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What’s next for schema – 4 predictions for how structured data will change in the next year

June 23, 2020

What’s next for schema – 4 predictions for how structured data will change in the next year

Structured Data has long been supported by Google (and other Search Engines), and has been an easy win for some sites to implement markup that matches their industry. Structured Data is an ever-evolving facet of SEO, with many nuances.

But where, exactly, is Structured Data going? Will it die an early death in the world of machine learning, computer written content and data science? Or will it always be a required feature of websites? In this article we’ll explore these questions in more depth. But let’s start with how Schema has changed over time.

How has Schema evolved?

Up until 2011 there were a large number of different standards of Schema, with webmasters implementing some of them, all of them, or none at all for fear of getting it wrong. There were different vocabularies, different standards, and it was all a little bit confusing. This is where Schema.org stepped in.

Yahoo, Bing, Yandex and Google teamed up in an awesome collaboration effort to create a “standard of choice” that was supposed to be supported across all search engines.

Since its inception, Schema.org has grown massively, from an at launch total of 297 Types With 187 Properties, to a pretty impressive 615 Types with 901 Properties.

The Schema.org initiative is constantly growing and more types and properties are being incorporated all the time. There is a whole pending section for the schema.org site that explains:

“that is a staging area for work-in-progress terms which have yet to be accepted into the core vocabulary. Pending terms are subject to change and should be used with caution.”

Some of the currently supported types include:

  • LocalBusiness
  • Restaurant
  • Event
  • Review
  • Product

And then properties that are associated with those types:

  • openingHours
  • servesCuisine
  • remainingAttendeeCapacity
  • itemReviewed
  • releaseData

Not all types have their own unique properties, and can ‘borrow’ some of the properties from other types.

These types & properties can be implemented through 3 different methods:

  • Microdata
  • RDFa
  • JSON-LD

These 3 methods are further detailed on the Schema.org website. On each type’s page, there are a number of implementation examples that show each method:

Google have specifically said that they prefer the implementation of Schema to be in the JSON-LD format. It’s easier to implement, as it is not interwoven with the content of your HTML, as the other two implementation methods are.

There are other vocabularies still being supported outside of Schema.org, but these are becoming less and less frequent. Google were due to remove support for the data-vocabulary format of structured data, but have provided an update on the situation:

“We have decided to postpone this change for the immediate future due to the Coronavirus situation. We will re-evaluate this matter in June 2020.”

Webmasters should use this additional time that has been granted to remove any data-vocabulary structured data that they might have in place, and update it to the recommended JSON-LD Schema.org implementation.

The large number of available structured data types available through the schema.org vocabulary poses a new question, should you really implement any & all that might apply to the data that you are providing users, and ultimately, Google?

Google only officially supports a defined number of Schema types, that allow for modification/improvement of results within SERPs. Perhaps the most common, or obvious type is Review/Rating type schema, as shown in the below example:

(And yes, if anyone is wondering what I’d like for Christmas, this would be it!)

Google has also said, on numerous occasions, that the more comprehensive a site’s Schema is, the more likely it is to appear within Search. Google say

“In general, defining more recommended features can make it more likely that your information can appear in Search results with enhanced display. However, it is more important to supply fewer but complete and accurate recommended properties rather than trying to provide every possible recommended property with less complete, badly-formed, or inaccurate data.”

So now we’ve covered the history, let’s talk about the future.

Where is Schema going?

Prediction 1 – Google to only support JSON-LD schema.org markup

As mentioned above, back in January 2020, Google announced that they would be sunsetting support for the old and outdated data-vocabulary structured data in May 2020. This deprecation has been postponed due to the Coronavirus situation, and will be reviewed in June 2020.

The key takeaway from this announcement is that Google is retiring old and boring schema vocabularies. Schema.org is currently the only structured data type that Google officially supports for rich results. Will Google then take this a step further?

Google have openly said that they prefer JSON-LD schema implementation, and in fact tell you at every opportunity within documentation. You can currently implement schema using RDFa and microdata implementations, but these are not viewed as effective or as desirable as JSON-LD by Google.

Google may then leave us with only a single potential method of implementation of structured data, that will be officially supported.

We might just be reading the obituary of microdata and RDFa schema implementation methods very soon.

Prediction 2 – Google will increase support within Google Search Console

We’ve already seen improved support for a number of schema types within Google Search Console, with the most recent being ‘SpecialAnnouncement’.

These types of reports are really useful, with Google highlighting any warnings & errors that have been seen on your pages with the relevant schema implementation. This is a much better method of detecting incorrect schema implementation on a bulk of pages than we’ve previously had.

SEO’s have had to use Screaming Frog’s crawler, with their own-made structured data validator, but this has only been available fairly recently. Google do of course have their Structured Data Testing Tool, but with no API, it was pretty arduous to test a bulk of pages for issues that Google would see. At least with these reports within Google Search Console, we can see any issues on supported schema types en-masse.

Google Search Console currently offers 15 of these different schema reports (full list here).

Google is likely to start adding more of these reports, as they definitely want webmasters to get schema implementation correct. After all, correct schema implementation shares data with Google’s ever growing knowledge graph. Looking through the Search Gallery that Google offers and comparing it against those schema types that Google offers reports for, we can make educated guesses as to what new reports will be added to Google Search Console. These should include:

  • Article
  • Book
  • Course
  • Movie
  • Podcast

There are of course other schema types supported by Google, such as Local Business, but data associated with this type will be tricky to best represent in a meaningful way within Google Search Console.

Prediction 3 – A crackdown on improper schema usage

If you implement schema markup improperly, that is, if you go directly against Google’s recommendations, you might get a slap on the wrist in the form of a Structured Data Manual Penalty and that schema not shown in SERPs until you fix the issues. You’ve then got to submit a reconsideration request, detailing what you’ve done to fix the problem

However, it might take a few weeks or even months of incorrect & potentially spammy usage to get hit with this manual action from Google. I’ve seen cases of incorrect and almost spammy review schema implementation in place for well over a year before it was caught by Google’s manual reviewers.

Once you’ve submitted your reconsideration request and your pages are back to displaying that schema within Search, what’s to stop you (other than morals & threat of another manual action) from immediately reverting back to the spammy markup?

I think Google is likely to start cracking down more on improper and spammy schema implementations, and start issuing this penalty through automated methods, rather than the current manual process. This might even be through a named update – though Google don’t really like the SEO community doing that

Or will Google go one step further, and implement a more harsh penalty for pages that are utilising spammy or incorrect structured data? Potentially one where pages don’t show up in Search at all, rather than with no structured data? Google will have to update documentation to be more specific before this happens, to prevent any ambiguity.

Prediction 4 – Schema.org is going to become much, much bigger

Recently, schema.org released a new version of their structured data vocabulary. This was picked up by the SEO community, and a fair few articles were published discussing the update.

No new schema types were added to the core, main vocabulary, with changes focused on the pending.schema.org vocabulary. This is more of an experimental vocabulary, where new types & properties can be tested out before being launched as part of the main offering.

Some areas of note that were changed to pending include:

  • “Add a nonprofitStatus property to indicate non-profit organizations”
  • “Add vocabulary to help online vendors publish information about their shipping-related policies, associated with an Offer using the shippingDetails property. Adds OfferShippingDetails and supporting properties (including deliveryTime, doesNotShip, shippingDestination, shippingLabel, shippingRate, shippingSettingsLink, transitTimeLabel)”
  • “Simplifies education-related markup for describing what a learning resource teaches or assesses, and its educationalLevel. Allows these properties to be used for EducationEvents.”

-Source

As this update to version 8 did not contain any core offering improvements, it’ll be interesting to see what the next major update holds. We will likely see a number of types migrated from pending to the core offering (as well as more additions to the pending). Once that happens, it’ll be up to Search Engines to start offering support for those types that make sense and could provide additional value to a user’s search.

Summary

We’ve looked into the evolution of schema.org, from its humble beginnings in 2011, to more recent and prevalent updates that have the potential to affect the entire web.

I’ve provided some predictions into what I think will happen with schema in the next 12 months – it’ll be interesting to see what everyone else thinks – and to see what actually happens!

Tom is Blue Array's resident technical SEO geek. When not educating people about the differences between a 404 and 410, you'll likely find him gaming until the early hours, or tearing up Berkshire's mountain bike trails.

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