Last week the big three search engines, Google, Yahoo and Bing, announced a collaboration project called Schema.org. The project is a collection of schemas of html tags that webmasters can use to mark-up web content in such a way that it will be understandable to search engine spiders. Search engines might be able to read text, but they cannot understand it. By marking your text with html tags, you provide categories and tags that they can associate with your text in order to give better search results. For example, if you write a web page about the movie Casablanca, by marking up the page with a schema you can tell search engines which bits are about the movie, what the director’s name is, the names of the actors and actresses and so on.
The point of this? It allows search engines to then provide more accurate search results for users looking for movie reviews, or films by that director etc. Additionally, it means search engines will be able to create vertical search functions based on the mark-ups. So, for example, in a similar fashion to Google’s recipe search, they could allow users to search specifically through movie reviews. Users get more relevant search results for their searches, and webmasters potentially get more prominence in results and traffic of a higher quality.
Why is Schema.org big news?
Previously, there have been many different mark-up languages all with their own features and pros and cons. Choosing which mark-up language to use (and working out which search engines would recognise it) was no easy task. Now that the 3 major players in online search have agreed to a universally recognised system, the job of marking-up webpages is a lot simpler and potentially a lot more rewarding.
What are the benefits of using Schema.org to mark-up my webpages?
According to Bing’s blog post, ‘Consumers benefit from this effort by experiencing much richer search experiences across a much broader set of publishers.’ That’s great, but what about webmasters?
The flipside is, essentially, that if consumers benefit from richer search features and results, then webmasters benefit from increased exposure and more relevant search traffic. Because the search engines have more information about your site and the subjects and topics for which it is relevant, they can then feature it in a wider range of searches. So a webpage about Casablanca might feature in the universal search results, but also feature in vertical searches for terms relating to the movie.
Do I need to mark-up my pages and what if I’ve already used microformats or RDFa?
Marking-up your site is unlikely to be a high-priority task. Schema.org is still in its draft stage (and welcoming feedback), and is planned to be finalised later this year. Like sitemap.org, it seems likely that the new system will take time to phase in and search engines will likely begin using the data slowly and with lots of testing involved at each stage.
If you’ve already used a mark-up system which is recognised by a search engine, then, for the meantime, that search engine will continue to recognise it. So for now, no sweat. However, it seems likely that at some point in the future these will be phased out and the schemas on Schema.org will be ubiquitous. There is no need to panic and rush into the huge task of changing your entire website’s mark-ups, but it’s worth being aware and familiarising yourself with Schema.org.
The upshot is that this is big news, could lead to tremendously exciting developments in search, and makes life a lot easier for webmasters who want to mark-up their content. However, it is not an overnight change and will take time to have any big effects. It’s something to keep an eye on and watch as it develops over the coming months.