Imagine trying to learn a new language without studying its vocabulary. Worse yet: what if there was no way to study its vocabulary? You might be able to memorize specific phrases to achieve certain results, but would you understand what you were saying? Would you be able to recombine those words in new ways, or would you be stuck saying, “Puedo ir al bano” indefinitely? Asking search engines to read site content without structured data and schema markup is a little like asking someone to have a conversation using only a phrase book. They can figure out the words but have no sense of the meaning.
Structured data and schema are a complicated but necessary part of SEO strategy
Understanding this aspect of SEO can be even more confusing if you don’t understand the terms or how they relate to one another. And often, these terms are used interchangeably. In reality, structured data, schema markup, and rich snippets comprise distinct and important pieces of the puzzle.
Structured data is code that’s added to a website to help search engines understand the site’s content more efficiently. Search engines read this code and use it to display richer, more specific search results. Using structured data, you can literally “talk” to the search engine and explain what information on your site is crucial. You can think of this as the umbrella term— schema is one example of structured data.
Schema markup is an index of structured data. The schema vocabulary is used across websites and understood by major search engines making code markups easier to recognize and more consistent. Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex officially support schema, and it’s Google’s preferred vocabulary for structured data if you want rich snippets in your search results.
Examples of schema markup for your business website include the company’s location, phone number, email address, or products and services. When these are identified, search engines can recognize this information as most important and prioritize the relevant information.
Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD
These are the common formats of schema. If you think of schema as the vocabulary, microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD could each be different dialects. As of July 2018, according to Drupal, Google prioritizes JSON-LD over the other formats.
Have you ever searched for a recipe and had the search engine results page (SERP) pull up the exact ingredient list you needed? Or typed in the name of a nearby movie theater and been presented with upcoming showtimes? These pieces of “extra” information are called rich snippets, and they’re designated using schema markup. Search engines pull this extra information from the structured data inserted into the page’s HTML. Common Rich Snippet types include reviews, recipes, and events. Because they’re more eye-catching and provide more targeted information, Rich Snippets can lead to higher organic click-through rates (CTR).
Schema is about what data means, not just what it says
Schema acts like a dictionary for search engines. SEMrush calls it a structured vocabulary set that defines entities, actions, and relationships on the internet. It establishes the connections between data and its meaning— what’s known in linguistic studies as semantics. Schema also helps search engines contextualize information to determine what a particular page is about.
For example, if I write an article that contains the words “Bend, Oregon,” a search engine can find those words and generate a SERP that contains them. But with the appropriate schema markup, I can tell the search engine that Bend, Oregon, is a location and not just a random assortment of words. It then uses that information to provide more relevant SERP results. Instead of defining the word “bend,” for example, it might give you information about Bend’s history or a “Top 10 List” of things to do when you visit.
Another example: if I put the right schema markup around “Megan Rapinoe,” the search engine can determine that it’s an article about the soccer player, not one that’s been written by her.
Schema.org explains it this way:
“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.”
Benefits of schema
Schema helps both search engines and searchers understand what your site is about at a glance. Many experts claim that schema is simultaneously the most powerful and most under-utilized tool in your SEO kit. In fact, according to Neil Patel, one-third of Google’s search results incorporate rich snippets, which include schema markup, but less than one-third of websites use schema markup. That means there’s incredible, untapped potential in leveraging schema.
You don’t have to learn any new coding
In fact, if you’re using Google, their structured data markup helper walks you through the simple process, step-by-step. Once you’ve tagged the relevant data on your site, Google converts the HTML so you can see where relevant microdata has been inserted, and update your site accordingly. Most schema languages can be added to the existing HTML code to embed metadata. If you’re looking for more information, Schema.org provides a list of the most common types of schema markup. The most popular languages include RDFa, Microdata, and JSON-LD.
Structured data makes your website more user-focused
Search engines exist so that users can find the information, products, and services they need. Plain and simple. Using schema, you make it easier for search engine users to find the most relevant information about your site. Instead of clicking and scrolling, they can see at a glance whether or not you have the information they need. You can think of schema as a virtual business card: something that presents your most relevant information.
Schema helps your site rank better for all content types
Schema.org provides hundreds of markup types. Whether you’re using schema for an article, your restaurant’s menu, or the location and hours of your business, you’ll rank better with structured data.
Structured data enables a feature to be present; it does not guarantee that it will be present.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “If you don’t play, you can’t win the game.” We still understand that playing grants us an opportunity, not a promise. Structured data and schema are similar. If you don’t use structured data, you can’t display rich results. However, just using structured data doesn’t guarantee that your rich results will display.
As Google outlines, “The Google algorithm tailors search results to create what it thinks is the best search experience for a user, depending on many variables, including search history, location, and device type. In some cases it may determine that one feature is more appropriate than another, or even that a plain blue link is best.”
Though the concepts themselves may seem complicated, structured data and schema are relatively straightforward to implement. If you’re still not sure how structured data can complement your other SEO strategies, a Google Accredited Partner like Savy can help boost your SERP rankings and work with you to get your Rich Snippets on display.