Some in the SEO community suggest that the Schema.org Citation structured data property can make a link more powerful. Can a link in the structured data really make a stronger link? The answer is unambiguous.
What is the Citation Structured Data Property?
The Citation property is a way of communicating via structured data that a document makes reference to another creative work.
This is the official Schema.org description of the Citation property:
“A citation or reference to another creative work, such as another publication, web page, scholarly article, etc.”
The Citation property is the child property of the CreativeWork parent property.
A parent property is generally like a high level category of a structured data property. The higher up it is the more generic it is.
For example, the hierarchy for citation can be:
Thing > CreativeWork > Article > Citation
A property, like Citation, is used to signal relationships or attributes of something.
For example, the Speakable property, which is a property of the Article property, indicates parts of the content that can be spoken, i.e. through a device like Google Home or Alexa.
In the example of a web page, the citation property describes a relationship between the web page and another web page (or publication, scholarly article, etc.).
The word citation means:
“…a quotation from or reference to a book, paper, or author, especially in a scholarly work.”
It’s clear that the Citation structured data was created within the context of a “reference to another creative work” because that’s how Schema.org defines it.
A reference means that the web page makes a reference to another page. And that can be a link that is on the web page itself.
Can Citation Structured Data Be Used to Hide A Link?
Yes, it can be done. But it can lead to a manual action because it violates Google’s Structured Data Guidelines.
It is not advisable to add a link via structured data to a web page that is not linked in the web page itself.
I’ve seen some people suggesting the possibility of doing that, but that’s a naive suggestion because it can lead to a manual action from Google.
Google’s Structured Data guidelines specifically state that marking up data that is not visible to the user will result in a manual action.
What Is the Purpose of Citation Structured Data?
The purpose of all Structured Data is to represent relationships between entities within that document, for the purpose of helping search engines understand the page.
It’s a way to communicate, “This is what this document is about.”
Structured Data is NOT for Describing Other Sites
Structured Data is not a way to describe someone else’s web page.
Those who use the Citation property to influence Google about the site being linked to do not understand what structured data is.
What Schema.org Says Structured Data is For
Schema.org explicitly states that structured data is limited to describing the web page on which it exists.
This is what Schema.org says structured data is:
“Q: What is the purpose of schema.org?
…On-page markup helps search engines understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results.
Q: Why should I add markup? What will I get out of it? How will the data be used?
…These projects help you to surface your content more clearly or more prominently in search results….
Q: This is too much work. Why can’t you just extract this data automatically?
…Markup provides a consistent way for computers to understand the data on a page, and helps search engines display information usefully in search results…”
What Google Says Structured Data is For
Google has support pages about structured data.
This is what Google says structured data is for:
“Understand how structured data works
Google Search works hard to understand the content of a page. You can help us by providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page to Google by including structured data on the page. Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content; “
It’s clear that structured data is used by search engines to understand the web page that it is on and to use the data to provide richer search results.
Period. Full stop. That’s it.
Structured data helps search engines understand the information and provide richer search results.
That is exactly how Google uses structured data.
There is nothing in Google’s documentation that says they use structured data to understand what another site is about.
There is nothing in the Schema.org documentation to suggest it can be used to define what another site is about.
Could Google Use Structured Data Differently Than Schema.org Proposes?
Schema.org and how it is used was created together by Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Yandex.
It’s not like they’re using someone else’s standards.
Schema.org is Google’s own standard.
Can Citation Schema Link Help Rank Other Sites?
As for the efficacy for ranking another page, there is no documentation or statement from Google, Bing, Yandex or Yahoo that indicates Google uses structured data in that manner.
I regularly read the latest link algorithm research from Google and there is nothing there to suggest that Google has even researched using the Citation property as an enhanced link signal.
In my opinion, based on over twenty years of watching the search engines evolve and correlating that with what’s been researched and published in patents as well as what’s officially revealed, I believe it’s very safe to say that the preponderance of evidence shows that Google probably does not use the Citation property for enhancing the link signal.
Should Publishers Use the Citation Property?
It’s clear that the way search engines use structured data rules out the idea that Citation structured data gives links more power.
Anyone who suggests that a Citation structured data link is stronger simply does not understand how structured data works.
Publishers can absolutely use the Schema.org citation property on their own sites. It might help Google to better understand the publisher’s web page.
But as far as adding it to another web page in the hopes of turbo-charging a link, that’s a waste of time.