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Just every now and again, search engines love to throw our merry band of SEO types the occasional curveball and keep us on our toes with new toys and updates. Yesterday was one such day for the world of structured data in web page design.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you’ll be all over “rich snippets” – those fabulous little search results that help you stand out from the crowd in your organic rankings. Structured data added to web pages helps search engines parse your data into different types of search results, like recipe search. Review ratings, events, recipes, company names, contact name, job titles and even friend connections on Facebook have at some stage been visible in the search results for “white listed” web sites.
In Google’s words, “adding markup is much harder if every search engine asks for data in a different way.” – this is so true. For webmasters making the difficult decision on which markup to choose has been quite a hurdle. The simplicity of Microformats over the depth and creativity of RDFa, or the HTML5 working group approved Microdata? What about the RDF/XML based Goodrelations for ecommerce?
It seems the search engines have made that choice for us by introducing a new, standardised collaboration called schema.org.
Solving the problem of inconsistent options for structured data markup, schema.org gets on with the task of opening up a bunch of new entities for webmasters to describe in their web pages. Schemas for movies, music, restaurants, local business, TV series and “intangibles” such as offers are all in the new vocabulary. If you’ve got a website with any of the types of data described by the new schemas, you should get excited! Check out their full list – it’s incredibly extensive.
Schema.org is based on Microdata. In simple terms, each type of data or entity can be described by a vocabulary. Vocabularies for an entity are described on the appropriate page at schema.org, so, for example, if you’ve got a music listing on your webpage, you’ll just need to reference the Music Recording vocabulary at Schema.org.
To implement schema.org’s vocabularies, you only need to understand the attributes: itemscope, itemtype, itemprop and you’ll need to have the URL of the vocabulary to hand.
The instructions for basic implementation can be found on the getting started page at schema.org – let’s look at the basic elements:
Which would produce:
In this very simple example, I’m using the “itemscope” attribute to declare that the following html contains data about something. That something, “itemtype”, is a person (me!). Each property, my name, picture, job title can be found in the vocabulary at schema.org. Declaring the appropriate scheme might allow a search engine to parse the data and use it for a rich snippet or maybe a people search engine?
You’re not the only one – we’re all in the same boat. The simple answer is, search engines are great at getting us to accept their standards. At some point we’ll all be using schema.org to structure our data. If you’re already on the Google rich snippets white list, don’t panic. Google will continue to support existing structured data formats for the foreseeable future. If you’ve got the development resource, or you’re in the process of a site redesign, then migrating to the appropriate schema.org vocabulary shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for a capable web developer.
For me, this is an exciting play from the search engines. They’re working to simplify the problem for webmasters of knowing which markup to choose and at the same time, offering more options for types of data to be structured. The really big deal, for me, is Bing’s entrance into the rich snippets arena. Their support for rich snippets until now has been lacklustre at best. Hopefully, with a standardised approach, we’ll be able to get the same rich snippets from all 3 engines.
Google recipe search was the first “mainstream” structured data search engine. I can’t help but think that with greater proliferation of a standard approach to structured data, we’ll see more services like recipe search from the engines soon.