Schema Code: Optimizing for Clicks, Not Rankings

Schema Code: Optimizing for Clicks, Not Rankings

schema code optimize clicks

One of my first jobs in search mar­ket­ing some years ago was man­ag­ing the Eng­lish web­site of a forex com­pany based in Tel Aviv that had sites in var­i­ous lan­guages and tar­get­ing var­i­ous coun­tries. Each week, the CEO wanted us to update and send spread­sheets of key­word rank­ings. This was the only met­ric by which we were judged — even to the point that the CEO had told us that if we could col­lec­tively get our rank­ings to a cer­tain point by the end of the year, we would all get an exotic com­pany vaca­tion to Eilat in south­ern Israel. (Well, exotic for Israelis.)

A few years later after I had left that posi­tion, some recruiters con­tacted me about poten­tial jobs. Each one’s only ques­tion — in that blunt, par­tic­u­lar, Israeli way — was sim­ply, “How much have you increased web­site rank­ings?” As if that was (and is) the best gauge of suc­cess. Both the forex com­pany and the recruiters had missed the point: Rank­ings, in and of them­selves, are meaningless.

If you are an e-commerce web­site, the most impor­tant met­ric is rev­enue result­ing directly from online traf­fic. If you are a B2B com­pany, it might be the num­ber of qual­i­fied leads gained. If you are a B2C firm, it might be sales result­ing from traf­fic that ends up sub­scrib­ing to sales-funnel meth­ods such as e-mail newslet­ters. Every com­pany is dif­fer­ent — and any firm’s met­ric of suc­cess should be that which best matches its busi­ness and mar­ket­ing goals.

The process of online-marketing suc­cess in Google search today is three-fold:

  1. Opti­mize for rankings
  2. Opti­mize for clicks
  3. Opti­mize for conversions

This post will focus on the sec­ond part.

Opti­miz­ing for Rankings

The basic ele­ments of tech­ni­cal SEO (a tar­geted key­word in the meta title, meta descrip­tion, page text, and so on) and the advanced ones (the pres­ence of an XML sitemap, a good site hier­ar­chy, page-load time, and so on) are com­monly known today. When one opti­mizes a web­site tech­ni­cally for search engines, one usu­ally sees a boost in rank­ings a few weeks later. (The rank­ings rise fur­ther the more that the site pub­lishes and spreads qual­ity, orig­i­nal con­tent to gain social-media sig­nals and backlinks.)

How­ever, this results only in what Yoast CEO Joost de Valk calls “search-engine list­ing.” Part of the real SEO job is just starting.

Opti­miz­ing for Clicks

I thought about the story at the begin­ning of this post after read­ing Valk’s recent blog post at SEO­moz on the impor­tance of search mar­ket­ing rather than what he aptly calls search list­ing:

SEOs tend to think their job is done when they’ve got their top 3 / top 5 list­ing, when in fact you’re only half way when you’ve reached that.

A lot of “old-school” SEOs, myself included, speak about PPC with some dis­dain, call­ing it “check­book SEO” and “any­one can do that.” When I do so, I do so in jest, and I know that most of my friends who say stuff like that mean it that way too. But we’re prob­a­bly not help­ing our indus­try when we do that, because the one thing that PPC guys and girls do best, is the one thing that most SEOs suck at the most: opti­miza­tion for clicks.

For more infor­ma­tion on what Valk means, check out his great slideshow presentation:

The nut­shell: Just get­ting your site in Google is “search list­ing.” Once your web­site is there, you need to do “search mar­ket­ing” — get­ting the tar­get audi­ence to click on your result in Google. One impor­tant method is to test titles and descrip­tions — just as in paid-search cam­paigns — to see what text gar­ners the great­est amounts of traf­fic (rel­a­tive to the rank­ings). A sec­ond way is to use schema code to tell Google addi­tional, spe­cific infor­ma­tion about your prod­uct, ser­vice, or arti­cle that can be included in the SERPs them­selves. Bar­bara Starr shows us just a few details that can be shown:

schema code optimize clicks

Writ­ers, like Dan Petro­vic, Rand Fishkin, and myself, can also use Google+ and author mark-up in the SERPs:

schema code optimize clicks

As Aaron Bradley puts it in an e-commerce context:

Put another way, this means that web­mas­ters can now pro­vide Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yan­dex with much more gran­u­lar infor­ma­tion about prod­ucts and offers on e-commerce sites in a man­ner that is offi­cially sanc­tioned by these search engines. In terms of e-commerce SEO, this is poten­tially a pretty big deal:  it is a means of pro­vid­ing very exact e-commerce infor­ma­tion to the search engines in exactly the form they want it.

Paul Bruem­mer notes that retail com­pa­nies, for exam­ple, can get thirty per­cent more clicks to their web­sites from the SERPs with struc­tured mark-up because peo­ples’ eyes are drawn more to images, graph­ics, and other items than to straight, bor­ing text. For more infor­ma­tion on using schema code, I rec­om­mend look­ing at the organization’s web­site.

All of these tech­ni­cal devel­op­ments are point­ing towards some­thing far greater in the future. As Starr also notes:

Accord­ing to announce­ments on Google’s Inside Search blog, this is only the begin­ning of build­ing an “arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence” engine, or its ‘Star Trek’ computer.”

Of note was the com­ment posted at the end of Google’s blog announc­ing the Knowl­edge Graph by Amit Singhal:

“We’re proud of our first baby step—the Knowl­edge Graph—which will enable us to make search more intel­li­gent, mov­ing us closer to the “Star Trek com­puter” that I’ve always dreamt of building.”

Here is the big pic­ture of search today and tomor­row (again, from Starr):

schema code optimize clicks

In the end, Google’s goal is to pro­vide answers, not web­sites. In the above search for Cold­play, Google has com­piled struc­tured mark-up from the sources the search engine views as author­i­ta­tive to pro­vide answers all in one place for all of the major queries about the band: songs, albums, his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion, and so on. If you want to know in what year “Fix You” was released, you now only need Google — you do not even need to click to another web­site. This is how Google will pre­serve and increase its brand as the best search engine online.

The take­away for SEOs: For more and more types of queries, Google will show infor­ma­tion in SERPs from only the most-authoritative web­sites. The chal­lenge is to make your web­site one of those trusted sources of infor­ma­tion. And that comes from tech­ni­cal opti­miza­tion, con­tent cre­ation, brand build­ing, and link earn­ing — and, now, struc­tured mark-up. Once your web­site is tech­ni­cally opti­mized and then pre­sented in the SERPs in the best, mar­ketable way, then you can move to the next step: Opti­miz­ing your website’s inbound-conversion funnels.

Thanks for read­ing! Don’t for­get to sub­scribe to my rss feed and fol­low me on Twit­ter, LinkedIn, Face­book, and Google+. See my SEO & Inter­net mar­ket­ing keynote speak­ing page and con­tact me to visit your con­fer­ence or company!


  • Ran­jan Jena

    Thanks for the info Scott. I’ve been fol­low­ing most of your blog arti­cles and to say, I’ve been learn­ing a lot.