Structure matters. From the bear going into hibernation to the dog getting used to a specific time of day for a walk, to the person excited for generic Buzzfeed health-focused listicle, “35 Amazing Reasons the Pomodoro Technique Will Save Your Life” (It doesn’t exist—but should). Structure just makes life easier, and if you take the time, it can give your website an edge.
Why? Because if you look at it, search engines also crave structure—in fact, they were designed with a certain structure to help provide users better information about a topic faster.
All of this structure, when it pertains to your website and SEO, is grouped under the umbrella term Schema (Or Schema markup, structured markup structured data—more on this later).
Schema Markups: What is Schema?
Schema, as defined by Kissmetrics, is semantic vocabulary that you put on your website to help search engines return more informative results to a searcher.
If that sounds a bit more technical or jargon-y than you’d like, let’s break it down. Schema, to Google, is the basic information needed to create rich snippets (the enhancements to a search engine result).
Whether that’s a five star review, the date of your favorite band’s concert, a site’s most important links, or the information highlighted in the Knowledge Graph, Schema is the language that allows a search engine to answer a user’s questions.
Have you ever searched for an artist on a search engine and seen dates? Thank Schema.
Have you ever searched for a product and seen reviews/stars on Google? Thank Schema (Author’s Note: USB-powered monitors are amazing).
Have you searched for something like “what is a schema markup,” and seen helpful links within the website? Thank Schema.
Essentially, Schema is the markup language, according to an interview with Marcus Tober, CTO of Searchmetrics, who shared the basics of Schema with Search Engine Journal, but there are a variety of other terms you may come across when structuring your data, which we will share below.
A Brief History of Schema
The idea of schema is based on a longstanding theory in human learning, followed by a much more defined system of machine learning, followed, in turn by an agreement among search engines to standardize the way structured data is used by the search engines.
In a simple sense, all three come from the idea that every schema is a building block, and these are organized into schemata—index cards designed to react to incoming stimuli or information. These schemata become more numerous and elaborate as more information is acquired.
The term “schema” refers to the organization of data as a blueprint of how the database is constructed (divided into database tables in the case of relational databases). The formal definition of a database schema is a set of formulas (sentences) called integrity constraints imposed on a database.
In 2011, Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Yandex came together in a joint effort to launch Schema.org, designed “to improve the web by creating a structured data markup schema supported by major search engines.”
Creating a new schema with common support benefits webmasters, search engines and users.
- Webmasters: Schema.org provides webmasters with a single place to go to learn about markup, instead of having to graft together a schema from different sources, each with its own rules, conventions and learning curves.
- Search engines: Schema.org focuses on defining the item types and properties that are most valuable to search engines. This means search engines will get the structured information they need most to improve search.
- Users: When it is easier for webmasters to add markup, and search engines see more of the markup they need, users will end up with better search results and a better experience on the web.
For more information on the reasoning behind writing a standard Schema to be used by search engines, see Schema.org Frequently Asked Questions.
A Few Structured Data Terms You May Come Across
Defined best by Moz’s Learn SEO course, there are a variety of terms pertaining to structured data. But with so many different terms, many of which meaning the similar things (Schema? Schema markup? Rich snippets? Structured markup? Structured data? Semantic markup?), the idea may seem more complex than it actually is.
Here is a list of things you may hear when looking at different advice on improving your SERP by marking up your website:
- Schema.org is a project that provides a particular set of agreed-upon definitions for microdata tags.
- Structured data is a system of pairing a name with a value that helps search engines categorize and index your content.
- SemanticHTML is the use of HTML markup to reinforce the semantics, or meaning, of the information in webpages and web applications rather than merely to define its presentation or look. Semantic HTML is processed by traditional web browsers as well as by many other user agents.
- Microdata is one form of structured data that works with HTML5.
- Microformats are a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards. Instead of throwing away what works today, microformats intend to solve simpler problems first by adapting to current behaviors and usage patterns.
- RDFa(or Resource Description Framework in Attributes) is a W3C Recommendation that adds a set of attribute-level extensions to HTML, XHTML and various XML-based document types for embedding rich metadata within Web documents.
- Open Graph is a type of markup used by Facebook to parse out information like what image and description to display. Facebook Open Graph serves its purpose well, but it doesn’t provide the detailed information search engines need to improve the user experience.
- Rich Snippets are the results of your work, the information that shows up when someone searches for a product on your site, events on your site, or reviews.
- Knowledge Graph is what Google has incorporated to make information more readily available. For instance, if you search for a company, this is the information that will appear on the right side of a Google Search. For instance, if you searched Apple, Google would display basic information: The Wikipedia definition, stock price, important phone numbers, founding date, founders, subsidiaries, social profiles, etc.
- Product Types Ontology is used to define your business when one of the 647 Schema.org markups are unable to define your business. For instance, schema.org/attorney fails to adequately define what type of law you practice. To address this (as well as for product types in GoodRelations), there are another 300,000 product/service classes viewable here. Therefore, in addition to “@type: Attorney”, (in JSON-LD), you would add “additionalType”: “http://www.productontology.org/id/Personal_injury_lawyer”. We will cover this in more detail in an upcoming blog.
- GoodRelations is an e-commerce-focused markup that works with Google (“The Web Vocabulary for E-Commerce”). Read more about the markup here.
Conclusion: Should You Incorporate Markups onto Your Website?
Are you a local business? A lawyer? An ecommerce site? A multi-unit franchise? A global company? A customer facing business that would make its customer service number easily seen and accessible?
Do you sell products? Do you have social profiles? Do you host events? Do you have food menus?
With a bit of basic HTML knowledge, you can make Schema markups work for your website. But just as there are hundreds of ways to define your business, there are infinite combinations of markups that could be used to build and promote your website.
However, as easy as it is, there is a lot to cover.
As this was the most insanely brief overview of what markups are, there will be many more posts upcoming on the topic. In coming days, we will be digging deeper into the importance of Schema markups for businesses, the Knowledge Graph, what good schema markup means for your Local SEO strategy, the essential markups, and how to get started.
For now, see the following resources to get the basics:
- A Guide To Schema Markup & Structured Data SEO Opportunities By Site Type
- Telapost Guide to JSON-LD in 2016 and A List of Schema Types for Local Businesses
- Customizing Your Knowledge Graph
- The Lowdown on Structured Data and Schema.org – Your Questions Answered!
- Microdata, JSON-LD & Schema.org Rich Snippets: Everything You Need To Know
- How to Use Schema Markup for SEO: Making Your Site Easier to Find for Stupid Machines
- org Documentation