Schema & International SEO – Everything You Need to Know

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When done right, Schema markup can give a lift to international campaigns.

Schema.org, which is supported by all major search engines, provides what we call structured data markup. Launched in 2011, it is now recommended by Google as opposed to any other markup.

Schema.org can convey a massive amount of information to search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex. This markup technology can specify any person and characteristics of that person such as gender, date of birth, and educational institution. The markup technology can also be added in any language.

Schema markup simply gives search engines a better representation of what the website page is presenting by adding a set of HTML tags to each web page. Schema markup is extremely important to SEO because it helps search engines better understand the information on the pages of your website.

My good friend Sante Achille is an Italian SEO professional living and working in Italy out of L'Aquila, a small medieval town close to Rome. He has an engineering degree, has worked for major aerospace organizations including the European Space Agency (Noordwijk - Netherlands), and has been working on the web since the very beginning of the commercial World Wide Web in 1994.

With more than 19 years of hands-on experience, Achille has reviewed and optimized hundreds of websites and successfully cooperated with small local companies and large multi-national corporations, offering a wide spectrum of expertise essential to the success of a project.

I had the privilege of picking Achille's brain on Schema.org and everything about it. Sante's advice and suggestions on Schema markup technology is great, so read on for some really good insight into what you can do on an international front.

What are Best Practices for Schema?

Achille said there is a general misunderstanding about Schema which is associated to "rich snippets" that often appear in the SERPs and highlight those products or recopies users have reviewed and evaluated by assigning from 1 to 5 stars.

Schema is far more than that and requires a considerable amount of planning for it to be effective and put to use with all its potential. Schema describes itself as a "collection of schemas, i.e., html tags, that webmasters can use to markup their pages in ways recognized by major search providers."

Many sites are generated from structured data, which is often stored in databases. When this data is formatted into HTML, it becomes very difficult to recover the original structured data.

Many applications, especially search engines, can benefit greatly from direct access to this structured data. On-page markup enables search engines to understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results in order to make it easier for users to find relevant information on the web. Markup can also enable new tools and applications that make use of the structure.

In essence schemas combine a wide variety of tags associated with vocabularies to offer the search engines signals related to:

  • The structure of our web page
  • Topical information (content)
  • Who published the information
  • Who wrote the blog post/article
  • Insights on multimedia objects, which the post may contain (video, images, etc.)

There are endless ways in which you can create schemas based on the Hierarchy. Needless to say there are many ways to define the same web page - the important thing is to create a model which is dedicated to your website before you start with the actual implementation.

The "tricky" bit is to combine all elements in a structured and coherent fashion without generating any errors. When the search engines detect errors in the schema (often triggered by WordPress when used out of the box) they will ignore your makeup and all your efforts will be a waste.

As a very general and broad guideline, I would recommend a very thorough preliminary phase during which the schemas are prepared to best describe the content and the website structure.

Let me give you an example: when we look at a photo we can extract visual information from it. Basic SEO rules would require us to implement an alt attribute to describe the photo but with schema we can do so much more, such as:

  • Name the image
  • Offer a headline and an alternative headline
  • Provide information about it (where it was taken, what is it about ... provide topical information)
  • Write a dedicated description of the image
  • List relevant keywords (yes keywords can be part of many schemas)
  • Indicate the audience and genre the image is addressing
  • Report the caption
  • Declare if the image is representative of the page
  • Statistics on when the image was created, published and if it was modified
  • Claim ownership by offering information on the author and/or organization who created the image (name, address, country, website, specialty, job title, liaisons with social media ...)

So as you can see this is very far reaching and created a bridge between the website and the rest of the web in an organized and systematic way, going far beyond the traditional alt attribute. The previous example sheds some light on the amount of information you can provide the search engines with to understand what your page is about and how it is related to the rest of the website, the author, the publisher, and much more!

Last but not least: testing tests are extremely important. Create a small model then grow it but test it as you go by using the Google Structured Data Testing Tool and identify a way of implementing all this meta data in the frame of your website – you'll soon find out this isn't a trivial task.

Why is Schema Useful/Important for International SEO?

Achille said there is a way to specify the language of any piece of content by using the attribute inLanguage. We know that search engines are smart enough to understand when content changes language but then again if we "help" by offering this kind of information it makes things much easier for them and the do reward us for going the extra mile and providing structure to the content.

What you need to keep in mind is the nature of the activity: this is an optimization you undertake to put as much "structured intelligence" into your web as you possibly can: the more you put in the more they will understand and return the favor, Achille said.

How Does Schema Work and How is it Effective When Implementing Best Practices?

Schema works by offering structure to the different areas of the web page: you can identify breadcrumb links and by doing so tell the search engines they are there for navigational purposes, or declare a link as the most significant link on the page, Achille said.

You can also declare a page as being based on another URL. An effective way to use this attribute would be for an ecommerce where many time content is taken from the producer's item page, or identify a certain page as part of a collection of pages (for instance pages of a photographic gallery of art pieces, or shoes ...)

Achille thinks establishing standard best practices would be and will eventually become a must as more and more websites adopt this markup.

When to Expect Results Using Schema?

Achille said it you should be prepared to wait 4 to 6 weeks before you see any changes, even on smaller websites. The bigger the website, the longer it may take to see significant changes. Check your webmaster tools often and immediately correct any errors, which may appear – mistakes are not allowed!

Summary

Schema markup is proving to be extremely important in the SEO industry. As Sante noted, there are huge benefits from utilizing the technology, although seeing results from Schema markup may take some time depending on website size. Try implementing Schema on your site to reap the rewards of more traffic and better website representation in the search engines.