The Language of Search and Social – Schema and Open Graph

schema and open graph

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Language is the currency of communication. The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

For websites, speaking the language of the web means speaking the language of Search Engines and Social Networks, and that language has evolved in recent years through Semantics, or “meanings”. Google and Facebook don’t just index or share links: they try to understand them.

Google and Facebook don't just index links - they try to understand them.Click To Tweet

Here’s a simple analogy for understanding Semantics:

Imagine you’re asked to find an autographed photo of the actor Robert De Niro wearing sunglasses in a room full of Robert De Niro souvenirs. Without understanding the meanings of several things, this task would be impossible. First you have to know who Robert De Niro is and be able to recognize his face; you have to know what sunglasses are and be able to recognize them; you have to recognize an autograph from other types of writing; and on the most basic level, you have to be able to distinguish photographs from other types of pictures (e.g. magazine images).

deniromeme

Humans learn through experience, but Search Engines are a bit dumb: they need people like you and me to explain these things to them “in small words” with the help of markup code, especially something called Schema.org. Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Russian Search Engine Yandex use Schema to understand websites and how to rank, surface it, and display links… but only if you use it. If you don’t, their algorithms will make their own ‘best guesses’ by looking at your site, and believe me: you don’t want to make Search Engines guess!

This is what happens when Search Engines guess.

This is what happens when Search Engines guess.

Believe me: you don't want to make Search Engines guess!Click To Tweet

It’s hard to be understood if you don’t speak the right language. With Semantic markup, you can tell Google and other Search Engines whether your website is business or personal; which social networks you’re active on; if you are a business, which type of business; your location(s)and business hours; product information for any products you offer; whether a given page on your site is an article, a review, an embedded video, etc…

Proper use of Schema won’t guarantee you Page 1 on Google or a 700% increase in traffic (see What You Need to Know About SEO for more about how Google ranks sites), but it will help you improve your Search visibility. Consider the following IMDB link on Google for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

schema Markup

Notice how that 3rd link, the one from IMDB, shows a Rating of 4 ½ Yellow Stars? That’s not Google giving its opinion of the movie, that’s a “Rich Snippet” generated by an Aggregate Rating Schema. There are many types of Rich Snippets, which give your links a more enticing, click-friendly appearance in Search results.  This is only one of the ways in which Search Engines experiment with Schema for ranking and displaying results.  For example, a local Search for “Events in Broward County” brings up this result among others:

localeventschema

WeekendBroward, in addition to the usual Blue Link +URL + Meta Description, also gets a Rich Snippet here for upcoming events, which the Searcher can navigate to directly, because it uses Event Schema.  Without this code, Search Engines don’t know what an “event” is and can only match specific keywords.  As I said, they’re a bit dumb, and Schema helps them look smarter while helping your site look better.

Speaking of dumb, do you know what else needs everything spelled out in small words? Facebook. When someone grabs a page from your site and shares it to Facebook, it generates a link which displays a Title, Thumbnail Image, and Description of the page. If you’ve ever seen a shared link on Facebook, you know what I’m describing.

Facebook encourages webmasters to use its own favorite type of markup called Open Graph tags to define these things. Without any Open Graph tags, they will resort to algorithmic “best guessing” just like a Search Engine without Schema, sometimes with comical or tragic results. When your links look better, people click and share them more, and using Open Graph tags gives you more control over this. Open Graph tags are also used as a fallback for other social networks like Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest when people Share/Pin your site.

If this all sounds complicated, unfortunately that’s because it is. Search Engines and Social Networks constantly experiment with new types of Semantic markup and new ways of using existing markup code. New layouts, or new form factors like mobile devices, often require adaptation by webmasters and developers, and the evolution of these services must be monitored to ensure compliance with the latest standards. If your site isn’t Schema and Open Graph friendly, you may be losing traffic, customers, and fans.

If your site isn't Schema and Open Graph friendly, you may be losing traffic, customers, and fans.Click To Tweet

If you’d like to know where your site stands, get in touch with us using the form below and we’ll give you a free site review and let you know how you can improve your appearance on Search Engines and Social Networks.

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    1. […] for Search is, in a sense, Optimizing for the language of the Web itself. From your link profile, to the topical authority of your content, to the […]

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