What does it take to rise to the top of search results and stay visible?
Martha van Berkel, co-founder, and CEO of Schema App, gave a definite answer in an SEJ podcast episode with Loren Baker: “You must translate your content into the language of search engines.”
And that language is schema.org. Adding this to your site makes it easier for search engines to understand your content.
But it can be intimidating to learn a new language, let alone do a schema markup.
That’s why Martha and her husband, Mark van Berkel, started the Schema App: a tool that takes the complexity out of structured data to help organizations of all sizes structure their content strategically.
In this Q&A-style interview, Martha expands on the benefits of schema markup for enterprises, the idea behind Schema App, and her effective leadership experience.
Getting Started In SEO
What led you to a career in SEO?
Martha van Berkel: “After graduating from engineering and mathematics, I started my career at Cisco in California.
As I journeyed through my career there, I went from doing technical support and project management to starting a new organization and product management and then leading the product management team for the support website for Cisco globally.
I was introduced to SEO when we discovered customers were using Google to navigate our site and find key support documents and resources.
Internally, we were shocked that no one was using our on-site search!
As an entrepreneur, our first product was to help small- and medium-sized businesses manage their online presence.
In the process of building the product and providing services, I had to learn all the core elements of SEO.
It was in 2015 that we decided our passion was in the area of semantic search marketing and structured data, and then dove in again to become an expert in how to do structured data and then how to do it at scale.
I love how the work at Schema App of doing structured data at scale, incorporating a lot of my technical learning and change management experience from my early days at Cisco.”
The Journey With Schema App
The Schema App has grown so much. What has the process been like for your team?
MvB: “I am so proud of the Schema App team. We’ve come a long way since 2015, when we first launched Schema App and started our journey to doing scaleable, advanced schema markup.
We now have a team across Canada and work together to enable our scaleable end-to-end enterprise schema markup solution with expert support and measurable results.
The journey has been interesting. In December 2019, I was convinced 2020 was the year that schema markup would hit the top five SEO strategies to tackle! We’ve seen continued growth since then.
Our purpose is to build meaningful connections – in data and also with our customers and as a company. We used to live out this purpose together in our office and have now evolved into a flexible first culture where we build meaningful connections wherever we work.”
What is your favorite feature within the Schema App, and why?
MvB: “I love our Highlighter! Why? Because it elegantly allows you to do complex, nested markup, at scale, without code.
And when the content on the page changes, it dynamically optimizes the new content! Poof! Schema markup at scale, without writing code.
As someone who has written JSON-LD, produced it page by page, and faced the challenges of doing something at scale across an organization like Cisco, I feel like the Highlighter is the perfect mix of sophistication and scalability.”
How do you see the Schema App evolving in the future to keep up with recent changes in the SEO industry (algorithm changes, voice search, great resignation)? How will this empower entrepreneurs?
MvB: “Agility and ROI are two of the key values we offer our enterprise clients – agility to shift/update/respond when there are changes.
We’ve built our solution and our expert support to be able to work with customers to prepare for these changes and respond to them.
For example, we often look at the mixed types of rich results so that there is diversity should one become volatile.
We also can update the configuration of the rich result should we find that one is performing better than the others.
Regarding the great resignation and as we enter a year of recession, I will focus on showing ROI from structured data to our customers. We’ve built Schema Performance Analytics into our tools to show the outcomes to our clients.
Within the Schema App, my focus as CEO is on creating an environment where my team can thrive so that they are pumped to come to work, constantly learning and seeing the value they bring to our customers.
This means we’ll continue investing in our flexible first policy, semantic technology capabilities, and culture of building meaningful connections.
Companies that can create organizations where people thrive will not only reap the rewards from a highly motivated team, but they will be more productive, and it will show up in their interactions with their customers.
It’s an exciting time to lead a team and be able to create a workplace that is both kind and respectful and delivers amazing results.”
Scaling Schema For Enterprises
What do you think is the most underrated enterprise SEO tactic today?
MvB: “I am shocked by how few enterprises have adopted structured data. Why? Because it is an area of SEO where you have an element of control, where you can manage how your results show up and how you guide your customers into your website from the SERP.
Because I grew up in enterprise, I also understand why it is hard: lack of IT resources, too many priorities drowning the SEO team, or the huge effort to get it done at scale across the site/business units/stakeholders, etc.
It is these hard challenges (that I lived and breathed at Cisco) that make me love my job at Schema App. We built it to solve these problems and focus on bringing SEOs results that ultimately bring them joy.”
How have machine learning and AI changed organic search, and how should enterprises tailor their approach moving forward?
MvB: “It was interesting to hear in ‘Search off the Record: Structured Data’ podcast how Google uses machine learning to understand queries and then leverages structured data to enhance or validate their findings.
So, they are using machine learning to enhance the results and, hence, the search experience. This is great for organic search, that queries will get more specific and topical, requiring the enterprise to take a more surgical approach to their content strategy, creating very specific content for a specific audience.
At Schema App, we see the opportunity for machine learning to make the experience of adopting structured data easier (and more automated). If we can use ML to suggest schema.org types and/or key properties, we can accelerate adoption.
There is also an interesting opportunity to use machine learning and AI in the area of insights into what content drives results.
Why does enterprise care? Well, if we can get insights on what content is performing for who, then executing that specific content strategy will be easier and more fruitful.
I am also interested in how semantics will play a role not only in organic search but also in how marketing will leverage data to make decisions.
When you structure data properly, you build a semantic graph with meaningful connections. The semantic graph shows how entities and information are connected and their related properties.
These graphs can be re-used to bring context to other data, as long as there is a shared property.
We’ve been exploring how you can re-use your graph that we produce using Schema App to bring the web topic information to personalization, content platforms, and more.
Schema App is built on semantic tech, so when we do schema markup, we generate these powerful graphs.”
What advice do you have for women SEO pros aspiring for a leadership role in the male-dominated tech industry?
MvB: “To women SEOs, I would encourage you to do two things: Get to know what you are awesome at and find a mentor.
First, get to know what you are really great at. This takes hard work and self-reflection. Explore where you find flow or the type of work you gravitate towards.
Once you nail it, lean into it and explore a leadership role that leverages this awesome skill or talent.
For example, one of my superpowers is to get people excited about a new concept or idea.
So, when I had the opportunity to pitch and build an organization at Cisco, I loved it, and it gave me the exposure I needed to get to my next leadership role.
Second, find a mentor. This mentor should be someone who sees your potential and also is willing to coach you as you grow.
No athlete would dream of getting to the highest levels of sports without a coach, so why would you do anything different in business?
Ideally, this mentor is also an influencer in your organization or industry. Then they can coach you, get to know you as they mentor you, and then open doors as you grow.
To make both of these work, you need to put in the hard work of self-reflection and then be in a growth mindset to learn from every good and bad experience.”
Featured Image: Courtesy of Martha van Berkel/Schema App