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Developing a schema strategy for local business: An intervie…

Jamie Pitman: Martha, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. I’ve been a big fan of what you folks do over at Schema App! I’m looking forward to picking your brains on the various ways local businesses can make their websites more schema-savvy.

First up, could you just give us a quick overview of what schema is and why it’s so important right now?

Martha Van Berkel: Hi Jamie, happy to! Schema markup is code that digital marketers can add to their websites in order to help Google, Siri, Amazon and other machines understand the content on the page explicitly. It’s based on a standard language called, which was created back in 2011 by Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex.

As consumers, we experience the results of schema markup when we see star ratings or prices in search results, get very specific results to our query, or get answers from a Google Search Assistant or Alexa.

I see it as a particularly strategic digital strategy because it puts control in the hands of the marketer to define their content explicitly so it’s understood how they want it understood. It also allows them to explain how one element of their business relates to other things on their website or the web.

Jamie: I think that’s an important thing to point out: what we as consumers experience from the implementation of schema. It’s all very well implementing it for the sake of pleasing search engines, but, as with everything SEO, we should always consider the end user’s experience. However, the wrinkle with schema is that search engines only document some rich features in search, although we have seen the list of features displayed in search growing immensely. So perhaps it makes sense to satisfy them first.

Martha: Let’s talk about satisfying search engines. Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex created in 2011 and they created 800+ classes. Classes are all the things you can describe with schema markup, like “LocalBusiness”, “Event” and “Person”.

Today, Google lists over 26+ features in search, while Bing lists nine features. Why would they invest the time and money to define more than 800 classes if they were only going to use 26 of them? Seems weird, right?

Schema markup is clever in that the search engines have made it the job of digital marketers to translate their content to make the search engines’ jobs easier. If it makes their job easier, they’re probably using it, right?

Jamie: Would you say it makes sense to add schema absolutely everywhere you can on your site, so you’re ahead of the pack when search engines start to use some of the more esoteric schema tags in features, or would you recommend a more incremental approach, focusing on key tags first?

Martha: Keeping in mind that schema markup helps understanding, I suggest thinking about schema markup as a strategy for helping the right customers find the right content on your website so that they’ll want to engage or buy from you. So with that in mind, I recommend you think of your schema markup strategy in the following way:

Start by asking, “What is strategic or important or unique about my business? What information do my customers need to find about my business?” Make a list of these key topics. They might include your company, contact information, services, products, founders, white papers, or articles on specific topics.

When you have the list, then ask, “Where on the website is this information listed? Is there a primary page where we talk about this?” If there is a page (and often during this exercise we discover there is no one page), then that’s the page you should optimize with schema markup [or create from scratch].

Jamie: That’s a really interesting exercise that nicely doubles up as a kind of business and content evaluation task. I can imagine the key stakeholders sitting around discussing what’s most important about their business and the direction it should go in, and a sneaky SEO jotting down all the notes to use for their schema markup strategy.

So once this list is put together, what’s next?

Martha: Next, review the long list of Google Features I mentioned and identify which ones you could qualify for. Figure out what pages you talk about this content on or what pages you would need to add this content to in order to get the feature.

For example, if you wanted to get the review rich result for a service you offer, you would need to have a page that talks about that service, and then show reviews that are about the service displayed on the page.

This approach means that the most important things about your business are understood, and that you’re getting the most benefit from Google’s search features. 

Jamie: That’s a great overview; thanks, Martha. So it’s important to research the featured snippets you actually have a chance of getting before adding tagging on the relevant pages, rather than simply “feature hunting” and over-tagging without a plan. This approach also allows you to test performance of tagging more rigorously.

Are there any other best practices you should follow with regards to schema markup that you’d say most don’t know about?

Martha: I was recently talking with Dan Brickley at Google, and, in our conversation, I explained how we help customers build knowledge graphs, not schema code. His response to this was that he wishes more people did this. A similar comment was made by Steve Macbeth, Microsoft’s executive sponsor for He said that if there’s one thing you should do, it’s to make your schema markup semantic, or connected.

The Schema gurus at Google and Microsoft

Let me first define what I mean by a knowledge graph. A lot of people think of the knowledge graph as the knowledge panel that appears in search results. This is actually a featured snippet, as a result of a knowledge graph.

The knowledge graph is what powers search; it’s the connective tissue that explains what something is, but also how it relates to something else on the web. For example, if I were to describe our company, Schema App, I could say that it is owned by Hunch Manifest (defined on its homepage), it’s located in Guelph, Ontario, Canada (defined on Wikipedia), and has the co-founder Martha van Berkel (who is the same Martha van Berkel as on LinkedIn).

I could make the same statement and not connect those pieces of information and it would be less clear, and therefore harder to understand explicitly. Google has a great video about their knowledge graph that I’d recommend watching.