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A Complete Guide To Local Markup & Rich Results

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A Complete Guide To Local Markup & Rich Results

How important is schema markup for local search engine optimization (SEO)?

Most local SEO experts and webmasters are familiar with the impact of having well-optimized SEO elements on their landing pages, such as optimized title tags, well-written content, and more.

However, what exactly can you accomplish by applying schema markup to your local business website?

Quite a bit, actually.

When it comes to organic search, there are several reasons why having a proper and thorough schema applied to your website is a substantial competitive advantage.

In fact, it’s been reiterated by Google time and time again that schema helps search crawlers do their job more effectively by helping them comprehend a landing page and delivering relevant information in the SERPs.

In this post, we will share a few recommendations to help your local business get the most out of using schema to boost your local SEO.

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First, let’s start with defining what exactly schema markup is.

The Difference Between Schema, Structured Data & Rich Results

The terms “structured data” and “schema” are often used interchangeably in webmaster and SEO verticals.

However, before we dive into the recommendations it’s helpful to know the semantic differences between these terms.

Structured Data

Google defines structured data as “a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content.”

To put it simply, this format was developed to help search engines accurately understand a webpage to properly display snippets of information in the search results pages.

Schema

Schema is a form of structured data that was officially launched via schema.org.

Schema was created via a collaborative project by all the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex) in 2011.

Utilizing the markup available on schema.org enables a landing page to be eligible for rich results.

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Rich Results

Rich results (formerly called rich snippets) are any extra information you see in the search engine results pages (SERPs) that are beyond the atypical blue title tag and meta description (breadcrumbs, review stars, sitelinks, etc.).

Google provides two tools to audit structured data on your website: the Schema Markup Validator and the Rich Results Test.

Below are a few examples of local businesses that are benefitting from rich results:

Review Rich Results Example

Image from Google, May 2022Review Rich Results

Breadcrumb Rich Results Example

Breadcrumb rich resultsImage from Google, May 2022Breadcrumb rich results

Sitelink Rich Results Example

Sitelink Rich Results exampleImage from Google, May 2022Sitelink Rich Results example

FAQ Rich Results Example

FAQ Rich Results exampleImage from Google, May 2022FAQ Rich Results example

Is Structured Data A Local Ranking Signal?

There has been much debate over the years about whether or not structured data in itself is a search engine ranking signal.

Prominent Google engineer John Mueller has specified more than once that structured data by itself is not a direct search engine ranking signal.

However, structured data indirectly improves search engine visibility through the following means.

Structured Data Helps Search Engine Crawlers Better Comprehend Landing Pages

Properly and thoroughly implemented structured data makes the search crawler’s job easier.

A good analogy would be comparing website properties (content, images, media files, etc.) to a garage full of various boxes and items (snow shovel for the winter, inflatable pool for the summer, etc.).

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Let’s say you are having a garage sale and you want visitors (i.e. more website visitors).

It’s Google’s job to advertise your garage sale on the search results pages.

For most websites, Google provides the bare minimum blue title tag and meta descriptions.

However, if your website is properly marked up with structured data then Google may very well reward your websites with a bigger advertisement (i.e. rich results) about your garage sale.

Structured data essentially puts labels on the different objects in your garage making the Google search crawler’s job easier.

Structured Data Improves The Possibility Of Obtaining Rich Results Which Improves Click-through Rates

A rich result is much more eye-catching in the search results and will most likely improve CTR (click-through rates).

The CTR boost can vary depending on what kind of rich result is obtained, for example, FAQ results do very well.

This means your landing page is receiving more traffic because users are seeing relevant snippets about what it contains.

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There is also some debate that increased CTR might be a positive SEO signal in itself (signals more engagement & relevancy).

Either way, having an improved CTR means more traffic wherever your website ranks.

What Structured Data Is Recommended For Local Business Websites?

Most local websites have at least some basic structured data enabled.

However, the more thorough and detailed structured data is properly applied the better.

Next, we’ll offer some step-by-step recommendations for how to properly apply structured data:

Select The Best Schema.org Category

Schema.org provides several different schema property options that are uniquely relevant for local businesses.

In order to have necessary local business schema properties (which will be discussed further in detail below), it is imperative to select the most relevant schema category for your local business.

For example, if you are promoting an ice cream chain, the most relevant category is schema.org/IceCreamShop.

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If you are trying to promote a local hardware chain then you’d select schema.org/HardwareStore.

Relevant schema categories will help Google better topically understand your website.

What If There Are No Relevant Schema Categories For My Local Business?

If you can’t find a schema.org category that is relevant for your business then the default category should be schema.org/LocalBusiness.

If you’re technically inclined, it is possible to post new schema category recommendations on the schema.org Github forum.

The schema.org developers respond to detailed recommendations on this forum and occasionally create new schema.org properties.

I Selected The Most Accurate Category So What Should I Implement?

After you’ve selected the appropriate category for your business you must have the below schema.org sub-properties to ensure your schema validates.

Errors could disqualify you from obtaining rich results.

The below schema properties are required for validation:

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  • Url: The URL of the associated landing page.
  • Name: Name of the business.
  • OpeningHours: Opening and closing hours of a business.
  • Telephone: Contact telephone number for the business.
  • Image: This can be any relevant image file on your landing page.  It is recommended to use a storefront image if that’s available.
  • Logo: This should be a link to your business logo image.
  • Address: The business address which should be visible on the landing page.
  • Geo: This is the geo coordinates of your business location.
  • AreaServed: It is recommended to use a zipcode for this schema property.
  • MainContentOfPage: Main body content of your landing page.

Common schema properties that are highly recommended:

  • Review: A review of your local business.
  • AggregrateRating: The overall rating, based on a collection of reviews or ratings, of the item.  Make sure to follow Google’s rules on Review Rich Results on this.
  • FAQPage: If you have a FAQ page it is imperative to add this specialty schema. Make sure to follow Google’s rules and guidelines.
  • AlternateName: Businesses commonly have related names e.g. Acme Stores vs. Acme Inc. The alternateName property marks up other well-known corporate name variations (including abbreviations).
  • SameAs: This is a reference to a 3rd party websites that are related to the website’s identity i.e. Facebook pages, Youtube Channel pages, Wikipedia pages, etc.
  • HasMap: A URL to the map of your local business.
  • Breadcrumb: This schema marks up the existing breadcrumb navigation structure on your website. This schema is highly recommended because it often appears in the SERPS as a rich result.
  • Department: Many chain retailers have internal departments (e.g. pharmacies inside grocery stores). This specialty schema helps markup these department stores.
  • PriceRange: The price range of the business, for example, $$$.

More advanced schema types:

  • Sitelinks Search Box: A sitelinks search box is a quick way for users to do an internal search on your website via the Google SERP vs. visiting your website directly.
  • AdditionalType: This is a specialty schema that helps Google understand what your website is topically related to. This can be accomplished by using Wikipedia categories as values for this property. For example, if a local business sells sporting gear it is recommended to have the additionalType property  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_equipment.

How Do You Make Sure Your Structured Data Is Validated?

It is very important to make sure your structured data is properly validated.

If it’s not then your landing page will most likely not qualify for rich results.

Google specifically says that if there are error(s): The rich result cannot appear in Google Search as a rich result.

As mentioned earlier there are two different tools to make sure your schema is properly validated: Schema Markup Validator and the Rich Results Test.

Google Search Console also provides enhancement reports on structured data which will be explained in further detail below.

Schema Markup Validator

The Schema Markup Validator enables you to get into the details of structured data itself.

It shows both errors and warnings.

It also allows you to test structured data before it’s enabled on your webpages via pasting code directly into the tool.

Example Of Schema Markup Validator Result

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Example of Schema Markup Validator ResultImage from Schema Markup Validator, May 2022Example of Schema Markup Validator Result

Also just to note that while it’s imperative to correct structured data errors you will also often see structured “warnings.”

These warnings are of much lesser concern and Google’s John Muller even mentioned you don’t have to fix all warnings.

A lot of sites have earnings with structured data and that’s perfectly fine.

Rich Results Test

The Rich Results Test is Google’s official tool to see which rich results can be generated by structured data.

This tool also lets you preview how rich results will look in Google SERPs.

Example Of Rich Results Test Preview

Rich Results Test PreviewImage from Rich Result test tool, May 2022Rich Results Test Preview

The Rich Result test tool will report structured data errors and warnings as well.

As mentioned earlier, warnings are common and won’t prevent rich results from appearing.

However, structured data errors must be resolved to qualify for rich results.

Structured Data Monitoring Via Google Search Console

Google also offers sitewide structured data monitoring via Google Search Console.

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It is highly recommended to have a verified Google Search Console account for your local business website to enable monitoring.

Google Search Console will provide sitewide enhancement reports on how many webpages have validated structured data, warnings, and errors.

Google also sends notification emails if there are issues with structured data on your local business website.

It is recommended to pay attention to these notifications.

Example Of Sitewide Structured Data Report

Example of Sitewide Structured Data ReportImage from Google Search Console, May 2022Example of Sitewide Structured Data Report

How Can I Tell How Many Rich Results My Website Is Getting In The SERPs?

Besides spot-checking rich results, it would be ideal to see how well a local business website is performing across all the Google SERPs.

There are few third-party SEO tools that scrape Google SERPs and provide reports.

One notable tool, Semrush, has a “SERP Feature” report that shows how many aggregate rich results your website is getting.

Example Of Semrush SERP Feature Report

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SERP featuresImage from Semrush, May 2022SERP features

Is There Anything I Should Avoid When Using Structured Data?

Structured data is meant to be code to label or markup existing properties on your local business website.

Google explicitly requires that your structured data matches what is on the associated landing page.

However, structured data spam does exist and Google can apply manual penalties if they believe a webmaster is egregiously breaking the rules.

Make sure to follow Google’s structured data guidelines carefully.

Conclusion

There is no drawback in applying properly formatted and relevant structured data to your local business’ website.

Also, schema.org is continually coming out with new schema properties along with more integration via Google Search Console.

Most common SEO strategies (meta tag optimization, custom copywriting, design changes, etc.) usually require significant effort and visible on-page website updates.

In comparison, structured data updates are invisible to users visiting your website.

They also don’t require any direct changes to anything on your website besides including a new source code script.

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They also have great potential to substantially improve visibility in the Google SERPs via rich results.

If you’re a local business looking to further optimize your website make sure to visit schema.org along with a webmaster to start applying structured data.

More resources:


Featured Image: Hangouts Vector Pro/Shutterstock

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Building a Better Search Engine: Lessons From Neeva’s CEO

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Building a Better Search Engine: Lessons From Neeva’s CEO

After helping to grow Google’s advertising business for over 15 years, Sridhar Ramaswamy began to feel Google’s dependence on ads was limiting the quality of search results.

Determined to prove he could achieve a better search experience without ads, Ramaswamy co-founded and launched Neeva in 2019.

As the CEO of his own search company, Ramaswamy is accountable to the users of his product who pay a monthly subscription to access Neeva.

“No ads” means Neeva doesn’t have an incentive to collect data on its users, making it the only search engine on the market that’s both ad-free with a privacy option.

Ramaswamy is currently on the conference circuit raising awareness about Neeva, and we managed to catch up with him at Collision last week in Toronto.

We profiled Neeva once before and welcomed Ramaswamy as a guest on the Search Engine Journal Show in December.

However, each time we only scratched the surface. Now, we want to dig deeper.

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So, what makes Neeva different from the other companies — and what makes Neeva a viable alternative to Google and Bing?

What Are Neeva’s Core Values?

Many companies enter the market making lofty claims of how they’ll do right by users. Even Google once had “don’t be evil” written into its code of conduct: a promise to which some critics argue it hasn’t lived up. Google has de-emphasized “Don’t be evil” in its code of conduct, though it was never removed.

In 2021, Google was sued by three former employees over its “Don’t be evil” motto. They allege that failure to live up to the motto is the equivalent of a breach of contract.

To better understand how Neeva will continue delivering a product that puts users’ needs first, I asked Ramaswamy what Neeva’s core values are.

“It’s not something we have published, but this is something I’ve talked about a lot with Vivek [Raghunathan, co-founder of Neeva], and I feel good about saying it,” Ramaswamy began. “At our core, we think that, as a company, we want to make technology serve people.”

“I think many other technology companies, especially in the last 25, have turned rather exploitative,” he continued. “I think the ad model exemplifies this. Basically, if I can convince you and get you hooked on my product, I can pretty much do anything.”

“It’s Technology Serving People”

Make no mistake: Neeva is a for-profit organization, though Ramaswamy says its subscription-based revenue model is designed to serve people rather than advertisers.

“Yes, companies are for-profit, but I think if you set up your values to be aligned with your user, to be aligned with your customer, you’ll always serve them,” he said. “To me, that part is important. If you had to say, ‘Hey, what exemplifies what you do?’ It’s technology serving people. This is why we do things like offer a flat price for the search utility you get from us.”

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“Technology At Scale Is Quite Inexpensive”

Many companies within the sector lead consumers to believe scaling technology is expensive, which is how some justify charging higher fees, for instance, as they grow.

It doesn’t have to be that way, Ramaswamy says, as he believes the cost of technology at scale is overblown.

“It’s our belief that technology at scale is actually quite inexpensive,” he noted. “That’s the magic of technology, but right now, the way all of these companies are structured — as they scale, they squeeze more money from you.”

“It’s not like you’re getting more value, though obviously there are exceptions,” Ramaswamy continued. “But it’s really back to the basics of how you create products that delight people. And to me, that’s an honorable living.”

From left to right: Brittany Kaiser, Own Your Data; Sridhar Ramaswamy, Neeva; Ashley Gold, Axios.

What Does Neeva Do To ‘Serve People’?

Neeva’s definition of ‘technology serving people’ is exemplified by its feedback system.

Roughly 20% of the Neeva team is tasked solely with listening to customer feedback and using it to shape the product experience.

On the other hand, many criticize Google for not giving users what they want out of a search experience.

I asked Ramaswamy if he could give examples of specific customer feedback that helped shape Neeva into what it is today.

“There’s tons of feedback that comes to us. Sometimes we feel bad about not being about to take care of all of it,” he started. “But to give an example: We did a currency converter because, believe it or not, it was a top request. Initially, I did not understand this feedback. I was like, ‘Really? It’s that hard for you to click on a link and then type in your numbers and get your currency converted?”

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“But then,” Ramaswamy said, “I realized a larger truth about how people think about the internet.”

“People Fear Clicking On Links”

Neeva was initially against going the Google route of delivering content directly in the SERPs, but has had to make some concessions.

Through listening to customer feedback, the Neeva team learned there’s a real apprehension toward clicking on links in search results.

“Clicking on a link has now become an adversarial task. People actually fear clicking on links because they don’t know what’s on the other side,” Ramaswamy said. “Is it going to be a pop-up? Is it going to tell you that your computer has a virus? Is it something else? That’s the reason why we put [a currency converter] right into the search engine. So that’s one example.”

Another perk offered to Neeva subscribers is access to a Slack channel where customers can engage in group discussions with developers.

“A lot of people said, ‘We want to be able to offer feedback to [improve] your search results,’” Ramaswamy said. “So we built a community feedback feature that’s released to some people; it’s not released to everybody.”

The way it works, he explained, is users “can say, ‘Hey, this result is not relevant.’ Or, ‘This result is the top result for this query.’”

“This list sort of goes on and on,” Ramaswamy said. “Customers are really a source of lots of ideas.”

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Building a Better Search Engine: Lessons From Neeva’s CEOFrom left to right: Brittany Kaiser, Own Your Data; Sridhar Ramaswamy, Neeva; Ashley Gold, Axios.

Neeva Is A Customer-Guided Product

At Collision, Ramaswamy described what he eventually aims to accomplish with Neeva, and how it differs from the goals of larger search engines like Google.

After speaking with him, I asked if he could clarify what he meant by wanting to “let society figure out” what to do with Neeva.

“I spoke about it more in the spirit of: Google spends a billion, makes a hundred billion. My thing was more: We want to make a couple of billion and let society figure out what it wants to do with the service,” Ramaswamy explained. “It’s more of a general argument around not captive capitalism, but competitive capitalism.”

“The beautiful thing about technology is creating a product for 100 million people is not wildly different from creating a product for a billion people,” he continued. “That’s the magic of scale and technology.”

Being paid for by the people who use it gives Neeva unique flexibility regarding future growth.

Users don’t have as much influence over a product like Google Search, considering they typically don’t pay to use it.

Although even for a free product, Ramasamy argues that Google could be doing much more to give users value.

“My point was a customer-paid product makes it much easier for us to release the product to the whole world [and] still run a profitable company, but not at the kind of obscene scale that I see Facebook or Google operating,” he said. “People always say …  ‘Well, Google gives me free Gmail. Will they stop giving it?’ And my rough answer is: Well, I’m sure, with 100 billion dollars, a bunch of us are going to make really good decisions about how to use that money.”

Ramaswamy said that users “don’t need a monopolist to make that decision and decide they want to give you free Gmail. We don’t need charity from rich companies in order to do this; we need competition, so more of the money that is being spent on this comes to us.”

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Building a Better Search Engine: Lessons From Neeva’s CEOFrom left to right: Brittany Kaiser, Own Your Data; Sridhar Ramaswamy, Neeva; Ashley Gold, Axios.

Will Neeva Keep Its Privacy Promises?

DuckDuckGo, another search engine that touts privacy as its key selling point, was recently a source of controversy after it was discovered to be passing along a minor amount of data to Microsoft.

That stemmed from the deal DuckDuckGo has to use Bing’s search index.

I asked Ramasamy what measures Neeva has in place to keep its zero data collection promises.

“Not serving ads is the biggest measure we have in place. And, we are building our own index,” he said, adding that the company is actively “writing down human ratings and getting data back.”

“We truly want to create a differentiated product,” Ramasamy emphasized. “We started with using the Bing API for search [but] in many ways, I think we would have been better off investing in search from day one. We are a product company, and we want to become a much better search engine. That’s the big differentiator.”

“We’re Making Foundational Investments In Search”

In addition to keeping Neeva ad-free, it will be able to maintain its zero-data promise by building its own search index.

DuckDuckGo, for example, ran into trouble because it’s wholly dependent on Microsoft for search results. Ramasamy says Neeva is the only company outside Google and Bing crawling and indexing the web.

That claim is backed up by an October 2020 report on digital competition by the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust. The report states:

“The high cost of maintaining a fresh index, and the decision by many large webpages to block most crawlers, significantly limits new search engine entrants. Today, the only English-language search engines that maintain their own comprehensive webpage index are Google and Bing.”

He acknowledged that, in response, many ask, “What’s the big deal? What difference does it make?”

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“It lets us do things like creating a much better shopping experience,” Ramasamy explained, noting that, for instance, Neeva “launched Reddit links in search results … because we work with Reddit to get their index. So we have an index of all the web pages they’re serving.”

Ramasamy said that users can receive better-quality results for such queries as, “What are the most interesting Reddit posts that correspond to this query?”

Neeva can “launch features like that, because we’re making foundational investments in search; pretty much the only company outside of Google and Microsoft to be doing this.”

“We increasingly use Bing as a fallback when we cannot answer queries,” Ramasamy acknowledged. However, he said, “Over time, our aspiration is to be able to do more and more of the search results ourselves.”

Neeva’s Sole Focus Is Traditional Web Content (For Now)

With people’s search behavior turning more toward short videos, I asked Ramaswamy if Neeva has any plans to index content like Web Stories or TikTok videos.

For now, Neeva’s sole focus is to solve search for text-based web content.

“Solving for search, especially things like spoken search, is enough of a large problem that we have not quite gone there,” Ramaswamy said. “We have working arrangements. We have partnerships with companies like Twitter and companies like Reddit to better surface their content.

Twitter, he pointed out, “Has a lot of real-time information. So we’re focused on things like that right now and less on video. That would be a fun project to do.”

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Neeva’s Greatest Challenge Is Awareness

As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Ramaswamy: What’s the most significant hurdle for Neeva to overcome on its journey toward mass adoption?

Ramaswamy’s answer: “It really is about competition.”

The product, he said, is not the issue.

“We have a great product. Compared to ad-supported options … the free Neeva search engine is infinitely better,” Ramaswamy explained. “The place where we struggle is getting the word out, getting people to know us as an option, and getting people to set us as the default search in Safari, which is impossible.

“Demand More Choice”

As Ramaswamy explained, there’s no incentive for a company like Google to innovate if it doesn’t have any challengers.

Companies tend to improve their products when faced with more robust competition. But the only way for more competitors to enter the search market is for consumers to demand more options.

“To me, this is the biggest ask that I would have,” Ramaswamy said, “is to demand more choice, because competition produces better products.”

In turn, he said, “That competition creates better products for us. An incumbent that is doing very well has no incentive to innovate [or] to disrupt.”

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Conversely, over at Neeva, “We have nothing to lose,” Ramaswamy told me. “We’re going to swing for the fences [and make it] easier for people to switch, for them to try Neeva, for them to decide for themselves if they want it or not.”

What’s Next For Neeva?

Before parting ways, I had to ask what we could expect next from Neeva.

“There’s a lot I’ve learned from Google My Business in terms of local businesses – even in terms of Search Console – that I feel confident we can do better,” Ramaswamy said, adding that “GMB, as you know, is a real problem for lots of people. Especially agencies that want to update information for a bunch of companies that they work with.”

The hope, Ramaswamy said, is that “we’ll have better tools. But not yet.”

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