As search engines like Google strive to provide a better user experience, structured data is becoming more important than ever. While the market share can shift slightly, at any given time Google accounts for around 90% of the search engine market, meaning if you’re not doing everything you can to rank your web pages high with Google, you’re missing out.
If you’ve looked at search results pages and found they look drastically different than they did 5 years ago, it’s because they do. Results pages are now packed with more rich content than ever, such as images, video, product carousels, even detailed ‘how-to’ or products specific information without even clicking through to a website.
If you’ve ever wondered why, it’s because of structured data. Let’s explore what structured data is, why you should use it, and how it can help your business.
What is structured data?
The basic premise behind structured data is to put information (data) into a certain order that makes sense. It isn’t a new concept – even the most archaic filing system could be considered a form of structured data, but in terms of what it means for your website, it’s much more than a basic filing system.
Structured data is specific code in your website that allows search engines to take the important content from your website and understand it better. When structured data is used proficiently, it can also mean having your website up in lights, so to speak, through various rich content that can be displayed on search results pages.
Using structured data can improve the chances of your website linking to a customer’s search query, by ranking you higher and also adding a touch of professionalism to the search result.
The whole idea of structured data is to make it easy for search engines like Google to interact with your website, and this process dates way back to the semantic web.
What are types of structured data?
A perfect example of this technology is a streaming platform. With Spotify, for example, the structured data used here may be:
- Year of release
- Album title
The structured data of each song links it in some way to other similar songs. This way, users can find the songs they love, and be given suggestions of multiple other songs that have the same genre classification, year of release, or shared popularity among other users.
In terms of a company’s website, the structured data will vary depending on what your business does. Structured data on a clothing retailer’s website, for example might be specific product details that allow Google to classify it more easily. Such as:
- Material used
- Item type
This information could then be displayed in a search engine results page (SERP) feature, making it more appealing for customers to click through to that product’s website.
What is a SERP feature?
A search engine results page (SERP) feature is an enhanced search result that looks more visually appealing and is packed with more information than a regular search result. These are sometimes known as ‘rich snippets’ or ‘rich search results’.
If your website is using structured data correctly, your search result on Google may be enhanced in some way that makes it stand out from the rest. This could include the display of:
- Opening hours – via local pack
- Address – via local pack
- Maps – via local pack
- Review ratings
The list doesn’t end there. An extensive SERP feature can include plenty of detailed information that makes it easy for customers to contact your business, hence highlighting the value of structured data to your business.
The semantic web and structured data
The semantic web is a way to improve the internet for everyone, mainly by identifying linked data that can be used in multiple applications. Once upon a time, Google searches were driven very much by the user. A specific search query would be entered, and search engines could really only match by those specific keywords.
Enter: the semantic web and structured data. The semantic web is essentially a network of information that extends beyond just keywords, in order to make search results more efficient and accurate. It organises data into a sensible flow so that your website ranks for searches that are relevant to the content on your site.
This is where the search engines (machines) are getting better at understanding information inputted by humans. For example, if you search for gardening tools in your area, rather than only giving you details on local hardware stores, you might also be presented with a step-by-step guide to garden maintenance, or some videos relating to lawn care. This occurs because all of the linked/structured data in the semantic web determines the type of things you may also be interested in if you’re searching for garden tools.
What is Schema.org?
Schema was created as a collaboration between Google, Bing, Yandex and Yahoo to come up with a universally recognised collection of tags which would allow information (data) to be shared and re-used in different environments.
Schema is a collection of vocabularies used to determine how the structured data on your website appears to search engines. Simply, it is an agreed upon set of tags (microdata) that can be added to websites in order to improve the way search engines find and display your page on search results.
Anybody can use schema, and while many website builders have schema plugins to make it easy, you can access the correct coding for all types of schema from the official website.
Types of schema
By no means exhaustive, the list below highlights some of the popular forms of schema used on websites.
- Local Business Schema – Particularly valuable if you’re running a business that relies on local customers. USed by service businesses, restaurants and basically any company that wants people walking through their brick and mortar shopfront. This sort of structured data markup help you stand out in searches like ‘plumbers near me’.
- Review – Shows your star ratings for Google review. With social proof playing a key role in customer’s search decisions, this is one you really need.
- Events – Make events easily discovered on search engines. You can show up on search engine listings for events in a particular area.
- Product and Offer – This schema markup is essential for anybody selling products online. Rich results can show images, prices, discounts, special offers. You might also appear in product carousels. Expect this to be extremely valuable as Google looks towards using augmented reality in search.
- Breadcrumbs Markup – A breadcrumb trail on a page shows where the page sits in the site hierarchy. Users can explore the site hierarchy by starting with the last breadcrumb in the trail.
- Article Schema Markup – Gain access to enhanced search results such as appearing in the top stories results, visual stories and of course rich results with attention grabbing images and bold headlines.
- Video Schema Markup – Rank high on video searches, as well as appearing in top stories and other carousels. You can add details like video length and upload date.
Why Use Structured Data on Your Website
The very simple reason for using structured data is the same reason you would make any improvements to your website. The end goal is to attract more people to your website in the hopes of converting them to sales. The more times your website shows on a search result (impressions), the more chance you have of customers clicking through to your page. Structured data provides you with an increased chance of doing this.
Why is structured data important for SEO?
Search engines and their algorithms are continuing to evolve, with the sole aim of providing the best user experience – that’s why SEO has never been more important. That means providing relevant content to users based on their search queries. The goal is to rank as high as possible on search results pages, especially considering recent studies have shown that the number 1 organic result in any search receives 31.7% of the clicks. Even boosting your position by one spot can increase your click-through-rate by 30%.
Remember, Google’s main goal is providing users with relevant search results. This is why it rewards websites with structured data – it makes their job easier to identify relevant, useful information and deliver it to their users at the right time.
Visually enhance your search result
So, we understand now that structured data helps search engines categorise and organise your website’s content more effectively, but what about the visual aspect for potential customers? This is probably the real selling point for using structured data, because humans are inherently visually motivated.
Using structured data can make your search results look more appealing to viewers. It does this by transforming your boring old search result with just a page title and brief description into what’s known as a ‘rich search result’, ‘rich snippet’ or ‘SERP feature’. It does this by adding the following possible features:
- Review ratings
- Product Information
- Event starting times and costs
- Visual images of your product as part of a carousel (mobile searches)
All of these enhancements create a more visually appealing, professional looking search result that users are likely to be drawn to.
How to generate structured data
The best thing about structured data is although it’s essentially a piece of code for your website, you don’t need to be super-technical to implement it yourself.
In very simple terms, the idea is to ‘mark up’ certain parts of your website’s content, in a sense highlighting it so Google knows what’s important. And you guessed it, Google even have their own tool to help you do it.
Using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper makes it easy to implement structured data on your site in a few simple steps:
- Choose the type of page you’re marking up (for example an event page, or recipe).
- Enter the page URL.
- Select ‘Start Tagging’.
- Highlight the important elements of the page. Each time you highlight a piece of content, you choose the type of information. For example, ‘Start Time’ or ‘Price’ for your event.
- Ensure you have included all the relevant information. There’s a guide in the ‘My Items’ pane to tell you the minimum requirements.
- One you’ve tagged all of the important information, select ‘Create HTML’. The output format can either be JSON-LD or Microdata. These are both data formats, so if you’re not familiar with their meaning, it’s worth doing some research.
- You now need to paste the generated code into your website. For JSON-LD you can copy it into the body of your existing page. For Microdata you’ll need to download and replace the whole HTML for the page.
- You can also test the data by pasting the code into Structured Data Markup Helper, where it will tell you if you’ve missed anything.
This is a very brief and non-technical way of doing structured data, but as with anything related to your website, if you’re not comfortable we always suggest consulting some experts in the field to help you out. For a chance to boost your search rankings and attract more visitors to your site, doing structured data properly is worth the investment.
Testing your structured data
Testing is a crucial step in the process, because without getting it absolutely right, you won’t achieve your goal of accessing the rich search results and enhancements on search engines.
When you start testing your structured data, you may receive the following issues using the Structured Data Testing Tool:
- Warnings: These are minor issues. It isn’t essential to fix them all, but best practice suggests you should fix as many as possible.
- Errors: You must fix these errors, or your structured data won’t achieve the goal of achieving the rich result rewards Google has to offer.
As you can see, using structured data and using it well can reap giant rewards. If you’re technically minded, we encourage all business owners to give structured data a try. If you’re not, get in contact with your digital marketers and ask them about structured data today. As search engines evolve, harnessing the power of structured data is a great way to get your website ranking high on search results and keep your nose in front of your competitors.