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Schema.org, Microdata Formats, Rich Snippets and Better SEO

Published on June 10, 2011
Tags: SEO, Usability, Web Design London

They may spend most of their time as rivals, but Google has recently joined forces with Bing and Yahoo! to create schema.org. This is a new website that aims to improve the quality of the internet through the creation of a more robust data mark-up system for webpages. Until now, all of the search giants have had their own systems for this, which has often made it tricky for web designers and webmasters to decide on an exact mark-up schema, but it is hoped that having a shared system will not only make these decisions easier, but also improve search results.

Schema.org uses a microdata format that will be familiar to most webmasters who have previously marked up webpages for rich snippets. For those unfamiliar with this, rich snippets are those pieces of information that help to identify what your site is about and provide a large amount of information in a short space (such as an item that comes up on a search engine with not just the page title, but a picture, description, reviews and other data). Using the microdata format across the whole of schema.org is designed to make the process of marking up rich snippets more consistent.

One of the main benefits of schema.org is that it uses a vocabulary across all participating search engines, so there is less chance for confusion over double meanings or unsupported jargon. It also helps to identify sites more easily and, therefore, means that websites benefit from the categories they choose. For example, under the Schema vocabulary, a restaurant would be – in the broadest category – a ‘thing’. This would allow the web designer to include a name, description, URL and an image in the mark-up information.

The restaurant, however, is not just a ‘thing’. It’s also a ‘place’ a ‘localbusiness’ and a ‘restaurant’. All of these add extra detail to the mark-up information so it can be located in different – yet still relevant – categories. There are lots of other common categories that can be used for different webpages, depending on the content that is included within them. For instance, if you were writing a webpage about a celebrity, they would fall into the ‘person’ category, while a charity could be a ‘place’, ‘local business’ and ‘organisation’. When it comes to creative works there are options for ‘book’, ‘recipe’, ‘TVseries’ and more.

Generally speaking, the more categories you are able to select when you are marking up a webpage and the more information you can provide for each of your selected categories, the better as it provides a richer range of data for the search engines to utilise when they are searching for relevant results. Schema also allows you to view sample HTML for many of the categories so you can work out which ones would be relevant for your site and how you might need to adapt it in order to properly fit in.

Once you have selected all of your categories, filled in all of the information that you are able to and have completed your coding, schema.org recommends that you test your webpage mark-up using a code compiler so you can make sure it is all working properly and will have the intended effect. One thing to bear in mind is that when you use schema.org, you can only mark-up the visible part of your webpages – the bits that your readers will see – and not any of the hidden page elements.

Schema also works to take the ambiguity out of other parts of websites: as well as offering a common vocabulary for webmasters to make use of, there are also standard formats for time and date. This is important when you consider that different countries often use different formats when it comes to the date, so that while 10/6/11 in the UK would undoubtedly be read as the 10th June 2011, in the US it might be interpreted as the 6th October 2011. The standard format offered by Schema means that the inputted information is unambiguous and therefore easier for machines to understand. Something similar can be done with time.

This can be useful if, for example, you were promoting an exhibition or a concert that was taking place at a particular time and date. You would obviously want it to be very clear when the event was taking place and for the information you give to be understood by any machine – and therefore web user – that picked it up. You can do something similar with, for instance, recipes or anything else that might take place over a specific period by using the Schema format to specify how long something will take (such as a recipe that needs cooking for an hour or an event that lasts for four hours).

There is also a meta tag option, which can be used for web content that you can’t mark-up in the normal way due to how it is displayed on the webpage. For instance, if you have a product review on your site and the information is displayed through a five-star graphic, then you could use a Schema meta tag that includes details of the graphic so it is incorporated into your mark-up of the rest of the page. You can also include link data to third party sites to make it clearer to search engines the sort of information you have described on your page (such as linking to an encyclopaedia reference that contains further details).

Overall, schema.org helps to standardise the process of marking up webpages by introducing a common format for Google, Yahoo! and Bing. This has the effect of making life easier for web designers and other staff in charge of the process as they will be able to be much more specific in their coding, rather than trying to come up with a solution that works for all the different search engines.

While Schema is not specifically designed to improve web ranking, including rich snippets in your mark-up can help your search results to display more prominently, which is always a good thing. Plus, as the features of the site develop and more options are included in it, it makes sense to make use of it now so you will continue to benefit further down the line as new developments are made and new features added.

By Chelsey Evans

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