Scheming the Schema: An Introduction to Structured Data

SchemaOne of the major traffic sources for personal websites and blogs is Organic Traffic, i.e traffic originating from search engines. People working on the web would quickly realize that search traffic can also be bought through Pay Per Click (PPC) Programs such as Google Adwords and Bing Search Advertising. However, for those of us who do not have Venture Capital funded blogs to run, we still do things the old fashioned way … we write good content.

 

Content is still King

The good thing with this idea is that search engines such as Google do give more weight to things such as meta descriptions, meta keywords, and other Search Engine Optimization (SEO) wizardry which was erstwhile known to a few. Web applications like Google Webmaster Tools (GWMT) and Bing Webmaster Tools (BWMT) are making it easier for website owners to recognize these things and highlight important data to search engines.

Content is KingThis move gives the power back to the people, instead of focusing on complex discussions such as Information Architecture, Content Taxonomy, Tagging and Keyword Optimization, you just have to worry about one thing, and one thing only. Good quality original content!

How do these search engines make sense out of this content? Well, they look for patterns within the page. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, one of my classmates (who went on to become an ethical hacker) had written a similar piece of code for his final year engineering project. It’s a decade since he wrote the code, we can assume without a shadow of doubt that the search engine algorithms would be a lot smarter now to extract the right content. Smart enough to discern between the signal and the noise.

So how do site owners help search engines find important data?

One method is to use the tools that they provide us – the WMTs. However, each search engine has it’s separate nuance, and hence there was a need felt for a common standard … a standard which we, the content creators can use to signal to the search engines … that hey … this piece right here … yes this bold sentence … is meant to be special. It might mean something special to the person searching for it … it’s a beacon … a beacon of data.

 

Defining Schemas for better results

This is where structured data comes into picture. In early January of 2011, the major search engines came together and helped define the format of this structured data via schemas. You can see these formats on schema.org. An excerpt from their home page –

Search engines including Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Yandex rely on this markup to improve the display of search results, making it easier for people to find the right web pages.

Many sites are generated from structured data, which is often stored in databases. When this data is formatted into HTML, it becomes very difficult to recover the original structured data. Many applications, especially search engines, can benefit greatly from direct access to this structured data. On-page markup enables search engines to understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results in order to make it easier for users to find relevant information on the web.

What this means for us, is that if we use the mark-up defined for each of the individual schemas in our content, then the search engines will display this data in interesting manners to the people searching for that very piece of information. Wan’t to see an example at work? Here is one

Schema Display

Last week, I instructed my developers at EduPristine to start making use of certain schemas in our mark-up. It’s less than a week, and we can already start seeing them pop-up all over our search engine results.

 

Why Should You Bother

It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that in the game of organic traffic acquisition, the more interesting and relevant your search engine listing, the higher the chances of getting a click on your listing. Thus, marking of your content is bound to increase your organic Click Through Rates (CTRs). You can get this data in Google Webmaster Tools, better to check your current set of keywords (and their CTRs along with average ranks) and then compare the change when you start including schemas in your content.

If you have not heard about structured data or implemented schema.org before then I can guarantee you an increase in your CTRs and in your organic traffic.

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