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Over the years business and SEO people have asked for my take on rich snippets, SEO schema.org tagging and structured data. These have been hot terms for advanced SEO and website optimization for several years. Now with mobile voice search and semantic search on the rise, schema.org optimization is moving up many people’s lists of SEO things to figure out. Most of these people with whom I’ve spoken may have heard the terms or dabbled in schema tagging, but want to know…
- first, if they should even use schema.org?
- why they should do microdata?
- what parts of schema.org should they use?
- what is the benefit of having rich snippets?
- what does schema.org have to do with semantic search and Google Hummingbird?
It’s not just upper management or website owners who have questions about Schema.org. Chris Everett, an SEO consultant here in Atlanta with a high degree of technical knowledge recently asked my opinion on schema.org. So I’m writing this post to address both the business question on whether to invest in Schema.org structured data as well as the SEO practitioner questions on keyword strategy. I’ll go through a 4 step process to break down the opportunity into its basic building blocks, identify opportunities, assign measured ROI value and make a prioritized tier based budget.
Business & Marketing Strategy for Schema.org
Rich snippets have been around for a long time. It was one of the first areas I dove into as an SEO Research and Development Technician about 4 years ago at my previous SEO agency in Atlanta. At that time, rich snippets required structured data, a feed or an XML sitemap (which also acts essentially as a feed). Microdata was the newest structured data markup, as search engines already supported rDFA and microformats. About a year and half later, Schema.org was established via joint effort by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to have one vocabulary and semantic markup language.
I’ve since reviewed $100K+ websites that had structured data as a website development requirement, but in reality only had blank tags. No one came back after the developer to fill in the content for the tags. I’ve seen developers take their best stab at integrating schema.org across websites for major brand names, only to see no change in search results. As much as I love and respect web developers (hey, at one point that was the direction my career could have gone), a decision for exactly what content to cover with schema.org microdata should be made by an SEO who is familiar with your business goals and what search engines are capable of using and where they are headed in the future. It is possible to tag every little detail of your website. But the best business decision requires you to know the limitations and opportunities in search engines for this technology so that you can invest just enough to use it to leverage visibility for your content that will achieve your business goals.
SEO Strategy for Schema.org and Rich Snippets
For the last 4 years, this has been my strategy for using rich snippets. It follows basic logic that will continue working for years to come. However, at the end of this article I mention additional considerations to keep in mind for the future as semantic markup and semantic search become a focal point for Google in mobile device search experience. But regardless of who you are, when you decide to use microdata and schema.org markup, the end goal is to maximize visibility in search in a way that leads to marketing goals. This often means brand awareness, demonstrating thought leadership, some degree of reputation management and of course lead generation.
- All the Building Blocks: Know What Google Will Display as a Rich Snippet.
Google Webmaster Tools Help provides a list for types of rich snippets supported by Google. Knowing this list is important. It’s like your tool belt, your art brushes or your building blocks. Schema.org provides a HUGE list of vocabulary you can markup, starting from thing and drills down to the next level labeled action, class, broadcast service, creative work, event, intangible, medical entity, organization, person, place, product and property. But not everything you markup with Schema.org will appear in Google. Webmaster Tools Help provides a lot of information and several pages about rich snippets that you can spend hours reading and clicking through. But this is the best page buried among the others to use as a starting place. It gives you all the choices of things that you would bother to mark up. Because these are the only things that will appear as rich snippets.
- Rich snippets – Breadcrumbs
- Rich snippets – Events
- Rich snippets – Music
- Rich snippets – Organizations
- Rich snippets – People
- Rich snippets – Products
- Rich snippets – Recipes
- Rich snippets – Review ratings
- Rich snippets – Reviews
- Rich snippets – Software applications
- Rich snippets – Videos: Facebook Share and RDFa
- schema.org markup for videos
- Supported software application types
- Your Blocks: Take Stock of Website Assets That Can be Marked Up
If you are familiar with your website content and what assets may be available (like videos, expert reviews, customer testimonials, or event calendars), matching them up with items on the list above should be pretty easy. Breadcrumbs and organization can be done on practically every website. Video is also pretty common. Products used to be a good one until Google Shopping required paid-inclusion. People may be useful for high profile executives, celebrities, actors, lawyers, doctors, politicians or anyone that appears elsewhere online and may be searched by your audience. Events are good if the site keeps updated listings for upcoming events.
- Which of Your Blocks Can Fit the Holes: Keyword Research for Rich Snippets
Just because you code a page with proper microdata and test it with a Bing or Google rich snippet markup testing tool, it does not mean a rich snippet will appear in live search results. Google tells you in the rich snippet testing tool that the appearance of rich snippets is not guaranteed, that it depends on the query. Here’s what that means in English. Google tries to understand search intent for every keyword. Based on your keyphrase searched, Google is trying to guess what task you are trying to accomplish. Are you looking for somewhere to go? You probably could use local map search results. Do you need to know a definition, translation or basic information about a subject? The Knowledge Graph may answer your question directly. Do you want to learn how to do something? Videos may be most helpful.To figure out if you have a good chance for your rich snippets to appear, some SEO software like Brightedge will tell you which keywords trigger universal results. However, I found it more accurate to manually check. But you only need to check keywords where you rank relatively high. Just check keywords that rank on page 1 or 2 (and maybe page 3), and keep a column that shows which webpage ranks for each keyword. If you are doing this exercise for multiple types of rich snippets, it would be wise to keep a separate column for each type, since one keyword can trigger multiple types of rich snippets. Keeping a column for search volume will help you prioritize later. The idea is to figure out what existing rankings you can boost traffic through by turning a plain listing into a rich snippet. You may also see an improvement in ranking position.NOTE: Go ahead and do breadcrumbs and organization. Breadcrumbs are sitewide and can appear in all your listings. The search engine listing will display your breadcrumb navigation between the title and description, giving the user multiple links to multiple pages of your website. Organization tagging can go on every page or just on contact or about-us pages. Organization tagging should coordinate with your Local SEO efforts and Google+. Refer to this article on how to implement schema.org microdata for Organization.
- Picking Your Best Blocks: Determine Best Pages to Optimize with Microdata
This step will help you keep your cost down and narrow your efforts to the best pages. You should have a list of keywords where you have page 1-3 visibility, that display rich snippets for assets you are considering optimizing with schema.org microdata tags. You should also have the search volume and ranking webpage for each keyword. It’s likely that the same pages ranks for several keywords. You can use an excel table to filter the data. Order by webpages and find the subtotal for keyword search volume of all the keywords that rank for each page. You can do this individually for each type of rich snippet. Now you have a measure for the return on investment of optimizing schema.org microdata for each page in terms of potential visibility based on search volume.
Budgeting for Schema.org Microdata Tagging for Rich Snippets
With the method above you can create a prioritized list of pages for implementing schema.org tagging, and a measure of potential return on investment for each page based on search volume of the tracked keywords for which each page currently ranks. Now you have the flexibility of creating tiered estimated cost by implementing across sets of pages divided into whatever tiers make sense from your potential ROI determined in step 4.
Schema.org SEO and the Future of Semantic Search
Google’s search product is being geared toward mobile voice search and has been retooled with the Hummingbird algorithm. The more information Google can pull from your structured data and serve via rich snippets and Knowledge Graph, the more complete the experience becomes. Google wants to answer questions right in the SERPs, often without the need for a user to click through to a different website. This means SEO must strive to coordinate and maximize brand exposure in SERPs. Therefore, schema tags for Organization, People, etc. must coordinate with social media, local SEO, Wikipedia and online PR efforts for brand mentions.
For more information on the future of SEO in Google, see my contribution (heading #3) of this BKV article on 2014 media predictions.