I have been talking with a lot of companies recently, and when I ask about their schema, they tell me something along the lines of “We heard we had to have it so we told our developer and they set it up." This is great, simply to have schema puts you a step ahead of much of the competition, but at the same time, it concerns me. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a knock on developers, but it is not their job to be focused on Google's results and the sales that it generates.
Are SEOs to Blame?
We as SEOs have been just as complicit in this situation, many have allowed developers to take the lead, suggesting nothing more detailed than, “We need schema; can you add it?” It is easy to see why. There is no direct benefit for your rankings in the main SERPS (though John Mueller has suggested that there is an impact on relevancy) and it is hard to see what is going on in the rich results for both clients and competitors. This isn’t data we can see in analytics; search console provides nothing more than a high-level number. I love the data that SEMrush provides in this area, but even then I need to know the right keywords. If I have a rich result for something entirely unexpected, chances are I will never know it.
Schema is Complicated
To make matters worse, schema is complicated. I am pretty sure when I first started working with it, I was cross-eyed for a week just from confusion. It is not hard to see why it has been neglected when it is hard to learn, even harder to make sense of, and we don’t get that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see your traffic and sales go up. However, the complexity shouldn’t deter you from getting involved and managing your schema; the benefits of doing so can be huge.
We all know that websites need schema now, and getting your company name and address in there should be relatively straightforward (I will concede that if that is all you want to do with schema, hand it off to a developer and don’t let it trouble you further). There are about a thousand tools that can get you that far with almost no effort at all, but that is only half the story.
You want to make sure that you are providing data on everything you can.
Creating detailed schema can help give signals to the search engines regarding nuances of your product and service that the search engines may not otherwise be able to correctly identify. Google themselves say, “By adding structured data markup to your site, you can enable more of your site’s functional and visual elements to appear directly in results and in Knowledge Graph cards.” I don’t know about you, but I want some of that!
Schema is one of those things where the devil is in the detail, and it is not something you can just skip over or set and forget. Every morsel of information that you can provide to the search engines increases your chance of getting into those rich results. I lovingly think of it as structured keyword stuffing because now we have a way to directly tell the search engines what we want people to know.
What to Do and Not to Do
Start thinking of all those keywords that could influence a click or purchase decision, and figure out what markup you need to be creating to communicate that. But, for the love of Pete, don’t start adding things that aren’t relevant to your business, and don’t do what one site I looked at did and create a 250-word description within the schema markup. It is not 1996, and these aren’t meta keyword tags, so just stop before you get any ideas about spamming. You don't want a penalty.
Taking a Bigger Role
OK, so you are probably not going to go out and learn programming to do your own schema, but you do need to be able to communicate the right things to the developers. When I am responsible for communication with devs, I like to provide a detailed list that links back to schema.org so that there is absolutely no confusion with the development team. I would suggest, if you are struggling with schema, that you forget about the hierarchies and formatting and list what you want to say and on which pages you want it said. Think of it as a wireframe for your development team to build your schema around.
A Schema Example
Let’s use the example of a skincare company. They are currently using schema on their site and have the following information:
The first thing I notice here is that they are missing a lot of useful company information. Even if they are an online only brand, they have a headquarters with an address, they have customer service agents that customers can contact, and I would also add their brand name in there too.
Where to Start With Schema: Basics that Bring Results
When I am creating schema for a client, I start with a review of the things their customers want to know most. These are the same things that people often qualify their searches with, so we want to make sure that Google is aware that we are relevant to those items. We forget, as marketers, that what is obvious to us, may not be obvious to someone else. I can’t count the number of times I have seen extensive product or service listings, but no address or opening hours! Think through all of the actions that someone is trying to take on the site and add them to your schema.
We forget, as marketers, that what is obvious to us, may not be obvious to someone else.
Once I have the basics covered, I might look at some of the more product specific elements from schema. Making use of the makesoffer schema, I would add in the details of each product listed on the page, and it's stock status. I would also try and add reviews for the product, but those are just the elements I know off the top of my head. I like to spend some time poking around at schema.org because often there is something there that is very specific to the business I am looking at. For instance, you may be able to add in an award the business or product had received; for some, adding in Parent organization may be impactful.
Once I have created my list of ideas, it is relatively simple to create a map for the developers. Usually, mine looks something like this:
The Long Haul
Schema is here to stay, and it is only going to get bigger. My goal is that the only time my clients will need to change their schema is when their business changes or new elements are added. When everyone else is scrambling because Google added a new feature and a previously unimportant schema is required, you and I will be the ones sitting back and watching our clients rise to the top because we took the time and effort to get it right the first time.