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As the number of websites on the internet is growing fast, Google continues to be crunched on time and resources to organise the vast amount of data available online. The search engine giant is constantly striving to serve the most relevant and helpful results to each search query.
Structured data, often referred to as the language of the search engines, has been a topic of considerable interest among SEOs for more than a decade now. In June 2011, the major search engines, namely Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex came together to create a standardised list of markup that they collectively agreed to support — Schema.org.
But even today when rich results are mainstream, most search experts seem to be confused about structured data and how it can be used for SEO. In this post, you’ll learn what structured data is and how to leverage it to boost your SEO.
What Is Structured Data?
Essentially, structured data better classifies a page’s content and offers explicit clues about the information on a page to assist Google and other search engines display rich results.
Structured data helps search engines contextualise and better understand the content which, in turn, allows them to show more information to users in the SERPs.
Hence, with structured data, you’re not only helping the search crawlers but also improving the user experience. People are constantly looking for accurate and relevant information and with structured data by their side, search engines can precisely do that.
Structured data is an organised way to represent information.
For instance, ‘Oliver Smith is the SEO manager at Supple.’ is an example of unstructured data.
In this case, a human or bot needs to independently classify the information shared. On the other hand, structured data would organise all of these properties and types ahead of time. For instance, ‘Oliver Smith’ is the name, ‘SEO Manager’ is his role, and ‘Supple’ is the firm he works with.
In this way, search bots can better determine if a page is about a –
- How-to guide
- Phone number
- Event or any other
If a user is looking for a buttermilk recipe, structured data provides rich information (ratings, cooking time, etc.) right there on the SERPs.
Google would have a hard time providing this information without structured data. Here’s a full list of structured data types Google supports.
Major markup formats or structured data in SEO
Schema.org supports three major markup formats or structured data in SEO.
Before JSON-LD got popular, this was the recommended SEO format. Here, the markup data is included in the main HTML of the page. Hence, if not implemented properly, there’s a chance that the page will crash.
RDFa uses the HTML5 format. It is a technology applied to Linked Data markup in several HTML-like languages. It’s best not to use this markup as Google doesn’t prefer it.
How Structured Data Boosts SEO?
First things first, structured data doesn’t play a direct role in the search algorithm as confirmed by Google Search Liaison’s tweet. But while it’s not a ranking factor, it improves the appearance of your SERP listings, thereby boosting your site’s click-through rates (CTRs) and enhancing its search results.
So structured data can indirectly improve on-SERP performance, allowing websites to cover as much real estate on the first page as possible. Considering 75% of searchers don’t go past page one of the SERP, structured data is indeed important.
Structured data implementation qualifies content for special search result features and enhancements. A page that has properly implemented structured data will appear in Google’s graphical results, which maximises the visibility of the content in the search results.
Though structured data isn’t a ranking factor (yet!), Google developers share that it indirectly impacts a website’s ranking. By presenting structured data, search bots are better able to understand the context of your pages, allowing them to match content with more relevant queries.
Features like FAQs, ratings, and reviews help instantly solve user queries and persuade them to visit your website.
Common Uses of Structured Data
Here are a few ways structured data can be used to benefit your business.
1. Knowledge Graph
When a user searches for a prominent brand or person, Google pulls and collates information from other websites (in most cases, Wikipedia) to share a relevant Knowledge Graph on the right-hand side of the search engine page result.
Structured data can be used to populate the Knowledge Graph for your business information.
2. Rich Snippets
This is one of the most popular use cases of structured data. If your website offers a lot of organised information that matches a specific query, search engines will use it to display a carousel of images as a result. The information presented comes from structured data.
So, if your website offers information on Hawaiian food recipes and there’s a search query for such recipes, Google will use your site’s structured data to place your content in a carousel of images at the top of the SERPs.
3. Accelerated Mobile Pages
AMPs are HTML copies of web content that are specially designed to load quickly on mobile devices. They enhance the mobile search experience. These AMP pages can help you rank higher or as featured snippets, thus improving your odds of getting more click-throughs.
If your business website uses AMP, you should consider adding structured data to it for even better performance.
4. Social Cards or Social Previews
Every business uses social media to promote itself. If you want your content to be visually appealing to your audience on social media, it’s wise to employ a social markup. This will let you choose the image, title, and description that will show on the social channel you are using.
Without social cards, you’d never know what image Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn would pick as the display visual on SERPs.
5. Google Ads
Structured data is often used within your Google Ads with structured snippet extensions. This way, you can add extra content to your ad copy, allowing users to understand your business better and boost your click-through rate.
Examples of Structured Data
A regular internet user cannot see structured data as it’s hidden within the code. When webmasters implement structured data, search engines reward websites with a variety of SERP features. Let’s look at them in detail.
1. Content Features
These features appear as separate search results at the top of the SERP.
Carousels appear as images with captions. Here are Google’s guidelines on how you can use structured data for your content to appear on Carousels.
This feature shows up as videos (instead of images as in carousels). Here’s how Google recommends using structured data to show up in videos.
- Featured Snippets
Featured snippets appear at the top of the SERP. They do not count as one of the ten organic results. Hence, if you are awarded a featured snippet for a specific query, your website may appear twice on the first page of search results.
Featured snippets may also appear as quotes, tables, rich cards, along with a question section ‘People also ask.’
- Knowledge Panels or Knowledge Graph Cards
As mentioned before, Google’s knowledge panels pull relevant data for a query and display it as a separate panel on the right side of the SERP. These panels aim at answering high-level queries without requiring a click-through.
2. Enriched Search Features
These are also referred to as rich search results or rich snippets. They enhance regular search results in the following ways.
Breadcrumb is a form of secondary navigation that appears on mobiles in place of a URL on top of the results page. It helps users understand the page’s relationship with its website.
These are the additional links displayed below a search result that allows users to navigate the website with ease. Sites using anchor text and alt text in a way that’s informative and compact have a good chance of getting displayed with sitelinks.
This feature allows searchers to access answers to questions right from the SERP. Here are Google’s guidelines to use structured data for displaying FAQ in search results.
This feature displays a page’s content (text, video, or image) such that the user can view the information on the SERP. Check these guidelines by Google to understand how structured data can be used to display how-to content.
3. Non-SERP Features
Structured data is also used to enhance non-SERP features like the ones mentioned below.
- Social Cards
As touched upon earlier, this markup will enhance your social posts and serves as signals for search engines, contributing to SEO changes if any. These cards display images and rich text when a link is shared on a social platform.
Businesses leveraging social media for their marketing efforts should use appropriate social markup.
- Email Marketing
This markup works best for businesses sending emails on orders, travel reservations, and bookings. It displays a summary of the reservation or order details at the top of the confirmation email.
5 Simple Steps to Use Structured Data for SEO
As discussed above, structured data offers search engines a complete blueprint for your web pages, allowing them to understand your content clearly. Plus, users get a useful preview of your page (like a rating structured snippet), persuading them to click on your search listing.
Hence, structured data should be an essential component of your SEO strategy. Follow these steps to use structured data for SEO.
1. Choose the Web Pages That’ll Benefit the Most
Before starting with structured data, it’s important to list down the pages that’ll benefit the most from adding it.
For instance, if you have a page dedicated to FAQs related to your products, apply the FAQ Schema markup to that page. Similarly, for a how-to post on your blog, you may want to apply the How-to Schema markup.
Websites often tend to have a variety of pages related to articles, how-tos, videos, FAQs, and others. To begin with, make a note of the URLs you plan to update, the structured data added, and the date of the update. This will help you track your structured data efforts in the future.
2. Choose the Structured Data Type
The Schema type you choose should fit in with the general theme of the website and match the searcher intent. Google’s search gallery will help you in this endeavour. It offers a complete list of feature guides that can help you enhance the appearance of your content in the Google search results.
For instance, if you are organizing an art festival and need people to discover it on Google Maps, the ‘Event’ feature can be applied. This will increase the event visibility and the click-through rate of your website.
Here’s a standard Event in JSON-LD. You can also use Microdata or RDFa syntax.
3. Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper
Once you have listed down the URLs and have your structured data ready, it’s time to code! Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper makes this process easy.
All you have to do is –
- Select the data type and paste the URL
Once you’ve chosen the right data type and pasted your URL, click ‘Start Tagging.’
- Once the page loads, highlight the appropriate text and select the relevant tag.
- Click ‘Add missing tags’ to manually insert tags
- Now, click ‘Create HTML’
Google will allow you to load your structured data in JSON-LD or Microdata. You can choose one from the drop-down menu.
- Click ‘Finish’ or ‘Download’
The file will download as HTML. You can now work with your developer to insert the markup into your page. This code should be pasted in the <head> or <body> of your page.
4. Test the Structured Data
Any error in formatting or copying the structured data will confuse Google. The search engine will not be able to understand your page, negatively impacting your organic traffic and rankings.
Fortunately, Google’s Schema Markup Validator can help with testing the structured data and pointing out errors and warnings.
Alternatively, you can use the Rich Results Test to test your markup.
5. Monitor the Health of the Data Markup
Google Search Console is an excellent tool to check the health of the structured data markup applied to web pages. In GSC, go to ‘Enhancements’ to detect errors if any. The tool will offer you the exact location of the errors and guidance on how to fix them.
A Few Rules to Bear in Mind
For the best use of structured data for SEO, here are six rules you should follow.
- Use structured data when it represents the main content of your website, not just a part.
- Make sure all the structured data is visible to the searcher.
- Ideally, you should add structured data in JSON-LD (but the microdata format is also fine!). To increase the chances of rich results, make sure the data on your pages follows one of the three formats.
- Avoid the use of access control methods (for instance, noindex) on pages with structured data.
- Apply the most suitable structured data to your content. For instance, apply ‘Recipes’ for recipes on your website versus ‘How-tos.’
- Avoid black-hat SEO practices like keyword stuffing or hiding content.
- Make sure the structured data pages do not have blocks set on them. Blocking Googlebot using robots.txt or a noindex tag will reduce your chances of achieving rich results.
Myths: Structured Data SEO
The SEO realm is rife with rumours and misinformation. With so much changing, it is difficult for anyone to filter out the noise and determine the facts.
1. Structured Data Is a Ranking Factor
Over the past few years, Google has given considerable attention to structured data. This could cause several webmasters to think that structured data directly impacts SEO. While that’s not completely false, it’s important to remember that structured data isn’t a ranking factor yet. Structured data is designed to help Google better understand the content on web pages.
Though implementing structured data will not give your site a direct ranking boost, it will get your rich snippets in the search results. Google loves websites implementing clean schema.org data as it helps the bots understand the content. Hence, structured data will indirectly influence search engine rankings.
2. Implementing Structured Data Will Automatically Get You Rich Snippets
Structured data is the basic requirement for making your website eligible for rich cards or snippets. Using structured data will surely increase the chances of getting you rich snippets; however, it doesn’t guarantee the same.
It is also possible that your page may not show up at all after incorrectly implementing structured data. So, it all boils down to creating awesome, relevant, and value-adding content that solves user problems and answers their queries.
That brings us to the next common myth…
3. With Structured Data, No Extra Effort Is Required
True, implementing structured data will help Google understand the content on your pages. However, if you leave everything for the search bots to figure out on their own, they may end up focusing on the information you aren’t prioritizing.
Besides implementing structured data, you should focus on creating content that serves a clear purpose. This will help the algorithm better understand your pages, helping it to rank your content for the target keywords.
Businesses that thrive on earning traffic, leads, and sales, (who doesn’t!) cannot afford to ignore the role of structured data for SEO. Structured data helps your business optimise content not just for the search bots but also for human visitors.
Use the information and tactics shared above to implement structured data on your site and boost your SEO efforts.