Imagine a day in the future and you’re walking down the street wearing virtual reality glasses. It’s spring, and the shops have dressed up their windows with the latest spring fashions. In one, you see a beautifully cut, green spring jacket. You ask yourself, “I wonder who designed that coat?” Your glasses instantly present the details it knows about the coat including its price, availability, materials, and an interview with the designer.
While walking around with VR glasses is not something we can do yet, the foundational elements of this experience do exist and are being used to enhance the way we search for content. In fact, this transformation of how we search has already started. While we don’t wear glasses today, many of us use Alexa or Google Home to find out about the weather, or facts about a star, singer, or hockey player.
When you search for a product online, Google presents you with an enhanced search result, including images, reviews, price, videos, and articles directly in the search results. These are known as rich results.
Pages displayed with rich results get 20%-82% higher number of clicks than those that do not. Furthermore, brands have experienced customers spending 1.5x more time on rich results pages and a 3.6x higher interaction with content on those pages.
To illustrate, we searched for the Group of Seven painting “Waves of Emotion.” The results look like this:
You’ll see images of the painting you searched for, other works by the same artist, details about associated events, and even a few related videos. This contextual content is referred to as ‘rich results’.
To build this enhanced search experience, content is translated into the language of search engines called schema.org. Schema markup is a global standard language created by Google, Yahoo and Bing in 2011, to help them understand a webpage so they could better match searchers with the appropriate content. The translation results in code (known as schema markup or structured data) that is applied to a webpage behind the user interface.
A picture can be worth a thousand words
Although we know content is key for driving up page views, many of us want to design websites that present a curated, visual experience and not reams of text. Schema markup enables these image-centric brands to explain who they are, what they do, and who they are trying to engage by applying a standard language that explains each image so the search engines understand the intended message explicitly. Schema.org explains it this way:
Most webmasters are familiar with HTML tags on their pages. Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag. For example, <h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format. However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means — “Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.
For example, using schema markup, you can explain the topic of an image and link it to the definition of that topic in Wikipedia or other content you’ve produced. Connecting topic definitions off your website create a web of information known as a knowledge graph. The knowledge graph is the web of information that search engines use to answer questions, define appropriate search results, and infer information.
Connective tissue that connects all content
The language of search engines is the connective tissue between our brand and search today, and virtual reality tomorrow. It allows the marketer to further explain what a webpage or image is about and inform an enhanced experience to searchers.
In a recent interview, Microsoft’s executive sponsor for schema.org, Steve Macbeth shared how he saw this marketing code as the “fabric in which we can connect” between the real world and a virtual one. Today the fabric connects the content we produce to the people searching for it. Tomorrow, that content will very likely extend and support a fully virtual world.
What does this mean for content generators? First, with only 30% of websites using schema markup on their sites, it is a great way to stand out in search results. But perhaps more important, schema markup reinforces that the future of marketing, including virtual reality, is in generating engaging content to give products context. Imagine if you were looking at a product through an augmented reality lens, you might want more information about it. Using schema markup as a platform, we’re setting ourselves up for a future where the content we produce can offer real-world context to the virtual experience.