As a small business owner, you need every advantage you can find over your competition. As you probably know, search engine optimization (SEO) is a great way to get ahead. Of course, quick fixes like adding title tags and meta descriptions is a good place to start. But true SEO goes much deeper than that. There are plenty of more intense tactics that your competitors almost certainly aren’t doing.

In this edition of SEO Deep Dive, we’ll look at one of the more complicated parts of SEO: Optimizing schema markup. This is part of your website’s code that essentially tells search engines what your site is all about. While diving into code can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, understanding how Schema works and what you can do to optimize your site can help.

What’s Schema, Anyway?

Schema.org, commonly just called Schema, is a joint venture by Google, Bing, Yahoo! And Yandex to give website owners more freedom to include more information in their code. Essentially, you can tell search engines what your website data means, not just what it says. This helps search engines produce more accurate and rich results.

For example, let’s say you run a high-end restaurant. Within the schema, you can add elements that directly tell search engines that “The Winery” is the name of your restaurant, avoiding confusion with actual wineries in your area. You can also add code that tells search engines you’re not just a restaurant, but a high-end Italian restaurant, which can reinforce your keyword strategy.

Moreover, you can add code that tells search engines how much your food costs, in terms of 1 to 4 dollar signs. When it comes to reviews, you can add code that automatically aggregates ratings, which displays as 1 to 5 stars below a search result.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of information you can add within Schema markup to give yourself an edge over your competition.

How to Use Schema Markup

We’ve used the word “code” six times so far in this blog. If you aren’t a computer science kind of person, that’s more than enough to turn you off from optimizing Schema markup. Yet, with the tools available online, creating effective Schema markup is much easier than you may think. While these tools don’t cover every type of small business out there, they do cover a great many of them.

The most common, and probably easiest-to-use, tool is Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. To go through this process, we’ll use one of our own recent blogs. First, go to the Helper home page, select the type of data (in this case, an article), enter the URL, and hit “Start Tagging”:

markup helper 1

Now, simply start tagging different elements on your page by highlighting them. A menu pops up that gives a list of options. You’ll want to tag as many different tags as possible to get the most complete markup:

markup helper 2

Once you have everything marked up, select “Create HTML”:

markup helper 3

This brings up a window with your HTML, all wrapped up and ready for you to implement on your site. You can do this through Microdata or JSON-LD:

markup helper 4

Testing Your New Schema Markup

When it comes to Schema markup, there are a few ways it can be implemented, but the most common are JSON-LD and Microdata. Due to the relative newness of Schema, there’s still a lot of debate right now about which one is more beneficial to use. In general, however, which type of Schema to use can be determined by what elements you’re adding to your site. Note that both can be used on the same page.

  • JSON-LD: JSON-LD can go on the header of the source code in order to implement the mark up site-wide. For example, JSON-LD is good for making sure search engines know your site is about a high-end Italian restaurant.
  • Microdata: This is better used on individual pages, such as blogs. You can “wrap” text in Microdata so search engines have a better understanding of what that individual page says.

For our blog example, we’ll use Microdata. We’ll copy that data from the Helper tool, and paste it into Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. This lets you test your new code to make sure there are no errors before you apply it to your site. Note that the code you paste into this tool may look quite different from the code below:

structured data testing tool

Once you run the test, you will get a report of any errors or warnings, which, if left unfixed, could become an issue down the road. Google provides these in easy-to-understand language so you know exactly what needs to be fixed. For instance, on the Microdata for this article, Google warns that a “Date Modified” is recommended. If you don’t understand the changes that need to be fixed, there are plenty of forums you can find simply by searching for the error.

Time to Implement the Schema

Once the errors are fixed, it’s time to actually implement the Schema onto your site. You’ll need to access the source code on your site to add these new elements. If you built your site yourself, you may know exactly how to do this. If not, speak with your Webmaster to determine the best way to implement your new code.

These are the very minimum basics of optimizing Schema markup. While it can be simple, this process can become quite complicated. On top of that, editing your site’s source code can do some serious damage if it’s not done correctly. Yet, the more in-depth your Schema markup is, the better it communicates with search engines.

If you are set on optimizing your Schema markup on your own, be sure to read and watch plenty of tutorials for the changes you want to make so you do it correctly. Otherwise, it may be best to consult with a tech expert, especially if you’re making site-wide changes. In fact, it may be a good idea to speak with someone with experience in coding to make sure you’re on the right track if this isn’t your personal field of expertise.

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