Social Media Optimization: Making Sense of Schema.org

By Ric Shreves, Michelle Krasniak

Your social media optimization strategy needs to include an understanding of Schema.org. Schema.org is a structured data markup system promulgated by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!. The system was designed to help a search engine understand the information on the web pages it scans and to allow it to provide richer search‐result output.

This concept is best understood with an example. In this case, a product listing for a vintage mechanical watch by Hamilton.

An e-commerce product listing.

An e-commerce product listing.

The listing shows you all the things you’d expect to see:

  • A photo

  • The brand

  • The model

  • The price

  • A description

To most human beings, this listing makes perfect sense. People are able to process the context and view the information holistically. A listing of this sort, particularly in the context of an e‐commerce website, presents no confusion or ambiguity. The viewer has no doubt this Hamilton Trent model watch is for sale at the price of $225.

To a dumb machine, however, this listing is just a bunch of data with no context. Here’s a simplified view of what the machine sees:

<img src=“ http://waterstonewatches.com/hamilton-trent.jpg”/>
<h1>Hamilton “Trent”</h1>
<p>$225</p>
<p>Classic 50s styling with a high quality Hamilton 22 jewel movement.</p>

The search engine that spiders the web page containing the product and receives the preceding information has very little idea what the information represents. The best search engines look at other information on the page and try to draw some conclusions about the content, but there’s still a large amount of room for ambiguity and misinterpretation.

Semantic markup was created to help those dumb machines make sense of the data. It does this by adding tags (or markup) to the code. The markup is added inside the body of the web page, right by the items it affects. Here’s the information for the same product, with semantic markup added:

<div itemscope itemtype=http://schema.org/Product>
<img itemprop=“image” src=“http://waterstonewatches.com/hamilton-trent.jpg” />
<h1 itemprop=“name”><span itemprop=“brand”>Hamilton</span> <span itemprop=“model”> “Trent”</span></h1>
<p itemprop=“price”>$225</p>
<p itemprop=“description”>Classic 50s styling with a high quality Hamilton 22 jewel movement.</p>
</div>

All that itemprop= stuff is the Schema.org markup. As you can see, the added markup gives meaning to specific pieces of information — in this case, the image, brand, model, price, and description. A search engine encountering this richer markup can better process the information it contains and is more likely to present it properly in response to a search query.

Google provides a tool for checking your markup: the Structured Data Testing Tool.

Schema.org was designed to help search engines, but it’s also useful in other contexts. Some social sharing sites look to see whether a page has Schema.org tags in place, and if so, they use that information when someone shares the page containing the markup, thereby affecting the appearance of the shared item. Although Schema.org can be used by Facebook and some other social sites, there’s actually a better system that’s tailored specifically to Facebook and social sharing: the Open Graph protocol.

Because these tags affect the content and appearance of shared materials, they can affect greatly conversions and click‐through rates.