What is Schema.org?
Schema.org is a shared vocabulary of semantic markup language (or structured data), similar to other languages before, such as RDFa and microformats. Schema uses the microdata markup language. While RDFa and microformats both work fine for Google, Google does recommend using the microdata markup found in Schema.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is planning on making a big change to its organic rankings in the coming weeks by including answers at the top of search results. The answers results will be a form of semantic search results -- a way for Google to demonstrate that it understands the searcher’s meaning and is trying to answer it through suggested answer links.
Semantic markup, like that in Schema, helps search engines understand the type of content contained on a page. I fully expect that to adequately (and semantically) answer the questions of searchers, Google will likely rely somewhat on semantic markup to serve the correct answer. The WSJ article alluded to the same notion in this statement:
“To provide answers that aren't already in Google's ever-expanding database, the company will blend new semantic-search technology with its current system to better recognize the value of information on websites and figure out which ones to show in search results. It would do so by examining a Web page and identifying information about specific entities referenced on it, rather than only look for keywords.”
How will it work? Here’s a simple example: Every morning, our local DJ has a one-second music quiz. He plays a clip, and listeners have to guess the song and artist to win a prize. But what if I recognize the artist but not the song name? In the case of semantic search, I could do a search for a band name, and I might also see a list of songs by that band instead of just the band’s websites, fan sites, etc. In fact, the songs (as rich snippets) might even link to allow me to play a piece of the song. Hmmm…. I might actually begin to dominate this morning quiz thing!
How does the change affect SEO?
The first factor probably affected by this change will be the appearance of current organic search results. It’s likely that the current listings will be pushed further down the page, making it tougher to gain top organic visibility for your website in organic results. The further down the page that results move, typically, the greater the reduction in click-through rate.
So how does this change affect SEO? Clearly, your goal as an optimizer now has to incorporate not only traditional organic results, but also the new answers section to attain top visibility.
What other ways can you optimize click-through rate in organic?
Even if you are unable to get your site listed in the answers section, there are other ways to help improve or maintain your organic click-through rate, even as organic results are pushed further down the results page. According to some sources, Rich Snippets can boost click-through rate by as much as 20%-30%.
What are Rich Snippets? Google (and Bing) use semantic markup code, like that used in Schema, to identify the type of content on a page and provide extra data about the content of the page within the search result. For instance, Google currently has several types of Rich Snippets that it shows, including reviews, music, events, recipes and more.
How can you get started?
Marking up your website with microdata isn’t really that difficult. The greatest challenge is organizing and scheduling the rollout of the new code. First, organize your site’s content. Second, look at the markup organization on Schema.org. What categories does your content fall under? Use the tagging structures demonstrated on the Schema site to begin marking up your website code. I would highly consider prioritizing content that currently shows Rich Snippets (like recipes) over content that does not currently show as a Rich Snippet. However, know that new Rich Snippets roll out regularly, so it’s good to be prepared. Lastly, test your marked-up pages using the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool. However, note that it can be somewhat buggy, so don’t be too discouraged if you see random errors where you know the code is actually correct.