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Structured data can allow search engines and other algorithms to better understand pages and their information. This can help to improve search engine results when used on content pages and also allow for certain search engine features to be enabled, such as rich snippets. Structuring data can also make searching and extracting data easier so that the information can be used to further your company’s marketing efforts.

What Is Structured Data?

Structured data is a format that communicates the content of your webpage in an organized manner to search engines. While Google and other search engines use advanced technology to understand what type of content is located on a page, structured data allows the website owner to communicate what is on a website in a way that the search engines can easily extract and display it in new ways. By making it easy for the search engines to understand the type of content on a page, they can serve it to internet users in a richer way, improving the user experience.

For example, by tagging the different content on your page, you can tell the search engines whether pages on your site include recipes, pricing, phone numbers, ratings, or other information. This easy-to-follow information makes it easier for search engines to deliver accurate results. This in turn can also promote higher search engine rankings. Structured data can also help your website be displayed in search as enhanced results, such as rich snippets, which result in improved click-through-rates.

Why Is Structured Data Important for SEO?

There are multiple reasons why structured data is important for SEO:

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Helps Search Engine Rankings

Structured data improve search engines’ ability to understand the content on a web page, which allows it to then display the content more effectively in the search engines. Using structured data on your website essentially tells Google what your website is about and for what searches it should appear. It removes any questions Google or other search engines might have about your content and format.

By reviewing the structured data on the page, Google can confirm whether a page shares information about an event, posts a recipe, or offers other types of information. When your site is included accurately in the search engine results page, or SERP, they will follow the link and stay on your site longer, rather than bouncing away immediately. The higher click-through rate and a longer duration of time spent on your website can greatly impact your search engine ranking over time.

Maximize Search Result Real Estate

While structured data may not have an immediate impact on your search engine rankings, it can give you the ability to maximize your visibility in the search results. Google responds to end-user queries by answering questions in featured snippets above the search results, in position zero. If Google pulls information from your website for the featured snippet, it increases the likelihood of clicks from the end-user.

Users trust Google to deliver relevant, useful content, which is why being selected for the featured snippet automatically allows you to gain trust with the end-user. A featured snippet can have a big impact on user behavior. Rather than clicking on the link at the top of the search results, most people will instead click on the featured snippet, even if that website is actually located further down the page. It’s no surprise, then, that when a featured snippet appears on the SERPs, the click-through rate for the top-ranking website actually goes down by 8%.

Helps You Provide a Better User Experience

The featured snippet can help create a better user experience by giving end-users valuable information about your company and website without them ever having to click on your site. Using structured data, you can make it easy for Google to determine which pages on your website are most relevant to the query and offer the most value. Users can also develop trust for your company and products before going to your website.

For example, ratings can tell users what kind of experience other people have had with your product or service. Structured data that contains information about a recipe can tell the end-user if it’s what they’re looking for before they ever click on it. This type of information can help them decide whether they want to click through to your website.

Common Uses for Structured Data

There are some common uses for structured data that can benefit any business, including:

Knowledge Graph

When you search for a person or company, Google pulls information from the company website or other websites, often Wikipedia, to populate the right-hand side of the search engine results page. If you use structured data, you can populate the Knowledge Graph with your own information.

Rich Cards and Rich Snippets

This is the most common type of markup that website owners use. This allows them to mark recipes, products, articles, product reviews and star ratings, and videos. If your website has multiple items that fit a particular search query, then the search engine could use a host carousel result. For example, if you have recipes on your site and someone does a search for pie recipes, then Google could, above the search results, place a carousel of images of the different, relevant recipes.

AdWords

You can use structured data within your Google AdWords ads with structured snippet extensions. These allow you to add extra information to your ad copy to help end-users understand more about your products and services. This can also help to improve the click-through rates for your ads.

Accelerated Mobile Pages 

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are basic, stripped-down HTML copies of the content designed to load quickly for mobile. It’s intended to provide a better user experience for people viewing content on a mobile device. If your website uses AMP, you want to include structured data on your AMP pages and your regular pages, as your AMP pages could potentially appear as a featured snippet.

Social Cards

If you use social media for marketing or want your content to be visually appealing if other people share it on social media, you should implement social markup. You can validate your social markup using each platform’s testing tools.

Structured Data Example Format

Developers.google.com describes the properties required and recommended for structured data to give it special meaning in a Google Search. Understanding the guidelines, you can help have your structured data better understood in search results engines and possibly help improve your rankings.

Google recommends following all of the required properties and guidelines so that your site can be displayed in Google Search with an enhanced display. They also recommended testing your structured data using the Rich Results Test6 when it is in development.

To achieve an enhanced display you will need to fill out as many properties as possible.

General Structured Data Guidelines

Some guidelines will need to be applied to any structured data. Following these guidelines is important so that the information can be eligible to be included in Google Search. When these guidelines are not properly followed, a less favorable ranking may occur, or may not be included in rich results. This is because Google wishes to maintain its status as a high-quality search engine and try to avoid promoting spammy types of structured data or poorly structured data.

Technical Guidelines to Follow

In addition to the general guidelines that Google lays out, there are also technical guidelines you should follow with your structured data to be accomplished and result in better search rankings. Once you have followed the guidelines below, you can test them for technical errors using a Rich Results Test or a  URL Inspection tool  .

Formatting

To have the potential for rich results, the data on your page will need to follow one of three formats supported by Google. These include JSON-LD, which is highly recommended, Microdata, and RDFa. These plain text formats can help search engines better identify information on your webpage. Converting data to one of these formats is easy when you use schema.org or other Google vocabulary programs.

Schema.org

Schema.org is a place where you can find all of the markups for structured data that are supported by the various search engines. When structuring your data to improve the SEO on your site, you can use schema.org to find the specific markups you will need to use for your page. For example, if your website sells prom dresses, you can structure your data to show styles, sizes, and colors in your snippet.

To use schema.org, all you have to do is copy the code from the like example, paste it into your website’s code, and make the necessary adjustments needed to ensure it covers your desired preferences. The codes and format available on schemea.org are designed to be easily understood by the most popular search engines to help make the process of structuring your data for searches easier.

JSON-LD

One of the commonly used markups found on schemea.org is JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data or JSON-LD. This is a popular way to write code when creating structured data and is the format that Google search engines prefer. It is a Linked data format that is easy for search engines to read and easy for developers to write. It is also often used to make JSON more easily readable on the web.

Microdata

Microdata works by communicating to the search engine what the elements in the webpage are. When using microdata, each individual piece of content on the page will be given its own labels, which can make it easier for search engines to find, when narrowing down results that will fit with the search. It works as though it would directly speak to the search engine saying, “This is what the recipe in the ingredients are,” or “This is the rating the recipe received.”

RDFa

Resource Description Framework in Attributes, or RDFa, is an extension used with HTML5 that helps users markup their structured data so search engines can better recognize it. RDFa is sometimes considered by developers to be a web standard and provides them with the ability to chain together different structured data vocabularies into one cohesive code. This is the go-to for developers who are looking to add structured data to a page and cannot find the appropriate examples on schema.org.

Accessibility

Structure data pages should not have blocks set on them. Blocking your pages to Googlebot using robots.txt or a noindex tag can prevent you from achieving rich results.

Types of Structured Data

If you do decide that you want to add structured data to your website, there are a variety of different types to choose from, including:

  • Article
  • Event
  • Carousel
  • Course
  • Book
  • Dataset
  • Aggregate rating
  • Breadcrumb
  • Corporate contact
  • Fact check
  • Job posting
  • FAQ
  • How-to

Quality Guidelines to Follow

Once you have completed the general and technical requirements for structured data, you will next want to focus on the quality of the content on the page to help you achieve a better ranking. As with the technical guidelines, quality guidelines can also be tested using automated tools, and it is recommended to do so. Failure to follow the quality guidelines may not only hurt your chances of achieving a rich result but may, in fact, get your content marked as spam. Below are some of the questions you need to ask when following the quality guidelines to improve your chances of a higher search result.

Is Your Content High Quality and Appropriate?

One of the biggest things to focus on when it comes to your structured data quality is content. To start, you will always want to follow the Google webmasters’ quality guidelines exactly as they are laid out. In addition to that, you will want to be sure that your content:

  • Includes up-to-date information.
  • It is original and provided by you or users.
  • Is not marked up visibly on the page.
  • It is not irrelevant, misleading, or a misrepresentation.
  • It is not designed to mislead or decide readers.
  • Does not promote illegal, violent, or cruel acts.
  • It does not include information that could cause harm to others.
  • Follows all posting content policies.

Is Your Data Relevant?

All the structured data on your page should represent true information on the page content. If a site is labeled as a sports site, it should include information about sports and sporting events, not political news. Having data that is not relevant to the content on the page can get your page flagged hurt your standing on search engines.

Is the Data Complete?

To obtain a rich result type, you will need to specify all of the required properties. If any information is missing or incomplete, it will become ineligible for rich results. While you will need to fill out the required properties, filling as many recommended properties can also provide a higher quality result.

An example would be on a job posting. While salaries are not necessarily required, having a specific starting salary listed could provide for higher results. Reviews and ratings can also help provide an additional boost as long as they are from actual users. If they are not, they are likely to be considered spam.

Is the Location Correct?

Your structured data will need to be included on the page that is described in the data. For websites with the same or similar content on multiple pages, it is better to include the same structured content on all of the pages instead of just one.

Are Images the Correct Format?

If you have images in your structured data, they need to be specified appropriately. The image needs to belong to the instance of that type. If the image is marked as property of a specific article, the image must truly belong to that article. You will also want to make sure that all of the images are indexable and crawlable. If not, then Google Search will be unable to find them, and they will not be listed in the search display.

Are Multiple Pages Properly Marked?

In many cases, you may have more than one type of item on a page. This could include a video or images that enhance the content. Any information visible to the user should be marked up with structured data so that search engines will be able to understand the information contained on the page more easily. As long as they are structured, the more items you add, the better picture that the page will paint to search engines.

Common Myths Involving SEO and Structured Data

Part of understanding structured data and how it can affect SEO is dispelling common myths associated with structured data and how it is related to SEO.

Myth: You Will Automatically Get Rich Snippets if You Use Structured Data

While using a structured data markup can increase your chances and is, in fact, required to be eligible for rich cards and rich snippets, it does not guarantee that the site will automatically appear as a rich snippet in the search results. There are chances that it may never show up at all, or even the possibility that it can show up on and off. This can occur even when you are doing everything right.

Myth: Structured Data is a Signal to Rank Higher

Structured data is designed for a search engine to better comprehend what is contained on the page. The better the search engine results understand the information, the better it can connect users with relevant information. So if the information is valuable to searchers, it might increase its ranking. This can boost your page in search engine results and improve click-through-rate when rich snippets are obtained. This can all help improve rankings but having a structured markup will not automatically trigger a ranking signal.

Myth: You Don’t Need to Put in Any Extra Work

Google can be pretty smart at figuring things out, but if you leave the search engine to do everything on their own you may find yourself disappointed. It is true that many search engines can figure pages out without structured data markup, but it may end up focusing on something other than the specific information you are trying to get across.

By putting in the extra work, using structured data markup, and having content that provides a clear purpose, the algorithms will better understand them the way that you would want them to, and hopefully, the ranking will improve for the target market you are trying to capture.

It is also important to note that there are some features of Google that you will not be able to utilize if they are not implemented properly. Over time this could have a significant effect on the quantity and quality of traffic that you receive to your site from search engine results. Especially if you are in a competitive niche. Being able to utilize features such as rich snippets can significantly improve click-through-rate.

Search Engine Optimization is an important part of online marketing. By using structured data over unstructured data, search engines will be able to better capture the information on your site that your wish to convey to users. This can result in possible rich snippets and even higher rankings if the content is high-quality and follows proper SEO. You also will have the ability to take advantage of all of the features that search engines offer through the proper structuring of your data. Putting in the time to added structured data markup to your page can result in a more effective marketing plan by increasing traffic, click-through-rate, and rankings.

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