Schema markup could well be the biggest SEO opportunity your business is missing out on.
In this article, we discuss how schema markup can structure the data on a webpage in a way that makes it more useful for search engines and creates SEO benefit for the website. We’ll discuss some ways to add schema markup to a wen content and how you can measure its effects using an SEO tool. Finally, we’ll talk you through a four-step process for making schema markup a routine part of a content marketer’s working day.
What is structured data?
Structured data is website code written in a format that tells search engines the purpose of the content on a webpage. This helps search engines serve the content to the right users, using appropriate presentational features.
Search engines rely heavily on structured data to provide the level of certainty they need to present content in special ways – for example, as a featured snippet or voice search result.
Here an example of how content from webpage with structured data can show up in Google search results:
In this example, structured data has been used in the webpage source code of the top three results to tell search engines that the content is a recipe. The way Google displays the content in search results changes accordingly.
How does structured data work?
Structured data describes the purpose and properties of specified sections of content within a webpage. When a search engine sees structured data in the source code of a webpage, it can change the way it uses the webpage content. Structured data does not affect how the webpage looks or acts from a visitor’s perspective.
The language used in structured data is taken from a vocabulary of microdata terms called schema markup. Google, Bing and Yahoo! are all equipped to read schema markup, and can use web content in particular ways according to its specifications.
What is JSON-LD schema markup?
JSON-LD is the most popular format of schema markup supported by Google Search. Here’s a short technical description of JSON-LD from the Google Search Developers blog:
The most important thing to know is that JSON-LD is Google Search’s recommended format for structured data. This is likely to be the structured data format you end up using to boost your SEO.
How does schema markup improve SEO?
Schema markup can add significant value from an SEO perspective.
According to Searchmetrics, 36.6% of search keywords bring up at least one featured snippet that’s derived from schema markup. This frequently includes “0-ranking” featured snippets at the top of search results.
Despite the prevalence of content with schema markup in high-ranking search positions, only a narrow minority of registered domains regularly use schema markup (we’ve seen estimates as low as 0.3%).
In other words, schema markup is a big opportunity to get your content to the top of the SERPs – and only a minority of webmasters are targeting it.
The overall SEO rewards of using schema markup seem to be considerable. Searchmetrics’s research suggests webpages that use schema markup rank four pages higher on average than those that don’t use it.
How to add schema markup to a webpage
There are two distinct approaches to adding schema markup to web content.
If you are a web developer, or you have access to a developer’s skills, you might choose to add schema markup to web content manually, by editing webpage source code. This approach gives you fine control over your schema markup, but it may not be the most efficient option.
Google has detailed information on how to create schema markup for a range of content types.
If you do not have web development skills, the best approach is to use a schema markup tool, which can basically do all the coding for you. A good example is Google Structured Data Markup Helper, a web-based tool that can be used to generate schema markup relating to articles, events, movies, restaurants, book reviews, job postings, products, software applications, datasets, local businesses, question & answer pages, or TV episodes.
Image: targetinternet.com content loaded into Structured Data Markup Helper
Structured Data Markup Helper is pretty simple to use. Here’s how to get started:
- Go to the Structured Data Markup Helper webpage;
- Make sure the ‘Website’ tab is selected;
- Select the relevant data type, e.g. ‘Article’, ‘Product’ or ‘Local businesses’;
- Enter your webpage URL and click ‘Start tagging’.
- You should now see your webpage rendered on-screen, along with an empty specification of data items relating to your chosen data type.
- Click the ‘Add missing tags’ button. You will now be able to work through your webpage content, selecting content elements and assigning tags to match.
Once you’ve finished tagging, the tool will generate updated HTML for your webpage, combining the existing webpage HTML with the new schema markup.
Finally, you can update your webpage by adding the new HTML. This may be something you can do yourself via an HTML editor in your CMS, or it may be something you raise as a ticket for your development team.
Automate schema markup creation with a plugin
The task of adding schema markup to a webpage can be simplified by installing a schema markup plug-in on your content management system (CMS). This will give you an accessible way to add schema to your content, whilst you draft and upload it in your website’s backend.
The selection of plugins available to you will vary according to your choice of CMS.
Based on user ratings, the best schema markup plugin for WordPress is Schema by Hesham. The plugin adds JSON-LD structured data to your content within the WordPress backend – an even more efficient approach than using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. More schema markup plugins for WordPress are listed here.
Most popular CMS have a schema markup plugin on offer. For instance, if you use Craft CMS, a good option is Schema by Rias. Search for [your CMS] + ‘schema markup plugin’ to find some options.
Check your work using a schema markup tester
It is good practice to check your schema markup with a schema markup tester before you deploy it.
Our preferred option is the Google Structured Data Testing Tool. Not only is this tool free and user-friendly; it’s also clearly designed with the most important search engine (for most businesses) in mind.
This tool is easy to use either for checking pending webpage code with newly added schema markup, or for testing published webpages that already have structured data. Select ‘Fetch URL’ or ‘Code snippet’, as applicable, when you land on Google Structured Data Tool.
Schema markup: the technical detail
If you’re interested in the more technical aspects of schema markup, these next few sections are for you. If not, skip ahead to the conclusion.
In HTML, sections of content are split up using the <div> and </div> tags. <div> goes at the start of the section; </div> goes at the end.
To establish that a section of a webpage is a type of content that search engines should know about, we need to add the itemscope element into the opening <div> tag of the section, like so:
Next, we need to add an itemtype, immediately after the itemscope element, to specify the type of content item.
The itemtype could be any of over 600 types of content, which are listed in schema.org’s documentation on the Organization of Schemas. Itemtype is added to the code as a URL, linking back to schema.org. Here’s how that might look, if the content described is a ‘Product’ type:
<div itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/Product”>
Each schema type has a unique set of properties. In the case of ‘Film’ type content, these include actor, director, duration and doorTime. In ‘Recipe’ type content, available properties include cookTime, nutrition and recipeInstructions.
We need to specify the properties of items within a section of content, so that search engines can make full use of the information. This can be done by adding itemprop attributes to the content within a section.
Here’s an example of ‘Movie’ type content HTML, complete with itemprop attributes:
<div itemscope itemtype =”http://schema.org/Movie”>
<span>Director: <span itemprop=”director”>James Cameron</span> (born August 16, 1954)</span>
<span itemprop=”genre”>Science fiction</span>
<a href=”../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html” itemprop=”trailer”>Trailer</a>
These are the basic building blocks of schema markup. There’s much more detail to be found in Schema.org’s documentation.
Find out more info on schema markup
Schema markup was created collaboratively by Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex, to serve the shared need of the four search giants for better tech to facilitate advanced features, like featured snippets and voice search. You can find out more about schema markup, its rules and its ongoing development at Schema.org.
Measuring the effects of schema markup
We can measure the SEO impact of schema markup by looking at whether content with structured data added ends up ranking as a special search feature.
One tool we can use to do this is Advanced Web Ranking (AWR), a subscription-based SEO tool that specialises in tracking how websites rank on different search engines for certain search keywords, in certain parts of the world. For instance, if Target Internet wanted to find out where its website ranks in Bing search results when someone in Canada searches for ‘digital marketing training’, we could use AWR to find out.
When you track a keyword’s ranking in AWR, you will see a special symbol shaped like a crown next to that keyword, if your website occupies a relevant featured snippet listing. So, by monitoring keywords that relate to your content with added structured data, you can find out whether your schema markup is translating into greater visibility in featured snippets.
AWR also has a ‘SERP features visibility’ functionality, allowing you to easily monitor overall change in the level of visibility through featured snippets for your specified keywords. This is a great top-level measure of schema markup SEO success.
If you don’t have the time or budget to use a tool like AWR, a simpler (but more limited) way to test the effects of schema markup is to do a private/incognito web search for the relevant keyword(s) via your web browser, then see whether your site shows up as a search feature.
Read more about AWR in our SEO tool review: Advanced Web Ranking.
Target Internet’s 4 A’s process for adding schema markup to marketing workflow
To conclude this guide, let’s go through Target Internet’s simple four-step process for making schema markup a regular part of a marketer’s work.:
- AUDIT to identify relevant content. Decide which content published on your website and/or blog belongs to a Schema.org type, e.g. Place, Person, Action, Recipe. Consult Schema’s list of types, then list the instances where schema markup can be added to content.
- ADD schema markup to relevant existing content, and to new content on an ongoing basis, using one of the methods discussed in this article. We recommend using a CMS plugin, or Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
- APPROVE your schema markup with Google Structured Data Testing Tool before you publish it.
- ASSESS the effects of adding schema markup by measuring how often your content is appearing in special search features when users enter relevant queries.
The 4 As process will help you add schema markup to your content and measure the effects, without requiring any coding know-how.