Since SEOs ask us about structured data markups we've decided to create this short guide to show seoClarity’s recommendation in how and why to use schema markup for your web pages.
From this guide, you’ll learn:
- What is Schema >
- Why Schema is Important >
- Where structured data can appear in search >
- How to Implement Schema Markup >
- Common Issues with Adding Schema >
What is Schema Markup in SEO?
The more or less "official" definition of schema refers to it as "a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content.”
Personally, I explain schema as a set of tags (called microdata or structured data) that you can include within your web page's code to provide more information about its content.
Those tags then allow the search engines to:
A.) Better understand your page’s content. Your rankings depend on the search engine’s ability to interpret the search query and match it with pages it deems relevant. So, the better Google understands your content, the greater the chance it will rank your domain higher on the results pages for applicable queries.
This becomes even more important with the rise of voice search and the new types of queries we use when searching with voice. Structured markup allows you to provide the search engine with additional information to help it interpret your content.
Here's a quick story of how this worked for one of our clients:
The company was losing in rank position to a competitor by two positions. Once they added schema, their pages moved to the top of the organic listings. Granted, they already had strong on- and off-page optimization on the site.
Nonetheless, adding schema to their SEO helped them to finally outrank their particular competitor.
B.) Use that information to enhance your search listings, and display it as rich snippets right under the listing’s title. For example:
Rich snippets appear directly with the search results to provide more information about the page.
The clients that have implemented schema on their sites have boosted their rankings – a lot. On average, we've seen a gain of about two to three positions in the Google search results.
What’s more, those companies also achieve higher organic click-through rates, particularly if they display star ratings and reviews in their listings.
From a customer experience point of view, it makes sense. After all, rich snippets make search listings stand out, while ratings and reviews provide social proof that customers can use to select the listing they want to research further.
Schema also impacts your SEM strategies to provide more relevance to a search query and increase the quality score.
Let's talk a little more about the benefits of schema.
Why is Schema Important for SEO?
Incorporating the schema markup for SEO offers value to search engines and users alike.
1. Schema gives Google a greater semantic meaning regarding the site's content
With it, the search engine can understand a site's pages better, and identify different types of information on the pages.
This, in turn, increases your chances to rank for more relevant phrases.
2. Structured markup makes SERPs listings more visible
Many schema types like ratings, reviews, breadcrumbs, FAQ and other markups help visitors notice a listing, even if it ranks further down on a page.
Many of those also provide social proof that convince them to choose the particular search result to others.
This listing, for example, uses schema to display star ratings and a number of reviews.
This works to increase SERP real estate, and also increase organic click-through rate.
3. Adding schema markup also helps increase rankings
Once again, this comes as a result of the structured markup helping Google to understand the page's content better.
4. Schema can also improve ROI
Many structured markup types – star ratings, for example – give shoppers an additional reason to select a particular result, and attract customers who are ready to purchase the company's product or inquire about its services.
Where Can the Structured Data Appear in SERPs?
There are many types of schema that a company can implement on their site. As a result, the data itself can also appear in many different formats within the SERPs.
Here are some of the most common ones:
1. Contact information in the Knowledge Panel:
2. Links to a company's social profiles within the Knowledge Graph:
3. Local business information, crucial for local SEO strategies:
4. Product and review information:
Want to learn more about schema and structured data? Watch our schema webinar to hear two digital marketing experts break down the topic.
A Client Success Story
One of our clients has used our platform to find opportunities to add the FAQ schema to their pages. Since the implementation of this first wave of schema, they have seen a 50% increase in click-through rate.
This view in Rank Intelligence shows you where an FAQ schema is appearing in the SERP for your tracked keywords. If you toggle the "Has" to "Does Not Have" in the Ranking URL features, you can discover pages where an FAQ schema is triggered, but you don't have it set up (or aren't appearing).
This is a great way to find opportunities to both prove authority and capture more space on the SERP.
(A view of Rank Intelligence on the seoClarity platform.)
Tip: If you keep the toggle as "Has" you can find keywords that have the FAQ markup that you can use to show off to your executives to prove the value of your work. For example, tell them to Google X keyword, and you know they will see the company ranking high, and with a lot of real estate space because of the fancy FAQ drop-downs.
How to Implement Schema Markup in SEO
There are a number of ways to implement schema.
- Using the semantic markup, you can include it in the main HTML page.
- Use RDFa or Microdata
Let's explain JSON-LD, RDFa, and Microdata.
JSON-LD is the best (and preferred!) method for structured data because it can be quickly edited, and as code gets deprecated it’s easy to adapt.
The code is a snippet that gets added within the <script> tag in the page head or body on the backend code of a website.
The code can also be added utilizing Google Tag Manager as a work-around for internal teams who do not have dedicated development resources at their disposal.
RDFa is an HTML5 extension that allows webmasters to mark up content elements like People, Places, Events, Recipes or Reviews with HTML tag attributes.
Each of those elements corresponds to the user-visible content that a webmaster wants to describe for search engines.
RDFa is most commonly used when marking up content that resides within the <head> and <body> elements of a webpage.
This method is not recommended because RDFa is difficult to test and since it is wrapped around your site’s HTML it is difficult to update and change rapidly.
The markup needs to be reconfigured each time you make any content or development changes on your site.
Method #3. Microdata
Microdata is an open-community HTML specification used to nest structured data within the HTML content. Like RDFa, it uses HTML tag attributes to name the properties you want to expose as structured data.
However, unlike RDFa, webmasters often use it to describe elements within the page’s content.
Microdata has the same limitations as does RDFa. The biggest issue with the markup is that it can easily induce errors when items are moved or rearranged on a site.
Again, JSON is the preferred method.
JSON-LD content will not be affected by layout changes (unless you modify the content, of course). You can move items around, and any changes to the page structure won’t affect the schema markup.
This one benefit alone helped our clients retain their rankings, in spite of errors in site layout and content.
Recommended Reading: Schema Markup Generator: Build Structured Data Without Developers
For example, one of our client’s development teams accidentally removed content from their core landing pages. Luckily, the JSON-LD markup kept their site from losing rankings until the team realized and resolved this mistake.
But what makes JSON schema so powerful?
For one, your schema information is independent of your page content. This makes schema inclusion on your page extremely easy and effortless.
This is also why you can freely amend your layout, without compromising the markup.
And as John Lincoln from Ignite Visibility puts it:
JSON-LD offers syntactic simplicity found with the traditional JSON, but offers more inherit meaning. As a result, Google, Bing, and Yandex are all embracing JSON-LD because the structured data allows developers to easily organize and connect data. This creates a better website in the eyes’ of humans and Google."
Adding JSON-LD to your site
JSON schema uses a standardized markup.
Your code must reside between those lines:
Your schema information goes between them. For example, here’s a JSON-LD script that we could use to provide Google more information about our platform:
"image": "URL to the image",
"description": "seoClarity’s enterprise SEO platform isn’t just innovative; from top to bottom, we’re disrupting the way large-scale organizations think about their SEO strategies",
Of course, this is just one example. The type of information you include in your schema markup depends on your product, service, and the content of the page.
In general, however, you can include any of the schema.org types:
- Place, LocalBusiness, Restaurant
- Product, Offer, AggregateOffer
- Review, AggregateRating
And much more.
There are also schema types suitable for specific verticals, like schema for real estate, or product schema for ecommerce. There is even a recipe schema type for cooking sites, so the possibilities are pretty endless.
Building Schema With Schema Builder
Another way to build structured data is with schema.dev's Schema Builder.
The free Chrome extension allows you to create structured data in minutes, and acts as its own structured data testing tool. (There is a Google structured data testing tool online as well.)
It's literally point-and-click easy.
Schema Builder supports over 20 schema types, with about two new types being added each week in its development. It's a hidden treasure for simplifying the process of schema implementation for SEO and digital marketing purposes.
Implementing Schema Markup at Scale
Once you've built your schema snippet with Schema Builder, it's time to deploy it across your site. Now, normally SEOs are limited to deploying schema on a page-by-page basis.
Not any more.
With Schema Optimizer, you can build, test, and implement your schema across thousands of pages with just a few clicks. You set custom variables and parameters, and the schema is set live to those applicable pages.
Testing Schema: What to Watch Out For
There are a couple of things you and your development team need to keep in mind when you implement schema on your site.
For one, remember the types of schema markup that can be added to your content.
- In fact, this is one of the most common structured data errors we see, with the web team adding markup that highlights content that does not match what’s on the page.
- Another version of this is adding the wrong type of schema to the wrong template.
And a result of either of those mistakes is the same: a decrease in rankings.
The second, re-crawling schema.
Once you implement the schema markup, you should wait approximately 2-3 weeks until search engines re-crawl and index your new code.
If you still don’t see schema on your search listings after that time, you should immediately investigate the code for potential errors. You can do this at scale with a schema audit.
Below is a list of other commons issues with structured markup in SEO.
Common Issues with Implementing the Structured Markup for SEO
Schema, just like any other code, must be implemented correctly to work. Unfortunately, it's easy to make certain mistakes when you add the structured markup that either prevent it from working or limit its abilities to boost your SEO.
Here are the most common issues with implementing schema:
- Schema information is in the structured data but not in the user-visible text. For example, star ratings are implemented to show only in the SERPs but not for a user on the page.
- Applying item properties to an entire list of items. Correctly, each attribute should be applied individually to every list item.
- Applying schema to misleading content. One example of this is using the wrong item for the product name. Commonly, companies use the product name schema tag for the manufacturer's name or the selling company.
- Review ratings showing an average rating of all items on a page. Correctly, each item should show their own, unique rating.
- Applying the same markup site-wide, whereas it should appear on specific pages only.
Final Thoughts on Moving to JSON-LD
It’s worth mentioning some of the challenges you might face when implementing JSON-LD.
For example, when you remove the current markup on any site, you might experience a temporary decrease in rankings. This is a result of Google and other search engines re-indexing your new content.
To avoid this, you could, theoretically, use both JSON and existing markups during the switch.
However, I wouldn’t recommend this as a long-term solution, but it will help retain rankings over 2-3 weeks that you need to implement the change fully.
When you should NOT move to JSON-LD
If you’ve already implemented the schema.org markup, it works without any major errors, and you do not change the site’s content too often, then we’d recommend you stick with this solution.
The temporary loss of rankings and traffic might not warrant the change.
Finally, if you need guidance with implementing schema, reach out to our Client Success team, who are available to discuss best practices with you and your team.
Note: We also offer Professional Services to companies who need help with implementation of the markup on their sites.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.