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Shakeups in Google’s search engine algorithms are plenty common, with some of the bigger ones like Panda and Penguin completely changing the way experts considered SEO. Many of these changes have also been instrumental in preventing people from gaming the system with current black hat techniques like link wheels, top 100 sites, thin content spamming, and keyword stuffing.
2018’s algorithm ripples brought an old idea to the forefront of every competent SEO company’s radar. Unfortunately, it did so by tanking the rankings of many quality websites who had earned their page one spots in Google as trustworthy experts – and often tanking those rankings overnight.
Those who were quick to catch on still suffered hefty penalties for 1-3 months, and others simply haven’t recovered. Radical changes like this sometimes snap back after a while, but as these haven’t, it’s time for us to sit down for a full discussion of a technical SEO point called schema markup.
You’ve talked about schema a lot before, but what is it exactly?
Schema is better known by many people as structured data. You’re probably familiar with some of the results it delivers already, as schema is responsible for rich snippets that summarize a page, graphics that display the weather, and even those bold phone number boxes that come up when you are trying to find a customer service phone number.
When used properly, schema is able to answer someone’s question on a search page before they ever make it to your website. While this can be a good thing for some service based industries, it often does so at the expense of your website traffic – another major player in SEO. Businesses who are trying to climb the ranks are then left to figure out how best to balance the two.
While this appears to be an impossible task on paper, there are a few ways to leverage schema so that you increase curiosity rather than decrease it. You might even be doing some of them already!
Since rich results are so much more visible than a 70 character meta description, you can do a lot more by using them to showcase:
- Content creation topics
- Business listings and ratings
- Pictures of your products and projects
- Social media profiles
We’ll talk about options for applying schema to your website after we cover the above points in more detail. There are a few different ways you can go about this, and it wouldn’t do the subject justice to rush through them here.
Schema is your hook for getting potential visitors to read your content
Nobody gives meta descriptions a close review when searching on Google anymore. Between the bright blue of a meta title drawing the eye away and each description’s size being reduced by half, it’s pretty easy to understand why.
If you’re among the minority who does take a moment to glance at them, you’re usually checking to see if the description matches what you searched for since meta titles often lack context.
What if you had a notecard’s worth of information that was vetted by Google to be an overwhelmingly likely answer to your query? You’d look at it if it came up first, right?
Welcome to rich snippets and rich cards.
Rich snippets add a little extra to your vanilla search results. If you’ve seen entries with publication dates, ratings, enhanced descriptions, prices, etc., then you’ve seen the fruits of someone entering schema into their website’s code. These stand out from normal search results and often look far nicer and more informative than those that lack them.
Rich cards are an evolution of rich snippets predominantly found on mobile searches, presenting a card-like view that can include as much as a picture, a rating, and a brief content description of the page. These cards can either appear on their own or in groups within a carousel you can swipe through to see more cards.
Both products of schema markup have forced webmasters to step up their game – not just because of Google’s updates, but because they’re now essential for grabbing someone’s attention in a search. Good content and paid ads simply aren’t enough on their own anymore, and the average business owner simply hasn’t realized it yet.
Google My Business is the handicap keeping the ignorant in the game
Since Google has been a big player in the world of rich results, it isn’t terribly shocking to find them taking advantage of the benefits – they’ve actually been playing around with this openly in searches for a couple years now.
If you think about it, there also had to be a precursor that served as a testing ground for seeing what schema could do, and we’ve been using it for years as well.
While most entrepreneurs know nothing about schema, they do know they need a Google My Business listing. This indispensable registration system takes a company’s basic business information, sorts it into the appropriate markets, and integrates a map and rating system for easy comparison.
Best of all, this information ALWAYS comes up early in search results, regardless of where your website specifically ranks. You could have the sloppiest website in the world, but if your customers love your service and leave lots of positive reviews, it is still possible to put in a good showing within a search.
All of this is run by schema, and business owners have been taking advantage of it without ever realizing it. Only a company with an absurd market share percentage like Google could pull something like this off, and the results are pretty impressive when you look back at them.
This isn’t a substitute for integrating schema into your website, but it’s far better than nothing.
A picture is still worth a thousand words today – possibly more.
Online shopping is where it’s at. Whole business models revolve around it directly and indirectly, and most people take advantage of it on a consistent basis. As a result, you need every edge over your competition that you can find, and sometimes that edge is as simple as showing someone a product they didn’t know they couldn’t live without.
While we mentioned pictures in passing during our discussion of rich snippets and cards, it is definitely worth reiterating that you can and should include them as part of these and Google My Business listings.
The reason for this is simple: pictures offer an open window into your business before someone enters your website. Thanks to this element of schema, you can now show visitors why they should choose you rather than simply tell them.
For people who are more visually focused like me when it comes to learning about topics, you can get an idea across far more easily this way than with big blocks of text. You can also use pictures to grab someone’s attention far more easily than a normal search result too, and that’s no small feat in our easily distracted world.
Schema can showcase all your social media profiles in one convenient place
While this is one of the least important schema features that we’ve talked about today for many businesses, it’s still important enough to bring up now. Whether you have one platform or many, this is an easy opportunity to show them off to newcomers.
We’ve talked about social media’s benefits in the past, and extra avenues for developing a following that take relatively little work on your part should always be welcomed with open arms. Followings lead to traffic, traffic leads to better search results, better search results lead to more business. It’s that simple.
I get it, schema’s important – so how do I add it to my website?
This is where things get really tricky. No matter what the experts have to say on the subject, I’m not here to sugarcoat the facts. To put it bluntly, schema requires coding knowledge to maximize its effectiveness, and the task of adding it ranges from difficult to impossible for the average business owner.
Methods for adding schema to your website include:
- Preparing it with Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper (or a similar tool)
- Coding it in with JSON-LD (Google’s preferred format)
- Coding it in with microdata
While Google’s manager is the most accessible of the three, most are probably asking for an easier way right now. Fortunately, there is a savior that can take most of the sting out of the basics for you, and its name is WordPress.
There is a wide selection of WordPress plugins and themes dedicated to schema, and most are designed to either take you through the basics step by step or simply handle the schema creation process automatically. I know we sing the praises of WordPress a lot in this blog, but this is a perfect example of why we do so.
One thing to note is that most free themes do not have any sort of automatic schema integration. If you aren’t certain of whether a plugin or theme can do what you need it do, don’t hesitate to do some research or reach out to the developers and ask – they’re usually quite invested in making their tools the best they can be.
Finally, it is also worth mentioning that rich results, like any other Google search ranking, are managed at Google’s discretion. Schema changes aren’t going to implement overnight, and sometimes they won’t show up at all for one reason or another. Patience and careful review are key here, and while not guaranteed, do usually pay off in the end.
You lost me earlier in the article, can you take care of this for me?
Absolutely. Schema’s a dense topic, and takes a lot of time and effort to implement fully for a website. Give our SEO team a call at 319-229-5225 or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be happy to discuss options for making your website stand out in the search results.