As those of us who follow Google closely know, it is rare for the search giant to make advance announcements of changes to search functionality. So it was a welcome surprise to see Google trend analyst Gary Illyes’ presentation at Pubcon where he disclosed some major shifts in the way Google uses structured data. According to Illyes, we can expect to see new developments in context-sensitive search features as early as next year and he even hinted that structured data may be used to improve the accuracy of search rankings.
Using structured data is a way to provide additional context to webpages, helping search engines to better categorise and understand the relevance of the page. So, for instance, the website for a pizza restaurant can communicate to the search engine that they are a fast food establishment in Liverpool, open from 12pm to 10pm, and that customers can use a credit card to order a meal which costing less than £10 per person. All this is done with special code blocks and does not clutter the page with clunky SEO text. The structured data format favoured by major search engines is detailed at schema.org, and so the code for structured data is often known as schema mark-up or simply schemas.
Schema mark-up is used by Google and the other major search engines to gather information about the web and selected schemas activate special display features relevant to content type—for example, a recipe page with correctly formatted schemas will appear as a preview in a feature box in the search results. Over the next year, Google will be adding such features to more categories of result, and Illyes suggested strongly that all Schema, not just those already implemented by Google, are being read and used by the search algorithm. Marketing professionals know that harnessing these display features can significantly improve click through, and smart marketers will already be looking for new opportunities to add schemas to their strategies.
As usual, Google do not tolerate attempts to game their algorithm, and sites which abuse schemas can find themselves sanctioned, barred from display features or even delisted. But in skilled hands these new features should prove an effective way to maximise visibility without compromising site design or the quality of search results, and improve Googling for everyone.