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What is Microdata Schema Use it to Supercharge Your SEO

Microdata is a part of the HTML 5 specification representing structured data relevant to the concept of semantic web HTML standards that can be used to describe things within an HTML document in a machine-readable way. These semantic markup properties are pivotal to helping search engines determine relevance, as well as giving you some minor level of control around how your pages are represented in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).

What is the Microdata Schema?

Microdata is a semantically structured data format that is a part of the HTML-5 specification used to describe things within documents in a machine-readable way that is the result of a collaborative effort maintained at schema.org.

The three main contributors are:

  1. Google.com (google)
  2. Bing.com (and Yahoo.com - Microsoft)
  3. Yandex.com (Yandex N.V.)

Depending on where you are from or how long you’ve been playing with search technologies, you may not have heard of Yandex.com.  So, it bears mentioning that In essence it is a Russian-based search engine that may or may not be relevant to you.

Other Terms and Concepts:

  • structured data
  • semantic web

Schema.org is championing the structured data format called microdata.  Microdata is a WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) HTML specification that allows machines to better understand what a site is about.

Microdata markup is a specification that allows you to make your content machine-readable so that machine-algorithms are better able to understand what a site is about.

If you can imagine, with all the various technologies from WordPress to hand crafted sites, there are quite literally an infinite number of ways to construct the documents that make up a web site.

Because of this, trying to “parse” out a site in a meaningful way can be excruciatingly complex.  Having actually attempted this over the years, I can tell you that it is virtually impossible to get right 100% of the time, because everyone has a different way of putting these documents together, and we’re fallible, meaning that mistakes are made that can completely invalidate our best efforts to pull meaning from HTML code (the primary format used for web documents – like the page you are reading now).

What schema.org is attempting, is to evolve a standard (the microdata standard) that has fairly strict validation requirements which will allow spiders and other automatons to more easily parse and discern meaning from our sites in a “standard way”.

I’m sure that about clears up everything, right?

What is the Microdata Schema, Once More in English?

If you’re still reading, then apparently, you are looking for something a little less techno-babble-ish.

Alright, let’s try it again but in more human terms.

Microdata is a format that describes things to non-humans.

Seriously, that’s pretty much the long and short of it.

It allows you to describe people, places, movies, books, websites, and well, all manner of things.  In fact, “thing” is the most general type there is.  If it fits nowhere else you can describe something as a “thing”.

What this allows you to do is to communicate with search engines and other “machines” by expressing exactly what you are talking about so that they don’t have to guess.

So, if you are talking about a movie, you can describe the name of the movie, the director and the genre using microdata as described at schema.org within the HTML itself.

Each page on your site also can have microdata that describes generally what the page is about.

And by using microdata you can influence how your entry in search results look.

Simply speaking, microdata helps web site owners tell search engines what a page is about, social media how you want a page that gets shared to look, and makes web page results in search engines prettier and more informative.

Why Would Google, Bing and Yandex Collaborate? Aren’t They Competitors?

Yes, they are competitors.  And that should tell you exactly how important this topic is.  Because if they are willing to set aside their selfish concerns, to work together on the evolution of microdata it must be a pretty important topic to them.

As I mentioned above, the ability to parse and also derive meaning from the countless bytes of information on the World Wide Web is a huge, complicated monster of a problem.

In order for them to do their jobs well, and with less investment in what we often refer to as “one-offs”, it is in their best interest to have some kind of standard that they can express to us, so that we can follow them.

Why do I Care About a Common Schema and What does it Have to do with SEO?

That’s a great question, because without us complying with the standard, all their (the search engines) efforts are for nothing.

So why would we comply?  Why would we spend the additional time to make their jobs easier?  After all, nobody is making our jobs any easier.

…or are they?

The short answer is, yes, they are.  Because by us complying with these formats, the SE’s will have a better understanding of exactly what our sites are about. That means they’ll be able to improve their results, and in theory if we have good quality content, we’ll do better too.

The other aspect of this is pretty cool, because with microdata we can communicate to the search engines what type of content we’re putting together and this results in being able to make our specific sites stand out in the search results.

In essence, the use of microdata (as documented by schema.org) is the difference between this:

chipotle glazed meatloaf whatsnewdb.com result

And this:

microdata schema rich result

As you can see, the bottom one is way more appealing and “click-worthy”.  Which one would you click on?

A picture is worth 1000 words, and that my friend is why microdata is important to you!

How does a Standard Schema Help with Social Media and Social Marketing?

Many social media technologies like Facebook have their own formats.  Facebook’s format is called Open Graph and it’s a standard format like microdata.

So why doesn’t schema.org just base everything on that or some other standard?

While the Open Graph specification works well for FB needs, it doesn’t really give the search industry all the intelligence that they need to support the broad spectrum of concerns they have.

A web page may consist of many things.  As such, microdata gives the search engine a way to understand that level of granularity and helps them to choose how to present your page in a relevant way.

Another way that microdata and other formats help social marketing concerns is they provide you with a way to control what your visitors (on your site) share and what it looks like, in the way that YOU specify.

This is important.  For example, perhaps when someone shares your post or article you want a different image than the one at the top of your content to be used.

Perhaps you want a small “card” to be used on Twitter and Facebook.  Maybe instead you want a great big image to be shared.

You can provide alternative linking mechanisms and all manner of details that will help the social platforms to present your content.

All this translates to more control for you, more qualified traffic for you, better relevance for search engines as well as social platforms, and a better experience for your (and Google’s, and Facebook’s) visitors.

That’s a win folks!  Start using microdata!

Schema.org vs Facebook Open Graph vs Microformats vs Data-Vocabulary vs…

There are many formats for markup, microdata is far from the first.  Many might even disagree with it being the best.

In fact, those that think that microdata is not the best might even be right, but that’s kind of academic, isn’t it?

I mean, if Google and Bing decide that’s what they want to use, are you going to be a rebel and refuse to use it?  If you do, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be fighting more of an uphill battle than your competitors.  If that’s what you choose to do, knock yourself out.  You don’t have to use microdata to be successful.

In fact, Schema.org specifically states that if you are already using another format, that’s fine.  You can still augment whatever you are using with microdata to provide more granularity for search engines beyond what your chosen standard provides.

There’s really no reason to express your content using a single specification if you don’t want to.

Now that you Know What Microdata is, how do you Use it?

That’s a question for another post, and one that will likely show up here soon.

Check back often and we’ll get into some specifics about how to use microdata automatically and more importantly, deliberately.

Do you Have Any Questions About Microdata or Schema.org?

If you have any questions about microdata, schema.org or other formats, please ask them using the comment form at the bottom of this page.  I’d love to answer any questions you might have.

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