Announced by Google in 2011, Schema markup is form of a microdata that was established in collaboration by the search giants Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex. The aim has been to develop a specific vocabulary of tags that enable webmasters to communicate the meaning of web pages to computer programs that read them, including search engines.
This development in how search engines operate, which has had a dramatic effect on search results, has made Schema markup an essential aspect of online strategy for SEO practitioners.
Schema and semantic search
Since Google’s Hummingbird update, semantic search has become an increasingly necessary consideration for anyone looking to enhance their online visibility.
Returning more specialised results than ever, Google has been striving to provide more meaningful answers based on a better understanding of search queries. Not only does Google now evaluate every entity in a search query, it also weighs the searcher intent against the data it already has. While Google extracts this information from unstructured data on the web to inform what it presents in search results, structured data markup like Schema enables webmasters to have more of an influence.
Prior to the introduction of Schema markup, more complicated microformats such as hCard could be used to identify aspects of a webpage to search engines. As it is stated in The Art of SEO, before Schema, “semantic markup was largely the province of academia”.
Generate rich snippets
With Schema, the opportunities for improving your appearance in search are extensive: Restaurants can indicate their 5 star reviews and have them pulled through to search results, entertainment venues can do the same with their event timetables, and courier services can advertise their starting prices.
When seen in search results, these extra details are known as “rich snippets”. Although rich snippets may be shown to improve CTR (click through rate), it’s important to remember that the Schema markup used to gain them is not a shortcut to successful ranking.
Influence the knowledge graph
Schema also goes beyond rich snippets. Using this form of structured data markup can influence the knowledge graph and enable computer programs, such as apps and personal assistants, to read the most important information (such as location, pricing and stock information) on your site more clearly.
With the advent of screen-less search options, such as smart voice-activated assistants, it is feasible that a future scenario could see a webpage with structured data being favoured over one with unstructured data.
Getting started with Schema
To get started, Google has a handy Structured Data Markup Helper. Though the offerings are limited, at least one of the data types should be applicable to your business, and help you gain an understanding of Schema markup.
One of the most immediate ways Schema can be used for businesses with a physical address is to improve local SEO through establishing their business name, address and phone number (NAP information) more clearly.
Always be sure to test your markup before you implement it with Google’s structured data testing tool.