The big difference between a normal (organic) search on the internet and a local search is that organic searches are largely on unstructured data. Local searches, on the other hand, are on structured data contained in databases such as directories and maps.
What is Structured Data?
Structured Data is information that is understood by search engines because of its structure rather than its content. Using Structured Data on a website will, therefore, help search engines that, in turn, will help a business.
Schema.org was set up by the leading search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!) in 2011 to develop a language that can be understood by search engines. It has revolutionised the way search engines understand and display websites in results pages. Schema is a markup code, invisible to the eye, that can be placed on any website to allow search engines to give more information to the user. This information can include things like Online Reviews, prices, site links, business hours, and even entire menus right within the search results.
This additional information is often referred to as Rich Snippets which look attractive in the search results and provide an advantage when used. Google provides tools to help check for structured data and it is interesting that their “Structured Data Testing Tool” is being replaced with the “Rich ResultsTest”. Use these tools now to test your own website.
Schema is particularly useful when there is ambiguity. The word 'light', for example, can mean “not very heavy” or “not very dark”. Schema can be used to define the meaning of anything such that it is immediately understood by search engines. That enables search results to be displayed when they match the meaning and suppressed when they don’t.
Not only does Schema help the search engine robots, which can, in turn, increase a website’s page ranking, it also helps users and thereby can increase the click-through rate (CTR). As Schema gives the users so much more information, they tend to click more on websites that have included Schema because they can see more about it. This is likely to increase a site’s CTR, which will also increase a website’s page ranking.
Structured Data provided by Schema.org
To include Schema markup code on a website, visit Schema.org and click on ‘get started!’. The important thing to realise about Structured Data is that it is not a substitute for good website design or content. It complements good design and good content.
There is a particular library available within Schema.org specifically for local businesses. However, there is little benefit in using this library to describe a business if it is not already being described that way on the site. For instance, the library may contain some keywords or categories, which closely match a business. Selecting them will not help if they are not already being used on the website.
This is another relatively specialist area with a steep learning curve and which, therefore, is often best left to the specialists. However, it is increasingly important and therefore it should be in a plan for implementation.
Many web developers do not use Schema and it is a service that we can offer to them on behalf of our clients. If your site is not using structured data, consider having a word with your web developer.