Drawing the Line with Structured Data Markup
SEOs spend countless hours poring over data, searching for ways to boost their clients’ rankings, search visibility, and click through rates. If there were a single tool that could improve all of these things at once, you’d think that people would be all over it, particularly if that tool were free. As it turns out, there is such a tool, and although it was launched nearly two years ago, it still isn’t utilized on a widespread basis. That tool? Schema.org.
What Is Schema.org?
Before we get into strategy and ROI, let’s look first at what schema.org actually is and what it does. Launched in June 2011, schema.org is a collaborative effort between Google, Bing, and Yahoo that’s similar to sitemap.org in that it creates a standard vocabulary for webmasters to use when providing information for search engines. In this case, the vocabulary is for structured markup, which provides search engines with a deeper understanding of a site and allows them to display enhanced listings in search results. For example, http://schema.org/Recipe allows webmasters to tell the search engine not only that the information in the page is a recipe, but also specific details such as ingredients, number of reviews, instructions, the type of cuisine, prep time, cook time, and even calorie count. Search engines can then in turn display this information in search results such as in the example below. These enhanced listings often result in higher click through rates and better rankings.
Determining Schema Scope
As much as search engines would love to see structured data on every page, it can also be labor intensive to implement, and it’s important to keep the big picture in mind when creating a strategy. Whether by increasing visibility or directly garnering leads and conversions, the ultimate purpose of SEO is to increase a company’s revenue, and schema.org should be viewed as a potential tool to be used in this quest. If it costs more to implement than it will bring in return, then it simply isn’t worth the effort. However, it can be difficult to place a specific value on structured data, and in turn to determine where the effort versus impact line lays.
Ultimately, each company will have to decide the best balance for their business objectives, but here are a few questions to consider:
- How much time will it take to complete the task, and what is that time worth? Compare the cost of implementation against estimated return, i.e., how much does each hour of your developer’s time cost versus what you anticipate to be the potential increase in conversions?
- How does it fit with your industry? Do you have an e-commerce site for which schema is exceptionally useful, or are you in manufacturing or another industrial business in which it may not make as big of a difference?
- Are your competitors doing it? If so, then to what extent? Could it give you a leg up, or do you need it just to keep up?
- How much impact could it have on your CTRs and ultimately ROI?
- How are you currently ranking on the keywords that may be affected by implementation? If you’re already #1, then you don’t have as much to gain as you would if you’re within striking distance (positions 5-10).
- What is the value of being on the forefront? Schema.org implementation may not bring immediate returns today, but it’s important also to consider the value of being ahead of the pack. Both short- and long-term costs and benefits should be included in your analysis.
- Can you start small? Because it can be so difficult to determine schema’s potential impact, you may want to do a high-level implementation to begin with, and then consider more intensive implementation once you’ve measured the initial results.
- Can it be baked in? If you use a CMS, you may be able to add schema markup on the back end and generate it automatically, drastically reducing the amount of work required while simultaneously increasing impact.
- Do you have plans to redo your website in the near future? If you’ll be revamping it within the next six months or so anyway, it may pay to wait and make structured data part of the new site development rather than do it twice. Alternately, structured data can be a way to refresh and update an existing website.
Structured Data Implementation
Once you’ve decided how and where to include schema markup, the next step is, of course, to actually implement it. However, because schema.org is relatively new and is specific to search engines rather than site functionality, many developers don’t have much experience with it, and you may need to provide assistance in the beginning. Fortunately, there are some great tools to help them get up to speed as quickly as possible:
- Schema.org itself – Schema.org provides a great “getting started” page with specific instructions and examples for developers.
- Structured Data Testing Tool – This tool allows the developers to see how Google is interpreting the schema and make sure it’s pulling the intended data, before they actually make changes to the site.
- Schema-specific examples – In addition to the examples found on schema.org, give your developers a few examples of companies using the same schema that you’ve chosen. For example, if you have an e-commerce site, you might look to ebay.com or barnesandnoble.com, both of which have extensive markup relating to product sales. Ticketmaster.com is a great example for event-focused schema.org.
Measuring Impact and ROI
Going back to the big picture idea, measuring schema.org’s impact is of paramount importance in evaluating its worth to an SEO campaign. Before implementation, create a custom dashboard in Searchlight (and/or a custom report in your analytics) to allow for quick and easy monitoring of changes, and note the date that you added the markup, as well as the pages and keywords to which it applies. The goal is to quantify the effect of schema.org as much as possible and compare it against the cost.
To do so, there are some specific metrics that can be benchmarked and monitored over the weeks and months following implementation:
- Rankings on specific keywords – Create a category just for the keywords that you anticipate being affected by schema.org implementation so you can easily monitor their movement as a group.
- Traffic/visits from those keywords – Watch overall site traffic as well as traffic from the pages and keywords affected by schema.org implementation, and use the main site trend as a reference point.
- Conversion rates – Again, watch this metric both for the schema.org keyword category and site-wide.
- Average ranking of the schema.org keyword category
- Number of keywords driving traffic – In addition to the keywords you’re tracking, watch ones you aren’t and see if you notice any trends or an increase in keyword diversity and breadth.
- Click through rates – As one of the key metrics affected by structured markup, CTRs should definitely be included on your list of metrics to watch.
- Sources of traffic – Are you seeing a bigger change in one search engine over another? Bing is thought to give more weight to structured data markup, so you may see a jump in rankings on this engine.
Depending on your goal, you may want to include or exclude other metrics, but those listed above provide a good starting point.
Structured data, particularly schema.org, is still a nebulous area, but by using a systematic approach and using concrete metrics to measure its impact, you can make this markup work for you.