what is social schema?

A recent question from a new hire created a ton of laughter at DragonSearch. “J, I noticed on that call [we just finished] that you kept referencing Social Schemas. I’m assuming that those are things like Open Graph and Twitter Cards, but I wasn’t sure as I haven’t heard this term before. Did you hear it at a conference or did you make it up?”

“Heh, heh, ha, yeah, I’ve gotten that feedback before but have never really been sure if I heard it or made it up. I’ll tell you what though, clients get it.”

Quickly, to the Google…

Besides the field of Psychology’s definition for the phrase Social Schema, Google doesn’t offer much explanation. All the other phrases the industry is bouncing around aren’t doing any better either:

  • Social Media Microformats
  • Social Meta Tags
  • Structured Social Sharing
  • Social Snippets
  • Open Graph
  • Rich Pins
  • Cards

If I were a client, I’d have a hard time understanding what any of these phrases mean. Social Snippets sound like people are scrapbooking social media messages and collecting them like folks hoard coupons on those reality TV shows. If I used these phrases on a call discussing a new project, our head of Business Development would slap me with an ‘SEO Nerd’ tag and offer up a an explanation that is less in the clouds and much closer to the departure gate.

Jason wearing an SEO Nerd sign on his back while writing about social schema

Redefine the SEO Mumbojumbo & Educate

I love this phrase because it shapes the conversation moving forward. It provides context to what we want to achieve and sets the tone that, yes, we’re going to optimize for search but more importantly, we’re going to market. With most clients still fixated on ‘SEOing this page’ or “putting keywords on it” (I have heard both phrases way more often than I’d like to admit), talking about Social Schemas shows clients that keywords are only the tip of the optimization iceberg –  with a huge mass below the surface. Social Schemas are going to take an optimization and messaging strategy and give it a larger surface area, making it easier to get picked up. It gives us the ability to control the messaging across platforms and use our products and content to market to more individuals, all while feeding the information to our beloved Search Engines.

What schemas mean to Search Engines is difficult to understand for most people. Few have noticed the rich snippet triggers found on a SERP or know what they mean despite enjoying their benefits. When I’ve talked about it, I only sometimes get an “OHHH, that’s what that is!” moment. I’ve found that a much larger number of people have shared a link on Facebook that wasn’t formatted correctly. This could be largely due to our lack of adoption as an industry. Searchmetric’s Schema Report released early in 2014 found “an almost vanishingly small fraction of domains use the integration of schema. Based on our keyword sets, the percentage was only 0.3%.” The report goes on to state that, “the potential of schema becomes clear when you realize that nearly 40% of keywords include at least one snippet with information derived from Schema.org.” Social Schema wasn’t included in Searchmetric’s report, but we know that these markups can aid in success.

Opportunities Extend Beyond the Social Network

On the technical side, Social Schemas are the conduit that enables clear, controlled signals, giving meaning to all the noise and allowing for actionable conclusions to be drawn from that data. A violent barrage of data is just as bad as no data. Correctly interpreting the data is a problem for both Search Engines and users. Social Schema provides a framework that ties the actions of users in terms of goals and beliefs, making it easier to interpret. We’ve found that using Social Schemas trips the different triggers of Google’s algorithm, placing competitive verticals on a flatter playing field. Feeding the Search Engine clean social signals helps provide:

  • Indexing and comprehension of the content,
  • authority metrics relating to the social interaction of content,
  • trust metrics relating to the social interaction of the content and
  • contextual value of the content.

Ultimately, Social Schemas unlock the different intricacies Google provides via personalized search, associated/suggested searches, co-citation results and autocomplete suggestions. I can’t control Google’s algorithm, but in a logged-in world, personalized search is something that can be tripped. Even when not logged-in, personalization appears to be growing with the rise of mobile and voice search, both location and device aware albeit via phone or wearable.

Rise of the Bundle   

There are plenty of times I’m astounded at how stupid Google is (or how stupid Google made me look) but there are even more times I’m amazed that search works as well as it does. Search bots are marvelously sophisticated in what they can understand – connecting random affinities, context, searcher intent, history, algorithm manipulation, etc., all within a fraction of a second. With all of the predictions being made in this fresh new year, I’m predicting that in 2015 we’re going to see the rise of the bundling of activities as we seek to create strategies that create a loop instead of a dead end. Pairing content generation and social ads will become even more popular which will help inform content generation and amplification which will also feed the organic beast with clean signals. Linkbuilding will be chased with social engagement which will be enhanced and understood via social schemas. Building authority using one tactic or tool is no longer the answer as we awaken to realize our signals need to parallel each other and grow at similar rates across platforms.

What to Markup

So where do you start? What do you mark up? Start with what makes sense and will be easy to implement. Props still go out to Cyrus Shepard’s Must-Have Social Meta Tags for Twitter, Google+ Facebook and More as the must bookmark reference.

Social schema code for open graph

Specify Social Profiles

A super-duper fresh optimization, specifying your social profiles to Google is a no-brainer gimmie. Links to all of your social profiles should already be on your site and the relationships/connections should be understood by Google without this markup but sometimes a marketer has to say “Yes Google, thank you Google” and just do what The Google wants. Besides the conformation of the relationship of digital properties, this markup is going to give larger real estate on the SERPs and push down the ‘People also search for’ competitor box. Specify your social profiles!

Blog & Content

Generally I want to make sure that I’ve got the basics covered with properly marked up share buttons on content pages like a blog. With clients that are reluctant, I’ll go straight after a high traffic, low conversion site to offer up an undeniable proof of concept as arguing against the data is hard to do.

Social schema code for Twitter cards


With eCommerce sites, social schemas are the no brainer. We talk about having a hard time proving the ROI of social media but this ROI is just a few lines of code away. Maybe it won’t blow your socks off but dollars tend to stack.


Localization is a huge opportunity for search but also for social schemas. Certainly tag places on Facebook, but the sleeper local markup is Pinterest’s Place Rich Pins. Yes you earn your spot on the Pinterest map but what I really like is having the ability to tie Foursquare accounts to a website. Longitude, Latitude and real-live users anyone?


Perhaps the true first social media network, email, remains a misunderstood traffic and high conversion sales source. Start out with Lead Generation on Twitter to help build your list and then markup the emails you send out! Gmail offers four different types of actions and an interactive card:

You can also highlight information within the email:

Why do these matter? Google is serving up answers billions at a time – both voice search and natural language. Marking up your emails is going to help your users find you with ease and keep your competitors at arms length.

Social Schema Markups, The Secret Sauce

Did I make up a word? Maybe. The call to action is the same no matter the terminology – control your message across networks while providing a conduit for clean signals. Instead of fighting the Google beast, work with it and find the opportunities to bundle goals and objectives into signals. Use those as your ammo to trip all of the wonderful segments that make up search in 2015. The opportunity is clear if you have the focus and fortitude to test and figure out what combination of social schemas will work for your site; hustle for it and let me know how it goes!

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