What is schema markup and its benefits?

 approx 45 minute video

Nettl Academy SEO Live Event! Session 6

This session is the sixth in a new series of live events from Nettl. Each week they’ll explore a different subject relating to SEO.

What’s it all about?

Demand for SEO has increased 4-fold. Find out why with our online educational sessions. Our SEO expert sessions are usually reserved for our existing SEO subscribers, but given the significant increase in demand for SEO, we thought it would be useful to open these up to every Nettl customer to help businesses boost their online presence.

In session #6 the team deep dive into what is schema markup and what are it’s benefits to you and your site.

We covered hot topics such as:

  • What is schema? In simple terms
  • How search engines use schema mark-up
  • Common types of schema mark-up
  • Example of effective mark-up in practice and the results

Plus the team were on hand to answer questions.

Check out the next video in our SEO webinar series

Today’s session we are going to go through schema markup and SEO. Schema can be seen as quite complex so we’re going to talk about schema markup, hopefully in the simplest way possible; why you should use it; common types and examples of schema markup; and some new types of schema markup recently; free tools that you can use; how to add schema markup to WordPress websites and the different ways you can do that; and some key takeaways as always.

What is schema markup?

So firstly, what is schema markup? Schema markup is often interchanged with structured data mark up. So you’ll often hear people using both of those terms, it doesn’t really matter what you use. I’ll explain the difference between them shortly, but essentially schema is a standardised set of code, HTML code – which is hypertext markup language code – that allows search engines to more easily crawl, understand and display the content from a website.

One way to look at it is when you look at a website, you see the front end of the website, you see all the content, you see the images, what’s written on the website, but you don’t see the back which is the code. There’s markup in that code which often helps Google understand the page and what it means.

Markup language basically indicates the relationship between concepts and entities in the document or web page. An example of what I mean by this is if you’re a local business, like a print studio for example, every printed studio will have a name, so the business name, the business address, and the business phone number. If you move address and you move to a different address and the website has got the new address on but you forgot to update the Google My Business listing then you’ve got loads of directories that you’ve previously built citation listings to that have another completely different address. So you’ve actually got the same name across all these different websites but a different address and even potentially a different phone number. Each of these pieces of information about your local business is an entity, a kind of data, and Google wants to understand the relationship between these different entities or these different pieces of information.

So it’s really important, for example, for local search results to ensure this information is consistent across the web so that Google can understand the relationship. This can work in any situation. So for example, if you had Donald Trump and you typed ‘Donald Trump’ into Google, you’d see a whole knowledge panel and a whole information pack about Donald Trump. That’s because that’s all the information that Google has about Donald Trump. For example, here’s what he does, his date of birth and all of that. That’s all information that Google has collected through sort of markup language and understanding the relationship between different pieces of data online.

This is just showing you schema.org, that’s where schema comes from. So all the types of schema that you will see comes from this schema.org place and schema.org is essentially a load of information, a little vocabulary that different people have input in from Bing, Google, different types of search engines accept this scheme of vocabulary or language.

There’s currently 615 data types in scheme.org. It’s always growing and there’s going to be more. You can see the examples here, you’ve got creative work, a person, a place, local businesses, loads of different things that you can mark up. So there’s always going to be something relevant to one of your clients.

Structured data and schema markup

Structured data markup and the schema are obviously used quite interchangeably and that’s because schema markup is the most popular type of markup used to structure data. A way to explain the difference, because you might see or hear often both of these terms used, structured data is code or data organised and formatted in a specific way. A really simple way to try and explain this: for example, when you write a letter to someone and you address that letter to someone, you will always write their name first, and then you do the address and then you do the postcode. This is information structured in a certain way to ensure that the postman or whoever’s dealing with that information is able to understand it and get that letter to where it needs to be. So quite simply structured data is putting information in a certain way so that Google or search engines can understand it and show that to users. It’s exactly the same as what you do on a letter, basically.

Schema is actually the language or the vocabulary used in structuring the data. So for example, with the letter analogy, if you’re addressing a letter from the UK, you address it with name, address, postcode, but you would address it, for example, in English if you’re addressing it from somewhere in the UK to another address in the UK so that is the language that you use.

Is schema a ranking factor?

So is schema a ranking factor? People often ask this. No, it’s not because a ranking factor is something that directly impacts your rankings. So it’s something that Google says, for example, ‘if you don’t have good sites, this could impact the way your site ranks’ or ‘if you don’t have the content or the keywords’ but schema is not that. It can improve the visibility of the search results and it can help increase the number of people that click on your result because of the way it might show you a result visually. It’s genuinely good SEO practice. But one thing I would say is if a website doesn’t have the right keywords and it’s not targeting the right keywords, it doesn’t have good on-site optimisation, or quality content, or relevant backlinks, if it’s technically really bad, the site speed is bad, the user experience is horrendous, there’s no point in entering schema because ultimately you have to get to the point where the website is ranking okay and you want to hopefully give it a little bit of a push, schema could help with that.

So the way search result pages look now, for example, if you were to do a search on your mobile phone, you used to see loads of very similar standard looking results where you would have the name, for example, and then the listing with a description and you’d click on it. Now, when you do a search on Google, you get all sorts of different results that appear above those results. They are basically normally rich snippets and then this attention can drive additional clicks or calls to a website.

How can schema markup help me?

So how can schema markup help you? Search engine land, which is one of the sort of SEO industry news websites, stated that by implementing schema you could get a 30% increase in click-through rate. I’m not saying that if you go and implement this today for your business, you will see this because schema is more relevant to some businesses than others. So there’s a certain type of schema, which is local business, that if you’re a local business it will be relevant to you. But there are other types of schema that are really relevant to online e-commerce platforms like Amazon, for example. So it’s not necessarily that if you’re going to implement that, you will see that, but it can be beneficial.

Then these rich results also mean that you would stand up better in search results. So you may stand out over a competitive business and it also allows users to reach the information they need. So it’s all about the user. It helps the user have the information that they need. So common types of schema. This is just a few here, obviously there are 600. There are a few common ones for the local business, which we’re going to focus on today because it’s most relevant to you guys. Organisation, which is basically about the type of organisational business then there are, events, videos, products, reviews, articles, recipes, how tos, FAQ’s. All of these are quite self-explanatory, but there are a lot of different types.

Local business schema

I’m just going to chat about the local business schema. So the reason you would implement this is essentially it will show your business details in the Google knowledge graph, including things such as, for example, opening hours, ratings, directions, and actions to book appointments and order items. There’s also the Google listing that you have but having the local business schema can also help this.

If you’re a brick and mortar business, basically it helps enhance your search results in the search results page. So here’s an example of where there’s a local business listing but also they’ve potentially got markup on there as well to show this information.

I’m trying to break down here the sort of information and what schema means. Within schemers, when you put this on your website, you have required properties, so required information that in order to put us onto your website you need this information and then you have recommended. This looks really complicated if you were to look at all the websites, but when you break it down, it’s actually quite easy, and the information is structured in a way so if I was to structure this, the ID would be a unique ID for specific business. This could be a URL, the URL doesn’t necessarily have to work because some businesses will have loads of different locations. You’d have the address and you’d have the name and that’s the absolute minimum that you have to have in order to have a local business schema on your website.

You can install, if you have a WordPress website, something called Yoast SEO which enables you to do this really, really simply.

Recommended properties

Some recommended properties. So for example, you can have rating, a department, you’d have geographical location, the latitude and longitude so that Google maps can understand exactly where the business is and has the correct information there, opening times. The property down the left-hand side is essentially the information and here you would have, what time the business opens, what time the business closes, what days the business is open and the business location, what time specific locations open. So the top one would be for example, opening hours for if people were calling and then you could have opening hours for people coming into the place. Then if you’re a seasonal business, for example, you can put that information on there. So all of this information is super useful for a local business.

Additional information. You don’t have to also mark up all of this, it’s only the bits that are relevant to you because, for example, there’s two on here for food establishment so restaurants can have their menu on there. I was doing it the other day, actually, when I was looking to go to a restaurant and I was trying to find the menus for these different restaurants because I have friends that are vegan and vegetarian and they’re quite fussy and I couldn’t find the menus anywhere. It was just so easy when I found a restaurant and their menu was on their local listing. So all of that stuff really helps and would drive people to your website. But obviously if you’re not a restaurant that’s not relevant to you.

Reviews are super, super important, also a ranking factor. So if you do not have reviews, you absolutely need them. And also it’s obviously beneficial to mark them up, but that won’t stop your review showing if you don’t put this on your website. Telephone number and your hours as well.

Product schema

Now I’m going on to different types of schema, might not be as relevant if you don’t sell products on your website but it’s worth knowing what this. Product schema is something you won’t necessarily see but when you see a product on a website or when you search for product, often some of the big businesses will also have this marked up and smaller businesses can as well. If you do sell products on your website, you can do this. It’s basically providing information about your product so you can provide the price availability. Whether it’s in stock and also reviews as well.

Here’s an example of what this markup might look like. So for example, there’s a little product tab on this Google home. So that’s what a product schema might look like or mark upon there. Then obviously the review ratings. So if you can see this, there’s a price. So there’s like a secondhand iPhone ‘price from’ and ‘price to’ this and then says it’s in stock. If you were to see this on a search result and then you would see loads of others, you might be more likely to click on that one because you could see that the product is definitely already in stock. Then for the second one, for example, if you are looking for car insurance, LV has a review rating there. So they’ve got 32 thousands reviews and a rating of 9.2. So to me, I’d probably click on that result because of the number and the quality of the reviews.

As we start to get more technical into the world of SEO and there’s a dependency on knowing at least a basic understanding of code because that’s pretty much what we’re looking at with these certain tags. It’s almost very similar to using HTML or PHP or Java scripts.

Events and reviews

Now we’re going to dive into events and regarding reviews, there’s actually a dark art way that a lot of businesses have done this over the years by creating fictitious reviews. I’m not saying that LV has passed two thousands, five star reviews and that’s fake, but I think it might well be exaggerating significantly what they’re representing in that search result. There are also lots of businesses doing that. There are a number of SEO companies, for example, out there that if you search for SEO in a certain region, it comes up with the five stars underneath and these are reviews that they’ve just added to their websites most of the time, and then marked up as real reviews. So there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in these areas as well. It’s important that you stick to the righteous path of this, and don’t get tempted towards using some of the naughty techniques to make yourself stand out because you will end up getting caught eventually and those can be very painful processes.

Now, when it comes to events, it isn’t just for those of you who own your own academy but it could be a cafe owner, it could be a pub owner, it could be a restaurant owner, or it could be pretty much anyone who is doing either one-off events or regular events within a region or jurisdiction. Now, if you are holding a ballgame evening in your local pub, then you may well want to put events schema markup on that. So this means when somebody goes ahead and searches, ‘ things to do in Manchester’ or Bristol, ‘things to do in Bristol right now’. It’ll come up with a list of events which have been pulled from schema directly through, and this is almost like position zero in the world of SEO. This is typically going to get the lion’s share of clicks compared to ‘things to do with the kids’ and seeing like a 10 page article about things to do in Bristol.

The reason for that is in theory it’s more relevant. It’s instantly updated, most of the time. So it’s being pulled through in real time so if you’re adding events, it’s a really quick, easy win to get some visibility, very quickly without having to worry about too many of the other ranking factors out there. Ultimately it will drive more visibility to your own website over time.

Adding FAQs

FAQs also contain an awful lot of rich data which could be pulled forward. I’m making some Halloween decorations for the kids and turning the garage into a velociraptor enclosure. So how do you make a velociraptor enclosure for children might feel something that I would search for in this scenario. Bizarre, yes, it is. It would then potentially come up with either a video pulled through from YouTube on how to do that activity, or it could be a snippet of ‘you can start making a velociraptor enclosure once you’ve captured some velociraptors’, and then there’ll be a dot, dot, dot and it will encourage people to click through into the search results.

A good way of doing it and more probably realistic schema markup is on display here, which is better market putting through commonly asked questions. If you’ve been to our previous SEO sessions, learning about intent, learning about creating content from which your potential customers are actually searching for, then you can see how this suddenly fits all the way into your SEO strategy. If you create content around what people are actually searching for, they’re looking for cheap holidays, but they’re also looking for where it’s been affected by coronavirus right now, where can I get travel insurance for this current pandemic, and how all of that is relevant. So you can see why these questions are being pulled through is because ultimately Google has realized that a lot of people are going on to search for those questions. So they want to bring it to the forefront. It’s once again, Google trying to predict what people are searching before they even go ahead and do it.

Special announcements

So new types of schema include things like special announcements. It’s anything from in America, wildfire announcements to, if there is a national emergency. We’ve had friends over in the Philippines who have tsunami alerts come through via Google, and these are all being pulled through from government websites, which have been marked up with schema. Right now COVID alerts are relevant, temporary opening hours and times using Google My Business where possible is also going to help massively there but you could still add schema markup to your contact pages and have your own COVID notice on there which is going to be relevant probably for the next 12 to 18 months, at least the digital world.

COVID-19 announcements, making sure you know what’s open, if there’s anything in your region, we’re going to start seeing more of this pull through onto Google. If you write anything about COVID on Google right now, it pulls through relevant information such as the daily statistic changes, what’s happening right now, the common questions being pulled through from schema. Typically these are going to be pulled from .gov websites, but if you have a rich enough and relevant answer then you will be shown.

There was a young lad who created a tracking system for COVID previously, and he ended up having tens of millions of visitors hit that website and become a millionaire from actually displaying the data, which then Google ended up pulling in via schema. I don’t think he anticipated it would go that way, I think he’s 14 years old. It is a really clever way of how real-time SEO can have a huge impact if you’re clever and savvy with what you’re doing.

So we see here at Bristol to Spain flights, and we can see that obviously the COVID 19 alert is coming up, and this is being pulled through via schema on gov.uk. So another really good example about how all of these search results are getting more dynamic over time.

Free tools

Some free tools, if you haven’t completely glazed over in the last 30 minutes or so. First of all, you could use search.google.com forward slash test forward slash rich hyphen results and you can have a play and a tinker to see what is being pulled through from a schema market perspective and if there are eligible pages as well.

You can also see the amount of errors if you have already set up a schema or if there’s schema enabled on your WordPress website. It will tell you where those errors are. I would strongly recommend that we’re probably getting into the realms where you’re going to start needing to lean on some support, from local studio managers or from online tutorials. There are plenty of YouTube videos. It’s a free resource available to everybody or pop into your local studio before they’re locked down, and get in touch with them and work with them.

We also have structured data testing, it’s not the prettiest amount of content to start digesting, especially if you don’t understand coding languages, however, it’s not beyond the realms of learning. I think the government wants everybody to reskill into digital right now. So if you’re a ballet dancer, then get involved with schema markup instead, I think that’s what they’re leaning on.

You don’t necessarily need to understand the left-hand side. I think you could just put your URL in and look at where it says detected, and if it doesn’t detect any mark-up then that’s when you might say, ‘I want to implement some’ and then speak to your local studio about whether you could do that.

Structured data markup helper as well, from which you’re going to be able to see how Google is interpreting information on a page. It’s going to bring forward and highlight areas from which it understands. This is a telephone. This is an email. If it can’t pull through the email and you’re hiding it behind a ‘send us a message’, you can see here how it can’t pick up the email on the local business. Really important to try and get all of this nailed down because ultimately the more that this aligns with your Google My Business page, the more visibility you’re going to be given from your map listings, your ABC map listings up here on Google search.

So really, really important to try and get that right. If you can, once again, speak to your local Nettl studio to ensure that that is happening or to lean on us as your SEO nerds and geeks to give you a hand where possible. We can also see here, around some areas of the Nettl zone as well. So we could see how we are going to tag data and how we are going to bring that forward. Can we bring forward an image from the page? Google has recently started bringing forward pictures into the search results. So if you’ve got certain amazing awards that you’ve been granted as a business and you want to bring that forward to the search results when somebody looks for Nettl, then you might want to do that.

So this is an example of an FAQ schema. If you have an FAQ page, this is actually quite simple that anyone can do. You could just go onto this website and you just put in that you want a FAQ and then you put the question in and what the answer is that you have on the website and then ignore the thing on the right-hand side, because it creates automatically for you. Then you just have to download it and send it to whoever does your website to then upload it. So if you want to do a bit yourself, this tool is really useful to actually learn a bit about it and you don’t need to do any coding whatsoever. You literally just put the copy in, that’s on your website for the FAQ.

How to add schema to your WordPress site

Finally, moving on to how to add schema onto your WordPress website. It’s important not to think that things like Yoast are the answer to all of your worries and problems. Yoast is a very useful guide, but it’s a bit like going bowling and having the sides up when it comes to SEO. It doesn’t mean that you’re good at bowling, it means that it’s likely that you’re going to knock a few of those pins over no matter where you roll that ball. That’s how I describe using Yoast in the nicest possible way but it’s a very good guide to get you on the right track.

You can obviously use the schema markup plugin. Yoast is really good just for adding the basics on to the page, add it to HTML on your page. If you are particularly tech savvy or use Google tag manager or alternatively go to your local Nettl studio or pick up the phone and speak to them or email Nettl – seo@nettl.com – and we will assist you in your schema needs.

Key takeaways

Key takeaways to take away with you. This is one take to have in every region of the country right now is look at your markup. Look at what your competitors are using, and see how much visibility they’re potentially getting. If you’re seeing certain search results where you’re lacking visibility but there is clearly marked up content, like how tall is Justin Bieber, and a look against those results – do you want to rank for that word? Find and implement all of the relevant markup, prioritise your local business because that’s going to be where you’re going to get the most traction, and also your local events as well. I’d really recommend thinking outside the box to make your local businesses as relevant as possible in these really bizarre times. Let’s see if we can get some local events going for small businesses, whether you’re doing a board game evening, or a coffee evening or a COVID Anonymous chat room. Whatever it is, have a play around with events, because it would be really worthwhile for driving attention.

Follow the guidelines and don’t add fake mark-up to avoid getting a penalty. Don’t suddenly add 50,000 5 star reviews for your butchers in Brighton. It’s unrealistic that you’ve had 50,000 stakes being sold in the last few months. Google will see through it and it will slap a penalty against it. It’s very difficult to recover from that.

Prioritise your keyword research, on-site optimised optimisation, website speed, user experience, and backlinks before structured data. Structured data is starting to get into the luxurious realms of SEO, where all of your foundations are up together. You know where you’re going, you know what keywords converting for you from experimenting with AB tests and you’re getting some traction and visibility with your website. So focus on the other areas first. This is a nice thing to have, once those other boxes have been ticked.


Temperamental FAQs

On FAQs: when they’ve been created in structured data, they tend to be quite temperamental with Google – sometimes they show, sometimes they don’t – is there anything you can do to make them more sticky? Yes. That’s essentially the same answer we always have: Google does what it wants. The reason for that is Google only has a certain amount of real estate on the first page so if Google showed every single website that put FAQ schema on it would mean that there’s only three results on the first page. It’s partly to do with whether you’ve obviously set it up correctly and then also if Google thinks it’s useful. So for example, Google can probably see if people are clicking on it. So if you’ve set it up and no one’s clicking on it… That compare the market example, the top question was ‘will coronavirus impact my travel insurance?’ that is probably one that is at the top for a reason: people are clicking on it. That’s why Google is showing it.

Unfortunately there’s no definitive answer to get it, but if it’s not showing it could be worth getting someone to look into it because sometimes there’s real specific reasons, too. For example, if you’ve included something like I used to have questions on a page and the questions were like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and for some reason the numbers were impacting whether it was showing. There can be little things, we can have a look at that for you.

I would say as well, building up the authority as much as possible because ultimately the more authority you have, the more trusted you are which is typically why you see quite authoritative websites being the stickiest when it comes to the schema, ranging from dot govs to got edu, they’re always going to be prioritised over SMDs, sadly.

Showing the wrong address

We’ve got a particular issue with a client’s website, they’re a developer and they’ve developed a site but when we set the site up, we had to use their head office address, not the physical address of the building site. So we’ve had a real set of problems with both Royal Mail and Google recognising the newly given postcode, which has been an absolute nightmare. We’ve tried everything manually to try and smooth out the issues that this has caused, because it was only about two months ago that the site actually became a physical site where people could go and view the show homes. So we have people coming to the head office which is 35 miles away from the site. That’s a particular instance but schema would help with a lot of that, wouldn’t it?

Yes. Firstly, obviously making sure whatever address you do need to use, just make sure that’s really consistent. So on the Google listing, on the website, use the local business markup to put the address in there as well. Like I was explaining before, ultimately it sounds complicated, but all of the information on the website, search engines have to try and understand and they’re all just the entities of information and it needs to all be connected and Google news understand the relationship. So it might take a while for that to actually feed through essentially. Local business markup will help with that and also potentially organisation markup, you might not need both of them, but that can help you put the specific address and the name of the business and everything in as well.

Schema markup homework

Everyone go away and do a bit of research about it. I don’t think you’ll ever be experts but ultimately it’s definitely something that you can look into. It is getting bigger, but it is the technical side of search engine optimisation, definitely not the easiest side of it. However, it might be that thing that gives you a bit of competitive edge at some point.

If there’s anybody who needs any help, especially with what’s happening in regards to trying to give your website more visibility, especially as we head into another lockdown and winter, anything that we could do to assist then please reach out to us we’ll try to put you on the right path. It’s another really good time that if you are not opening as normal, SEO is one of those things where it’s time. The more time you put into it and invest into it, the better.

If your local SEO studio or Nettl studio is working on SEO and you are putting in some hours as well and doing some homework, when you come out of all of this, you’re going to be in a much better position and sometimes better and bigger ranking than some of the largest multinationals out there because they’ll be furloughing their marketing department while you’re going to be actually working on your projects and on your websites. If you want some homework, then reach out to us and we’ll even give you some free homework to be working on your websites.