Will using schema.org metadata improve my Google rank?

It’s a fair question to ask. Schema.org metadata is backed by Google, and has the aim of making it easier for people to find the right web pages, so does using it to describe the content of a page improve the ranking of that page in Google search results? The honest answer is “I don’t know”. The exact details of the algorithm used by Google for search result ranking are their secret; some people claim to have elucidated factors beyond the advice given by Google, but I’m not one of them. Besides, the algorithm appears to be ever changing, so what worked last week might not work next week. What I do know is that Google says:

Google doesn’t use markup for ranking purposes at this time—but rich snippets(*) can make your web pages appear more prominently in search results, so you may see an increase in traffic.

*Rich Snippets is Google’s name for the semantic mark up that it uses, be it microformats, microdata (schema.org) or RDFa.

I see no reason to disbelieve Google on this, so the answer to the question above would seem to be “no”. But how then does using schema.org make it easier for people to find the right web pages? (and let’s assume for now that yours are the right pages). Well, that’s what the second part of the what Google says is about: making pages appear more prominently in search result pages. As far as I can see this can happen in two ways. Try doing a search on Google for potato salad. Chances are you’ll see something a bit like this

Selection from the results page for a Google search for potato salad showing enhanced search options (check boxes for specific ingredients, cooking times, calorific value) and highlighting these values in some of the result snippets.

Selection from the results page for a Google search for potato salad showing enhanced search options (check boxes for specific ingredients, cooking times, calorific value) and highlighting these values in some of the result snippets.

You see how some of the results are embellished with things like star ratings, or information like cooking time and number of calories–that’s the use of rich snippets to make a page appear more prominent.

But there’s more: the check boxes on the side allow the search results to be refined by facets such as ingredients, cooking time and calorie content. If a searcher uses those check boxes to narrow down their search, then only pages which have the relevant information marked-up using schema.org microdata (or other rich snippet mark-up) will appear in the search results.

So, while it’s a fair question to ask, the question posed here is the wrong question. It would be better to ask “will schema.org metadata help people find my pages using Google”, to which the answer is yes if Google decides to use that mark up to enhance search result pages and/or provide additional search options.

I have been involved in the LRMI (Learning Resource Metadata Initiative), which has proposed extensions to schema.org for describing the educational characteristics of resources–see this post I did for Creative Commons UK for further details. I have promised a more technical briefing of the hows and whys of LRMI/Schema.org to be developed here, but given my speed of writing I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it.–In the meantime this is one of several questions I thought might be worth answering. If you can think of any, let me know.

8 thoughts on “Will using schema.org metadata improve my Google rank?

  1. Thanks Martin for the link to Tony’s stuff. There has been some discussion of Schema.org extensions for educational courses, with mentions of XCRI, of course. LRMI decided to focus on “creative works” rather than events, though the properties may be useful. I think “will LRMI be of any use if Google don’t use it” may be another question to answer as a blog post.

  2. I can certainly see the logic behind using schema.org but I don’t think it improves rankings either, all it does is drill down content so search engines know what it’s about – this in turn should make your pages appear in more relevant searches but it won’t make your site go up or down in these rankings.

    The thing is I’m in two minds about schema.org because on the one hand it’s good to get rid of any ambiguity concerning what your contents about but on the other hand, isn’t this what contents supposed to do on its own? Basically, if Google and co don’t know what your content is about then your content is useless and I very much doubt anyone who writes useless content is going to bother using schema.org. But then again, if Google supports schema.org does this mean they WANT to rank this useless content?

    I think it’s a dangerous game their playing because anything that encourages poor content is a bad idea. A webmaster should ALWAYS be encouraged to write quality content that is keyword rich and unambiguous for search engines. Schema.org gives an excuse for sloppyness which is never good. Not to mention all the black hatters out there who will undoubtedly use schema.org to mislead Google and get themselves listings where they don’t belong.

    Time will tell I guess!

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  7. I think it’s possible that one of the reasons for adoption of schema.org markups could be speed of delivery of results.

    Looking to the long-term, Google are trying to return more relevant results to speech-oriented searches on mobile devices. With the sheer number of new websites produced each day, this must place an enormous strain on Google servers to hunt through their cached records.

    Instead of this, if users suggests to Googlebot through microdata what each individual piece of data is about, then Google could store this separately on another layer of servers which could instantly produce exact results to give mobile users quickly and then go off and search their cache servers for ‘evidence’ to support it for the organic search results.

    What do you think?

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