What is Schema?

Schema is data markup within HTML that helps search engine crawlers better understand a webpage.

What Is Schema and How Is It Used for SEO?

The term “schema” is relevant in a number of different fields, including psychology, philosophy, and, of course, search engine optimization (SEO). In the world of SEO, schema is a form of data markup that you can include in your HTML to improve how a page is interpreted by search engine crawlers, and consequently, how it’s represented in a search engine results page

Simply put, schema markup provides additional context to search engine crawlers so they understand not only what type of content is on a given page, but also its meaning. It creates what is commonly known as a “rich snippet” which then appears under the title of a page in the search results. In this way, schema reflects the importance of matching searcher intent to content, and works to help search engines satisfy queries in a more meaningful, comprehensive way. 

What’s the Difference Between Schema and Structured Data?

“Structured data” is another term commonly used in this context, and Google defines it as “a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content.” While this may sound virtually identical to the definition of schema, you cannot use these words interchangeably, as they refer, subtly, to different things.

Schema falls under the larger umbrella of structured data. You can use schema markup to define the structured data on a page, but that is not the only way to do so. However, as Google notes in their explanation of structured data, the schema vocabulary is the most popular, standardized way to format structured data for SEO purposes.

Types of Schemas: JSON-LD, Microdata, and RDFa

There are many different ways to add schema markup to your site, and depending on what you want to mark up, one may be better for your needs than another. There are dozens of different types of online content that can benefit from schema markup, including (though certainly not limited to) blog posts, events, podcasts, reviews, and videos. Many webmasters opt for one of three languages when adding schema markup to their sites: 

  • JSON-LD: JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data (JSON-LD) is a method used to encode structured data on a page. You can use it to annotate different page elements, which search engines can read to not only provide better results, but to create a more organized structure for the Internet as a whole. Not only is JSON-LD Google’s preferred markup method, but many also find it simpler to implement than Microdata or RDFa. 
  • Microdata: Microdata is used to place structured data within HTML content that already exists. It is often used in the body content of a page, though you can also use Microdata for other elements. Some webmasters and developers find Microdata more difficult to use because you must add tags in the HTML of a page around each item you would like to mark up.
  • RDFa: You can use Resource Description Framework in Attributes (RDFa) to implement structured data by introducing HTML tag attributes that correspond to the content you want to describe. RDFa is commonly used in both body content and header elements, including header tags.

The Relationship Between Schema and SEO

Many major search engines understand the value and importance of schema. Back in 2011, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex joined forces to create Schema.org, a collaborative community designed:

“to create, maintain, and promote schemas for structured data on the Internet, on web pages, in email messages, and beyond.” 

This community works to develop and implement schema that enhances the experience of human users, rather than bots or crawlers. As searcher intent continues to increase in importance to search engines, it’s likely that schema will also become more significant too. 

Does Schema Matter for Search Rankings?

Schema does not directly affect your rankings, and there is currently no conclusive evidence to back up any claims that it does. However, the world of SEO is rarely that simple, and schema is no exception, as schema can still play an important role when it comes to visibility in the SERPs. Schema markup makes a result appear more detailed and resonant in the SERPs, which might improve your click-through rate. After all, if your page appears to satisfy a reader’s query better than other results, they are more likely to visit your site.

Further, this is an often overlooked component of technical SEO. A 2015 report found that out of a sample of 10 billion pages, only 31.3 percent of them adopted a schema markup. This is a gap that you can take advantage of, as incorporating schema markup on your site is highly unlikely to hurt your rankings. You only stand to benefit from including it, especially since the majority of other webmasters and site owners neglect to do so.

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How to Use Schema Markup for SEO

Don’t let the technical aspects fool you; actually adding schema markup to your site isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here’s how to use schema markup on your site using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper:

  1. Go to the Structured Data Markup Helper tool, and select the type of item, element, or data you would like to mark up.
  2. Add the URL of the page you would like to mark up to the URL box at the bottom of the page, then select “Start Tagging.” Your page will appear in the left part of your screen and the markup tool will be on the right. 
  3. Highlight the item you want to mark up on the left, then select the corresponding option in the tool on the right. This will add it to a list called “My Data Items.” 
  4. Continue selecting items that you want to mark up and adding them to your list. When you’re finished, select the red “Create HTML” button in the upper right corner of the screen. The screen will continue displaying your webpage, but the right side will now show the page’s HTML with the appropriate sections highlighted.
  5. Then, add the highlighted HTML to your site in the right places within your code. The yellow marks on the scroll bar can help you locate those places. Alternatively, you can select the grey “Download” button and copy the update code from the downloaded document. 
  6. Select the “Finish” button. You will be presented with Google’s recommended “Next Steps.” Follow them as you feel is necessary.
  7. Finally, use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to see how your page will look with the schema markup. If it is free of errors and looks the way you want it to, publish these updates to your site.

Schema Markup Best Practices

Though you now know everything needed to add schema markup to your website, there are a few things you should keep in mind to make it as useful and effective as possible:

  • Schema.org says it best: “The more you mark up, the better.” There are so many different elements that you can add schema markup to, and, generally speaking, the more you do, the better it is for your site. They also warn, though, to only add markup to content that users see, and avoid including it on internal or developer pages.
  • Be specific when adding schema markup to your site. Generic, website-wide markup won’t cut it. Each page is unique, and what works well for a certain page won’t add value to a different one. Give all pages on your site the attention they deserve, and include schema markup that makes sense for each one.
  • Update existing schema as needed. As any experienced SEO specialist will tell you, SEO is not something you do once and then forget about. All aspects of SEO, including schema markup, require regular attention and upkeep. Continually re-evaluate your schema and make any changes when needed.
  • As with all elements of technical and on-page SEO, you have to have purpose and intent when adding schema markup to your site. Don’t include it because you feel obligated to or because you feel like it’s what you’re “supposed” to do. Add schema markup to your site to improve the quality and visibility of your site.

As with link building, content marketing, and all forms of SEO, schema markup is most beneficial when it’s done with people in mind. It is a highly technical element and certainly does matter for search engine crawlers and other bots, but the primary purpose of incorporating schema is to create a better browsing experience for human users. Do your best to consider how your schema will serve people, and you’ll have a much better chance of creating markup that also furthers your SEO efforts.