360i POV on the Schema.org Markup Initiative


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360i POV on the Schema.org Markup Initiative

  1. 1. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. July 2011 360i Point of View on the Schema.org Data Markup InitiativeOverviewIn June 2011, Google, Yahoo and Bing jointly announced a new supportedweb initiative, called schema.org, which aims to provide much neededmomentum to the creation of the semantic web. The web standardprovides a common vocabulary for structured data markup on web pagesand serves as a resource for webmasters to improve their natural searchresults within the three major engines.This initiative – built upon pre-existing standards and in anticipation forbroader support of HTML5 – establishes a vocabulary by which webmasters (and ultimatelymarketers) can better ascribe meaning to their content, products and services.In this report, we discuss the potential implications schema.org adoption may have in driving betterqualified visitors, and how search engines may come to integrate schema.org microdata into theirranking algorithms. What is schema.org? Schema.org is a website that provides webmasters with a collection of vocabularies that give greater “meaning” to web content. Google, Bing and Yahoo! have joined forces in standardizing this markup to improve search results and help people more easily find the pages for which they are looking. To date, search engines have primarily relied upon HTML tags and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to make sense of web content they index for search. HTML has been a key underpinning to the growth of world wide web as Tim Berners-Lee envisioned it, but has not evolved much beyond acting as a container for web content. Similarly, NLP has served search engines well by extrapolating a sufficient level of meaning to content they encounter, but this remains a resource intensive process. Schema.org is positioned to piggyback on the growing adoption of HTML5, which unlocks a greater flexibility to structure discrete parts of web content like articles, menu navigation, footers, video and more. HTML5 formalizes how web developers provide greater context for their content available to search engines. For search engines, the net result reduces the need for expensive NLP, and provides a richer, machine-readable representation of content on the web. To illustrate this, consider a web page within NBA.com that provides details on an upcoming basketball playoff game. The NBA.com webmaster could use schema.org to emphasize that the web page describes an event, focusing on the date and time of the game and the venue’s address. By leveraging schema.org, the site owner could unambiguously structure the most significant details of the game to better reach someone searching for this information within an engine. NEW YORK | ATLANTA | CHICAGO | DETROIT | SAN FRANCISCO | LONDON | info@360i.com | 888.360.9630 © 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved 1
  2. 2. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. July 2011 360i Point of View on the Schema.org Data Markup InitiativeLets take a look at the example as schema.org microdata:Non-schema HTML:With schema microdata:In the above example, the webmaster has used schema.org’s Event vocabulary to mark up thecontent (itemtype="http://schema.org/Event"). A start date is given (<timeitemprop="startDate" datetime="2011-05-08T19:30") and the webmaster goes further tointegrate additional Place and Postal Address vocabularies to provide further critical context to theevent page. Moreover, if the site were selling tickets to the event, schema.org could be used toadd price and current availability of tickets to the event. The flexibility of schema.org evenprovides the means to include a representation of the key individual players using the Peopletype.Why would a webmaster do this? The immediate value proposition is that doing so will allow web NEW YORK | ATLANTA | CHICAGO | DETROIT | SAN FRANCISCO | LONDON | info@360i.com | 888.360.9630 © 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved 2
  3. 3. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. July 2011 360i Point of View on the Schema.org Data Markup Initiativeproperties to benefit from a rich snippet result, similar to what existing microformat (hProduct,hRecipe, vCard, etc.) standards have offered:Following Yahoo!’s SearchMonkey initiative, in 2009 Google introduced "rich snippets" to theirresult pages, which included review ratings, recipe information and pricing. The search giantfound this type of result boosted the quality of their search results (stating that rich snippetresults yielded ten times more clicks than their equivalent standard result layout). Schema.orgwas built on a dedication to enable search engines to increase the number and quality of theirrich snippets programs by having webmasters contribute standardized microdata on their webpages.Schema.org currently covers thousands of content types and has announced that it will beamending and improving categories on an ongoing basis as it receives feedback from schema.orgadopters. At present, Google has indicated that certain broad, top-level schema categoriesrelating to Reviews, Products and Events have been the most prevalent across their current richsnippet program. These will most likely continue to meet the greatest emphasis in searchengines.How does schema.org differ from other formats?Schema.org, and structured data formats in general, are not a new concept to the web. Thestandard has been launched in a fairly diversified landscape of similar initiatives ranging from theexhaustive (RDFa/OWL) to the use case specific. (GoodRelations, hRecipe, Facebook MarkupLanguage, XML data feeds, etc.) All of these have common objectives, but compete in achievingadoption by the web community. Schema.org has the benefit from being explicitly supported bythe major search engines, among other noteworthy distinctions in the following areas.Data FeedsConceptually, individual vocabularies within schema.org overlap directly with existing data feedsubmission programs supported by the search engines (for example, Web/Video/News XMLsitemaps, Google Base, Google Merchant Center, and Google Places). The key difference is thatthese programs provide a means to “push” verified data directly to search engines. This contrastswith schema.org, which relies on the search engines crawling web pages and identifyingmicrodata updates on their own schedules.360i recommends establishing data feeds where the search engines already have a matureproduct offering, particularly Google Places and Google Merchant Center, keeping in mind thatchallenges might arise if brands implement schema.org and data feeds simultaneously. For NEW YORK | ATLANTA | CHICAGO | DETROIT | SAN FRANCISCO | LONDON | info@360i.com | 888.360.9630 © 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved 3
  4. 4. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. July 2011 360i Point of View on the Schema.org Data Markup Initiativeexample, providing schema.org markup for product pages while also pushing product feeds toGoogle Merchant Center may cause synchronization issues, as these two operations are ondifferent update schedules. In this instance, Google Merchant Center would be favored favored,as it is actively manageable and provides enhanced tie-ins with Local Shopping.Other Microformats/VocabulariesSchema.org supports a vast collection of vocabularies spanning media and entertainment contentto local business data. There are standards (incidentally back by the W3C), such as RDFa, thatare more expressive and extensible than schema.org – however their sheer complexity has led toslow adoption. Equally, microformats such as hRecipe or other vocabularies such GoodRelationshave already been integrated into search results and have met a reasonable level of adoption.All these microformats/vocabularies were fully considered in the conception of schema.org andwill continue to be supported in the midterm. Specifically, as RDFa evolves features are to beported over to schema.org based upon their uptake – the standard was designed to be easilymapped over to RDFa and OWL.What are the benefits of using schema.org?The immediate value to marketers is the potential to drive increased search visitors by securing arich search snippet by virtue of schema.org implementation.Schema.org creates more attractive search results. Similar to existing rich snippets,schema.org will allow for a differentiated search result to traditional web results. This moreattractive listing will surface salient information extracted from Schema.org microdata and bepresented to searchers in the organic results. Enhanced results such as the below provideimproved click through rates on average.Schema.org is designed to expand and grow organically. Schema.org has alreadyannounced that it will be taking feedback from webmasters who have adapted the new markuplanguage in order to usefully extend the functionality of schemas. Therefore, marketers are freeto develop their own extensions to the standard and can, in collaboration with the broadercommunity, have these officially adopted for search engines to use.Schema.org is part of a larger transition. Schema.org is built upon microdata, a core part of NEW YORK | ATLANTA | CHICAGO | DETROIT | SAN FRANCISCO | LONDON | info@360i.com | 888.360.9630 © 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved 4
  5. 5. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. July 2011 360i Point of View on the Schema.org Data Markup Initiativethe new HTML5 standard. This means that it will be easier for webmasters to integrateschema.org as part of an eventual HTML5 transition.The search engines are giving you lemons, so make lemonade. Much of SEO is workingwithin the known parameters of Google, Yahoo and Bing and adhering to best practices. The keyaim is to best align the relevance of a brand’s content to respond to consumer needs. The desiredresult is to give your site the best opportunity to rank in natural search results, as well as beingof value to existing and prospective customers.In the case of schema.org, all three major search engines have come together to support acommon approach in better describing web content. This partnership underlines how strategicallyimportant content is to them in providing a rich, relevant search experience. It does not, then,require a great leap of the imagination to consider how providing additional context through aninitiative such as schema.org may eventually be a factor that contributes to whether your contentis seen to be relevant by search algorithms.What challenges do schema.org and its adopters face?Is schema.org reinventing the wheel? Widely used and recognized structured datavocabularies already exist. The major search engines are, therefore, choosing to embark on anew path without the full support of the communities that have helped develop thosevocabularies. Should schema.org fail to achieve the traction expected from it, the standard maybecome an unreliable source of knowledge for search engines to bet user interface and relevancydecisions upon.Search engines will have the data, but how will they use it? Because the Schema markupformat is similar in style and potential functionality to previous markup formats, we can feasiblypredict how it will be used out of the gate. However, it is unknown exactly how much (or even if)Schema.org markup will trickle through to the search results page.Arguably, absolute data transparency may work against a brand’s competitive advantage. Orperhaps Google is looking to use schema formats to create new search verticals such as GoogleRecipe search, and perhaps Bing is going to benefit by enhancing its burgeoning social searchfeatures by bridging web markup involving people and its preferred access to the Facebook OpenGraph.Adapting will require having to do some work. Integrating schema.org micro-data intowebsites that are not dynamically driven through a web publishing platform, or do not currentlyhave their content structured in an easily retrievable manner, could require substantial technicalresources. However, if you are planning to redesign your site, or add new content, schema.orgmay integrate into that process with greater ease. Furthermore, the immediate return oninvestment is not 100% certain, and marketers should be ready to take a leap of faith, or workwith a 360i strategist to develop a potential test. NEW YORK | ATLANTA | CHICAGO | DETROIT | SAN FRANCISCO | LONDON | info@360i.com | 888.360.9630 © 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved 5
  6. 6. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. July 2011 360i Point of View on the Schema.org Data Markup Initiative Who will benefit the most and how? Schema.org is comprehensive enough to enable nearly any web content owner to benefit from rich snippets and the enriched relevance it may one day provide. The standard even backs some key generalized elements from HTML5 that better delineate common structural elements such as navigation, footer, and menu areas from actual unique content. However, some specific verticals are set to have more direct benefits from Schema.org: • Media & Entertainment: Schema.org provides an extensive vocabulary to provide context to multimedia assets that have traditionally presented challenges for search engines to identify (video, movies, music videos, playlists, images, audio, etc.). Additionally, the Person type is well aligned to capture celebrity and actor relationships to their creative works. • CPG Brands: Couponing and offer-based content can easily be communicated through the Offer type. Food brands hold a natural alignment to the Recipe type. • Retailers: To a more limited extent as product data feeds provide better real-time data sources to search engines. Furthermore, the current Product type is somewhat lacking in specificity compared to other standards. • Social Media Sites: Schema.org provides a good blend of support for community based sites that could leverage mixed types such as Person, Event, User Interaction (checkins, likes, “+1”s and comments are all represented) and even location-based data such as LocalBusiness. • Search Engines: Schema.org microdata could well inform content-based advertising such as Google AdSense, or even play a role in establish landing page Quality Score. Moreover, we could see a larger number of specialized search applications similar to the recent Recipe Search product. o Bing + Facebook may well be in a prime position to pioneer the next evolution where semantic markup on the public web is seamlessly tied into “owned” social data such as the Open Graph. This has the potential to create new ways to connect people to what they enjoy and do around the web. In its current state, schema.org is really about rich snippets that offer improved visibility, and click-through rate improvements with potential downstream sales/revenue lift. What is unclear is to what extent search engines will in fact display rich snippets for websites that implement schema.org microdata.Next Steps360i sees schema.org as a positive innovation for the web in general, and one that may offer anacceptable value proposition to many marketers. However, 360i will continue to prioritize data feedsubmission methods to provide enhanced context to Google, Yahoo! and Bing for range of datatypes - in a trusted, centralized and timely manner. NEW YORK | ATLANTA | CHICAGO | DETROIT | SAN FRANCISCO | LONDON | info@360i.com | 888.360.9630 © 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved 6
  7. 7. Integrated Solutions. Measurable Results. July 2011 360i Point of View on the Schema.org Data Markup InitiativeThe immediate question of whether or not to adopt schema.org boils down to how easily this can beimplemented (upcoming redesign), and whether or not schema.org currently provides a vocabularythat aligns against your particular line of business. To help determine this, please contact your 360istrategic advisor. About 360i 360i is an award-winning digital marketing agency that drives results for Fortune 500 marketers through insights, ideas and technologies. 360i helps its clients think differently about their online presence and evolve their strategies to take advantage of the new world of marketing communications – one where brands and consumers engage in interactive and multi-directional conversations. 360i was selected to of Ad Age’s Agency A-List and Fast Company’s roster of the “World’s Most Innovative Companies.” Current clients include Oreo, jcpenney, Coca-Cola, Bravo and Diageo, among others. For more information, please visit blog.360i.com or follow us on Twitter @360i. NEW YORK | ATLANTA | CHICAGO | DETROIT | SAN FRANCISCO | LONDON | info@360i.com | 888.360.9630 © 2011 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved 7