If you’ve got a website, you might think you’ve got the on-page SEO sussed. You’ve spent ages doing keyword research, you’ve carefully tweaked your H1s and title tags, you’ve been sure to make the most of every last character in your metadescription and you’ve expertly handwritten countless landing pages… Now you can relax, kick back and do a bit of off-page activity to reinforce all your hard work. After all, you’ve got everything covered, right? Erm… not quite!
You see, there’s a little something called Structured Data you seem to have overlooked – and it’s becoming increasingly important in modern-day SEO. What’s that? You’ve never heard of structured data or Schema? OK, let me explain! Structured data is… well, it’s what the name suggests; it’s a way of structuring a site’s data so search engines like Google can better understand the elements you have on each page.
Now, while things like H1s and metadecriptions help Google to work out exactly what the page is about, structured data helps it to work out exactly what is on the page: e.g., job postings, products, reviews and recipes. Once this structured data is on place, Google can then pull out your search result along with a “rich snippet” based on the mark-up you’ve implemented. Starting to ring a bell? Of course it is; rich snippets are everywhere in the search results these days – and they’re all down to sites having structured data mark-up in place.
At this stage it’s important to point out that structured data isn’t exactly a new concept in the world of SEO (it’s been around for ages in the form of microdata, microformats and RDFas) but up until 2011, it was a bit of a struggle to implement because different search engines interpreted mark-up data in different ways. In 2011, that all changed when Google, Yahoo and Bing announced they were introducing a new standardised collaboration called Schema.org.
Schema.org allows SEOs and webmasters to use and implement vocabulary based on each kind of element (eg. reviews, events) for every page of their site, safe in the knowledge all search engines will interpret the data in the same way. Confused? OK, we’ll take an event as an example. Using Schema, webmasters can now mark up the location, name, duration and date of an event as well as the organisation involved.
Like I said earlier, structured data and Schema.org aren’t exactly new anymore but they have been receiving a lot more attention recently. Why? Well, a few reasons – the first one being Google’s introduction a Structured Data Markup Helper Tool in May. Located in Webmaster Tools, the tool helps webmasters to essentially tag elements on their page with structured data – and then allows them to copy and paste the correct HTML straight into their website. This tool means structured data is now quick and easy to implement for any webmaster, regardless of whether they have existing coding skills or not.
In addition to launching the new tool in May, Google also announced seven new types of structured data available in Schema.org for webmasters. These included articles, products, local businesses, movies, restaurants and TV episodes.
While both announcements hinted that Google was taking structured data markup seriously, it was the search engine’s decision to include in-depth articles in the main search results a few weeks ago that suggested to many that structured data was now no longer an option for SEO but rather a necessity. While we’re yet to fully understand how Google is going to choose which “in-depth articles” to feature, they have said articles which have been marked up as “articles” using Schema.org will definitely be considered.
At the moment, we don’t know if they’ll only consider articles marked-up with structured data – but I think they’ve given a pretty big hint that articles which are marked-up will definitely be favoured.
What’s that? You don’t want to be featured in the “in-depth article” section so you’re not going to bother with structured data? Hmm, I’d say you’re taking a pretty big risk. Why? Well, as we can see from the the indepth article announcement, Google are starting to give away more and more real estate in the organic search results - and although we don’t know what’s next, I’ve got a feeling Schema and structured data in general is going to play a massive part in SEO moving forwards. In that sense, I think brands that have taken the time to implement Schema ahead of time, could be rewarded handsomely in future segmented search results.
My advice? Check out the full list of available Schema vocabulary and, if necessary, take the time to implement the correct one on every page – Google’s Data Highlighter Tool is a great way to check your efforts. Similarly, be sure to keep an eye on the Google Webmaster Blog to keep on top of the latest Schema announcements.
As a friend of mine once told me early on in my career, when it comes to SEO “if something’s hard, it’s worth doing” – and I think that’s definitely the case with Schema. Think about it; how is telling Google exactly what your page is about and what is included on each page ever going to be a bad thing for your search results and listings?!