Radar Hill Blog

Then and Now Part 2: Schema

Radar Hill has been in business for 16 years, and the magnitude of change in the 21st century when it comes to websites is staggering. What was a shiny new website just 5 years ago can now be outdated and leave your business with a huge potential gap in visitors and clients. There are various measurable ways that the World Wide Web has changed in 16 years, and so we are publishing a “Then and Now” blog series to demonstrably show what a website in 2017 requires to remain current. In this edition, we bring you: Schema.

Schema

Then
Not too long ago if you had a business then it was probably listed in the yellow pages, be it a small square or full page full-colour ad. And if you had the budget, you could advertise in newspapers/radio/tv/billboards. It was about name recognition, and reviews for the product or service you offered came from word of mouth. There was no global searchable database for anything that you wanted or could think of.

Now
With the emergence of the Internet, businesses can control their brand via their online presence, and instead of referrals or finding the nicest ad in the phone book, people look directly for the service or product they desire on Google and other search engines. Google has dramatically evolved its search engine ranking position algorithm since its inception in 1998. In the beginning, it used to be simply about putting important keywords higher on the HTML tag hierarchy, but that was rife for deceit. Over the years Google has changed its algorithm significantly as several major updates have taken place, which means websites needing to adapt in order to be ranked highly. Schema is among those additions to help give a user a smoother experience.

A product listing for a sanding belt that contains Schema, shown with the code that made it. The product rating, highlighted in blue, comes from the “ratingValue” item property. The number of votes, highlighted in red, comes from the “ratingCount” item property. And the product cost, highlighted in green, comes from the “price” item property.

 

What is Schema?

You might have heard about Schema but dismissed it as more computer jargon that you don’t fully understand, and don’t care about. You’ve got a site that looks nice, what more do you need?

Well, to stand out from the competition, there is a lot going on behind-the-scenes of a website. A lot more than most people realise. When searching for a chocolate brownie recipe, how does Google (or whichever search engine you are using) decide which websites to show you first? There are thousands of food blogs and recipe sites out there, all competing for attention. There are many things that go into each Google, Bing, Yahoo! etc. ranking (also known as Search Engine Optimization – SEO), from keyword content usage, site structure, quality of pictures on the site, site speed, number of links – the list goes on and on. Having Schema on a website is one way for search engines to attractively display a site, which can benefit any genre, from real estate, e-commerce, home services, and beyond.

The dictionary definition of Schema is “an underlying organizational pattern or structure; conceptual framework.” And that is exactly what it does on the Internet: it is a framework for websites to display more efficiently and attractively on search engines. In this article, “Schema” will refer specifically to the structured data markup schema that schema.org created, which is a joint effort by Google, Yandex, Yahoo!, and Bing, with the goal to standardize Microdata markups used on websites.

In the most basic term, Schema is a specific vocabulary of tags that is added to a website’s HTML to improve the way the site is represented in search engine results. Basically, a code that is added to your website to give search engines more information, to relay better results to the users.

For example, see this search result for the Arkells, the two circled results have Schema, which gives the user the information in a clear manner.

Search Engines Need Data

It is debated how much Schema really affects the search engine rankings, however, displaying information more aesthetically and clearly means a higher click-through rate. Schema can display pictures, the price, if it’s in stock etc., basically whatever information will be most attractive to someone searching for that product or service. For example, a house that is displayed as “Available For Sale, $899,000 North Saanich” in search results gets more clicks than “…Located on a cul de sac in North Saanich…”

Schema also helps Google and other search engines understand the data on a website. Search engines like structured information, and Schema is a consistent and standard structured data markup that is supported by them. Essentially, it provides a consistent way for computers to understand the data on a page, and helps search engines display information usefully in search results. Schema tells the search engines what your data means, not just what it says.

The content on your website gets indexed and returned in search results. But with Schema, some of that content gets indexed and returned in a different way. For example, let’s say the words “Eric Akis” appears on an article. The search engine sees this, and produces a result entry with “Eric Akis” However, if the right schema markup is placed around the name “Eric Akis,” that tells the search engines that “Eric Akisl” is the author of the article, not just a couple of random words. The search engine then provides results that display better information for the user who was searching for “Eric Akis.”

It should be noted that it is fine to mark up only some properties of an item as Schema is not an all-or-nothing choice. However, marking up as much content as possible helps search engines use your information to present your page to users in the most useful way.

Why Does My Website Need It?

If people only ever go to your site directly, as opposed to searching for a product or service you offer on a search engine, then sure, Schema does not affect the actual site, so having it is not crucial. However, it is not likely that potential clients will find your website this way. In your monthly Google Analytics Reports* not only can you tell how many people reached your website, but you can see how they arrived on your site, be it by entering the domain name directly, as a link on another site, or if they searched for your product or service in a search engine and your site came up and they clicked on the link to your site.

Since searches are done multiple times a day for products and services, and people do not usually scroll through many, if any, of Google’s pages to find what they want, it is important to be on that first page of results. There are paid ways to be at the top (AdWords – which we offer, get in touch to find out more) but Schema is more organic as it is simply helping the search engines by giving them clear information, thus the site is more favourably ranked. Schema is also known as “rich snippets,” and because more information is provided to users from the search engines, there is increased traffic, sharing, and click through to a site. Since the purpose of most websites is to get people going to them, these are desired improvements!

Now of course there is no magic formula to guarantee being #1. We at Radar Hill are not going to make you overzealous unattainable promises about your website’s ranking. We believe in doing things ethically and honestly, so it should be noted that having Schema is not going to suddenly shoot up your ranking to the top. However, it will incrementally increase the likelihood of a click through to your website from the search engines. Schema is but one of dozens of additional things that you can do to your site to maximize its performance, resulting in a positive ranking in the search engines.

*The Google Analytics reports are invaluable for all kinds of information on visitors to your site. Feel free to ask us about your reports, or view them yourself to see where most people are coming from to your site – it will likely be from search engines.

What Schema Looks Like

Schema is programmed right into the HTML code, the core building blocks of your website. From there, it references Schema.org to determine how to parse the information correctly.

Three search results for brownie recipes with Schema, displayed above two search results without (circled in red).

Schema makes it easier for search engines to go through web pages more effectively and display relevant results to users based on their search queries. Now it can be noted that Schema works best visually for those products or services that have reviews. However, it should also be noted that just because you can’t always see the product or service nice and clear like it should be displayed, does not mean that Schema isn’t working. The search engines still pick up on it and present it to the searcher favourably.

It is difficult to explain something that is so abstract and is essentially invisible on the surface most of the time. However, there are no difficult steps that you personally have to take to include Schema onto your website. Nothing new for you to do or learn, other than knowing it will help with search engine results. We will customize the underlying coding of your website to use Schema and take care of everything on your behalf.

Here is an example: the “Healthy Chicken Stir Fry Recipes
Eating Well” result does not have Schema. Notice how there is not a lot information on it, there is no picture, no rating, and it doesn’t give a snippet of the recipe, unlike the others. The Paula Deen Chicken Stir-Fry Recipe, while there is no picture, still has Schema. You will notice that there is the enticing star rating, how many reviews, and cooking time etc.

Next time you search for something see if you can tell which links are using Schema, and think why you decided to click on a certain link. Is it because there was a picture? Reviews? Price? People don’t want to have to click through a whole site to find what they are looking for. Make things easier for them by succinctly having as much information as possible in their search engine results, which is possible with Schema.

I Want Schema – Now What?

If Google likes your website, then it will get ranked higher in the search results. It is as simple as that. However, getting Google to like your website, isn’t so simple – there is a lot that goes into it. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes invisible aspects to optimizing a website, and that is why we have Kendra, our Google certified specialist, who ensures that our websites are as pleasing to Google and other search engines as possible. Schema is simply another feature that works in conjunction with many other tools that your website has, to optimize it for the search engines.

If this article has illuminated the benefit of implementing Schema on your website, please get in touch! It is an easy process for you, just say the word and we will implement all the necessary code. We are always happy to help optimize your web presence to make you stand out from the competition. Let us know if you would like Schema added to your website and we will get it done.

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About Caitlin O'Hara

Shawn’s daughter, Caitlin has been around Radar Hill her entire life, but only recently in a full-time professional manner. In 2016 she began managing the social media accounts, writing articles and newsletters, as well as being an administrative assistant when needed. When not in the office she enjoys cooking (including those samosas that have been huge hits at Radar Hill open houses) and travelling, and has recently moved to Scotland.

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