How Schema.org Markup Can Help You Succeed in the Age of Universal Search
August 22, 2016
Ever wish you could pick Google’s brain? Just for once, understand their motives, their next move and what it might mean for your website and your business? While Google is hardly an open book when it comes to their policies and plans, one of the best ways to get a “sneak peek” at what Google has in store – or understand their current practices is to take a look at their patents. Back in 2013, it was estimated that Google controlled more than 51,000 patents and patents pending. Needless to say, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. And although delving through all those patents is a full-time job in itself, there are a few that stick out.
One of the interesting patents I’ve been exploring as of late is “Ranking Search Results Based on Entity Metrics.” Now, don’t leave this page to start researching how to add entity metrics to your website. Entity metrics simply added to your site and there are no tips for gaming the system. Instead, entity metrics are items that come about as a natural result of semantic search. They are the result of millions upon millions of user searches, actions and interactions. Over time, as search engines have grown equipped to better understand the human language rather than a robotic-like query, they’re also gaining a deeper understanding of why users are looking and the type of result they want for specific searches. By categorizing these entities, they’re able to make assumptions about what a user might be looking for and present the search engine result page in a particular manner. The result is a template-type SERP (more on that later).
What are these “entity” metrics?
While the list is not set in stone and can continue to grow as SERPs evolve, some of the current entities that Google is taking into account are notability, fame and relatedness. For example, Barack Obama, is a notable figure and as such there are certain types of search results that appear. You’ll notice the result is entirely different than if you were to type in your next-door neighbor’s name.
Ben Affleck is someone who would be attributed to the fame metric, and on that same search, Jennifer Garner is returned in the results due to her relatedness to the actor – as is Matt Damon.
Relatedness doesn’t just apply to individuals, however. It can also apply to current events. For example, two weeks ago a search for North Carolina, would have returned the state’s official page, the Wikipedia page and excerpts from Wikipedia in a knowledge graph. Today, however news results are primarily featured. (Anyone up for a swim?)
Why do these entity metrics matter?
While the fact that searches for notable people or current events return more than just your standard 10-slot SERP is old news to nearly any searcher, what’s new is that understanding that Google isn’t just pulling these items at random.
Instead, they’ve actually designed templates which designate what types of websites should show for certain searches.
Here’s an example:
Using the example above, you can see that Google has carved out and patented how their search results will appear for a popular search term, such as a top movie. So, even if you’re the #1 “Jurassic World” fan, and have built a website full of rich content and videos and clips, in this instance, ranking in the number one position may not be attainable. Not because your site isn’t properly optimized has a link penalty or has low-quality content. Simply because Google has “reserved” in the template slot, the official, designated website for the film. In fact, Google has specifically created parameters, known as VED parameters, to track these template slots. While VED parameters warrant an enormous post of their own (and Tim Resnick took a nice crack at it here), they can be found within the source code of SERPs and in the Google referral string. These codes essentially translate into placement on the page. For example, whether a result is a traditional organic result, an image one-box, a sitelink, etc. So, while no one would have previously argued that SERPs were “random,” it’s clearly that Google has carved out and uniquely identified each portion of the SERP and uses these parameters to create and build upon their patented templates.
And, for all of you conspiracy theorists out there – that slot isn’t reserved because someone cut a big fat check to Google. Rather, its reserved based on the patterns of user action that Google has observed for years and years. They’re in the business of giving users what they want, as quickly as possible.
So, how can a business owner compete?
News that Google has carved out space for the big wigs can be discouraging to the average site owner, but don’t worry, there’s more room on the page than you think. One of the best steps that a webmaster can take to compete after the advent of the knowledge graph is actually something that has been around for years – schema.org markup.
For those unfamiliar with schema.org markup, in laymen’s terms is a markup language that allows Google and other search engines to better digest and understand your content. Some of the most common schema.org markups are for addresses and phone numbers. However, succeeding in the advent of the knowledge graph will require webmasters to think outside of the basic markup and dive deep into helping crawlers understand the content of your website and how it benefits users.
As Google and other search engines continue to work toward anticipating the actions of their searchers, they want websites to clearly show them what users can accomplish on their site. For example, a hair salon may use schema.org to markup their scheduling tool. And, when the time comes to return a result for “hair salon san diego” Google will (most likely) be more likely to rank or showcase the site that allows users to easily take that end action—making an appointment. The same goes for restaurants, auto repair shops, etc. Using schema.org markup on your site will help Google understand the entities your site contains, making inclusion and prominence in the SERPs more likely.
While schema.org is not the be-all, end-all of cracking universal search, it’s yet another tool at our disposal to take our web presence to the next level. So, as always, don’t underestimate the power of your webmaster.