What’s up with this schema.org business?

Ok, yeah, I’ve been living under a rock for the past few years. Sue me (not really, please don’t! I’ve been sued before and it’s not at all fun).

These past few years I focused almost exclusively on creating quality content and managing an online community. I’m fortunate to have my main website on a platform where there are experts who handle everything related to SEO etc. They spared me having to follow Google’s antics for a few years which I was grateful for.

With a bit more time on my hands (thank you, Adderall! Love ya!) I’m resurrecting some old blogs and website. Which means getting re-acquainted with the Google Webmasters Tools which apparently is now called the Search Console.

And so, this week my mind is riddled with terms such as “rich snippets”, “structured data” and their evil source: Schema.org.

Let’s see what I got so far.

About six years ago, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft got together and decided the Internet is too big and it’s getting hard for them to figure it out. So, they are now asking webmasters to insert new code into web pages which should tell their search engines what specific pages, paragraphs or words mean.

They actually came up with an entire vocabulary for that and take pride in their search engines “understanding” concepts such as events, movies, books, stars and libraries. This vocabulary is listed in detail in a website set up for the purpose in Schema.org.

In that website, they give the following example –

<h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format. However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means—”Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.

Poor search engines. They can’t tell what the meaning of the word “avatar” is on our pages. We have to help them out by adding lines of code around the term. In this case –

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Movie">

Oh, cool! Now Google can tell it’s a movie! Hooray! So much easier now.

Dear Google, have you lost your mind?

Wasn’t the whole point to make your search engine smart enough so it can tell whether the word “avatar” is used to describe a movie or a profile picture?

For decades Matt Cutts has been telling us webmasters to focus on the surfer. To keep our content interesting and relevant to human readers and let Google do the rest.  To avoid having any content in code that’s not available to the human surfer and doesn’t show up in the browser. The exception was things like image tags because reading the content of images was too hard at first. I was expecting even that to disappear in the future, now that search engines are learning to interpret images.

I’m getting a de-ja-vous. It’s like I’m back in the year 2000 now and need to start keyword stuffing all over again. Sure, it’s a whole new “markup language” and it’s around elements and not in the header but the concept is not all that different: Add words to your page which your users can’t see and search engines can.

And of course, Schema.org has become an “SEO thing” now. One of those things “SEO experts” can do for you, the owner and author of a quality content website. No longer will you be able to rank based on the quality of your content and not even based on the vote of confidence from others (i.e. genuine quality links).

Don’t get me wrong. I get that rich snippets are used for displaying information on search results. They’re relevant to some items, like events, products etc. and yes, ok, they can give those who search Google a better user experience. My problem is that they’re used to favor some websites over others merely because they look prettier on the SERP’s. Site A could be far better than Site B but it’s not displayed that nicely on the search results, so let’s serve the users with site B.

And we all know what the end result is. An arms race between webmasters to give Google what it wants. I’ve been reading more current posts saying how in 2016, only a fraction of web pages implement these tags yet these are the pages that make up about a third of the actual SERP’s. In other words, a pretty huge advantage.

We need Google traffic, there’s no going around it. Even if that means we need to put a LOT of time into something which has ZERO effect on the user experience on our website. After all, we’ll do whatever Google wants to get our site to rank higher. Pretty much to the point of (and possibly including) sacrificing a black goat at midnight.

So, now that I got this off my chest, I guess it’s time to head over to Schema.org and fire up  Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. Time to add a bunch of pointless code to my pages. I guess it’s still less messy than slaughtering that goat, huh?



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