A great marketing plan involves information mapping. You need to map your supply chain and business processes. You also need to map how clients find you. Finally, you need to know how clients perceive your business, in many cases, at first glance. The art of mapping this human-process-machine interface is called schema. There are two types of schema vital to your organization. The first involves diagramming and streamlining your business processes to make them user friendly. The second involves search engine optimization (SEO) to make your web content findable to major search engines like Google and Yahoo. This article deals with the second application. For great resources on the former, try IGOE models or other similar process mapping tools.
SEO is defined most simply as web content and computer coding that helps both human beings and machines find you online. The approach for adding SEO content is an evolving field. The current standard is the backbone of this article. It is a very brief explanation of the model developed by Schema.org.
Source, evolution, and definitions
Ever since we started reaching out to clients online, we have needed tools to help us draw attention to our sites and correctly interpret them. Coding for site usability and visibility to humans- such as HTML and Python languages- helps us lay out information in a way that users can relate to and easily navigate. The language used in these codes however did not always translate into site content that a search engine can find easily. This meant that a user searching for a Star Wars movie in their town might get a directory of Star Wars action figures instead, for example. For more sophisticated search results, users developed eXtensible Language Markup (XML) codes. Much like the challenges faced by AI, helping search engines make logical intuitive leaps that our brains can do in seconds has been an ongoing experiment in precision.
XML codes and language are meant to help a page contain and confer data but not display it. This means that it is language written into your web site’s source code that is not visible on the site itself. It is literally a tag that a search engine can read on your page that a human does not know is there. Think of it like microchipping a pet. There are many advantages to using XML data. Its use allows for streamlined web sites, flexibility in updating older sites, transferal to new platforms, etc. Several variations of XML coding developed over the past 20 years. The current industry standard is schema.
Where did the current schema standard come from?
XML schema consortium started on 2011 now the standard for web searchability. It is an ongoing open source effort between Google, Yahoo, Yandex, and Bing. Its purpose is to simplify the web and improve user experience using microdata strings. For a brief overview, see this Yoast article. The use of a common language that can be customized to multiple applications provides both flexibility in its application and means that all sites read it the same way. You no longer have to develop one page of content for one browser, for example, and a second for others. You can find the complete story on Schema.org’s web site.
What does the schema code look like?
The embedded codes are similar to HTML and Python languages, but not standardized. This allows them to be very customizable for complex applications. This Schema.org blog gives a good description of the difference between an HTML-based visual code and schema markup content designed to provide greater searchability to existing or new HTML code. Similar to other source codes, it involves the use of character strings and specific programming language. You identify what you want to stand out in a search- a glowing customer review, for example. Adding a character string makes that happen.
What schema does for your business:
Why does it make your information stand out? Using schema XML allows your post to go to the first page of a search for your specific product or service. It also allows you include supporting information, customer reviews, process, and other details. These show up in a client search before opening the link to the web page. This takes out a lot of the guesswork and cuts down considerably on a client’s search time. A client is more likely to click your web site if they know beforehand what to expect on the quality of content.
Consider a restaurant example. You look for a Thai restaurant while on a business tip to Washington, DC. One listing shows distance to your hotel, the customer rating, price range. Another only lists the restaurant name. You are more likely to choose the first example- and so are your customers.
How would you test your organization’s existing online content for searchability and SEO?
There are several sites designed to help users analyze their SEO content and searchability. A good example is this SEO analysis tool. Different applications can be used for testing blogs, informational web sites, online catalogs, etc. These sites have great tools that can help you know what your web site does well and identify areas for improvement. For a comprehensive list of schema tools here is a good resource.
How might you determine what to add markup to?
The Schema.org consortium has inspired several excellent resources for developing your own optimized SEO content. Your decision on how to use schema elements will vary depending on the digital platform used, the nature of the information, the category, and other factors. Think of the differences between teaching applications, menus, book reviews, and catalogs of products. This site has a good overview of specific applications, as one example.
So how do you create new schema content?
You can learn to code for schema markup content in much the same way as any other programming language. When you know what you want to code for, there are several online resources that can teach you the coding concepts. Other sites such as this one from Merkle allow you to enter the details of what you need. The tool returns a character string that you can copy and paste into your web code.
Deciding on In-house versus Outsourced support:
This is an area where having a process specialist work alongside an SEO specialist is crucial. Many companies have older sites that are not search-engine compatible. Updating content has been a time and resource sink for more than a few users. Part of the idea behind unifying the code for schema XML content is to address these gaps.
Companies like Arcada Labs have experts that can analyze your existing web sites for upgrades that require minimal effort. Services like these provide a major advantage for many if the reasons listed above. They can help you analyze your site, and then determine the most cost-effective steps to take.
For many organizations, hiring an in-house person or team versed in good SEO is a smart investment. Others find that outsourcing for an upgrade or new digital content design is a more cost-effective option. There are advantages to both approaches. An in-house person learns your processes and becomes a long-term team member. Outsourcing allows your managers to focus on the business of managing the company while an expert handles the improvement of digital marketing. What is certain is that incorporating schema into your web sites will drive increased visibility. This is great for your company at all levels of digital marketing. It is a worthwhile investment.
You know what is right for your team. If Arcada can help you make your next marketing decision, please contact us. We will be happy to connect with you.