In the online marketing world, a lot is written on the topic of SEO: How to optimize your content, how to build inbound links, how to do keyword research, and more. The list is practically endless.
Every SEO strategy you employ complements the others, and this influences your overall SEO performance.
With this in mind, it is perhaps surprising that one facet of SEO receives far less attention: the schema.org markup.
For those unfamiliar with it, schema markup is essentially what drives the Rich Snippets functionality in the SERPs.
Now, most regular web-users will be familiar with rich snippets, yet most people aren’t taking advantage of them—recent estimates by SearchMetrics show that only 0.3% of websites make use of schema markup. That’s a staggeringly small number, and gives you an easy target for gaining a competitive advantage.
Much of the Internet’s reluctance to embrace schema is probably down because it’s a rather a technical topic.
Today I’m going to try to simplify schema to give you a better understanding of it, as well as to help you integrate it on your website.
Introduction to Rich Snippets
Let’s get things started by giving you a little background.
All of the major search engines work slightly differently—they each use a different algorithm to determine their rankings. For example, if you run a search query on Bing, you’ll almost certainly get a different set of results to running that same search query in Google.
This variation is good, and is one of the major ways search engines differentiate themselves—as can be seen by this recent Bing campaign.
To deliver a high-quality user-experience, the search engines want to match users with the “best” content based on their search query. Each search engine has their own ideas of what constitutes great content, and this is why we see such variations.
However, there was one thing they all agreed on: The more information displayed in the SERPs, the easier it is for a user to find what he or she is looking for—more detail, happier customers.
This is why we saw the universal implementation of Rich Snippets across all the major search engines.
The above screenshot shows rich snippets in action. They’re the extra line of information included in the search results.
Rich Snippets received near universal acclaim: Users find it easier to find the content they want, and webmasters receive a boost in their CTR.
There are a number of different types of rich snippets to be used, including:
- Authorship snippets
- Business and organization snippets
- Event snippets
- Music Album snippets
- People snippets
- Product snippets
- Recipe snippets
- Review snippets
- Video snippets
Each type of rich snippet displays a different combination of additional information.
Let’s take a look at another example.
See the screenshot above? How do you think Google is able to populate those extra fields? Hint: there’s no guesswork involved.
If you want to include rich snippets on your search listings, you need to tell the search engines exactly what to include.
For this, you need a way to communicate with the search engines in a way that won’t impact the user experience.
This lead to the development of schema markup: microdata that tells the search engine about your content.
Unlike the different algorithms used to determine the SERPs, it makes sense to have one universal set of codes to determine the how the rich snippet fields are populated—expecting webmasters to markup their content multiple times for each search engine just gets messy.
In a rare collaboration, Google, Bing, and Yahoo teamed up to develop the schema.org framework. This means you only need to markup your content once.
What is schema
At its most basic, schema markup helps the search engines decipher the intention behind your content. This additional information can then be used to populate rich snippets.
For example, let’s say a movie studio writes an article about a film they’ve produced.
In the body content, they use the name of the film and the name of the lead actor.
How does Google know whether the article is about the film or the actor? Sure, it could probably have a good guess, but this creates the possibility of displaying content that doesn’t fit the user’s search query—really bad for user-experience.
For this reason, schema.org was developed. As well as the universal markup language, schema.org framework includes a hierarchy of all the different markup recognized by the search engines.
There are a number of top level “category” markup—called the itemtype—which tell the search engines which type of rich snippet this particular piece of content needs, for example recipes, or authorship. Below this, each category has a number of itemprops. These are itemtype-specific markup, allowing users to provide additional details.
For example, the recipe itemtype might include itemprops such as a calorie count, cooking time and an average recipe rating. Most of these wouldn’t make any sense if used under the people itemtype, which has its own set of itemprops. Make sense?
For a full view of the hierarchy of itemtypes and itemprops available to you, click here.
Note: some content falls under multiple categories. You can assign numerous itemtypes to one article by embedding the categories.
Unsurprisingly, WordPress users have a number of plugins available to simplify the schema markup process. However, to get a better understanding of how schema works, let me take you through an example using manual code—we’ll get to the plugins soon!
At first glance, integrating schema to make use of rich snippets can be quite intimidating.
But in reality, it’s fairly easy to grasp. The microdata is placed inside common HTML tags to describe a specific chunk of information—if you can use HTML tags, you should be able to use schema markup. When you begin to recognize the itemtypes and itemprops you commonly use, this process will speed up rapidly.
Here’s a fictitious HTML excerpt from a restaurant’s homepage.
<div> Welcome to Shaun’s Pizza Place, home of the greatest Italian cuisine in all of West London! Pizzas are available from £9.99. </div>
To start, I’ll add the category to my excerpt.
<div itemscope itemtype=http://schema.org/Restaurant> Welcome to Shaun’s Pizza Place, home of the greatest Italian cuisine in all of West London! Pizzas are available from £9.99. </div>
The itemscope tells the search engines that we are about to provide details about this chunk of text, and the itemtype specifies the category it falls under.
Now I can begin to include some extra details, by adding the itemprops. If I look through the markup available for restaurants, I can see that a number of tags are appropriate to this short excerpt alone.
<div itemscope itemtype=http://schema.org/Restaurant> Welcome to <span itemprop=”name”<Shaun’s Pizza Place</span>, home of the greatest <span itemprop=”servesCuisine”>Italian</span> cuisine in all of West London! Pizzas are available from <span itemprop=”priceRange”>£9.99</span>. </div>
I include each schema markup within a span HTML tag, where I then specify the exact itemprop the snippet relates to.
With these three itemprops, I’ve told the search engines the following:
- My restaurant is called Shaun’s Pizza Place.
- I serve Italian food.
- A pizza is available from £9.99.
Basically, everything a user can grasp from reading the paragraph, I’ve re-written in a language the search engines can understand.
When you’ve manually added all your markup, you can verify you’ve done everything correctly by testing your markup.
Schema plugin: All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets
The above example gives you an idea of what goes into implementing schema markup. However, in reality, doing everything manually is very time-consuming.
The good news: There are some great free plugins for the job.
One of the more popular is the All in One Schema.org Rich Snippets plugin. This plugin supports the major categories and markup—nowhere near the full schema directory—but this will more than suffice for the vast majority of users. The developers are adding more content types with each update, too.
Using the plugin is remarkably straightforward. Below the editor, you’ll find a Configure Rich Snippets metabox. Within this metabox is a simple drop down menu, allowing you to select what your post is about—the itemtype. This will allow you to configure the type of rich snippet you want attached to your content.
Once you’ve selected your itemtype, you will be asked to fill in a number of fields relevant to your itemtype—the itemprops. For simplicity, and because there are hundreds of itemprops, the plugin will only ask you for information likely to be included in Google rich snippets.
And that’s all there is to it! The quickest way to get rich snippets for your search listings, and much easier than taking the manual approach—if you want to include extra details, an understanding of the manual approach will be very useful.
The technical nature of schema.org means it does appear a little intimidating at first glance—which is probably why so few people are using it.
Hopefully this article gives you a better understanding of what it is and how you can make use of it. The better you understand your online environment, the easier it is to find a competitive advantage.
By using schema markup on your website, you can take advantage of rich snippets, a great way to boost your CTRs. If this is something your competitors ignore, you can really make your listing stand out in the SERPs, bringing extra traffic your way. It might just be a small piece of the overall SEO puzzle, but in the ludicrously competitive online environment, any advantage is decisive.
Have you made use of the schema markup on your website? Share your experiences below.
Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.