Recently, there have been a number of articles discussing the new Hummingbird upgrade on Google Search. Many of you have probably already heard that because of this change, it will be more important to use Schema.org in your site’s syntax in the future.
But what is Schema.org, and how does it apply to how I’m building my web pages?
Schema.org was a joint effort by Google, and a number of other search engines, started a few years ago to try to get more semantic information from web pages. In essence, it teaches content owners to think like programmers by creating inherited properties that a machine can understand and relate to if listed on your site properly.
I’ve spent the better part of the last few years crawling websites for data that is used for product and market intelligence firms, which includes pricing, stock, availability, promotional campaign tracking, specifications collecting, and so on. So I’ve had some experience both in implementing Schema.org, as well as scraping from it. From my experience, here’s a simpler way to understand all of this:
You can think of it like this—at the very top of the Schema.org data model there is a data object called a Thing, which is basically a very generic object that other objects can inherit properties from. A “Thing” has a few basic properties like name, description, image, url, and a value called “sameAs” that relates it to another type of object.
The principle here is that all objects that inherit from Thing will automatically inherit those basic properties, much like Classes in programming inherit properties from other parent or abstract classes. There is also another base type called DataType, but we’ll for now just focus on Things and its child properties.
Now it’s important to understand why Google is doing this. They are trying to organize more of the world’s information and they need some way to grasp the semantics behind what people are searching for. By following Schema.org, websites ensure that when someone does a keyword search for something, that the link that comes up pertains more to what they actually are looking for instead of some arbitrary similarity in a similar word. It brings context to people’s searches, which is why Google is making it mandatory now for good SEO.
To give you some more perspective, there is another item that inherits from Thing called CreativeWork. It borrows many of the same values—like name, description, etc.—found in a “Thing,” but allows it to be narrowed down even further. A CreativeWork can become any number of items including Article, Blog, Painting, Movie…you get the idea. Under what seems like a more complicated approach to looking at our content lies a concept we already know very well in the WordPress world, Custom Post Types.
If you have worked in WordPress for a while, then you understand Custom Post Types. They are essentially a way to transform the WP-Posts table into our own personal data playground, allowing us to semantically reorganize posts into whatever we want them to be; Pages are nothing more than posts with a different classification.
In WooCommerce, for example, we use a Custom Post Type for Product that is nothing more than a post with different attributes. In the world of WordPress, Things are basically Post Types, and we inherit and change as we need them to fit into our database schema. Is this all starting to come together now?
Even though native Schema.org support in WordPress doesn’t seem to be coming to the forefront in the foreseeable future, it’s on the to-do list and will make a huge difference in how Google semantically understands your content. There are already a slew of plugins that you can download to take advantage of the new semantic syntax formatting used in Schema.org to help search engines better understand where your page fits in their search results.
Popular plugins like WooCommerce already have had Schema.org markup support, since 1.3, and if you’re a developer building any sort of Custom Post Type for your plugins, themes, or clients—this is now a must to understand.
Schema.org is crucial for you to implement on your WordPress site because it makes it easier for web bots and spiders, like the ones I build, to understand the content they are crawling. This in turns gives them greater ability to parse through data and create products and tools that can link and bring more visitors to your site outside of search engines and other native tools.
Facebook has a different syntax type called Open Graph that for now at least isn’t required, so choosing Schema.org is a better bet for developers as they work on their Custom Post Type projects.
If you have any other questions about Schema.org or how to implement it, please join me at Advanced WordPress, or leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to talk about anything you may not fully understand.