"Schema Mark-up" is a kind of structured data that comprises a few lines of HTML code that can be added to web pages. Whilst this is invisible to your website's visitors, it should only be applied to content that is visible to them, with the purpose of providing search engines with additional information about the content of your web pages. The guidelines for using such code have been collaboratively created by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! together, at Schema.org, meaning that just one integration will benefit your website in all the major search engines. Adding schema mark-up to your website's pages can result in the following benefits to your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts:
Schema mark-up that accurately reflects the content of your web pages helps search engines to interpret both the content of your pages and it's context. "In general, the more markup there is, the easier it is for search engines to be able to interpret what really matters on a page," explains Matt Cutts, head of the Webspam team at Google.
Since the tools that search engines use to index the internet ("spiders") are in fact machines, they can't always understand the relevance of a particular web page in relation to a search term. An example of this provided by Schema.org imagines a scenario where your web page is titled "Avatar". However, this does not give any information about whether this refers to the movie, a profile picture, or something else entirely. Schema mark-up allows you to add special tags to your web pages to help search engines categorize and add context to your website's content.
Helping search engines better understand your website's content and it's context may improve your search engine rankings for particular search terms and, with Google's increasing shift towards "semantic" search, schema mark-up is going to become ever more important.
Alongside each search result returned by all the major search engines is a "Snippet" - a few lines of text designed to give a sense of what the page in question is about and why it's relevant to the search. If schema mark-up is present on a web page, Google may use this to create a more enhanced Snippet - called a "Rich Snippet" to display in search results for that web page (unless it has taken a "manual action" to ignore the schema mark-up of a spam website because it does not accurately reflect the site's content). As of December 2014, Google only uses schema mark-up related to reviews, people, products, businesses and organizations, recipes, events and music to create Rich Snippets. A Rich Snippet being returned for your web pages in a user's search results can result in two possible outcomes:
Whether or not the addition of schema mark-up would benefit your website depends on what type of data it consists of:
It is clear that search engines will place more and more emphasis on schema mark-up, with Google stating that "over time you can expect that more data will be used in more ways". Therefore, regardless of your website's content, but particularly if your website includes data relating to events or "things", adding schema mark-up to your website is probably something that will be required in the future if you want to make sure that your competition is not gaining an advantage over you.