Schema Story: Scott Allen, Kansas City SEO Group

Our first Schema Story, where we bring real people’s stories about doing semantic search marketing to life. Hear about the challenges Scott Allen from Kansas City SEO Group ran into as he learned this new capability in search, where he thinks it’s going, and tips and tricks he has learned along the way.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company. 

I’ve been a graphic designer for probably over twenty years now. I am currently one of the co-owners of Kansas City SEO Group, we’re a search engine optimization marketing company and we’re based out of Kansas City, Missouri. The majority of our work that we’re doing right now is SEO and online marketing for mid to large sized companies.

Tell me a bit about how semantic search optimization fits into the range of your services. I know you said you focus on SEO, but how does that fit into what you offer your clients. 

We do it as an add on service because we have seen, particularly in the last 6 to 8 months, the value in it as far as search results and playing along with what google is expecting and its a clearer approach to things. We’ve run tests with essentially the same sites, same template and the only variable is the semantic markup and we’ve seen that there is definitely a difference with the semantic stuff in there.

How do you describe what semantic search is to your clients?

It’s a little difficult because it can get very techie in a hurry, so we like to describe it as machine readable data that Google likes.

Tell me a little about the journey, I feel like its a journey for myself being the co-founder of Schema Apps, where I’m not the expert, but I’ve been schooled on semantic mark up for the last 4 years. Tell me a bit about your journey, how you’re learnt it and tools that you use to stay up to date and how to apply it. 

We were aware of it about two years ago and we played with it in an experimental sense and then in early 2015 we got really serious about it because of the social buzz and the energy around it, there was something there. The way we run most of our stuff is we run it on our own before we implement it with our clients. We started messing around with it and seeing what it can and can’t do and figured out we were on the shallow end of a fairly deep pool.

What were some of the headaches or challenges when you first started doing it?

This is how we ended getting connected and working with you guys, we use WordPress predominately as our development platform and like most WordPress developers their first inclination is to find a plugin and some of the headaches was that google has their tag manager and you can completely do it old school and do it by hand and the other end of the pendulum is the use of a  plugin. Our struggles with the plugins is that frankly they were not good. It was either a blanket approach, where they would put in all kinds of schemas that weren’t necessary or relevant on a page, or it was a really cumbersome  and clunky way to work where you’re flipping around through four or five different things between note pad and dreamweaver trying to get this thing to work. I think your’s was the third that I installed. It took me a minute to get up to speed with it, but once it clicked I was like, this is super slick. And the way you have your system set up with the round tripping and being able to log into a centralized portal system that way you aren’t chasing code all over the place, its all organized and I was really impressed with what you guys had going on, so I was all in with your plugin.

We believe in managing your structured data instead of coding it. Do you manage your structured data or is just a one time thing that you do for your clients? 

It depended on the client,but I would say we do manage it because we’ve had some clients whose business model has changed slightly. We had one client who had a brick and mortar store and they were selling products from the brick and mortar store and they changed addresses and they changed a little bit of the focus of their product line and we were able to log in and actually adjust some things in there. The physical address wasn’t relevant anymore so we were able to take that out and keep it appropriate for the client.
With the managing component too, its being able to have a snap shot and a global view of what you’re doing. It keeps you from implementing things that aren’t relevant and aren’t going to help the website. Schema for the sake of schema is not our approach. We would rather have 2 or 3 schema items that are relevant and effective rather than the blanket approach.

One of the things we often get asked is how do you know what the most appropriate schema markup is. As in, not doing too much but doing exactly the right amount. Do you have any thoughts or comments on that?

I think the schema.org website is actually one of the best resources out there because I’ve always thought that they wrote the rules and if you adhere to what they are writing thats the best spot to be in. Going back to a judgement call, going back to the classic phrase if in doubt, leave it out. I’d rather have something that we can add in later rather than overpopulating it out of the shoot. Particularly in the SEO world if something comes out and two works a lot of people in the SEO world will do 10, so we’ve always tried to air on the side of caution.

Tell me about one of your schema success stories, where you’ve seen it blow out of the water with results. 

Actually, experimenting on our own stuff, our company website would be hovering around the bottom of page one and occasionally it would flip back to page two. We let it sit for about a month and we implemented the schema and didn’t do anything else to it out of the ordinary we were just doing all of our standard stuff. The only variable that we implemented was the schema markup and we jumped pretty significantly. I think there was a 2 or 3 week period. Google crawled us twice and on that second crawl, and I don’t want to call it a magic bullet but we noticed a significant improvement.

Someone is just starting to do this, and we probably have a lot of viewers who are business owners where doing SEO is not their day to day thing, can you give them advice on where to start or tricks or tips you’d recommend.

I’d start with, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but the minimum effective dose and a lot of times with small business owners in the local space that is just going to be your name, address phone, number and just start with that. Put it on your website and make sure it validates with Google. Let it sit for a little bit, monitor your results and see what happens. When you get comfortable in that space and learning what it can and can’t do, start to explore and look at what other business owners are doing and if they have it on their websites, what they are doing and if its appropriate for their business. Test, test and keep testing because you will invariably break something and I think that’s the challenge with this. When something is broken it can be really minor but it takes several hours chasing it down trying to get it fixed.

I know your background is creative work, how does your creative work help you do structured data?

I think its again the approach of looking to see if you can find something that is not necessarily on the surface would belong to you company, but sometimes with product reviews, for example,  you can find a creative way to implement it and make it appropriate without just throwing it on there.

Where do you go to see the latest to see what is coming up with structured data?

Some closed groups in Facebook that are pretty involved with it. I also have Google alerts for schema.org .
I usually get information from a number of places and check to see if it is consistent because there is always going to be someone that says Google said this and then you go and try to find proof if Google really did say that or its just a theory. Its an ever changing beast and I think once a week I do a couple hours of research to make things are still as they were.

On your journey, what was your biggest headache that you had to overcome and how did you overcome it?

When we first got into it, we were using a combination of some hand written schema where we were actually hand coding the HTML with that approach. I had the problem of using too many tools that were doing the same thing, where I was using a combination of the google tag manager, doing some things manually and using a plug in and this is actually what lead me to your plugin, it got really confusing because you would have things conflict and you couldn’t figure out what was conflicting. The headache of chasing all that stuff around, was solved when I found your plugin and that consolidated that into a one stop shop. I’m very impressed with your plugin so consider me a fan. I try to evangelineze your plugin as much as possible.

Anything else you want to share on your views on semantic markup or where you think its going.  

I think there will be a tipping point. I think its been around for a long time and I think its still “up trending” but I think its going to level out at some point. Its the wild west in some capacity because there are sites and plugins that will put every single schema possible on every single page. My thought is, and this is why we air on the conservative side, is my belief is that Google will start to reign that in and put a relevance layer on it. I think if you have all your ducks in a row right out of the shoot then you’re going to be better off in six months or a year when this happens. I think they are going to tighten it down.
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