The Bogus Call to Arms Against Schema.org
Update (3 hours after initial post)
Manu Sporny, W3C’s Chair of the RDFa group, read this article and provides a great response in the comment thread, to which I responded. So be sure to read the comments after reading the article.
In an ideal world of “everything is free”, crowd-sourcing, and W3C standards, all major decisions that affect the masses should only be decided by consensus of the masses. That’s a concept that, in regard to the evolution of the web, needs to be seen for what it is. Fantasy. It’s not reality by any stretch of the imagination.
Schema.org was long overdue, because there were too many competing choices and the search engines desperately need help in the process of identifying quality content. And by collaborating on the Schema model, the big three unilaterally set the stage for a major step toward that cleansing, in a way that traditional “open” standards could never do.
This is one of my harshest articles in a while. Some of you may get really upset at Alan going so dark on you. Well, let’s just say that this is an article I believe would not have as much of an impact if I sugar coated it. It’s an opportunity for some of you to pause and open your eyes. And if you do, I also believe you’re going to thank me for it afterward.
Giddy With Laughter
When Schema was first going viral on Twitter, I jumped over there to see what the big 3 came up with. And within a few minutes, it was crystal clear to me that we’re seeing a paradigm shift in the search industry unfold before our eyes. As imperfect as this first iteration is, it solves so many problems that I was giddy with laughter.
I immediately sent a directive to my agency client’s dev teams – Schema.org – read it, learn it, implement it. No arguments. No delay.
I then tweeted the urgency and the opportunity before the search community that night, during #SEOChat. And then wrote an article for Search Engine Journal entitled “Anticipating SEO in 2012 – Competitive Advantage“.
In that article, which went live while I was up at SMX Advanced, I communicated how I saw a situation where people who get with the Schema program are going to have a competitive advantage. Because, in my opinion (at the time it was JUST an opinion – today I KNOW it will be), Schema is going to be a ranking factor for organic search.
Searcher Intent, By Itself, Is Half A Pie
Up at SMX Advanced this past week, I was on the Google Survivor Tips Panel. And as part of my prep for that panel, I’d read Eric Enge’s interview of Stefan Weitz, Director of search at Microsoft. In that article, Stefan described how they’re moving from reading words on pages as if they’re nouns, to a time in the not-distant future where they’re going to start reading them and interpreting them as though they’re verbs.
What that’s about is the need to better understand the intent of the site owner in what they’re communicating their product or service offerings are about. Which, if successful, will allow the engines to better match that data with searcher intent.
And from that interview, it was clear to me already that people are going to have to do a better job at being crystal clear on the intent of their site’s message. Which I already knew. Because most of the sites I audit turn out to do a TERRIBLE job of communicating their highly refined intent.
Because it’s usually not very refined at all. And with a plethora of coding methods out there, and no agreement on standardized solutions, sites struggle to communicate this.
Along Comes Schema.org – The Other Half Of The Intent Pie
During that initial review I did of Schema, Stefan’s words came back to me in the blink of an eye – here, in this newly launched system, was a very powerful way for sites to better communicate their intent! All the way down to the granular level, if you execute properly. And not just in headers and off-page stuff. We’re talking the beef of any web site – the core content.
Confirmation – It’s Going To Be A Ranking Factor
On the last day of SMX, the morning keynote (just before my session), featured Stefan Weitz. He talked about Schema.org, and how it’s going to help the search engines understand intent so much more. And when it came time for taking questions from the audience, I asked if my seeing the connection between his interview and Schema had been accurate, he said yes – absolutely.
And when asked if Schema was a ranking factor, he said not initially. But it will.
After the keynote, I went up and spoke to Stefan briefly – and we shared a laugh about how obvious it should be that it’s going to be a factor and that some people just don’t get it. Which was a bonus for me, because, as you can see from the image above, it was the very last slide in my presentation deck. And having that slide perfectly matched by the morning keynote speaker just rocked my world
Angry Birds Flapping Their Wings Frantically – Fighting The Prevailing Winds
While some people got it, as I did, right away – like Aaron Bradley over at SEO Skeptic, many in our community just found another reason to rant. With the general tone this time being “wait and see” or “we already have microformats, RDFa, etc. – why do we need search engines dictating to us?” – and that’s the kicker. It’s a typical reaction to change that’s so significant, so massive, that it’s unsettling.
And of course, since it’s something that the big 3 came out with, it’s another reason to hate on the big 3. Evildoers, that they are. “What about the little guy, who’s going to be at an even bigger disadvantage?” “Oh why can’t we just do what we want?” “Why should I have to change?” “The only reason they’re doing it is to scrape our content”…
Birds of a Feather…
And as soon as this whole thing started really spreading, developers far and wide started screaming. Not all – some saw the blessing that this really is. Yet many cried foul. Insulted. Put off. Angry that they’re not going to be allowed to continue doing whatever the heck they please anymore.
Myopic Thinking Rears Its Ugly Head
In my presentation at SMX Advanced, I spent the majority of my time (a very generous 18 minutes, thank you very much Danny Sullivan!), I showed comparisons of two types of SEO.
And I wasn’t referring to “the hat that shall remain nameless”.
I was talking about Myopic SEO and Sustainable SEO.
To me, Myopic SEO is stuck in the mud. It’s limited in its vision. It’s a major hindrance to sites gaining maximum recognition for their content. Which means it falls way short when seen through the eyes of the search algorithms.
You remember those. The processes by which search engines determine whether your content is the most relevant for a specific search.
Well, anyhow- some people are all up in arms, railing against Schema.org, wanting to “take back our web“. Yes, that’s right. Manu Sporny, the Chair of the W3C group that created RDFa, wants to FIGHT BACK. Read his article. Then come back. But first, be sure to put down your coffee before reading his article, else you spit coffee all over the place laughing.
Manu Sporny, I Feel Your Pain.
Look, I really understand why someone who spent years of his life championing one of several alternative markup solutions would be so upset.
RDFa was first proposed in 2004. It took three years just to get to the first public working draft.
Another year to reach recommendation status.
That’s four years just to reach recommendation status!
As the Chair of the group, Manu probably has had more sleepless nights than many people experience in a lifetime. What with all the bickering, and hemming and hawing, that’s inherent to the 20th Century methods required by W3C protocol, and of course, due to the fact that many people who participate in “open” standards have a hidden agenda, which gums up the process.
Then there’s archetypal reality in play – get ten code monkeys in a room, and you’ll get 14 “solutions” for a single problem. Throw a few Project Managers into the mix, a couple UX people, and some corporate spies forced to participate at the directive of their suit-and-tie employer, on the premise that “we have to have a say in this”… Yeah – it becomes a long, slow, and completely bogged down process.
Except there’s a problem with RDFa.
it’s just one of a variety of methodologies to come along over the years from the web community at large. And that is the bigger problem. Competing solutions, none of which reached, to this point, the status of “the only solution from a best practices perspective”.
“It’s Not My Problem” Syndrome
Over the years, as search has become exponentially more complex, from time to time, I’d hear someone say “it’s not my job – that’s Google’s responsibility.” As if Google has the magical power to figure everything out, without our help. Which is complete bullshit. For all the times we’ve heard “let google figure it out” (Even by Matt Cutts over and over), we all know search quality sucks for many topics. And it IS partially our responsibility.
Don’t believe me?
Why do you think Google invented the Canonical tag? Or Sitemaps.org? Why do you think they started encouraging the use of Breadcrumbs as a signal? Or Microformats/microdata/RDFa in general?
Because they need our help. #DUH
In my presentation up in Seattle, I mentioned that Sustainable SEO is vital. It’s forward thinking.
Sustainable SEO anticipates, evolves.
And those of us who take the time to think like business owners, will have no problem understanding the importance of Schema.org or that it’s already here to stay. It’s not one of those “wait and see” situations at all.
Welcome To The Business World
SO okay – they need our help. Sue them.
While you’re suing them, I’ll be helping my clients push your site results even further down in the SERPs. Because I understand that Schema.org is an answer to the search industry’s prayers. And it’s an answer to site owners prayers. Yeah – the people who pay all you developers and SEOs your salary, your hourly wage, your consulting fee.
That’s Right – Schema.org is a brilliant Godsend for business owners. People without whom, you wouldn’t have a thriving and ubiquitous web, that now permeates every cell of your being 24x7x365.
It’s a Godsend because what amounts to a cumulative millions of hours of wasted search effort on the part of searchers is that much closer to being repurposed. It’s a Godsend because more site owners are going to be able to rise to the top of search results. Which will mean they’ll make more money. And that money will partly go to pay their employees. Who have families to feed.
It’s a Godsend to millions of Project Managers around the word, who won’t have to deal with bickering code monkeys when it comes to “which method do we choose”.
It’s a Godsend to me, because I’m going to work on a way to help developers automate as much of the implementation of filling in the data into Schema elements. And that’s going to help me in the overall SEO consulting process because programmers who get it will love me for that.
And for ALL of these reasons, within the business realm, the big 3 took action that was long overdue. And would still be years out if not for their unilateral decision.
But Open Standards Are Just Around The Corner
Yeah – that’s right Just recently, the W3C finally moved one step closer to reaching another standard. Which, however, would not have stopped countless engineers from doing things their way anyhow. Either by NOT implementing any micro-method at all, or by going with something other than the W3C standard.
How do I know this? Look at the web today. It’s a mess. HTML 4 – yeah that competed against XHTML. And still does. Even as HTML 5 is rolling down the tracks. And code validation in any of them still sucks for the vast majority of sites on the web.
So if, after sixteen years in this business, I have YET to see a single “standard” that’s come from the web dev community be handled properly, let alone reached critical mass as the single, consistent method of d0ing things, how the heck do you think you’re going to convince me that you can get it right this time?
Be Patient, You Say
Ha! Be patient. While the world moves forward, driven by the needs of the business world, you go ahead. Keep that pipe dream alive. In the mean time, the closer the big 3 can get to improving search quality, the sooner I can get back to playing some Madden NFL.
Sometimes Children Need To Be Told What To Do
When a business owner needs to get every competitive advantage they can in order to succeed, it’s that need that drives business decisions. And since many of us are already fully on board with the importance of Schema.org and how it solves so many problems (as imperfect as it is), you’re going to be very upset when you are fired by your boss/client when they hear you failed to get them higher up in search results because of your stubborn belief system.
But Its Too Complex
Some are saying it’s too complex. To understand. Or to implement.
That’s okay – you can start with the basics. For now, they’ll only be using schema for display purposes – things like events, and recipe’s and business addresses and such. And you can get an intro primer over at Authority Labs – where Dawn Wentzell did a great job in her “Implementing Schema.org Microdata” article.
And keep an eye open as more info comes out on rolling out microdata. Because believe me, it’s coming.