on the search results page, so the practical application of JSON-LD is limited.
Does schema markup improve your search rankings?
There is no evidence that microdata has a direct effect on organic search rankings. However, rich snippets do make web pages appear more prominently in the SERPs, thus improving click-through rates.
The right schema markup tells search engines what your content means. Consequently, the content on your website gets indexed and returned in a different way. In turn, search engines can provide results that display better information for what users are searching for.
Why you should use schema markup
One of the biggest advantages of using schema markup is that it creates what’s known as rich snippets.
Google loves rich snippets:
(Image Source: Quicksprout)
What are rich snippets?
Rich snippets make your webpages appear more prominently in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Higher visibility means higher click-through rates. And we all know what that leads to – more conversions.
But there’s another long-term advantage to SEO with schema markup.
Assuming you have good content on your page, visitors that click-through will be satisfied with what they’ve found so they won’t quickly return to your search results (something known as pogo sticking).
Google sees that they’ve found what they were looking for, which could lead to your rankings getting a boost.
How many types of schema markups are there?
Contrary to what many website owners might think, schema is NOT designed to be used for every single part of your content – just the most important parts.
Here are the main types of schema you can use on your pages
Mark up your events so that users can discover them through Google Search results and attend your event.
You can add lots of different events through markup. Local businesses can use it to highlight classes, workshops and festivals.
Here’s what the SERP result looks like when a local NYC theater has markup on its concert schedule page:
Here’s another great example – the New York City events calendar:
The schema markup told the search engine to display a clickable schedule of upcoming events. For visitors to NYC, this is incredibly helpful – they can click straight onto the local event they are interested in.
Mark up your recipe with schema to provide useful information for searchers, such as how easy the recipe is, cooking and preparation times, nutritional information and user reviews.
Google recommends adding this schema data:
Aggregate Rating - average review score
Author – creator of the recipe
Cook time – actual time it takes to cook the dish
Prep time – actual time it takes to prepare the dish
Date – when the recipe was published
Description – summary of the dish
Nutrition – Number of calories in each serve
And the list goes on.
So, what does all that look like in the search results?
Take a look at this example:
Organization & local business information
Organization and local business information is a schema markup that every business should implement on their website. This includes markup for:
Amenities – e.g. free Wi-Fi, disabled access
For a hotel, it looks something like this:
For hotels, there’s now a structure to describe nearly every aspect of your business, right down to the types of accommodations available. These can also include the square footage of the space, and the size and number of beds.
Like we said, you can get down into the details of almost everything about your business. But the key is to only tell Google, and therefore searchers, the most important elements.
Products and offers markup
Do you sell products online? For eCommerce sites, product schema is a way to provide clear and helpful information around prices, stock levels, product reviews and deals.
Check out this example for a Sony camera. It lists everything you could want to know before deciding to click:
(Image Credit: Yoast)
Using markup to enable rich product results has incredible potential for conversions, so make sure your information is super accurate and fresh.
Another hot tip is to only use markup for a specific product, not a whole category or list of products. Google provides structured data guidelines for multiple entities on the same page.
And it won’t come as any surprise to find out that adult-related products are not supported.
Publishing sites can use schema article markup to improve the visibility of content in Google’s news feed.
Markup content with the following:
Length of time since the article was published
But it’s not just publishers that can use article markup – if you’re writing awesome content on your blog, you can use schema to enhance your website’s appearance in the search engines and even appear in the top stories carousel.
Try the NewsArticle or BlogPosting schema – these are the most common.
How to implement schema markup for SEO
The goal of schema markup is to rank better, look better, and do better in the SERPs and in front of users. Nonetheless, understanding how schema works is one thing, but knowing how to use it effectively is a whole other challenge.
Luckily, there are lots of schema markup tools out there to help you get the most out of this SEO tactic.
Follow this list of steps to use schema markup for SEO:
Go to Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper
Search engines know that schema markup can help them deliver better results for searchers, so they want to make it as easy as possible for webmasters to implement it.
No surprises then that Google has put together a heap of tools and resources for webmasters in its Structured Data Markup Helper. This will work for anyone, no matter which content management system you use.
Select the type of data and paste the URL you want to mark up
Choose from the data options listed and paste the URL or HTML source of the web page that you want to mark up, such as an events page. If you only have HTML, you can paste that instead.
Then, click “Start Tagging.”
The page loads in the markup tool giving you the workspace to tag items – this is the markup process.
As shown in the image below, you’ll see your web page in the left pane, and the data items in the right pane:
Select the elements to mark up
Now you’re ready to highlight and select the type of elements you want to mark up.
So for an event, you would choose the date, time, location and name of the event.
When you select each item, the tool adds it to “Data Items” in the right-hand panel.
Create the HTML
Once you’ve finished adding items, click “Create HTML”.
You’ll see the HTML of your page with the microdata inserted in the spots that you highlighted.
Add schema markup to your site
Next, you will go into your CMS (or source code if you’re not using a CMS) and add the highlighted snippets in the appropriate spots.
Use the yellow markers on the scrollbar to locate the schema markup code.
Alternatively, you can download the HTML file that’s automatically generated and paste it into your CMS or source code.
Test your schema
The most important part now is to use the Structured Data Testing Tool to find out what your page will look like in Google search results.
You can also go deeper and inspect each markup item. If you need to make changes, you can edit the HTML in the testing tool, then update and preview results again.
Tips for setting up schema markup for the first time
First, the really good news:
You don’t need to learn any new coding skills to use schema markup.
All you need to do is add bits of Schema.org vocabulary to your HTML Microdata. (Or get your web developer to do it for you).
Using schema falls under the white hat SEO umbrella, so long as you follow the guidelines set by Google and other search engines.
Ready to get started?
Use these four rules.
Find the schema type that is most relevant to use
There’s a long list of markup types – Schema.org provides a list of the most common types of schema markup.
Use the list to identify the types that are best suited to your business, as we’ve already shown above.
Don’t apply structured data markups to every last element of your website. Think about what your potential customers will find helpful. What will compel them to click-through? Which details will add value? How can you provide the answers they’re looking for when they search?
Only mark up the content that’s visible to humans
Never mark up the content in hidden page elements. Cloaking or hiding content and applying structured data to content that visitors can’t see anyway is a big no-no for Google.
The schema markup should only be applied to what people will actually see if they go to your page. So, don’t mark up ratings or reviews in schema if visitors won’t see them when they click through on the search results.
Test your markup
Just like your web changes, make sure you always test your schema.org markup to make sure it is implemented correctly.
Luckily, Google provides a rich snippets testing tool, which you can use to test your markup and identify any errors.
Use a plugin
Depending on your business, you’ll probably use the same tags over and over again.
Use a schema plugin to make it easier to apply it to your site.
If you’re using WordPress, the Schema Creator plugin by Raven is pure genius.
WordPress plugin Yoast has also released an update that offers defragmented implementation of Schema.org markup. This is designed to fix those schema implementations that haven’t been done well.
Get ahead of the competition
Now you understand what schema markup is and why it matters, what are you waiting for? Get ahead of the competition and make your website more visible in the search engine results.
We know it can be overwhelming at first, but schema will probably be around for some time yet. So the very least you should do is invest some time to understand it. Then, if you aren’t confident doing it yourself, bring in the experts.
Schema markup is just one of the actions we recommend in our Ultimate SEO Checklist.
Find out what else you should be doing to make your search rankings and conversions soar.
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