Four Essential Tools for Getting Started with Schema.org Markup

Image of dice with letters spelling out 'Semantic Web'

We’ve all heard it before: The future of search is semantic, and the job of those of us in inbound marketing is to help Google (as Amhit Singhal famously put it in 2012) “understand things, not strings.” In the past, Google built its index by looking at the word frequency of various elements on a page. Different elements (such as H1 text or anchor text in a URL) were of greater significance than others (such as words in body content). Over the years, this approach led to many attempts to manipulate results by stuffing the various strings with the terms marketers wanted to rank for. Great debates ensued over keyword placement, frequency, and how successful various tactics were. The abuse went further, of course: paid listings in indexes of dubious quality, buying links via press releases, and other shady approaches intended to blatantly manipulate Google’s famous page rank algorithm.

Such things are inevitable so long as your search engine only understands strings. But Google is moving away from this.

The search giant now wants to understand “things.” In so doing, they are endeavoring to understand what your content is actually about. This understanding is called a semantic understanding. And this semantic understanding is the term, “things” in “things, not strings.”

As a writer, understanding the transition that Google is making has been paramount to my work. To the point that I no longer write for the Web without looking for places where the content logically maps to a relevant Schema.org schema (and implementing the appropriate markup where it makes sense).

In making this transition, I’ve found the following four tools to be helpful.

Google Structured Data Markup Helper

Screen capture of Google's Structured Data Markup Helper
If you’re new to Schema.org markup, this is an indispensable tool that’s easy to use. Just point the tool to a Web page (or paste the page’s HTML into it), then use the point-and-click interface to identify the various elements of the page that you want to apply Schema.org properties to. When done, have the Markup Helper generate the HTML for you and review the results. The Schema.org properties for the items you selected are added to the HTML.

At this point, most people are tempted to copy and paste this HTML into their Web page.

Don’t do this.

By all means scrutinize the HTML to see how the schema elements are implemented and recreate them manually on your pages. If you aren’t sure of what you are doing and you copy and paste indiscriminately, you may get unexpected results.

As helpful as the Google Structured Data Markup Helper is, it is worth remembering that it only supports a few schemas and a subset of the available properties for each.

Don’t panic.

The utility of this tool is that it will help you learn to add your own schema markup…for any schema…to your Web pages by teaching you with a few core types. Once you start exploring, you’ll see that the same approaches apply for all schema types.

Try the Google Structured Data Markup Helper

Raven Schema Creator

Screen shot of Raven's Schema Creator tool

This tool is another fantastic resource to the beginner. While it is similar to the Google Schema Markup helper above, it takes a slightly different approach to illustrating schema markup.

With this tool, you watch the HTML get assembled as you add data to the appropriate fields for the selected schema type. I found this “live view” to be extremely helpful at the start, but its utility waned as I gained fluency in the strange new markup.

Try Raven’s Schema Creator

Google Structured Data Testing Tool

Screen capture of Google's structured data testing tool
If you’ve been following some of my recent posts, you’ll remember this tool from the Google Authorship FAQ and the Guide to Google Publisher. This phenomenal resource is back again, and this time it’s going to help you with your schema markup. While the tools I mentioned previously help you figure out how to add schema markup to your pages, this tool analyzes your pages and tells you what schema elements it actually sees in your markup. This is extremely helpful for verifying your markup and catching problems with your implementation.

Try the Google Structured Data Testing Tool

VitalSite Healthcare CMS

Screen capture of VitalSite CMS editor with Schema.org markup
VitalSite started supporting Schema.org in version 6.7. At that point, we implemented automated support for tagging individuals in the Provider Directory with person schema elements.

That was just the beginning.

With the recent release of VitalSite 6.7.5, we’ve extended Schema.org support by allowing content writers familiar with schema markup (or interested in learning it) to add schema properties to all valid HTML tags. This means that you can wrap any CMS page in the schema elements of your choosing.

Learn more about VitalSite Healthcare CMS

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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Content, Marketing, VitalSite by Michael O'Neill. Bookmark the permalink.
Michael O'Neill

About Michael O'Neill

It’s not often you find a communications professional who is an expert writer, understands the power of social media and has the technical capabilities to embed on and contribute to software development teams. But that’s exactly the background Michael brought with him to Geonetric as the technical communications strategist. From writing eBooks to managing Geonetric’s digital presence, Michael uses his software know how and his marketing savvy to help tell Geonetric’s story through a variety of platforms. This former adjunct professor holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Worcester State College in Massachusetts and completed graduate level coursework at the University of Connecticut. In addition, Michael is also a Certified ScrumMaster, a contributing writer at iBusiness Magazine and a member of the Board of Directors at Gems of Hope. This new dad is known for his high coffee standards and has quite the following around the office when he brings in his favorite craft-roasted beans.

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