Candour

Episode 15: An introduction to structured data and schema with Andrew Martin

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What's in this episode?

In this episode we hear from Andrew Martin as he gives a great introduction to Schema and how to use it effectively. We also chat about some examples of good and bad Schema, as well as get some great resources to check on how powerful your current Schema is.

Full video:

Andrew's slides

Show note links:

Video of Andrew's talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYHK-laEhk4

Andrew's slides: https://www.slideshare.net/searchnorwich/how-to-use-schema-to-enrich-search-results-and-improve-your-ctr-andrew-martin-searchnorwich-3

SearchNorwich: https://searchnorwich.org/

Schema.org vocabulary: schema.org

Google's structured data testing tool: https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/

Coding structured data for recipe cards: https://codelabs.developers.google.com/codelabs/structured-data/index.html#0

JSON-LD: https://json-ld.org/

Podcast transcription:

MC:

Welcome to episode 15 of the Search with Candour podcast recorded on Sunday the 23rd of June 2019. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and as usual I'm here to help you do search engine stuff. In last week's episode we did our first ever listener Q&A where some of you were kind enough to submit your questions about Search and I was doing my best to answer them. We've had some more great questions this week and one particularly interested me - it was about blackhat SEO and spam reports, and what to do to try and get Google to action them and this sent me on a train of thought. So, unless something happens major in Search, next week the next episode of Search with Candour we will likely do a deep dive about Google penalties, how to get Google to take action when you see someone doing something they shouldn't be. The different types of penalties, what causes them, and some misconceptions. I think it's a really interesting topic and I just want to gather some more recent case studies from other people first before we delve into it.

If you've got a question you want to hear the answer to and talked about in the podcast you can follow us on Twitter and send us a DM with that question we're on @candouragency on Twitter.

It's been at least two weeks since we've mentioned Schema on the podcast which is a long time for the Search with Candour podcast as we normally mention it every episode. This episode you'll be hearing from technical SEO specialist Andrew Martin who was kind enough to come and give a talk at the end of last year at SearchNorwich called “how to use schema to enrich search results and improve your click-through rates”, he does a really good job of introducing the concept of schema and it’s actually such a good job that I just refer people to this video of his talk now if they're new to schema or they want a primer on the topic. It's a really confident and structured introduction to the subject, which is a really important subject, especially again in the last week we've seen SEO’s work out new ways to mess with FAQ schema: injecting emojis and links directly into a search results pages. You can see the full video of Andrew doing his talk and check out his slides on the show notes which as usual are at search.withcandour.co.uk. Of course if you're nearby Norwich and you want to come along to the next SearchNorwich meetup, it’s on the 4th of July and you can find out more about that at searchnorwich.org. Enjoy!

AM:

Hello everyone Andrew Martin a technical SEO specialist but you know who the hell I am. I, about two hundred years ago when I learned to code HTML, CSS, the internet looked like this:

This is the BBC homepage, nice associate maybe the site has changed perhaps the current news hasn't really there's a president for impeachment, there's some border things going on with UK and republic of Ireland. So the web looks quite different, 99.9% of it was still under construction and probably never really got built. My mobile phone looked like this and you wouldn't be able to go anywhere near the internet on that. I've worked for a number of companies: disability charity, an academic publisher, an exam board, price comparison sites and I'm currently working for the guys in the middle there “abcam” which is a biotech company which works in antibodies.

Essentially this would also say who I was, and this is an example of a Schema and we'll come on to that a little bit more in a moment.

Essentially search engines want to get users to the best answer in the fastest possible time and users expect search engines to get them to the best answer in the fastest possible time, but what does ‘best’ mean? The internet is full, in my opinion, it has a high volume of low value absolute people and that could be articles of say ‘Exclusive: Royal Flushes Own Toilet With Own Hand’ or it might be ‘here's an article about fun days out in Suffolk’ and we know that that's rubbish!

So how can we stand out amongst all of this nonsense? If you haven't found him yet he's there. Essentially, Schema is one of the devices that you could use to help you stand out in those search results and essentially it is a structured vocabulary which enables you to be really granular about the information that is on your website. You can really identify the minute detail to just help those search engines better understand your webpage content and your email content. schema.org thinks that it's on can more than 10 million websites, I feel that that's an old statistic from their site it's pretty much more than that. You need to have some level of knowledge of code or mark-up. If you're the kind of person who can edit HTML at kind of a basic standard or maybe you're an email marketer and sometimes you have to just pop over to the code version to just tweak that font which just for some reason will never go right, or if you are able to write a JavaScript and you know you should be able to work with Schema. It's also evolving and expanding constantly, there's a dedicated group of webmasters and data analysts and linguists and all kinds of people who work on websites and language and taxonomy who are working to evolve and expand this into new areas.

Behind Schema are four brands which hopefully you will recognize: Yahoo, Microsoft, these people Google and the other one is Yandex which is Russia's largest search engine, they're also a pretty big deal in Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and somewhere else I've forgotten but the big the big search engine that's missing here is Baidu. So if you have a site that serves an audience in China then structured data and schema is going to be a little bit different for you. They have their own method of implementing that for that particular audience, but Schema is your friend and Schema needs a friend as well and that friend is called JSON. Not Jason, JSON-LD which stands for ‘JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data’ and essentially we're back to this slide again.

If you can see at the front here, the people in the cheap seats you'll have to wait for the slides, but at the top here we have a little mention of a script type called “ld+json” and at the bottom the script closes, so JSON-LD is like your package that's delivering the Schema but in the middle of the information so you have to have the two together. There are other ways of implementing schema but Google has said that JSON-LD is their preferred method, there are essentially three parts to a schema.

One is the context for structured data, it is mostly Schema again - Google will recommend that but there are some alternatives which are kind of important if you are doing Schema for a company where you can reference other sources. Within that there are types of Schema so recipes, person, event, a book, a video, object, a dataset, it's a whole expanding group of types and within those I said it was structured. Within those are properties, so for the recipe type there are as a ‘property’ where you can declare or itemise on your page the number of people that that recipe will serve for a person, you could specify their date of birth, for an event, you might be able to say “okay this is the currency for the ticket that's on sale for that event” and for the book you could say “this is the author, the publication year, the ISBN, the number of pages” etc. so you can go right down to that fine detail and declare it there in the code of the page to help that search engine better understand your page content.

I'm just going to touch on a few examples that you may want to use for your site and maybe you already are.

The first one is ‘company’ so going to bring up the Canaries and so that's your knowledge panel if you search for Norwich FC and you'll see that on the right hand side of your desktop search results.

You can use Schema to help populate that information and the kind of things that you can help with. With Schema you could name the CEO, the year that it was founded, you could give a description, you could declare the logo, you could associate the social media channels, sometimes you might see the social media accounts along the bottom but this one works best if you work in conjunction with Google My Business. If you have not claimed your Google My Business account then you really should and make sure that the information in your company Schema matches that in your Google My Business account.

Next up is ‘product’ and this one I think is more visual, so if you have done a search for particular products then you will see things like review stars, you will see prices over an image search, we'll see more information emerging there as Google expands that area with price points, stock availability, price ranges. You can really add extra information into your product pages that helps populate this kind of stuff, so currency, stock level rating as I said and here's my blatant Norwich reference of some Cathy Dennis of Norwich so this is a an old pop CD that is on discogs and discogs I love. Not because I'm a vinyl nerd but because they do their Schema really well and if you look at their Schema for this particular page it itemises just everything: from the person who mixed the album to the fifth track on side two. It will tell you about all the writers, they've really gone to town on it and the result for them is if you search for this album or search this album, say ‘review’ and you'll see something like this with the star rating, the number of votes you're getting, an aggregated score, you can see the currency, you can see the price, you can see this in stock

Right there, in the search results you can click on that you can see the review, it's in stock you can buy it, you can get it into your cart and then you are a happy customer.

Their meta description is a bit dull in this example I'm afraid but you know perhaps they can fix that - I'll email them.

Next up is ‘events’ and I actually chose a bit of a rubbish screenshot for this one because I should really have chosen this venue. So Norwich Castle: again we have the knowledge panel here on the right for desktop and we can see the bottom here there is a section where it's populating events.

It's when I took the screenshot, the next one was the Edith Cavell story which took place on 1st November so the search engine is pulling the information that's been enriched by Schema to populate this part of the of the search results, but if you look for this venue you will see this very event appearing in the first slot there and that automatically updates because you have already given it your event date, event time, so it knows that it's relevant. You can name the venue or the artist so if you search for a musician you will see their gig dates, if you search for a venue like in this example you can see their event dates.

You can include things like maps, prices for the tickets, the time, but quite a lot of third party sites are using this at the moment so the likes of meetup.com, Eventbrite, ticket master, I think is in there as well but there's nothing to say that it can be your site that that does this. If you were to click one of these then you can lease ever see something like this which is kind of a like a sub-search I guess where you're seeing more information about the actual events here and below here as a whole out of organic results based on this query. At the top here, which is the name of the event and the date. so you're getting a much more kind of accurate search result.

The next one is a ‘site link search box’ or as I call it the ‘insert on site search’ which makes sense to me, I think I'm nuts but what that looks like (anyone from B&Q in here? Good, right they’re terrible). If you search for B&Q as a brand search you get this:

Again you've got the knowledge panel here and then you've got the site links sitting in search, you've got their main site which is diy.com so I'd imagine maybe B&Q does get quite a lot of brand searches but you also get the search box here and in this search box I've typed the word ‘sheds’ and what do I get when I click go? I get a Google search results page of sheds on the B&Q site. Okay maybe I will click on one of those and end up on the B&Q sheds page, for I don't know Jersey sheds whatever they might be, but also I've seen at this point if I search for say ‘Ronseal varnish’ in that search box I may well have seen B&Q search results page for Ronseal varnish and the different types I could get. But I may see adverts from the competitors like Wickes or someone selling Ronseal varnish in the search results from B&Q which doesn't sound like a good thing.

So what John Lewis are doing well; so John Lewis, if you search lamps in the same search box this is what happens, you go there:

So instantly you are plonked into the brand’s search results page for that query on the John Lewis site, you are put amongst the price points, the images, you are there you're suddenly going “hang on a minute this is lamps and there's a lamp in the women's category, what on earth might that be?” Off you go down a rabbit hole of search trying to find out what that might be, so you can see how that one would be quite powerful for your users because you're not keeping them in Google you're actually putting them into Search in your site where they can absorb the rest of your products.

Essentially this snippet of code is the piece of code that you'd need to put into your homepage making sure that you update from the example code the URL for your homepage, and also just update your search query string so that it accurately represents how your search query string looks how your URL looks on your own site.

Once you've got that in and you have got a canonical URL on your home page then you are kind of ready for Search to come along and consider that for a search box in search results. Now that takes time and it's not guaranteed if it works for brand queries so if you've got a brand name that is fairly generic then you may never get that search box turn up regardless of whether you've got everything else lined up. If you've got a very unique name then put this in and see if that can help bring traffic through to your own site, so if you're still with me, if you want to have a go at Schema one of the best things I do is to kind of sandbox it.

I will write a piece of code or I'll go to Google's structured data testing tool and I put a piece of code in the first box that you see on the code snippet tab and then I'll click ‘run tests’ which give me something like this with my piece of code on the left-hand side and the test results on the right-hand side

This is the piece of schema that I showed you right near the start which is about me as a person and it hasn't any errors or any warnings, if it had found any it would highlight which of these are incorrect and if you clicked on one of those it would then highlight which line in your code was incorrect. So it's a really useful tool and you don't you don't need to pay for it, this tool is free you can just go ahead and use it or you could put a new test and put a URL in and test another page to maybe see how your competitor does it or whether your developers have released it yet or anything. It's a really useful tool for free that you can use. This is a small text so people at the back you'll get these in the slides, Google have got a new codelab and the top link they claimed that in 29 minutes you'll know how to code some structured data for the recipe card, which favoured visual type of rich result. There's also the URL to the structured data testing tool and the schema documentation and there's a really good app called schemaapp.com and that's a tool where you can actually write in the information, and it writes the Schema code for you - that is I think free to use and it's a really powerful tool so have a have a play with. There's JSON-LD as well which has a kind of similar sandbox environment, this is an old report or an old styled report from within Search Console so if you're thinking “we could do all of this but how can we see if it's actually being found or what is the impact”

What you can see here - this is Google's view of Schema on particular site so it has discovered a Schema you can see it kind of increased in July 2018 and, kind of went along as it's crawled more of your site and it tells which types of Schema is found, and it also says if there's any errors.

So, this is a site most about people and places and it's just itemising that stuff for you and you can click on each of those and it will give you more information as to which pages it has found and again whether there's any areas on each of those which you can then address. So, essentially don't fake or stuff Schema code into a site if it doesn't represent the contents of your page, then don't put it into the Schema because it looks kind of old-school SEO where you could just bung a whole ton of keywords in and hope for the best; but that will look spammy to the search engines, so don't stuff it into your code.

Go really niche instead, so for some company times for example they can go right down to like a plumber or an orthodontist or you don't have to go company! You can actually go really quite granular with your details, make sure you use JSON-LD to deliver that schema into your site as it's Google's preferred methods. Make sure you test it and be patient because it takes a while for it to be found, it relies on the health of your site generally as to whether search engines can digest it well and also you'd need to be considered for the search results so it takes a while to start appearing in Search.

So, thank you for your ears and there's some links here which you'll see in the slides which would help you further!

MC:

That was Andrew Martin. I really hope you enjoyed it, you can get a list of the resources he provides: his slides and the video of his talk at the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk my name is Mark Williams-Cook and I'll catch you next week which will actually also be next month on Monday the 1st of July.

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