Schema.org: worth the effort?

Schema.org represents the mutual agreements and vocabulairy that resulted after the combined effort of all major search engines to extend the possibitities of Structured Data. Schema.org makes use of the semantic languages RDFa, Microdata and JSON-LD, should you invest time and resources to implement it fully into your website? Our experience, the head of SEO of Builtvisible and a test say yes.

(The test results are quite overwhelming, perhaps you’d like to go there right away)

It’s easy to understand why Structured Data that produce Rich Snippets are so commonly used, even though it has not been around for that long: it is a powerfull way to stand out in search results by attracting the attention visually and providing extra information on the content of your pages.

But Structured Data allows so much more then just marking up small parts of the content! Using the vocabulaire of schema.org we are able to communicate the complete structure of the website to search engines, mark up different types of content (contact page, about page, article, etc.) AND apply priority to elements within the pages.

Structured Data beyond Rich Snippets

Once we realized the SEO advantages of such a high powered relationship with search engines we spend months learning and implementing Schema.org into the jaaadesign website, and this was the general result:

This Structured Data testing tool result shows clearly the various elements as part of the jaaadesign homepage of the time, marked up correctly and telling the search engines what is going on here.

But before too long doubt began to creep in as I realised: why if it is worth the effort, is it SO RARE to find a markup this extensive on the web? Honestly I could have counted the websites that I’ve found with this validation of Schema.org on the fingers of one hand.

Schema.org: growing pains

I reached out to several experts and Daniel Butler (Head of SEO at Builtvisible.com no less) was the one to answer to our concerns, a summary:

  1. Development of Schema.org is growing fast: it can be demotivating that changes and updates can render markup obsolete or incomplete
  2. Markup is extensive and has a learning curve

Daniel continues by saying that Google is aware of these issues and is working on improving this by:

  • Developing JSON-LD, which is a step in the right direction to counter this
  • The development of Googles new ‘Entity Search‘ is another huge incentive to increase support & ease of implementation

And finally concluding:

  • Schema.org is far from failing: ‘If anything, the opportunity to stand out in the crowd of search results is now!’

Toggle Daniels email here

“A lot has changed over the past 3-4 years that I think has raised concerns surrounding its implementation generally, and with development growing at such a rapid pace it’s been difficult to keep up. Imagine businesses having a 12 month development lead time to getting any mark-up on a site, only for guidelines to then change and the mark-up being classified as incomplete!

In the early days the end goal would have been to follow the guidelines for generating snippets by individual search engines, working with the likes of Microdata, RDFa, Microformats and Good Relations to achieve this result. Different guidelines made the job of webmasters extremely difficult, then Schema.org came along to assist in unifying this vocabulary.

Even then however, adding mark-up to a sites HTML isn’t trivial especially when those components need to be in a specific order to validate, developers may need to fully rebuild page templates in order to accommodate complete mark-up.

Schema.org achieved the job of standardising mark-up vocabulary but also extended this to include new types, that lead to new features being introduced by search engines and a ton of new options to think about as a webmaster. Start throwing in multiple types of mark-up on a single page and conflicts are more than likely to occur.

With all that said the initiative is a long way off from “failing”, there’s a growing understanding and appreciation of the heavy work being put on webmasters that’s drastically increased the pace for documented support, and changes in the methods by which webmasters can implement the mark-up. JSON-LD is a huge step in the right direction, allowing webmasters to implement mark-up via a piece of script that negates the need for HTML to be restructured / coded in any form.

Search engines are using mark-up to gain a deeper understanding of the content on your site and the context in which it is written to influence search results. With this comes a new chapter in the evolution of search – ‘Entity Search’, which by itself is a huge incentive to increase support & ease of implementation.

Examples of mark-up in the wild may still be limited, and even the likes of JSON-LD still has its shortcomings, but this rapid increase of support & awareness is only going to increase visibility over time. If anything, the opportunity to stand out in the crowd of search results is now!”

Thank you Daniel for taking the time to reply to us!

Schema.org full markup to the test

We often upgrade existing websites for clients building on the excellent Genesis Framework which uses a large number of Structured Data elements ‘out of the box’. We continue to optimize the markup manually specificly taylored to each company. The difference in SEO before and after (without and with schema.org markup) can be seen quite clearly each time.

A client in Minnesota wished to keep the new website identical to the old, both in content and design, down to the letter and pixel. For this reason it seemed fitting to use this project as our test case although results are generally the same across all projects.

It is amazing to see how Google’s understanding of the content has grown and with it the ability to connect it to the right visitor:

  1. Sessions decreased more than 50% but the amount of page views actually increased slightly!
  2. Users decreased by nearly 65% but Average Session Duration increased more than 400%!
  3. New Sessions decreased by 16% but Bounce Rate ALSO decreased by 16%!

It’s hard not to write this in all caps…

Take a look for yourself, top graph represents before, bottom after:

Not convinced? Here is the Direct Traffic segment, top represents before, bottom after:

…I really don’t know what to add to this…

In conclusion: it takes quite some effort to get (and stay) up to speed with Schema.org but results are astounding. Considering it’s so young a vocabulairy and the future of SEO is closely related the time is now to get into it!

What do you think and what is your experience with Schema.org?

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