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 engine 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 in their results page, so the practical application of JSON-LD is limited.
Schema: a unique semantic vocabulary in microdata format
The great thing about adding schema to your website? You don’t have to learn another coding language. Schema SEO vocabulary works using HTML — the only difference is that you need to incorporate the unique Schema.org vocabulary into your website code.
How do you do this?
Through your HTML Microdata.
Microdata is a set of tags that aim to make it easier to annotate an HTML web document with machine-readable elements. Unlike other coding languages that require you to learn a bunch of new skills, microdata is simple and straightforward to write and understand — both for humans and machines.
The format works by adding global attributes into your HTML code: itemscope, itemtype, itemprop, itemid and itemref.
The itemscope attribute is used to create a specific item and indicate that the following section contains information about that item, such as Nike Air Force Ones in a certain size and color.
The itemtype attribute is a way to identify what an item is and categorize it. Each item can only have one type, and comes in the form of a valid URL in Schema.org’s predefined vocabulary. For example, the itemtype for the Nike shoes would be https://schema.org/Product.
The itemprop attribute is used to label the properties of your item. For example, you might use <span itemprop=”name”> to indicate a product’s name or <span itemprop=”desc”> to outline its description.
The itemid attribute allows you to give a unique identifier to your item, such as an ISBN number for a book or an organization.
The itemref attribute is used to reference properties of an element that aren’t directly contained within the itemscope, such as properties that might be listed somewhere else in the HTML document.
Does schema markup improve your search rankings?
At the moment, there is no concrete evidence that microdata has a direct effect on organic search rankings. But that doesn’t mean they don’t play a role in your organic SEO efforts. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Rich snippets lend a huge hand when it comes to improving your web pages' visibility in SERPs. You’ll get the upper hand when it comes to screen real estate AND you’ll be able to provide your customers with more valuable information that entices them to click on your page. Do this well, and you’ll boost your clickthrough rate and the volume of traffic coming to your site — the ultimate goal of SEO.
On top of that, Google itself has said that properly structured data can enhance a website’s presence in organic search. For example, websites with a higher star rating from structured reviews are more likely to appear at the top of the results page:
Adding structured data also gives you the chance to appear as a rich snippet like this one:
Why you should use schema markup
One of the biggest advantages is that schema markup 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 the SERP (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 schema types you can use on your pages:
Events: Mark up your events so that users can discover them through Google results and attend your event. You can add lots of different events through markup, from classes and workshops to festivals.
Recipes: 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.
Businesses and organizations: This allows you to mark up important information about your local business, like your location, images, site logo, contact information, social links, ratings, amenities, and more.
Products: For eCommerce sites, product schema is a way to provide clear and helpful information around prices, stock levels, product reviews and deals. You can even add in a specific offer for your products.
Articles: Publishing content to your blog? If so, you can markup your articles to improve the visibility of content in Google’s news feed. Schema allows you to mark up valuable information related to your article or blog post, such as your headline, image, date, and length of time since the article was published.
And these are just the most popular. There are also different types of schema markups for reviews, videos, people, and places. The Organization of Schema page has a full list of all the different types available. Trust us: if you have any kind of data on your website, there’s probably an itemtype for it.
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.
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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