How to use Schema markup to gain competitive advantage

Joannie McLellan and Christophe Goasduff discuss this largely unsung hero of the technical SEO world.

960x960_(Schema).jpg
Joannie McLellan

Joannie McLellan
Senior Digital Marketing Executive

Date:
11 October 2017

Office:
Glasgow

All organisations are competing on various levels. Competing with other organisations or businesses. Competing for the attention of their target audiences. Competing for their content to be noticed, consumed, and acted upon. There is competition at every turn. One great little technical SEO tactic that helps brands gain competitive advantage as part of an integrated marketing strategy, is using Schema.org markup.

Successful implementation Schema.org (Schema) markup can help brands gain competitive advantage online. But with such little dialogue about it, you could say that it’s unsung hero of technical SEO. So I’m going to sing its praises a little, exploring the benefits and approach to implementing Schema markup when you perhaps have limited coding knowledge, or do not have access to the content management system (CMS) of the website. 

For clarity, Schema is a markup vocabulary for structured data developed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex, with the goal of creating a structured data markup that all search engines can understand. Really, it’s like marketing as we know it – providing contextually relevant information and communicating in the language of the audiences you’re trying to engage with. In this case, search engines. We’re marketing web pages to search engines in their language.

schema.org markup enables search engines to pull through rich snippets and data including, for example, images, opening hours, reviews, social profiles. The benefits are two-fold. Firstly, using Schema markup increases the ability of search engines to interpret content which impacts its position in the SERPs for relevant searches. And secondly, using schema.org markup makes the SERP entry look more attractive and appear more authoritative to users, thus increasing organic traffic and engagement with specific webpages served within the snippet. It’s a win-win for marketers. And because Schema is user-focused, it improves the relevancy and ease of their search experience. Even better!

Schema markup isn’t new. Schema.org’s website claims that “over 10 million websites” use Schema.org markup, which translates into less than one percent of all websites, and an investigation by ACM Queue put the figure at 31.3%. However a recent study by Bing and Catalyst found that just 17% of marketers use Schema.org markup. With the highest estimates of usage resting at just one third of websites using Schema markups, it’s clear that there are challenges when it comes to successful implementation of this tactic. Or everyone would be doing it!

We understand it can be a complex process and often overwhelming for marketers to implement Schema markup, and must acknowledge that there is little resource available to offer much guidance without a technical background. We’re lucky to have our developers on hand to collaborate with. However, there is a solution if that’s not an option.

Implementing Schema markup through Google Tag Manager

In situations, whereby marketers don’t have access to source code or the CMS, all is not lost. This area of technical SEO can be implemented through Google Tag Manager (GTM) in creating tags, pieces of javascript to be injected on all pages. We typically use Schema with JSON-LD format, which is read and understood by search engines. Creating a few variables, this data is injected into each page to help search engines interpret website pages by adding context and useful signposts using appropriate schema vocabulary. Before implementation, we always check with Google’s handy structured data testing tool. One key thing to remember is to find the appropriate Schema to fit the website’s content to help search engines identify the content of the website, and its relevancy for those carrying out searches. It’s not complicated and there is extensive documentation on schema.org together with a few online tools out there to help with the semantics.

This solution, as part of wider organic SEO strategy, has generated some great positive short and longer-term outcomes for clients. By using Schema markup, in recent experience, web pages are performing much better in terms of organic search, while being prepared for the future, as voice search becomes increasingly important and more prevalent in search behaviour. You can read more about our thoughts on the rise of voice search here. But back to Schema...This technical SEO work is helping brands gain competitive advantage through improved visibility of their online content, which is exactly the outcome we look for in this area.

Implementing Schema markup is beneficial for all brands, organisations and businesses. However, our team finds that it is particularly valuable for those websites offering a huge inventory of products, or an ambiguous brand or range of products. Large retailers, DIY specialists, B2B product suppliers, or education providers for example.

Helping students find courses. Helping colleges compete.

To give you an example, we recently carried out this work on a further education organisation, offering over 850 part-time and full-time courses. This is an extremely competitive market, and the organisation needed to improve the visibility of its courses to potential students searching for course options. It was a challenging piece of work since a large number of individual course pages contained similar copy and content. This was having a negative impact on the ability of search engines to interpret the website’s specific page content. As a result, its organic search performance was faltering. The team implemented the approach outlined above to enable search engines better interpret individual webpages through Schema markup. And it has proved an invaluable approach, increasing organic sessions by 35% and conversions by just over 34%. 

Schema markup can be an invaluable optimisation and technical SEO tool as part of a comprehensive strategy. It’s a way of ensuring websites offer clear information to search engines as to what the organisation or business is offering to customers or target audiences. Which in turn, enables search engines to recognise content as being relevant for online queries and searches, delivering specific information to users in the SERPs in a much more user-friendly way.

If you would like any information on using Schema markup (through GTM or through your CMS) as part of a technical SEO strategy, feel free to get in touch with me.  And hat tip to Christophe Goasduff, my developer colleague here at Dog, who provides a vital link between our Technical SEO and super dev teams!