Exploring The Semantic Web: How Schema Impacts Today’s SERPs

Posted in Schema, Web Development

Playing its part in the Semantic Web movement, schema is transforming the web by enhancing our search results and revolutionizing the way we find information online. The Semantic Web itself is a shift in web coding approach toward describing content by using code tags in a way that computer systems can understand and associate known types of content.

By tagging on-page content with content identifiers, the Semantic Web provides the ultimate contextual link between content and publisher intent. This link provides search engines with the data needed to accurately relay more specific, highly enriched content to the user within the search results page.

In this post, we’ll look at ways the Semantic Web is transforming today’s SERPs. Specifically, we’ll dive into how schema can be applied to gain attention through rich snippets and how the results themselves may be affected by attribute search filtering.

So, what are these tags and how do we use them?

Suppose we want to place the name and address of our business on our About Us page. Typically, such code may look something like this:

  aimClear<br />
  9 West Superior St, Suite 200<br />
  Duluth, Minnesota 55802

Using schema for semantic tagging may look like this:

<div itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
  <span itemprop="name">aimClear</span><br />
  <span itemprop="streetAddress">9 West Superior St, Suite 200</span><br />
  <span itemprop="addressLocality">Duluth</span>,
  <span itemprop="addressRegion">MN</span>
  <span itemprop="postalCode">55802</span>

Check out the words in quotes. By adding the schema code we have now defined that this chunk of content is an address and have labeled each bit of information to properly associate the name, street address, locality, region, and postal code.

Seeing the Difference with Rich Snippets

The most visible benefit of deploying schema tags are the eye-catching rich snippets subsequently served up by major search engines. These snippets transform plain old text-based search engine result pages (SERPs) into colorful, attention-grabbing results that better describe the page’s content through the display of images and review stars, along with stylized text and links.

Just how much of a visual impact do rich snippets have? Take a peek:

Image Source: http://support.google.com

Here, Google has demonstrated three different examples.

  1. A restaurant business using rich snippets for navigation, reviews, and menu price class.
  2. A recipe using rich snippets for image, reviews, time to prepare, and nutritional information.
  3. A music website using rich snippets to expand the result, taking up more real estate on the search result page. There’s a clickable music entry listing for each track and its duration.

The new standard brought forth by the convergence of major search engines on schema.org expands the semantic vocabulary. As demonstrated on their site, schema.org supports hundreds of tags. Some of the content types they support tagging for include:

Creative Works
Article Comment Movie Photograph Sculpture
Blog Diet Music Recipe Software
Book Map Painting Review TV

Business Dance Food Sale Theatre
Childrens Education Literary Social Interaction
Comedy Festival Music Sports Visual Arts

Audience Job Post Offer Rating
Enumeration Language Quantity Structured Data

Anatomy Device Intangible Symptom Therapy
Causes Guideline Procedure Study
Condition Indication Risk Test

Corporation Government NGO Team
Educational Local Group

Name Affiliation Colleagues Email Location
Address Birthday Contact Family Title

Area Landmark Residence
Civic Business Tourist Attraction

Brand Manufacturer Model Offers Reviews

When analyzing the schema tags to deploy, it is important to consider their impact on enhancing search results. Search engine adoption of schema data into search results remains limited. Rich snippet support, in particular, varies by search engine. Here’s how Google and Bing stack up:

Google Supported Schema Bing Supported Schema
Reviews Ratings
Software Applications
Products and Offers

Rich snippets are powerful and can significantly boost CTR on organic search results. However, there is another critical factor on the search result page that may be overlooked – attribute search filtering.

Staying in the Game with Attribute Search Filtering

A classic case of the usefulness of schema information is on display in the left side bar of many Google search result pages. Google offers dedicated search modes for recipe schema records. This allows users to filter search results by attribute values. This is a critical SEO play, as failure to semantically tag your content means you’d be left out of these results altogether.

To see this in action, search Google for a recipe topic, such as “Pumpkin Pie”.

As we see here, Google detects that it is returning recipes to the SERPs and therefore returns the recipe attribute search filtering mode in the left sidebar. With this feature, users are able to quickly filter the initial search results by selecting recipes that include specific attributes such as whipped cream as an ingredient or less than 300 calories.

While currently limited in deployment, this is a demonstration of the power the Semantic Web has in store for the future. Our goal in SEO has always been to help the search engines better understand the content on our clients’ sites so that they can rank high for the topics at hand. The Semantic Web closes the gap of publisher intent, allowing us to directly communicate to search engines exactly what information is on the page.

Developers’ Corner
Ready to add schema to your site? Try the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool to be sure your code changes are generating the desired results.

Featured Image by dullhunk on Flickr
  • Matt

    If I’m running a business directory site, should I have schema setup for addresses on each individual listing page? Or will schema in this example only be useful for the parent domain?

  • Joe Warner

    Great question! A directory site can make substantial use of schema. In your example each address for each listing could be tagged. There are likely other tags you could use too such as the type of organization or upcoming business events. Happy tagging! 🙂

  • Matt

    Very cool Joe – thanks for that!

    Tips for a good WordPress plugin to manage the schema tags? Currently use Yoast for the rest of the site.

  • Joe Warner

    @Matt We have found the current options for schema WordPlugins to be quite limited. There are a handful of plugins available for recipes and reviews but are otherwise limited in the types of content they support.

    Are you entering the address information directly into the body of the post or do you have separate fields setup? If the content is being placed directly into the body field then one option would be to apply the tags directly to the content using the HTML view of the body editor. If separate fields are setup then the best bet would be to try and implement the tags within the site template so that you don’t need to re-code every listing.