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<p>Just recently, <strong>Google, Bing, and Yahoo</strong> have teamed up (yes, you read correctly) to bring a new concept of data standardization to websites across the internet. These giants are not very often seen working in collaboration with each other, but they have all agreed that it would be highly beneficial if they all created and supported a common vocabulary for structured data markup on web pages. The idea behind the launching of Schema.org is relatively basic; to help web developers and website owners optimize their sites for SEO, enhance their sites’ organic listings, and improve search results through a shared collection of schemas. These schemas are HTML tags that web masters can add to their existing html and source codes to markup pages, allowing the major search engines to better recognize them. The engines hope that this will add structure and standardization to content around the web, so that consumers can experience much richer search result experiences across a much broader set of publishers.</p>
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Microdata is a type of structured mark up that can be used to provide semantic meaning to content on web pages. The recent alliance provides a common foundation of support for a set of microdata types, some that previously existed and some that have been specifically created as part of this initiative. It’s not difficult to see why Google, Bing and Yahoo would highly prefer this sort of microdata. Spidering the world’s content and making sense of it all is already extremely strenuous. Even with the best technology in the world, finding meaning in humongous amounts of semi-structured and unstructured information is challenging. As of today, Google has used a “rich snippets” method and Yahoo has had the “Search Monkey” project, both of which have served to improve search results display for each, but this formal gathering of the giants will create a system that is valid across all three engines. Google recognizes the fact that markups can be very difficult for web masters to use if all the search engines are asking for it to be done in a different way, and thus they have introduced the cross-engine standards. Schema.org gives this reason for why microdata use can be essential:

“Your web pages have an underlying meaning that people understand when they read the web pages. But search engines have a limited understanding of what is being discussed on those pages. By adding additional tags to the HTML of your web pages—tags that say, Hey search engine, this information describes this specific movie, or place, or person, or video —you can help search engines and other applications better understand your content and display it in a useful, relevant way. Microdata is a set of tags, introduced with HTML5, that allows you to do this.”

The schemas will make it much easier for search engines to index a website’s data and consequently, greatly improve the accuracy, relevancy, and display of search results for internet users. There are currently data schemas for over one hundred categories, including music, movies, places, products and organizations, with the intention of expanding the category list with help from the web community. Actual implementation of this new system may take some time, and requires a significant amount of time investment for web masters for adding code to numerous webpages.

From an SEO perspective, this is something of a radical departure from the previous (and very uneven support) for a variety of structured data formats, including RDFa, microformats, and other related formats. SEOs previously considering the implementation of structured data had a number of hard questions facing them. Which of many competing formats do I use? Which of the search engines will understand the markup, and for how long will they support its use? Is there an obvious benefit for search visibility, or do I risk putting all this time and effort into a data scheme that may be ignored by the search engines? Schema.org essentially removes much of the uncertainly surrounding the employment of structured data for search marketing.

Many have voiced concerns over the giants’ new high-profile announcement. A number of web masters and site owners that have examined the schemas and tags on Schema.org say that they are too large and add unnecessary bulk to existing site source/html codes. Others are taking a more ethically opposed view, claiming that the three major engines have no right to decide what is best for the online community, especially in a way that requires major upheaval of existing systems in favor of a standardized metadata format that few have had experience with before. For instance, although Google and Yahoo have supported the use of Microformats and RDFa in the past, neither format is supported as part of Schema.org, an issue which could cause problems for some web masters. Yet others believe that when the new schemas are implemented, the standardization will allow the search engines to take web data and manipulate it to get their own desired effects, rather than what individual sites want for their company.

As of today, the three search engines accept a wide variety of markup formats and will continue to do so, but by standardizing on Schema.org they are looking to simplify the markup choices for web masters and amplify the value they receive in return. They also are looking forward to a structured set of data across the web that will aid them in archiving, categorizing, and displaying information to the public. Although there is already a strong sense of support and interest in Schema.org and its markup methods, time will tell if this new system of structuring data will catch on with web masters and users alike.