The How and Why of Schema Structured Markup

This just in: Schema.org structured markup is kind of a big deal, free to everyone, and used by almost no one. So if you see it while traversing the dense jungles of the Internet, take a screen shot. Then start marking up your site.

Since 2011, Google, Bing, and other search engines have openly acknowledged the benefits of Schema, which is HTML markup language that makes it easier for search engines to read and display relevant information dependent on the searcher’s intent. The end result is a better presentation for the searcher, and a higher click-through rate for the site using Schema.

The most common examples of Schema in action involve Google’s Knowledge Graph, One Box results, and any “star” reviews you may see for eCommerce products in search results.

Here’s an example of Schema marking up tour dates for a band:

 Concert Venue Schema Example

Here’s an example of eCommerce reviews and pricing:

 Schema Reviews Example

Organized in a Dewey Decimal System-esque fashion at Schema.org, there are Schema markup tags for anything falling under the umbrella definitions of an entity, event, or concept. On top of that, the index of recognized Schema markup is expanding, most recently through the addition of business hours, business phone numbers, and user actions.

Natural language processing is at the heart of every Google algorithm update. Ultimately, search engines want to understand, implicitly and explicitly, how to best answer the question your search poses. To do that, they need to know how words semantically fit into the whole of a concept or entity. Schema.org transfers some of that legwork to the webmaster, making it easier for Google to crawl, identify, and understand trends and relationships between words with the fluency of a native speaker.

With that in mind, here are some things to remember before adding any Schema to your site:

Context is everything. Schema.org is really just contextual markup that helps search crawlers understand entities the way a person would. Only markup information on a page (or group of pages) that makes sense in the context of the main purpose of that page. For example, at face value, we know “Fargo” could refer to either the movie, the tv show, or the city. Even if you’re running a movie review website, adding Schema can strengthen that distinction.

Schema will not solve your ranking problems. Schema has a high-value, low adoption rate, but adding Schema does not guarantee it will help you. Everything else still needs to be of high quality for Google to take your Schema markup seriously, and the value of that markup can vary based on the industry and keyword search in question.

Schema markup can’t be a stand-alone tactic. Unfortunately, anything “free” in the SEO world comes at a price of atrophied influence once spammers get ahold of it (see: Google+ authorship). Always ask yourself if it “makes sense” to highlight that information for a user. Schema markup should be used in conjunction with your other digital marketing strategies, to help solidify how your brand, products, or services are defined through non-branded keywords and concepts.

Consider this excerpt from a recent Duane Forrester (Bing’s version of Matt Cutts) blog post (Emphasis mine):

“As more people move away from entering a search in a box online, they move towards apps, voice search on mobile devices, contextual searches and so on. To provide answers in these and other environments, we become a data layer. Less of a search engine and more of an answer engine, or data engine. On a mobile device, we might provide a direct answer to a query. In an app we may provide data as part of an overall experience within the app.

Not all searches are created equal, and increasingly, neither are their results. Schema markup makes catering to those differences easier.

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