What is schema markup and how do I use it?
Written by Brendan WrightJul 01, 20
Have you ever wondered why some results on Google and other search engines look much more interesting than others? Whether it's an author bio, review stars or even a mini menu, these results catch the eye and are more likely to be clicked on than plain text.
The answer isn't anything to do with sponsored posts or a Google hack – it's just knowing how to use the tools search engines provide to help you serve your customers and give your business the edge over competitors.
Because, although it's been around for a long time, research shows that most local businesses still aren't using schema markup to enhance their search results in 2020. If that includes you, here are the basics you need to know.
What is schema markup?
Schema markup is a type of structured microdata that can be added to the source code or HTML of your business website to influence how it appears in search results.
Schema works like a vocabulary list that communicates to search engines in the universal language they understand. This language is organised by category to make it easier for website owners and developers to choose the markup they need.
Schema markup was a universal language by design. In an unprecedented move, rivals Google, Bing and Yahoo! collaborated on the project that became schema.org, the ever-growing list of schema markup vocabulary that works across all major search engines.
How does schema markup help search engines?
Google's search algorithm is getting more advanced all the time, but it still needs help to understand what websites are about and what information is most important for users to see. By adding schema metadata to your pages, you're helping search engines to categorise the page and to see what the key points are.
When markup is used correctly, your Google search result will become a rich snippet – an enhanced result that displays the specific data you want to highlight, replacing the standard meta description.
How does schema markup help me?
It's not clear how much influence adding schema markup to your pages has on SEO (search engine optimisation), but there are enough related benefits that every business stands to benefit from doing it – as long as you do it right.
Improve click-through rate
Rich snippets generated by schema markup make your pages more visible in search engine results pages (SERPs). This can also improve the user experience by showing users that your page is relevant to them, so they don't have to try out a few different sites to find what they're looking for.
This leads to more people clicking on your result, more traffic to your website and more conversions. A study by Search Engine Land found that adding schema markup to a website can increase its click-through rate (CTR) by 30%.
Future-proof your website
Schema markup has been around for a few years, but it's getting more important all the time with the growth of voice search and voice assistants. Since voice search queries tend to be less direct and more semantic than text searches, algorithms have to rely more on structured data to deliver relevant results.
This has led to a noticeable boost in results with markup for voice search queries, which is sure to continue as voice search overtakes traditional search in the next few years.
Google may or may not penalise websites that don't include markup, but we do know that abusing the facility or making mistakes will harm your ranking more than if you left it alone.
Just as Google takes a dim view of keyword spamming in content marketing, spamming too many schema in a bid to boost your search engine rank can have the opposite effect intended, so it's best to concentrate on the ones that matter most.
Types of schema markup
We've covered schema in a general way, but what does it actually do? A comprehensive list would go on forever, as there are hundreds of different types of markup with new ones added regularly, but here are some of the main ones you may already be familiar with, even if you didn't know what they were.
Tells search engines that your page is a news story, blog post, academic paper or other type of article. A variety of schema can be used to help the headline, byline, images and other features stand out.
Highlights the path on your website that ends at the search result. This can show users what else your site has to offer, as well as help Google to better understand your website structure.
Pulls dates, venue locations and other key information for scheduled events to form a rich snippet, so users can see what they need to know at a glance and click through for bookings or more details.
Promote your small business to customers in your area by presenting your local address, contact details, website, opening hours for a physical store and other information in a professional manner.
Businesses, schools, sports clubs, charities and other organisations can create a rich snippet with their logo, contact details, social media profiles and other essentials people want to know.
If your page is about a personality, you can make sure their name, photo, date of birth and other relevant information is included in the snippet, such as their job title, company, education or family members.
Makes your product or offer stand out from competitors or easier to compare by marking up its name, price, how many are left in stock and other key details, all in the search result.
Makes search results more mouth-watering by adding an image and basic details that amateur chefs will want to know, such as how long it takes, how many people it serves and the author's byline.
One of the most valuable snippets – to the point that Google had to ban websites from posting self-serving reviews – customers can see product ratings and feedback at a glance to help inform their purchasing decisions.
Video is the most popular type of online content. If there's a video on your page, you can highlight this in search results and make sure you appear in Google Video Search results using video schema.
How to use schema markup on your website
When you've explored the options on schema.org and chosen the schema you want to use, there are a few ways to add it to your website:
- Using a plug-in for your content management system (CMS), such as WordPress
- Using a schema generator
- Adding schema to a page's code manually
The option you choose will depend on the hosting platform you're using and your level of technical expertise. If you're using a digital marketing agency or web developer, they can take care of schema markup for you.
The easiest way to embed schema – especially if you don't have coding experience – is to use a user-friendly generator. These enable you to click the elements on your page that you want to mark up, choose the schema type, and the right code will be applied in the right place.
There are lots of free schema generators available that achieve the same end result, but the most widely used is Google's own Structured Data Markup Helper.
Google Structured Data Markup Helper: step by step
Follow these steps to use Google's free markup tool and add relevant schema to your website.
- Go to google.com/webmasters/markup-helper/
- Select the data type from the list that best describes your page – whether it's an article, event, local business page, etc.
- Enter the address (URL) of the page you want to mark up. If the page isn't already online, you can paste the HTML code instead.
- Select all the page elements you want to mark up and the type of schema to use for each.
- Once you've added all the schema you want, select 'Create HTML.' This will show you the page's HTML with the schema markup highlighted.
- To apply the markup code to your site, you can either download the HTML file and upload this to your CMS or copy and paste the markup code into the same place on your original page.
- Before publishing your page with the changes, you can use Google's Structured Data Testing Tool to see how your search result will look and identify any problems that need to be fixed.
If you're confident in your coding abilities, schema markup can be edited manually into your page's source rather than using a generator. If you're not fully confident, this is where costly mistakes can be made, leading to broken pages, slow loading times or Google penalties, so mark up with care!
Talk to an SEO specialist in Perth
If you want some help with schema markup or other strategies to get more traffic to your website and increase sales, iST Digital can help.