In this introductory guide, we’ll talk about how to boost your SEO by using the language of search engines for your website – that is Schema Markup!
We promise to speak human, use plenty of visuals, and leave out the scary geeky coding part.
By the end of the article, you will learn:
- What is Schema Markup and why it was created at all?
- How Schema Markup can boost your SEO?
- Using relevant Schema types and their properties for your local business.
- Rich results in Google powered by Schema Markup.
A web page is nothing but a jumbled bunch of texts.
It’s a big guessing game for search engines to figure out the meaning behind a wall of content, and what pieces of data can be confidentially utilized in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
Take, for example, you have a web page titled “Avatar”– does it refer to the blockbuster James Cameron movie, an online profile image, or an incarnation of a Hindu deity?
Sure, search engines could probably have a good guess, but this creates the possibility of them serving content that doesn’t match the user’s search query, which spells bad user experience.
The birth of Schema.org
For this reason, in a rare collaboration, search engine giants Google, Yahoo and Bing teamed up to develop the Schema.org framework.
Schema.org structured data – commonly called “schema markup”- is the universal markup language to organize free-form web content into structured data that’s easier for search engines to read and understand.
To begin, you would first assign labels (or “markup”) to data on your website.
And since Schema is a universal markup language, you only need to do schema markup once, and rich snippets will appear across major search engines.
Without schema markup, search engines can only take your content at face value, and they must work hard to understand the context behind the content.
In its core, schema markup tells search engines not what you say, but what your data means.
What’s in it for search engines
The goal of a search engine is to provide helpful, quality search results to their users.
Schema markup plays the middleman role of giving search engines as much useful structured data as possible about a webpage.
In turn, search engines can serve this helpful information on their SERP, so that it’s easier for users to decide whether a page is relevant to their search.
For instance, the food website Bon Appetit uses schema markup for their Chocolate Ice Cream recipe.
This enables Google to pull useful information, such as image, ratings, number of reviews and calories count, off from Bon Appetit’s website and show it on their search page:
On Google, an enhanced web result display is called a rich result (previously known as rich snippet).
Compared it with a normal web result as below:
Which web result are you more likely to click on?
As you can see, a rich result takes a normal result …and adds some bells and whistles to it.
How does Schema Markup improve your SEO?
- Schema helps search engines recognize the meaning of the content. When search engines understand your content, they are more likely to rank it for relevant keywords or phrases.
- Rich result helps a page stand out on SERPs. Having a stronger visual representation (image, ratings, total prep time, etc.) of relevant information will help draw attention to your listings.
- Rich result increase organic click-through rates (CTRs). The enhanced visibility and appearance on SERPs can in turn boost CTRs. Case studies have shown that rich snippets can improve CTR by up to 30% in organic search traffic.
- Improved organic search ranking (indirectly). Google has said using schema markup on your website is not a ranking signal. But we see high CTRs as a positive Google ranking factor. The reason being, the more clicks your rich snippets attract, Google will take notice that users prefer your listings over others and will likely push up your listing position slowly over time.
- Optimize your site for voice search, Alexa and Google Assistant – With the prediction that voice search will comprise 50% of all searches by 2020, websites that have done schema markup are preparing themselves to ride the massive trend. Interestingly, 58% of consumers now are using voice search to find local business information, according to a Bright Local study.
It’s important to note, Google is under no obligation to display your schema markup after it’s been added. As a matter of fact, Google gets to decide whether an element gets enhanced, and in which rich result format.
However, properly implemented schema markup increases your odds of receiving rich results for relevant search queries.
And even if rich results don’t appear, we believe making your website content easier for search engines to crawl and understand is an overall sound SEO strategy.
What do you need to schema markup for your website?
Schema markup is most often used to provide additional information about a schema type as followed:
|Schema Type||Properties / Tags|
|Local Business||opening hours, address, phone number, etc.|
|Article||author name, publication date, etc.|
|Events||event date and time, ticket price, etc.|
|Person||name, affiliation, alumni of, occupation, etc.|
|Product||price, reviews, availability, etc.|
|Recipe||ingredients, total prep time, calories count, etc.|
|Review||rating value, item being reviewed, image, etc.|
|Video||description, duration, upload date, thumbnail URL, etc.|
For the full list refer to Schema.org.
It is not compulsory to fill up all the available properties that fall under a schema type. Only those that make sense to your type of business.
While structured data markup does not need to be added to every last element of your website, having more content marked up does help search engines present results better.
Use the Most Specific Schema Type for Your Business
Since the whole purpose of using schema markup is to help search engines understand more about your business, you should try to select the most specific schema type available on Schema.org.
One typical problem is people selecting the Local Business schema type. There is nothing inherently wrong, but it doesn’t tell search engines much about your business.
After all, a local business could describe a bakery, an auto-mechanic shop or a plumbing company.
For instance, if you own a physiotherapy and rehabilitation center in Spokane, WA, there happen to be schema.org/Physiotherapy which you can markup under. Physiotherapy schema is a subcategory under Local Business schema as seen in the below schema “hierarchy”:
Google rich results extracted from schema markup
The purpose of a rich snippet or rich result is to provide the most relevant data from a web page to the user within the search results. It helps users decide in a quick second whether the page is relevant to their search.
Your first step is to identify the type of Rich Snippet that you want to get.
That way, you use Schema Markup that’s specifically designed to obtain that type of Rich Snippet in the SERPs.
Here we’re going to focus on the three most common types of Rich Snippets we see applicable to local businesses.
Ratings and Reviews snippet
The Ratings and Reviews snippets will appear under a domain’s result, given the website has received valid online reviews.
Google announced on 16th September 2019 they are making major changes to how they display review rich results.
Announcement # 1: Google limits the number of schema types that could potentially trigger a review snippet down to 17 types.
That meant any schema type outside of the 17 types will not get a review rich result. Full list here.
Here are the few schema types we see applicable to healthcare businesses:
- Local Business
- MediaObject (includes videos and podcasts)
Announcement # 2: Google will no longer display what they call “self-serving” review snippets for local businesses and organizations in organic search results.
Other reviews such as product and recipe reviews hosted on your website, aren’t considered “self-serving” and will continue to show star ratings.
You’re probably wondering what does Google means by “self-serving”?
According to Google, a review is considered “self-serving” when the review about entity A is hosted on entity A own website – either directly in their markup or via an embedded 3rd party widget. (Side note, a 3rd party widget just refers to a software that helps business display reviews on their website.)
To put it in another way, Google is removing the perk of using Review markup for Local Business and Organization schema types because businesses have editorial control over what content gets published on their site. They could choose to only show goods reviews, and hide the bad ones, and that’s where the self-serving concept is observed. On some review widgets or plugins, businesses can customize to show only 3-star ratings or above.
Besides that, Google has no way of distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate reviews. Hence, it’s was an easy choice for Google to scrap this kind of markup altogether and level the playing field.
The change is said to take place gradually, and while you may still come across search results with sitewide ratings and review (such as per the image above), we expect them to disappear over time.
With that said, if your healthcare service is filed under Local Business or Organization category, Google would, unfortunately, omit displaying any ratings or reviews markup. But fret not, read further to know what actions you can take about this update.
Showing off Reviews For Your Business
Typically, those shiny gold stars or high review scores in search results tend to attract increased CTRs, compared to those without. This is because positive reviews are indicators of trust and authority that your business has served others well in the past.
How Do I get Ratings and Reviews rich results?
- Do’s: Use Schema Review markup on schema types such as products, books, videos, etc., which Google currently allows the display of on-site review markup. You can’t get reviews snippets shown for local business and organization schema types.
- Do’s: The review or rating value must represent actual reviews found on your website. They msut be visible to people reading your website.
- Don’ts: Mark up 3rd party review displayed on your website from review sites such as Google, Facebook, and Yelp., because they are already marked up in the site they originate from. Just placing 3rd party reviews on display for your website with no markup is fine.
- Don’ts: Remove existing reviews and/or review markup from Local Business and Organization. Although those no longer lend to a rich review results, online reviews still hold their value in enticing new visitors to convert. Henceforth, it’s still worthwhile to request clients to leave you a review directly on your site. Secondly, Google mentioned no manual action (penalties) will be taken against websites for leaving those reviews and markup in place. Instead, Google’s algorithm will simply not show them. Thirdly, it won’t impact your website organic ranking on Google.
- Don’ts: Avoid marking up ratings on every page of your site. Since the ratings are supposed to relate to a specific product or service, Google will view sitewide ratings as an attempt to game the system and you’re likely to get a warning from them in Google Webmaster Tools and potentially even a search engine rankings penalty.
- Optional: Promote to clients to post their reviews on 3rd-party review sites that can trigger rich review snippets, such as Facebook, Yelp, Google, and Healing Local directory. The “non-self-serving” review sites are unaffected by Google Review Markup update and are eligible to show review snippets. This strategy would make sense if most of your site traffic came from review sites.
Do you sell individual products or service on your website?
Using product schema markup, a small business can show users more information about their products and services directly in the SERPs such as:
- Price and currency
- Review and ratings (powerful when combined with product schema)
The product schema should be applied to specific individual product (eg. iPhone 11 pro), and not on product categories (eg. iPhones) or list of products(eg. iPhone 11 range).
Video can prove useful when you’re trying to rank in search engines.
In fact, for certain search queries, video content often outranks sites, especially when it comes to “how-to” type of content.
Since the search engine is unable to read video content, schema markup is equivocally important to tell them what the video is about.
Hop on the Schema bandwagon
Very few small business owners have the time nor technical aptitude to implement schema markup on their own. And that’s is fine.
Schema markup is considered technical SEO, but knowing that schema markup exists and can form an integral part of your SEO strategy is step one in the right direction. At some point, you may choose to hire a professional SEO to take care of all the technicality.