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Pages with Schema markup rank four positions higher in search results, according to a study by Searchmetrics.

That’s an incredibly juicy proposition. 

I’ve been making a point in my journey as a writer for Econsultancy to investigate the many and varied terms in digital that I don’t understand.

As I am a relative newcomer to the digital marketing world, this is like a trial-by-fire. In previous weeks I’ve covered terms like CRM, CRO and black hat and white hat SEO.

This article will be a beginner’s guide covering various aspects of Schema, from a basic explanation as to what it means, to why you should be using and some stats to back up the claims.

What is Schema markup?

Schema markup gives webmasters all kinds of options to make their site’s listing on a search engine results page (SERP) look all snazzy and relevant to your business or service.

It’s the difference between this…

and this…

Schema is basically a type of ‘rich snippet’, a HTML markup that adds extra detail to the text underneath the URL in a search result. 

As you can see from above, if you’ve searched for ‘tiramisu recipe’ you are far more likely to click on the result that includes an image, a starred rating, a calorie count and various other bits of information that a webmaster can provide to make a result look more appealing.

Rich snippets are a way for you to tell search engines directly who you are, what you do and and to give precise information as to the product, service or content you’re providing

It’s also a signpost that helps clear up any confusion, Schema can tell search engines that when you’re writing about ‘gravity’ it’s related to the natural phenomenon rather than the Oscar winning film.

Schema is also the preferred method of markup for Google, Bing and other search engines.

Should I be using Schema markup?

Absolutely. If you want your listings to stand out from the rest it’s imperative to do this. Chances are you’ve already set up Google authorship and seen some improvement in your rankings, or at the very least an improvement in the visual appeal of having your smiling trustworthy face next to your content. Why not add loads more detail too?

It’s not just for SEO reasons, it’s also for the benefit of the searcher. If they have more detail at their disposal then they’ll be able to make a more informed choice. The bigger picture is to make the internet a better place, with the most trustworthy and relevant results given the highest ranking on results pages.

According to Searchmetrics, only 0.3% of domains were found to include schema.org integrations.

This is one of the best largely pointless pie charts I’ve ever seen.

Less than 1% of all webpages are taking advantage of pimping up their snippets. That’s an extraordinarily empty playing field, and if that wasn’t enough to convince you: pages with schema.org integrations rank better by an average of four positions compared to pages without schema.org integrations.

Despite the low number of sites carrying Schema integration, Google already delivers schema-derived markups in nearly 37% of search results. So, markups based on structured data are used very rarely by webmasters, but are massively common in Google SERPs.

How to use Schema

Schema.org is the project’s website where you can see the vocabulary needed to markup your page accordingly. It helps if you have some fundamental knowledge of basic HTML.

Schema.org describes the principles very clearly here…

Your web pages have an underlying meaning that people understand when they read the web pages, but search engines have a limited understanding of what is being discussed on those pages. By adding additional tags to the HTML of your web pages - tags that say "hey search engine, this information describes this specific movie, or place, or person, or video" - you can help search engines and other applications better understand your content and display it in a useful, relevant way. 

This is also called ‘microdata’.

First you need to work out what ‘item type’ your page can be described as: whether the content is a creative work such as a recipe, a movie, a review, a piece of music or an event, organisation, person, place or product. 

To use Schema.org’s example of the movie Avatar, if your original HTML read like this:

<div>

 <h1>Avatar</h1>

 <span>Director: James Cameron (born August 16, 1954)</span>

 <span>Science fiction</span>

 <a href="../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html">Trailer</a>

</div>

If you were to then include itemscope itemtype=http://schema.org/Movie after the initial HTML <div so it looked like this:

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Movie">

  <h1>Avatar</h1>

  <span>Director: James Cameron (born August 16, 1954)</span>

  <span>Science fiction</span>

  <a href="../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html">Trailer</a>

</div>

Search engines would know that you were discussing the movie and not an online profile picture.

Then you can add details to the snippet in relation to that item type. So if it’s a recipe you can then add nutritional information, cooking times and ingredients. If it’s a product or service you can include images, pricing information and an aggregated customer rating.

The HTML is all available on the Schema.org website, so you can explore and learn about how to mark up your own rich snippets in various ways. 

If you want some hands on guidance for markup, you can also use Google Structured Data Markup Helper

Here you simply pick your item type then copy and paste a URL. It’s then just a process of highlighting the various elements of your webpage and tagging them appropriately.

Google will provide you with a revised HTML which you can then copy and paste over your existing copy.

Don't forget to test that it's worked afterwards by using Google's Structured Data Testing Tool found in the same location

In conclusion…

The use of Schema markup to clearly signpost the content of your page will help search engines better understand your page.

If search engines can read your page clearly then this information will be passed on to searcher within the snippet. This will also lead to your page ranking higher in a SERP. Everyone’s a winner.

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things… 

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 5 May, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

686 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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MAtt

I cannot emphasize enough the use of the Video Schema markup for your video content (http://schema.org/VideoObject).

This schema allows you to insert a thumbnail next to your search result, doubling your search traffic by increased visibility (IQ Visibility).

Our eye's are simply more likely to focus on video thumbnail images than even the number one paid or organic text based search results (Searchengineland and SEOmoz 2011). Video search results have a 41% higher click through than plain text results. (Aimclear).

If you want to know more visit this post on: Video SEO: Why What How: http://adjustyourset.com/news/video-seo-why-what-how-0

about 2 years ago

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John King

We've tried to implement Schema, but as a professional services firm, it's tough trying to find pertinent parts to mark up! I suppose at this stage we'll have to stick to video mark up... Unless someone else has managed it?

about 2 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Christopher,

There is a new schema approved by all major search international ​engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex)​.

Schema For User Actions - http://schema.org/Action

The schema options are ever changing and it's worth keeping an eye on this one as looks to be interesting especially with dates and being able to reference different people and owners.

You're right to draw people's attention to the benefits of markup. We're moving quickly towards Tim Berners Lee's vision of the semantic web, which means components semantically linked rather than reliance on entire webpages. Markup enables you to define classifications for individual page components, as well as page level entities. It will help massively in the future to ensure only the most relevant components are served up to people as they browse, rather than expecting people to trawl through entire pages to find the content that matters.

Re your point on authorship and ranking, i'd point out that IMO is a correlation rather than causation. I've not seen direct evidence that authorship markup on its own increases ranking but what has been proven is that URLs with author markup tend to attract a higher click through rate (as you point out, they're more attractive visually and distinct), which can lead to an increased quality signal flowing into ranking.

My advice to any web team is when planning a site is to review the schema options and prioritise the ones that best fit with their webpages. Start using markup and learn what impact it can have.

Thanks
james

about 2 years ago

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Sam Silverwood-Cope

Is that a matter of correlation not causation?

The people who have the mindset to use add-ons such as Schema or whatever, are therefore more likely to be on the ball in their other SEO activity.

about 2 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Sam

IMO yes it's correlation - adding authorship doesn't guarantee better ranking i.e. Google doesn't rank your page higher just because it has an author snippet. For example, i could have a shockingly poor domain with awful thin content, then slap author markup all over it. Why would i get a ranking boost? Search engines are trying to reward quality, not glossing.

However, it can lead to better CTR and hopefully on-page engagement by making your page more attractive to browsers. That can send a stronger quality signal to Google. That can influence ranking positively. However, you need a good website and good content behind that.

So it's a correlation not a direct causation.

Semantics i know but important people understand the relationship between markup and overall SEO so they don't think it's job done by simply adding author markup.

Have you got any insights into how markup like authorship has affected CTR/ranking etc? Always interesting to hear from other people.

cheers
james

about 2 years ago

Edward Armitage

Edward Armitage, Ecommerce Director at Waterstones

@James
"Prioritise the ones that best fit with their webpages"
Very true, I would add that you should prioritise the ones that fit with your user's intent, be selective, and test the results.
We tested video markup on ecommerce product and category pages and found that CTR suffered because mission-driven shoppers associate video thumbnails with informational content, and not with product content.

about 2 years ago

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Amelia

I'd love to use schema markup, but I don't think it's available for the type of products we sell: mortgages.

Does anyone know if it can be used for these types of product?

A mortgage product will have a % rate, lender fee, LTV ratio, APR, initial period and reverting rate. At the moment, there doesn't seem to be anything for this type of product.

I'd love for our rates to be displayed in the SERPs, but for now, I think this is a distant dream.

about 2 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Edward,

Thanks for the interesting insight.

Yes you're right to add that thinking carefully about user intent is important.

The value of testing and learning should never be under-estimated!

james

about 2 years ago

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WordPress Courses

For those managing a WordPress website (huge assumption), this article shows how you can add Schema markup. It was published in May last year. Google "Schema genesis 2.0 yoast" to read the article.

Rafi

about 2 years ago

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Josh Gates

You can debate the studies all you'd like, but the fact remains...schema yields higher click through rate in the SERPs.

The 'snippet' makes a listing stand out, and with it being so easy to implement, why would you eschew this benefit?

almost 2 years ago

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Grahame Palmer, Marketing Director at All Things Ecommerce Ltd

I know this comment is coming in a year or so after publication of the original article, but after reading this in 2014, we invested in Structured Data code creation across our ecommerce sites.

While the article illustrates the HTML markup, bear in mind that most sites are now CMS - using a database with code-calls, which build the HTML "on-the-fly", extracting relevant information from the database (and other resources) then "parsing" this into a page template, to thereafter render on a web browser.

We spent a lot of time and money re-coding our sites' PHP, and re-configuring the databases so that we had a repository for the schema.org content properties. This also required that we have easy admin input capability so that when our sites' admin teams add data to the site, appropriate input fields allow them to populate the database fields that house the schema.org information.

The result is that when a particular page is "called" (composited by the PHP and the database), the appropriate schema.org vocabularies are inserted in the correct order and chronology, into the source code (the resultant HTML).

The improvements in results ranking on search engines was, initially, not that dramatic... maybe a couple of hops up the ladder, but in the last year, things have improved dramatically. This is due to the fact that the results google throws back show ours as being very relevant to a search phrase, which encouraged higher click-thru rates, An increasing number of visits meant the more "popular" the site - influenced by increasing click-thru, the more relevancy google attached to the content, and the higher up the organic search rankings we moved.

Of course, this is not the only element of search enhancement we undertook. Polishing both the technology, and the content, is a daily task.

3 months ago

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