If you consider the simplest answer to the question that the title of this article asks, “Is schema markup a ranking factor for SEO or not?” The simple answer is NO. At least not right now.
In the previous article, we discussed about the role of Structured Data and Schema Markup in SEO. Now, it is time to analyze the question. And the answer.
Several Google experts including Google’s John Mueller have previously confirmed that structured data markup (of which schema markup is just one example) isn’t used in Google Rankings.
So in general, using structured data markup doesn’t directly affect your site’s ranking, so if you add this markup to your pages, and that’s something that kind of helps us to better understand your page’s content, but it’s not something that will see any drastic changes in rankings in the search results.
However, if you consider the question in a slightly different way, you could come up with a sort of YES answer.
Say for instance, if you asked, “is structured markup data (of which schema markup is just one example) a helpful factor in improving search engine optimization or search engine visibility?” the answer would be a clear YES.
This is because the use of structured markup data can improve your website (or content) search engine visibility in 3 primary ways:
1. Structured data helps Google algorithms to better understand and index your data.
In essence, Google finds it easier to understand structured markup data as compared to semi-structured or unstructured data that you would ordinarily use.
The evidence of this is Google’s continued support for an increasing number of data formats in order to accommodate greater adoption of widely used RDF (resource description Frameworks) syntaxes. For example, in 2009 Google announced support for RDFa and Microformats while more recently in 2015 Google announce support for JSON-LD. Furthermore, Google encourages web users to use these data formats.
Therefore, currently, according to Google, “data in the schema.org vocabulary can be embedded in a HTML page using 3 alternative formats; RDFa, Microformats and JSON-LD. According to Google, the structured markup data has to comply with Webmaster Quality Guidelines and Structured Data Policies.”
According to Google:
…JSON-LD is supported for all Knowledge Graph features, sitelink search boxes, Event Rich Snippets, and Recipe Rich Snippets; Google recommends the use of JSON-LD for those features. For the remaining Rich Snippets types and breadcrumbs, Google recommends the use of microdata or RDFa.
Apart from these clear examples where structured markup and schema.org are used, it is important to note that Google has used structured markup data for a long time, even before schema.org.
For instance, those who have been doing SEO since way back have always used structured XML data. In fact, even now, if you submit a malformed or poorly coded XML sitemap, it will get rejected or in the least, it will definitely not be crawled correctly.
The important point here is that a poorly coded XML sitemap will not be correctly crawled by Google and this will definitely, negatively affect your search engine ranking.
Therefore, from the above examples, it is quite clear that providing structured markup data to Google will directly benefit your search engine visibility. Obviously, however, the structured markup data that you choose to use has to comply with Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines and Structured Data Policies.
2. Structured data imposes a structure on your websites architecture that’s independent of design
In essence, if you interlink data in your website better, you will experience a benefit towards your search engine ranking.
To illustrate the point further, disorganized classification of data or unstructured data practices, often result in several different URLs for the same product on the same website. By now most SEOs know that duplicate data on a website is a NO-NO, when it comes to search engine ranking.
On the other hand, if you put your website together using structured data, using RDF to organize your website, by running SPARQL queries (refer to the semantic web architecture above) to retrieve and manipulate data stored in RDF format, against an OWL ontology (web-layered ontology), the structure of the website will be very clear to both the search engine and to the user.
In essence, by using structured data, you will end up with an internally consistent website that is logical and therefore favored by the search engine which simply means that there will be a positive impact on search engine ranking for the website.
3. Structured data is easier to link automatically through machines
Since the inception of search engines, the traditional way that a search engine users discovered or requested information is through a direct search engine query. These days however, different types of data that are useful to the search engine user can be presented.
For instance, data from, Tweets, Facebook news feeds and other social media platforms are increasingly being added as relevant and useful results in search engine result pages.
Additionally, Google is increasingly producing results based on a user’s machine or profile observed behavior. For example, let’s say that you love to search for American Football teams, players and scores, through your browser. Additionally, you have subscribed to a blog and to several twitter feeds and Facebook groups about the NFL (National Football League). If you make a Google search about ‘cowboys’ your result is likely to yield more results about the Dallas Cowboys than about the animal herders or the 1972 film with the same title.
Therefore, the task for SEOs will be to structure more of their content and data, so that it is made available for search engines for a more richly diverse search engine results page. SEOs also need to keep an eye on the effects of various Google penalties that can derail their train, anytime. Hence, SEO strategies need to factor-in all of this as well.
Additionally, rather than Google sending a search engine user to a webpage where the user will be encouraged to go through some sort of conversion funnel or pathway, Google now provides answers on the Search Engine Results Page. This is simply the case because the search engine is easier able to make sense of data and find the relationships between the data and content in websites.
Ranking schema.org and structured markup data
When Google receives structured data as represented by your website, it does two key things in order to provide relevance and usefulness of your website to a search user’s query.
- It vets the data to make sure that it is authoritative data. It does this mostly through citations, user “votes” and through other ways to determining whether the content is spam.
- It then ranks the data
At the end of the day, Google focuses on one main objective: making it as easy and as convenient as possible for the search engine user to find useful and relevant answers to the queries that he/she makes.
As such, in as much as Google will highly appreciate a well-structured data or schema website, if the Google algorithm assesses that an unstructured or poorly written HTML website is important and useful to a lot of people, the poorly structured HTML website will still rank higher.
Essentially, according to Google, the search engine user’s preference, convenience and content relevance is more important than whether the whole website is organized in Schema or not.
To emphasize this point further, John Mueller of Google says,
… just because you’re marking up the content using structured data and your competitors aren’t doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ranking regardless of your structured data markup.
… I think that’s something where you shouldn’t assume that adding structured data markup to a page will significantly change its ranking, but rather I would do this to help us to better understand the content on your page, and of course to make sure that we can pick up things that we could use for rich snippets, because while rich snippets also aren’t a ranking factor, they do make the search result a little bit more interesting and they might attract more people to click on your site, even if it’s not ranking first.
Adding Schema Markup to your webpages for Rich Snippets
Since we have already established that Schema is very important towards your SEO efforts, what are the basic ways that we can incorporate it into our SEO campaigns? Well, there are two basic ways.
First, Google does have a tool called the Structured Data Markup Helper, which you can use to simply identify and tag elements on your website and therefore have them incorporated with the proper schema vocabulary semantically.
Secondly, if you are familiar with some basic coding in HTML, you will find it quite easy to incorporate the schema markup into the HTML for your website. Tuesday (31)
For more information on how to use the Structured Data Markup Helper tool, watch this space for details on how you can do so. We will also have a basic tutorial and background for how you can use Schema markup in different forms using Microdata and the basic RDF syntaxes RDFa and JSON-LD, (JSON-LD is one of the recent additions of RDF syntaxes that Google now supports)
The image below from the meatloaf recipe, illustrates how your schema markup will look like and how it will work on a rich snippet.
Testing Schema Markup on your website
Once you have created the schema markup for your website using any of the two methods mentioned above, you should test the schema. Google has two great tools that you can use to make sure that your schema implementation will be properly interpreted by the search engine when the website is crawled.
First, you should use the Structured Data Testing Tool. This tool allows you to test the correctness of your schema and allows you to make changes immediately, in order to repair any errors before deployment of your schema markup.
The second tool is the Structured data report. This tool helps you track how Google understands your structured data over time.
What then happens from the search engine’s side, after adding a markup? Google says:
Once you’ve marked up your site’s content, you can test it using the Structured Data Testing Tool. Google will discover it the next time we crawl your site (although it may take some time for rich snippets to appear in search results). When our algorithms discover technically correct markup on a page, we use a variety of signals to determine when to show rich snippets, including compliance with our Webmaster Quality Guidelines and Structured Data Policies. As a result, correctly marked up content may not always trigger rich snippet in our search results.
Since Google has provided great tools that you can use in order to implement schema on your website, you don’t need to be a programmer so that you can implement schema. Additionally, there is a lot of good documentation at schema.org for you to add markup that is relevant to the resources on your webpages.
Once you have properly deployed schema, you will give the search engine greater opportunity to increase both your visibility and traffic through the search engine results page (SERP). Therefore, you should endeavor to add as much markup as you can to your website
Drawbacks of Schema
As you may have guessed by now, there are a few drawbacks of implementing schema. These include the following:
- Creating and deploying schema can sometimes be quite an involving task that will take up quite a bit of your time. This is especially the case when your website has several pages.
- So far, there is still a very low adoption of schema.
- Some marketers fear that the structured data on a website can also be used to provide answers right on the SERP and this will mean that the search engine user may not feel compelled to go to the website for results. This therefore diminishes the potential for the website owner to convert traffic through any sort of conversion funnel.
- Since there is no absolute or solid proof that schema does indeed improve search rankings, it can be difficult to know how to allocate resources in order to determine whether the investment in schema is worthwhile.
Benefits of using Schema
The Google developer website highlights that there are 2 kinds of Google features that become available to you if you use structured data or schema for your webpage content. These include;
- Enhanced presentation and search results including Rich Snippets, site link search boxes and Breadcrumbs
- Knowledge graphs, where if Google sees you as an authority for certain content then they will feature your authoritative data.
Apart from the great ego-trip that you will get from being represented in such a cool way on Google, there are some added advantages to using structured data and schema to your webpages. Some of the benefits are as follows:
- Through the use of schema, Google and other search engines are able to produce eye-catching results in the search engine results page. This eye catching results will give you the edge over your competitors.
- Through the use of schema, you will also find higher quality results right on the search engine results page. This will allow search engine users to quickly determine the results that are most relevant to them.
- Since it is currently estimated that less than 1% of all websites use schema markup SEO (or structured data for SEO), there is still a lot of potential to created enhanced searched results that will appeal to search engine users.
- Additionally, the more the variations of schema that you use, the more you increase your opportunities to appear on the SERP with an enhanced, eye-catching presentation.
- Adding schema to your website will result in a higher click through rate (CTR) due to the enhanced search engine results e.g. Rich Snippets.
- Additionally, since the enhanced presentation in the search engine results page will give a lot of relevant information about the webpage, once the user goes to the page, they are unlikely to bounce off the page
Does Schema really increase your CTR?
Though we cannot be absolutely sure that Schema.org is used in search engine rankings, one area that we have more certainty about the impact of schema, is in the impact on CTR.
If you talk to most SEO experts, they will tell you that if you make your search results relevant to search engine users, and if you make the results more eye-catching and attractive than your competitors, you will attract more clicks. Google will agree with this as well.
So we can safely assume that Schema does indeed increase your CTR. However, the question is, how much? Is the increase significant enough? Well, back in 2011, searchengineland.com claimed that you could increase your CTR by 30%. Others claim that schema can increase CTR in ranges between 15% and 50%. This is quite significant.
The future of Schema in SEO
Though Schema is not that difficult to implement, it is quite baffling that quite a few webmasters and businesses have adopted it for their websites. That being said, with the effort that search engines have clearly invested in structured data and schema, it is quite clear that structured data is here to stay for quite a while to come.
This means that it is quite worth it to learn how to use structured data (and specifically schema) and implement it for your website because it will improve your visibility and therefore help you to be a step ahead of your competition. In fact, if you want more reasons to use more structured data, John Mueller of Google says that Google may soon add Structured Markup and data to its ranking algorithm.