Our Guest Presenter: Martha Van Berkel
On September 1, 2021, Utah DMC's live online event featured Martha Van Berkel, co-founder and CEO of Schema App.
This was Martha's first time presenting for the Utah Digital Marketing Collective, and we were thrilled to have her here to present: Why Structured Data Should Be Part of Your SEO and Content
Doc and AJ had a blast on this live broadcast with Martha, and now we are thrilled to share the opportunity for you to learn from her insights via this recap and event replay. (Note: This post is a high-level recap. At the end of this post you can watch the entire replay of the event with audience Q&A, as well as download her full presentation deck from the BrightTalk interface.)
Let's Get Started...
☝️ But First... About That Photo ☝️
Every episode, we try to get some funny pose for the blog post recap. Poor AJ. His camera froze up. So that's how he looked for the last 10 minutes or so... pondering into the BrightTalk abyss. (Luckily, we could still hear him). By the time Martha and Doc got around to taking the photo, AJ was gone. Poof. We lost all visual trace of him. So, instead of not having AJ be a part of this photo, we pasted him back in, with his everlasting stoic look gazing into our eyes. That, or Martha and Doc are just trying to scare AJ in an effort to wake him from that spell he was under. 😄
Thanks for reading about the photo that made us laugh. Now, back to the show notes!
More About Martha Van Berkel
Martha is an alumna of MIT and Queen’s College, with degrees in Applied Mathematics and Engineering. She spent 14 years as a Senior Manager at Cisco Systems, working with global online support and strategy and innovation, before co-founding Schema App and turning her attention to structured data full time. Also, she has two adorable daughters, and Arches National Park is on her bucket list to visit!
Martha jumped right into her talk with a poll.
Live Attendee Poll: What is your familiarity with Structured Data?
Take a look at these answers. 53% "Know the term, but don't know the specifics", 26% "Have started digging in, 21% "Have never heard of it" and 0% "Know it well and dream of JSON-LD".
It's always fun to start the show with a poll to get a pulse as to how much our live audience knows about a particular subject, prior to getting started, and Martha did a great job tailoring parts of her presentation accordingly. For those who have never heard of Structured Data, prepare for a fantastic presentation!
Where are you on this poll? Let us know in the comments below!
The Structured Data Knowledge Graph
Martha began her presentation by restating Doc’s introduction of her as structured data, with a knowledge graph, to simply explain the concept of structured data.
Martha went on to explain that she used to own a 1965 Austin Healey Sprite, which starred in the movie Losing Chase, directed by Kevin Bacon. She says... “So Kevin Bacon used to drive my car,” which means, “you have just figured out that you can win the Kevin Bacon game.”
The connections she made with Kevin Bacon are the same kinds of connections Google makes when you have structured data on your website, and that helps Google learn how to connect you with your prospects and customers, and apparently, Kevin Bacon. 😀
What Is Structured Data?
Martha loves to focus on the "stand out" part of this definition, as it's easy to explain. She mentions being able to tell her mom what she does for work. She will say... "You know those beautiful results you see on Google with all that extra information, that's powered by the code, the structured data that we put on websites."
Hmmm, okay mom. You got that? Haha, we kid, we kid. But, it is a pretty simple explanation, especially with a visual or simple demonstration on your mobile device while doing a Google search.
Martha went on to explain that there are 32+ ways to take control of your brand using structured data.There are lots of ways to take control, and she will refer to the following slide and online resource a couple of times throughout this presentation.
The long list on the left side of the above image, from the developers resource pages on Google, is where she wants you to go to study. She agrees that it may look long and boring, but she discusses how you can make studying this actionable. Because, of the 32 different ways, there are things like:
Video: How can they stand out?How-to's: This is super fun too.
Originally how-to's launched on mobile, and now on desktop results as well.
FAQ's: These have been evolving.
Originally FAQ results launched as three results, now are mostly showing up as two.
Products: Are another great way you can stand out.
And products are one of those areas she will dive deeper into how it's evolving in during the show. So, be sure to go watch it on demand!
Plus many, many more. Be sure to go check out that Google developer resource linked above for all 34+ ways to use schema markup.
Structured Data is Code that Google Understands
In the slides above, you saw the visual ways they are presented on search results, but in the end it's actually code, as you will see in the following image.
Highlighted on the left in the above slide, that is the code, the JSON-LD (not to be confused with Jason Aldean, the country music superstar). This is the code that needs to be on the website for the robots from Google to really understand your site.
The Vocabulary of Structured Data
When it comes to the vocabulary, Martha really likes to say "we are translating your website content into the language of search engines". This helps us to understand that there is a vocabulary just like Spanish, French or other languages. Schema is really the language you are going to use for Google to understand the content on your site better.
Fun Factoid: Schema.org was founded in 2011 by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex. Schema is a markup language, so, as mentioned, it has a vocabulary, and that vocabulary is growing. Between 2012-2019 there were 16 updates to the vocabulary, but there were 12 in 2020 alone. A lot of the updates were around e-commerce and online shopping, and some were made to get COVID information out to people. Let's all wish Schema.org a Happy 10th Birthday, shall we?
Architect Content for Rich Results
First you need to start with your business strategy and goals!
Questions to Ask in Developing Your Markup Strategy
Your schema markup tells a story to Google about your product and how things are connected. You want Google to understand what you do, right? So ask yourself these questions as you develop your markup strategy.
- What key content and or pages on your site are really important to your customer journey?
- What do you sell?
- What content is important to be found to achieve your company’s business goals or initiatives?
- What’s important to you?
- Where does it live on your website?
This last question is crucial. Suppose you have a great product, and someone says, “Where can I read about it on your website?” Well, we need to properly let Google know that “We have information about it on these 12 pages.”
How will Google know which of the 12 pages to take searchers to? You could also organize the information onto one page. Some in the industry may refer to this as a content pillar page.
Another way to show Google how your content is organized is to create a FAQ page on your site. Think about the following:
- What do people ask you for? Answer the question!
- What do they ask when they call or come in to your place of business? Answer the question!
- What kind of comments do you get? Create a question and answer around that comment!
What is Required To Achieve GREAT FAQ Results?
- Have 3 or more Questions + Answers
- Make sure each Question includes the entire text of the question, and make sure each Answer includes the entire text of the answer.
- All FAQ content must be visible to the user on the source page.
- Here is a Google resource
Live Attendee Poll: Do You Have A Structured Data Strategy?
Martha wanted to check in with the live audience real fast, after going over a lot of information. When it came to the question of "Do you have a structured data strategy", the answers were interesting, to say the least.
33% were a clear "Nope", while "I've thought about it", "Working on it" and "Yes, executing on it now" all tied for 2nd place with 22% each.
What would be your answer to this poll question? Let us know in the comments.
Now, let's take that sip of coffee, and prepare to go one step deeper!
Create Connected Semantic Markup
Here is the secret sauce. If you recall, Martha shared the knowledge graph of herself at the beginning of her presentation. Your actual schema markup tells a story to Google about your business. This is very important, as Google wants to give really specific answers to the searchers intent, and the schema markup allows you to connect the dots, and make sure that YOU are really managing your story!
Other Questions to Ask Yourself
What Information do you want to display in your search results?
- Star Ratings?
- Contact information?
Mark it up using strong connectors. Schema Paths is a free tool from Schema App that will help you make the connections to just about anything.
And here is an example of strong connector results you may see using the Schema Paths tool.
Be sure to ask yourself as you review these all of these results, "does this make sense"? If so, make the connection. Note: It will take some practice, but you will get the hang of it!
Specificity + Entities is the Key
Be specific about the information you present your customers and markup for them:
- Not women’s clothes, but blue tee-shirts
- Not just X is a family physician, but a family physician who graduated from the University of Utah
Use Wikidata definitions to define concepts & entities
And be specific about your links. Back to the original slide of Martha's own knowledge graph, if Martha is an alumna of MIT, where’s the Wikipedia or Wikidata link for that? And more importantly, Can I get Uber-delivered muffins in Arches National Park? That’s specificity, and can be connected to a Services page.
Final Live Attendee Poll
Towards the end of the live presentation, Martha launched one last poll and asked the audience the following question:
What is your next step with Structured Data?
It would seem that Martha's presentation hit a nerve and got our attendees very interested in Structured Data. The poll results were: A tie at 43% between "I'm going to learn more" and "Evaluate top content for rich result opportunities", while "Build a strategy" came in at 14%, while "Make my markup more connected" had zero votes.
Was the LIVE audience right? Do you agree with these poll results? How would you answer? Let us know in the comments! We'd love to hear from you!
This was an absolutely fantastic presentation! Martha gave a lot of useful information with examples of what to mark up. As for how to mark them up, there’s a free Schema App plugin for WordPress and a Free Schema.org Advanced Bootcamp too.
As a reminder, the actual live presentation went over a lot more information than we are sharing on this recap. We highly suggest jumping in to the on-demand replay below to see her full presentation, and download Martha's full deck and resources. Trust us when we tell you, it's well worth your time!
Q&A + Replay
At the end of the presentation, there was a great Q&A session where Martha answered viewer-submitted questions, including the first one, from AJ:
- When schema started to be a thing, I spent a whole Saturday trying to mark up things, and it was confusing because I didn’t know what to mark up. Would Google pay attention to it? What would I do for a 50-page site?
- How do you move people from rich results to click?
- How much coding does it take? Do I need to hire a programmer?
- What can you expect as a result?
What are you most excited about with regards to structured data?What can you expect as a result/increases in performance after using structured data?
- If you are just getting started, where should I look to learn more?
- Where should people go to learn more?
And the last question, from Doc:
- Do you dream in structured data?
Find out the answers to the above questions towards the end of our on demand presentation below.
What Attendees Had To Say About Martha's Presentation
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Very informative. The wheels are turning. I will definitely be developing a strategy in the near future.
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S0 much information about structured data. Glad I was able to attend and learn more from Martha!
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Thanks so much! Learned so much!! Appreciate the sharing!
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My brain is blown. I assume others are as well.
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