All you need to know about Structured Data, Schema Markups and their role in SEO

November 25, 2016 | Basic SEO

For a long time now, Google has been using structured data and this has allowed the search engine to move beyond a simple results page. These days, Google search results provide a lot more information.

Search engine results are more and more tailored to fit the needs of the user. The clearest example of this are rich snippets. With rich snippets, a lot of additional details, besides the blue title link, are presented in the search results page. Information such as ratings, breadcrumbs, dates and so on is also displayed.

SEOs these days must know how to make use of these enhancements if they want to get ahead in their SEO objectives. Just to be clear, search engine optimization (SEO), can be defined as strategies and techniques used to provide greater and better visibility for web accessible resources (images, music, videos, text etc.) in search engines. Over time, there were a lot of developments in the field of SEO and the trends change quite fast. SEO Trends of 2016, might not work in 2017. Small changes by search engines in the manner they gather and display data can create havoc in the SEO world. Yet, the entire struggle is to increase our content’s visibility.

Schema-Markup

But how do you create better visibility? Well, there are basically two ways of attaining visibility.

  1. By providing clear data to search engines so that they can better understand your website and
  2. By providing authoritative data mostly through web links and more and more through social media citations

The first method  is where schema markup and SEO cross paths. However, before we delve into the dynamics of Schema and SEO, we need to understand how structured data, schema and SEO have evolved to their current state.

Some background information first

Back in May, 2009 Google officially introduced Rich Snippets. However as far back as 2008, enhanced search engine results for Download.com, Yelp, CNET, Citysearch and TripAdvisor had already begun to surface. The May 2009 announcement gave these enhanced search results the official name of ‘Rich Snippets’ and additionally explained how the Rich Snippets were generated.

To display Rich Snippets, Google looks for markup formats (microformats and RDFa) that you can easily add to your own web pages.

The introduction of Rich Snippets began the race for a more enhanced search-user experience. The 10 simple blue links began to slowly disappear.

Search-Result

Since 2009 the different types of Rich Snippets have steadily grown. Rich Snippets for information concerning people, food recipes, events and reviews have come up since then. Other Rich Snippets include products, breadcrumbs, shopping, video, news articles. Rich Snippets have also paved the way for the Knowledge Graph.

The goal has been to help webmasters advertise their content better, and therefore give users as much information as possible, before they make the decision to click through to a website.

Check out an example of a recipe rich snippet below:

Rich-Snippet

No-Rich-Snippet

Rich snippets are likely to continue to evolve and change based on what Google deems useful for search engine users. However, for users, the changes have been quite subtle, if any at all. That being said, one aspect of Rich Snippets that will continue to evolve are the markup formats.

So far, there are several technical developments that have changed how webmasters use rich snippets. Google launched several tools to make it easier for Webmasters to use structured data markup formats, in a way that Google can understand and more support for different RDF syntax.

More specifically, Google officially supported microdata from March 2010, while support for the more universal schema.org was from June of 2011. In mid-2015 Google support for the much awaited and easier-to-use, JSON-LD was received with bated breath.

Thereafter, and more importantly for content article writers, from around December 2015, Rich Snippets for articles were introduced. Google at the same time also began to support (Accelerated Mobile Pages) AMP-supported Schema.

Since Google introduced Rich Snippets, they have increased their support for markup including Microformats, RDFa, and Schema. So the next logical question would be, what are Microformats, RDFa, and Schema and what is their context in SEO? Answering this question will help us to discuss more confidently whether ‘schema markup is a google ranking factor for SEO or not’ – a topic which I’m going to cover in my follow-up post.

How do Microformats, RDFa, Schema Markup, and SEO relate?

In order to better understand how relevant all these concepts are to each other, to search engines, to advertisers and to search engine users, it is important to understand what these concepts mean. There is no better place to start than introducing the semantic web.

The term ‘Semantic Web’ was coined by Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web). He defines it as “a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines”.

According to the W3C, (whose role is to promote standards for the web)

“The Semantic Web provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.”

The W3C’s most fundamental framework for common data formats is the RDF (Resource Description Framework).

semantic

You can read more about the components of the semantic web architecture and the evolution of the World Wide Web and the semantic web for more details.

For our purposes, however, it is important to understand the following:

  1. HTML is the building block of a website and describes the document and the links between the documents.
  2. Structured data, is a way for publishers to highlight content on their web pages to help search engines know exactly what certain words relate to, such as product review scores or addresses.- searchengineland.com
  3. The Semantic Markup “…approach to web markup is a central concept underlying efficient web coding, information architecture, universal usability, search engine visibility, and maximum display flexibility. Web content is accessed using web browsers, mobile computing devices of all kinds, and screen readers. Web content is also read by search engines and other computing systems that extract meaning and context from how the content is marked up in html.”
  4. The 4 main technologies used for publishing structured data in HTML include; RDFa, Microformats, Microdata and JSON-LD.
  5. Microformats expand HTML syntax to create a machine-readable semantic markup about arbitrary things like organizations, people, products or events.
  6. The Semantic web, pushes for structured data in the web even further than Microformats by publishing using language’s such as RDF, OWL and XML mentioned above that are specifically designed for data.
  7. RDFa which has been in development since 2004 works in all XML based languages e.g. HTML5, and provides machine-readable attributes that allow rich data to be embedded into documents.
  8. Microdata allows semantic information to be nested within an existing HTML web page. Schema.org is microdata.
  9. Schema, (schema.org), is a shared markup vocabulary of tags that was introduced in 2011 by all the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc.). Schema.org adds tags to HTML so as to structure and improve how the data is understood and represented in SERPS by the search engine.
  10. Unlike RDFa and microdata, which are inline structured data markup syntaxes, JSON-LD can be placed anywhere in the HTML document using a script tag. Through JSON-LD you can also extract and store data from RDFa, Microformats and Microdata in JSON.
  11. Google officially supports Microdata, Microformats, and RDFa, and choosing one and being consistent with it will provide you with cleaner and more consistent code. The most anticipated choice that is supported by Google is Schema as the vocabulary and JSON-LD as the data representation.

Without-Schema

Code-With-Schema

Hopefully, this helped you understand the basics of Schema Markup and how you can leverage it along with SEO. Do let us know any comments/suggestions/counter-views on what you think of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Mohammad Farooq works as an Analyst. When not doing anything related to Analytics or Digital Media, he goes backpacking around India. He regularly blogs about Travel, Movies, Socio-Political Issues and a lot of other things on his blog ReveringThoughts

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