SEO | June 9, 2020

An Introduction To Schema & How To Use It

An Introduction To Schema & How To Use It Image

Last month schema.org released it’s 8th version of markup, and it’s pretty impressive. It includes brand new properties to help ecommerce sites manage their delivery policies.

It improves upon the 2018 introduced JobPosting property, where it collaborates with the Google Jobs platform to provide more up to date and accurate requirements for job listings. And, more suited to the current climate, it includes crucial information on updates concerning COVID-19.

I’ll talk in more detail about the properties and types of schema available but for now, I’ll talk a bit about the basics. We all have to start somewhere, right?

What is schema markup?

Schema, for context, is a vocabulary built by search engines for search engines through their collaborative community knowledge sharing and open-source processes, often found on GitHub and Schema.org.

There is an increasing need in the SEO community to use schema as a method to boost presence on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), with featured rich snippets being one of the biggest most attractive areas of use. It helps to structure your site for the purpose of both organic traffic and UX (user experience) only with more established support and searchability. This includes global search engine recognition.

In other words, implement it on your site and the major search engines will recognise it, allowing you to potentially reap the benefit of claiming highly competitive space on the SERPs.

What does schema markup actually provide?

Schema is a lot like a flat pack bookshelf (go with me on this one, it’ll make sense) because you need all the components to build it.

If a search engine crawler is the furniture builder and the schema markup is the instruction manual, but the instructions are missing, given the builder isn’t  a tradesman, the shelf is unlikely to be built the way it was intended. It will fall to innate or learned knowledge to piece the bookshelf together, inevitably taking longer and inviting mistakes.

In an instance where schema (the instructions) are missing, search engines (like the builder) will use their own ‘brain’ but it could pull the wrong information, incorrect elements from other sites on the web, or the wrong parts of your website if you don’t explicitly tell it what you want it to do.

Schema markup tells the search engine exactly what to pull up, just like the instruction manual, saving time and preventing mix-up.

How can you implement Schema?

Take it back to basics. Do some basic housekeeping and see what you already have online. A great way to do this is to look at Google’s structured data testing tool or run your site through a crawler such as Screaming Frog or SiteBulb, there you can pull out the pages with structured data on and work out if it could be improved, deleted, or changed. Some great places to find resources include schema.org and json-ld.org, equipped with a wide range of learning material you can easily find templates to help you get started.

Google’s Structured Data Testing tool is a great tool to have in your back pocket when you’re going through the process of implementing schema. You can use it at all steps throughout the process, from initially drafting some schema to using templates to fit your own business. Then, when you’re ready to go, simply paste a URL into the box (if you think there’s schema on a specific URL or you need a quick check without the fuss of a crawl) to check the markup for errors and warnings.

Or, you can paste syntax directly into the box to test whether it is eligible for rich results. If something’s not quite right, you’ll get an error box that will show you where you’ve gone wrong and how to make the fixes. It’s like a mini debugger – super handy! 

Using Schema during a crisis

In these unbelievably turbulent times, having the appropriate schema in place wrapping round your product listings can rocket your visibility and give users the most up-to-date and accurate information.

It’s particularly important when consumers are searching whether shops are operating as normal, with reduced hours, or if they are closed altogether until further governmental announcements.

As staff continue to be furloughed and marketing departments become increasingly unsure of what is next in the marketplace, the very last thing you want to do is share inaccurate, or worse, out of date information on your website to potential customers. Especially with 93% of consumers feeling frustrated by incorrect business information.

Back in March, Schema.org developed a new type “SpecialAnnouncement” providing simple, data stamped Coronavirus updates to associate business announcements with the pandemic.

This is really handy and can be used to represent businesses, organisations and insitutions in real time. Think medical facilities (i.e. where to get tested for COVID-19), schools closures, public transport changes etc. And then, when the world begins to open up again, supporting the announcements of reopening of all of these facilities.

A “SpecialAnnouncement” example:

Events too have an added @type of “eventAttendanceMode” which indicates whether the event is on or offline. For this, you could use the validFrom and validThrough properties to show when the store will be closed until using the openingHours, Date, and DateTime types.

You can make changes to your opening hours through LocalBusiness if you’re temporarily closed, working on reduced hours, or to change the way you serve deliveries if you’re a takeaway or restaurant starting to supply takeout. Match that with your Google My Business listing for consistency and customers will have more confidence in your brand (if you’re wondering how to update this local information, here’s how).

A “LocalBusiness” example:

The more complex the information you have to show, the more @types you can utilise.

Some of the most commonly used are: Place, LocalBusiness, Restaurant, Product, MedicalEntity, Recipe. These offer a very niche type of information for your business. For example, a chef website may have recipes.

Using a Recipe markup, every single recipe can be wrapped with various types to show stages of the recipe including cookingMethod, recipeInstructions, estimatedCost, prepTime, performTime, step and many, many more.

Using the estimatedCost type is a great example of how to make your recipes more accessible during this time as families opt for cheaper ingredients and home cooked meals. Google pulls out the most relevant information from your page based on what you have instructed it to, to show the user exactly what they need to do, for how long, and whether the recipe is well reviewed or not.

Schema can provide an abundance of helpful information to the user when the intent of their search is matched with the content on the website. It’s simple really, update your website, update your schema, communicate with your audience.

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