Schema doesn’t make you rank better.
Later in the same thread Sullivan went even further saying:
Schema has nothing to do with rankings.
While these statements may be true if the question being asked was “does structured data directly affect rankings,” that sort of pointed and specific question is almost never being asked by SEOs or site owners.
Instead, we want to know if structured data can influence Google’s understanding of our site—either directly or indirectly—that would boost rankings.
But this is, annoyingly, is how Google can answer even basic SEO questions. Answers are hairsplitting and Talmudic in nature. Your reply will depend on the exact wording of your question and nothing about the intent of your query will be assumed.
Thankfully, Barry links to another post about structured data’s affect on rankings he wrote in 2018 which quotes John Mueller, a Google Search Advocate. Mueller, after being pressed by G-Squared Interactive’s Glenn Gabe on the topic of structured data and ranking concedes that of course there’s an affect on ranking:
Diving deeper into the pedantic back and forth around this topic, I found that Gabe wrote about this topic in 2017, quoting Gary Illyes, yet another member of Google’s search outreach team.
Gabe cites Illyes speaking at Pubcon in 2017 about schema noting that structured data helps Google understand the overall subject matter of your site:
But more importantly, add structure data to your pages because during indexing, we will be able to better understand what your site is about.
This insight from Illyes lines up Tallest Tree’s experience adding structured data to large publisher sites.
When we add structured data to sites ranging from 500 to 500,000 posts, we’ve seen dramatic changes. Results vary by site and subject matter, but we’ve routinely seen top-10 keywords double or triple and traffic double or triple to match. This is a far cry from “schema has nothing to do with rankings.”
But why does schema have this influence? Because structured data explicitly calls out and labels elements like these on each page:
- Format – like News Article, Scholarly Article, or Books Review
- About – the main topic of the page
- Mentions – any person, place, organization or other significant proper noun mentioned in a page or post
- Multi-level breadcrumbs
All of these things serve to add clarity and context what is happening with your content.
Clarity is key because Google assigns confidence scores to the bits of information it attributes to your content. With structure data, this confidence approaches 100% as Google no longer has to infer the author, publication date, or category from what may be confusing HTML and CSS. Instead, you can declare in a machine-readable way that the author is Joe, the publication date is February 10, and the category is “Supreme Court Decisions.” If you offer that certainty while your competitors offer could-be or might-be information, you’re likely to outrank them.
Along with confidence, structured data gives context to your content. By attaching structured data to each and every page on your site, Google can gain a fuller picture of the breadth and depth of your writing. That fuller picture is vital as Google has stated it prefers to show users pages from sites with topic authority. While links pointing to your site can confer authority, its up to you to show what topics you cover.
Think of it this way: We can either present Google with a whole pile of content without any labeling of any kind—like piles or stacks of books in no particular order, without a card catalogue, or even on labeled shelves—or we can present Google with a meticulously labeled and organized library of content. The latter provides Google with total clarity on our areas of expertise, providing a strong signal as to what keywords ought to feature our content instead of the competition.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Google wants to provide the best possible content for every search query—its stated mission to “organize the world’s information” feeds this misconception.
While Google may have lofty goals, commercial reality dictates a more prosaic mission. My best phrasing of Google’s de facto mission statement is:
find the least expensive method to satisfying searcher intent
Google wouldn’t be a profitable—let alone a $1.56 trillion company—if it tried to analyze every page on the web using every machine learning algorithm at its disposal to truly find the best content out there. While Google has impressive resources, the web is also stupefyingly large at over a quadrillion web pages. Google can only profitably organize this information by triaging at every level. It only crawls a fraction of the web, it indexes a smaller fraction of those pages, and it only applies its most complex and costly ranking algorithms to searches capable of earning it premium ad revenue.
So our mission as SEOs or site owners has to be providing clarity and context for Google so it can understand our topic authority without expending any extra resources. If we become a cheap, easy, reliable path for satisfying the needs of searchers, Google will reward us.
If we don’t, our competition will.
So does structured data help with ranking? If implemented properly and consistently on a site with high-quality and lots of link authority—absolutely yes.