What is Schema Markup and how does it affect website SEO?

It seems like there’s much talk about using “schema markups” in SEO these days, especially on SEO websites. So what are they? And should you implement it on your website SEO?

Who’s this article for?

Schema markup is a relatively new technology developed to help search engine crawlers better understand the content on your site. My goal in this article is to show you what schema is, how it affects website SEO, and how to implement schema markups on your site. 

This article follows our “BS Free” approach to Search Engine Optimization SEO. I wrote this SEO resource in plain English for people who are website owners who want to know about schema markup, and whether they should implement it on their site. 

Giving it straight, BS free

If you’re a newbie at SEO, forget about schema markup for now. Schema is something to ignore if you’re a novice SEO. Countless other SEO activities will be far more important than schema optimization.

If you already have an established site that ranks well for many competitive keywords and is developing a strong brand presence, then you should definitely invest time into schema markup. 

For everyone else - it’s probably best to use this guide as an SEO resource and to apply it to your site in the future. If you still want to do schema after what I have said, then go for a simple route that takes the least time - which I’ll show you shortly.

The problem: HTML tag

Most site owners will know how to use a HTML tag and anchor text. The HTML tag will tell the browsers how to show the information on the tag.

To use a simple example, <h1>Ryan Newman</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Ryan Newman” in a heading 1 format. And that’s all it says, nothing else. So, the text string itself does not tell us anything about what it means. Is it Ryan Newman, the famous US NASCAR driver? Or could it be Ryan Newman, the local SEO expert based in London?

Without the information needed to answer these kinds of questions, search engines will have a hard time properly showing relevant content to a user.

All the major search engines faced this problem of making search more contextual and relevant. And it became even more important at the time of the Google Hummingbird and RankBrain algorithm update - which were major updates on Google search algorithm.

We need to remind ourselves that context of a query is important because it will affect how a search engine interprets the situation.

Schema and HTML Tag
Schema Markup and HTML Tags

Solution: schema.org markup

The solution came as schema.org markup project. Industry experts created schema markup to help solve the problem of creating more meaningful data that gave context. Microdata is a type of markup found at Schema.org markup project. When applied to a webpage, schema markup creates an enhanced description (often referred to as a rich snippet), which appears in search results.

It’s rare that rivals collaborate to help one another, but Schema.org markup is precisely such an opportunity. In 2011, the top search engines - including Google Search, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex - began working together to develop Schema.org markup project.

What you have is a set of agreed-upon code markers that instruct the major search engines what to do with the information on your site. And when you think about this, schema markups can only be a good thing for SEO and web pages.

Schema.org Website

What is schema markup?

Before we understand what “schema markup” is, let’s break down the two words. In layperson’s terms, the word schema means a set of rules, or instructions on how to do something. The second word markup is the term for HTML tags used inside of text, to set it apart as a specific type. Markup tells people what type of text you are using. It can be bold or italicized to draw attention to a word or phrase.

Schema is a markup language (also known as semantic vocabulary or microdata) that you may use to enhance the HTML of your site. So schema markup is a code, a way to show the information on a site. It helps people find what they are looking for. People include schema when they want to show that their site has a certain type of data, and they are telling search engines that this type of data applies to their website. 

So, to summarise, schema provides a way to mark up your website’s data, as:

  • It helps search engines understand what information is on your web page. 
  • It tells people who find your site in search query results your website has this type of data - like reviews or events. 

It also gives them more ways to read through the information you have provided about those things. 

Since we now understand what schema markup is, we will now briefly touch on structured data, schema microdata, and rich snippets in SEO. You’ll discover these words mentioned a lot on topics relating to schema markup. So, it is better to understand what they mean so that you don’t get confused and end up feeling like you are missing something important.

What is structured data?

Structured data is like matching names and values. This will make it easier for search engines to categorize and index your content. 

Structured data results from schema markup, which comprises attributes with values that describe or categorize item property on webpages. Structured data helps search engines understand what information is about an item and how it relates to your website.

The schema markup is a critical component of structured data schema that enables the semantic web search. In layperson’s terms, it allows URLs to communicate the actual meaning of their content to computers like Googlebot.

 

What is Microdata?

We already know that schema markup is a code form (also known as semantic vocabulary or microdata) that you may use to enhance your website’s HTML. Schema microdata helps search engines understand your material, so they can provide more detailed and enlightening results for searchers.

Analysing structured data schema means recognizing names and values in order for search engines to categorize and index your material.

Microdata is a type of structured data that works with HTML5, the most widely used major markup language. The microdata Schema.org markup is a set of accepted definitions for microdata tags.

 

What are rich snippets?

We use schema for creating rich snippets, which are ways to make your search listing more eye-catching in Google search results pages. SEO snippets are snippets of information which appear on top of SERP to provide consumers with more information rather than simply displaying the URL and meta description.

Rich snippets are sometimes also referred to as rich results, and are powered by structured data. They’re the payoff for helping search engines understand the goal of your site. Not all structured data schema leads to a rich snippet, but certain types — when done correctly — can generate one. 

Rich snippets can include price ranges and star ratings that give users a clear idea of the webpage’s content before they click on it. Not only does schema help you get more clicks from your search results, but schema markup can also help with conversions and your overall web page CTR (Click Through Rate) and SEO. 

The above Google search for the keywords “Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China”. You can see that there are results with reviews, votes and price, and they stand out better than others. These are rich snippets.

If users know the price range and star ratings of the page they intend to visit, it helps them become more confident in their decision of where to go next. This means schema markup does not simply increase traffic for you. Instead, schema (and rich snippets) helps with conversions by giving users the information they need to decide.

Rich snippets have been great for search engine optimization and keyword research. It can help build on your content strategy so that your web pages appear more in search results - and get more search traffic.

Rich Snippets

Example of Schema Markup

If you’ve ever used rich snippets, schema markup will be familiar to you.

Here’s an example of a local business with markup on its FAQs. The SERP (Search Engine Results Page) looks like this from page one for the search term “car rentals in London”:

Look at the results page for “Kayak” Car Hire in London. It has the following features which make it stand out:

  • It listed FAQ questions from the Kayak website underneath the SERP results, making the result more prominent and taking up more space on the page.
  • Hire locations, airport locations, and car type are even listed under Kayaks SERP listing.

Here is a second example for the search term “local SEO”, and it shows FAQ questions from the Mailchimp search result. We can add these FAQs using schema markup. As you can see, by being the only one with FAQ schema in their SERP result, Mailchimp shows more prominently on page 1, and takes up more of the pages of real-estate compared to other results. It will also mean it is likely to have a higher CTR (Click Through Rate). 

Example of FAQ Schema Markup

Schema markup code example: JSON-LD format

What is JSON-LD format?

Google search recommends schema to be written in JSON-LD format. JSON-LD is schema markup for rich snippets to improve your search engine optimization (SEO). It’s the preferred way of adding schema markup. JSON stands for JavaScript Object Notation - it’s a simple data format that comprises key-value pairs and ordered lists written in JavaScript object notation.

So, here is schema markup code samples using JSON-LD format.

<script type="application/ld+json">{"@context":"https://schema.org","@type":"FAQPage","mainEntity":[{"@type":"Question","name":"Why is on-page SEO important?","acceptedAnswer":[{"@type":"Answer","text":"Local Search is important because it allows users to quickly and accurately find businesses that are located near them."}]}]}</script>

If you aim to create your schema, then please remember to use JSON LD as Google recommends it, therefore it will have an SEO benefit. However, you do not need to know JSON-LD format in order to use schema using the guide in this article.

Why use schema markup?

In short, schema improves your SERP listing. If you are want your content and site to rank in search results, then it would be advice to take the suggestions from the biggest search engine, Google, and make it a part of your overall search engine marketing plan.

As you saw in the above examples, all SERP results with schema markup were relatively more visible compared to competing site results on the same page. Websites that use schema markup rank four positions higher in the SERPs than those without it, according to some studies. However, there is no clear cut evidence if it helps you rank better. However, it is believed that (when all other things are equal) websites that use schema markup rank better in the SERPs than companies without markup. 

Schema improves your SERP listing. If you want to win the SEO game, then anything that improves your search listing and makes your listing more prominent, thereby increasing CTR - is a definite win and is not to be missed.

Even if we took a pessimistic view of things and assumed that it doesn’t give you a better result in search engines, it will still make your page look way more professional and finished. 

Google does not require all websites to have schema markup, but it's helpful to use it as parts of your website’s overall SEO strategy, especially if your site has with significant data about events, places, products or people. Keyword research shows that search results appear more prominently, therefore improving their CTR and search rankings.

Why is it important for SEO?

If Google search recommends or pushes something, you can bet your bottom dollar is important to Google. Whether we like it, if you want to play in Google’s playground, you must learn to play by its rules. The schema.org project has all the top search engines involved in the project - which only means one thing - it’s vital to everyone in the search industry. 

According to recent statistics, only about a third of websites use schema markup for SEO. Hundreds of thousands of websites miss a significant source of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) potential. By using schema, you make your website SEO rich; you are giving your business a competitive advantage in SERPs.

I feel schema markup often overwhelms many SEO’s, so either avoid it or delay doing it, hence the low take up rate. Google may include it as a factor in SERP ranking when it feels it’s the right time. 

The beauty of of this tool is its simplicity. So, by adding schema markup to a text, you tell search engines what a particular data means, which makes it easier for them to understand why your page might apply to someone searching for specific words or phrases on Google search. If a web page matches a user’s query better than other pages, chances are it will appear more prominently in results. And that can only have a positive benefit for your website and SERP position.

Local schema markup

Local schema markup is one of the most popular schema types on websites. It’s not surprising, considering how important local SEO has become in recent years.

Schema improves your SERP listing. If you want to win in the SEO competition and outperform your competitors, then you should use all the tools at your disposal. Schema improves your search listing and makes your listing more prominent, increasing CTR. It’s a definite win for SEO and user experience.

For example, let’s say you are a jewelry store that sells earrings online to customers all over the world. You might find it difficult for someone searching for “earrings” to land on your site if they search for “earrings” with their location included.

However, local schema markup makes it easy to provide this information, so people can find you more easily, even when searching locally for earrings near them.

By adding local schema markup to the schema types we talked about earlier (Products and Events), you’ll be able to help Google and other search engines rank your site higher for local searches.

This markup helps users know the location of an event (like a rock concert) or where they can buy specific products nearby, like earrings at your store. This is extremely helpful because people searching online often want to find results that are close to their location.

Schema markup is very simple and easy to implement for local SEO, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of local schema markup!

Types of schema markup

There are many schema types, and I’ve already mentioned a few of them:

  • local schema markup for location
  • products schema markup to describe items sold on your site.

Schema also has other helpful markups, like recipes (which can be used in the SERPs if you’re selling food), people (for describing people in your content), and reviews.

Schema.org is your point of reference here. It is advisable to browse through the library at schema.org and look at the item types on there. It may give you ideas on how best to use schema.org vocabulary for organic search and make the best use of HTML tags to build a profile picture of your existing content types. It might be a bit confusing and overwhelming but if you have an established site - it will be a worthwhile investment as it will help make your content SEO rich.

A quick look at Google Search’s Structured Data Markup Helper site will show you some of many schema markup types that are available for different types of content.

Structured Data Markup Helper

There is data markup type for a lot of different types of data, including:

  • Articles
  • Events
  • Movies
  • Restaurants
  • Book Reviews
  • Job Postings
  • Products
  • Software Applications
  • Datasets
  • Local Businesses
  • Question & Answer Pages
  • TV Episodes

There are many markup types, ranging from toy retailers, video content providers, to medical treatment plans. There’s a good chance that an item type or a markup type will represent any data on your site.

How to use schema markup guide for SEO

Schema markup is easy to implement. Schema markup may intimidate some SEOs because it’s so code-heavy, but there’s no need to be concerned. Once you understand the fundamentals, it’s simple to grasp.

Let’s break it down into steps, so you can see how easy it can be:

  • Step 1: Generate the schema markup - in short, you need to create the code. I’ll explain the easy way shortly.
  • Step 2: Test the code - you will use a tool to test the code for errors.
  • Step 3: Place the code on your site. That’s it, done.

Schema markup generators and tools

Generating the schema markup code is going to be by far your biggest task. If you know how to code, you can write schema markup yourself, but for most people there’s no need. There is a plethora of plugins to make life easier if you’re using WordPress. If not, there are several markup generators to choose from.

Many people seem to like the following markup generators:

Please remember that these generators only go over the basic markup. To go further, you’ll have to change the code yourself.

However, if you are reading this schema markup guide, you are most likely a small business owners who manages their own website - so it is highly unlikely you will need anything advanced. Most of the custom methods of generating schema markup are often time-consuming on mainly relevant to brands or very well established websites. Most brands will have a team of SEOs working on their website/scheme markup, so they wouldn’t be reading SEO guides like this.

So, if my above assessment is correct, you are like us, a small business, then let’s carry own, and I will show you the simple way to add schema markup to your pages.

Please remember that these generators only go over the basic markup. To go further, you’ll have to change the code yourself.

However, if you are reading this schema markup guide, you are most likely a small business owners who manages their own website - so it is highly unlikely you will need anything advanced. Most of the custom methods of generating schema markup are often time-consuming on mainly relevant to brands or very well established websites. Most brands will have a team of SEOs working on their website/scheme markup, so they wouldn’t be reading SEO guides like this.

So, if my above assessment is correct, you are like us, a small business, then let’s carry own, and I will show you the simple way to add schema markup to your pages.

Step-by-step guide on how to create schema markup code

I have outlined seven simple steps which you can follow to generate and implement markup code on your site. You do not need to having any technical knowledge or know how to code. If I can do it, so can you.

Step 1: Google’s Structured Data Markup Tool

Go to the following website, Google’s Structured Data Markup Tool. It is a Google schema markup tool, sometimes referred to as structured data markup tool, and it is freely available to us all:

Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper

You will use the Google schema markup tool site to generate schema markup code for your website. You may need to sign in using your Google search account.

Step 2: Select the Type of data and paste your page URL

Select the type of website. For example, if I have a local computer repair shop, I would select “Local Businesses”. If your website or blog publishes business articles, then you would select “Articles”.

After selecting the type of data, you will need to paste the URL of the page you want to markup and click Start.

Select Data Type and URL for Schema

Step 3: Select the elements on your site that you want to mark up

After you click start, your website page will load with a simple tool which will allow you to select items to markup. You should see your website page on the left-hand-side pane, and the data items on the right-hand side. The image below shows a website with elements being selected for markup. Yours should look just like this.

Select the Elements to Markup

I normally find it easier to select element e.g. telephone number, and then I right click to bring up the options like you see in the above screenshot.

Step 4: Select the elements to mark up

I have created the screenshots below, which show some basic steps to markup elements on your website. The example in the screenshots below shows a local business, so I am going to highlight the name of the business in order to add “Name” markup. When I have to finish my highlighting, I will select “Name” from the tooltip, and that’s it.

Markup Elements Screenshot
Markup Elements Screenshot
Markup Elements Screenshot

Step 5: Keep adding markup items until there is none left

The item property list on the right is your guide, and you should try to cover as many on your list of items as possible. You may not tag everything on the list, as it may not be relevant. Just add what you can.

Schema Markup Elements List

Step 6: Create the HTML

Once you click finish, it will output a HTML of your page, which will show schema markup/microdata in the places you selected.

Schema Code to Download

Step 7: Add the schema markup to your website

You now need to paste the code into your website. With most schema, it either goes into the header or body. I cannot go into how to insert code for every platform, as there are far too many platforms, e.g. WordPress, Webflow, Wix, SquareSpace and so on. I am assuming if you are reading an SEO guide on schema markup, then you will already know how to do the basics, like adding code to header, footer, or body.

Get it in touch if you find yourself stuck.

Step 8: Test the schema markup

The simplest way to test the code is to use the Structured Data Testing Tool provided by Google Search. It is a very simple tool to use and makes structured data schema testing child’s play.

Structured Data Testing Tool
Test Your Schema

You can either analyze the published page or paste the generated code, and it will tell you if there are any errors.

How to use schema markup to create SEO rich websites

For the most small businesses, which, if we are being honest, are the majority, try to be smart in how you use this tool. If you are a small business, or a new business, you do not need to invest too much time in this. However, monitor what people in your industry are doing or what your competitors are doing.

So, as an example, if you are a local B&B and you find that the keywords you desire are showing your competitors with results with markup in it - then its high time you paid attention and start investing time in adding it to your website.

A big part of SEO is trying to outdo your competition. You need to be one step better if you are to outrank them. You do not need to be an SEO expert or tech nerd to understand this. As I say very often, a lot of SEO is common sense stuff.

One other thing, if you really want to know if your competitors are using markup or not, you can always spy on their website. Open up their website pages on Google Chrome and view the source code, and then search for the word schema or “schema.org”. It’s a very crude way of checking, but it’s a good start.

The bigger picture

Hopefully, you now understand what schema markup is and how to implement it on your website. However, if you are a small business like us, please remember what I said at the outset, there are probably far more important SEO stuff you should give priority to before you tackle schema markup.

You should think about your bigger SEO strategy and decide where schema markup falls within your overall SEO strategy and your long terms plans.

Schema markup is important because it gives search context and making results more relevant. It’s going to play an important role in SEO best practices and will get wrapped in content strategy. Schema markup is here to stay. It’s just a matter of time and it will depend on how Google wants to develop things.

Let me know your thoughts? Do you think it’s a search engine optimization fad or is it here to stay?

Adios for now :)

I'm an SEO consultant in London. Unlike most SEOs, I have been the “client” of SEO companies before I started doing SEO myself. So, I have seen the dark side 🤯