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When you’ve crafted high-quality content that will truly serve your audience but you aren’t ranking highly in the search engine results pages (SERPs), it can be frustrating. You need a way to stand out from the pack. What you need are rich results (like the one below, showing product price and rating), which have a 17% higher click-through rate (CTR) than standard listings.
To get a rich listing, however, you need to enhance your code so the search engine knows which helpful pieces of information to show users in the SERPs. If you use a markup model called “structured data” to describe your content in further detail, you will greatly increase your chances of ranking higher with more robust search listings, improving your SEO performance overall.
What is structured data?
Structured data is information that is organized into a format that’s easy for software, like Google’s web crawlers, to understand. It is managed with structured query language (SQL), a programming language created by IBM.
The opposite of structured data is unstructured data, or information that hasn’t been described in more detail for the search engine. These pieces of content are usually qualitative (EX. social media posts, videos, audio, etc.), and the search engine can’t understand them as easily.
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Adding structured data to a web page involves tagging portions of the content with specific markers called “properties” so that search engine crawlers know what they mean. You can use this type of data to identify content like:
For example, a concert ticket website might organize information by event date, performing artist, location, venue, and price.
This data organization helps search engine crawlers discern important pieces of information and display them in a way that benefits the user. Here is an example of how structured data for the Detroit Tigers’ baseball schedule shows up in the search results:
You’ll notice that besides the expected meta description underneath the title tag, Google used the site’s event date and opponent information to list the most upcoming games. This makes the search listing more useful to users who are scrolling for the best resources. You can use schema markup to add these elements to a web page.
Schema.org vs Microformats.org
In 2011, Microsoft, Yahoo, Yandex, and Google created a collaborative resource called Schema.org (http://schema.org) to expand data options for webmasters. It is essentially a database of different structured data vocabularies that make markup easier for developers.
On the website, you will find many different types of markups that you can use to organize your data. When you click on a property, you will see examples of how to use it on your web page. If you use the Schema.org vocabulary, you will have access to more than 750 types of data categorizations.
Although Schema.org markup is the most commonly-used, you can also check out Microformats.org which many sites use to define data related to reviews or people.
Say you want to use Microformats to make references to other people. In this example, the author of the web page gave shout-outs to his collaborators and editors, linking to each one of their websites:
And this is what that content looks like in the source code:
Types of structured data
There are three primary structured data types you can use on your web page: RDFA, JSON-LD, and microdata.
Google recommends JSON-LD because it adds organization without altering the HTML of your website and can be placed anywhere within the header or body sections.
Once you get the hang of it, using structured data to define various areas of your website will improve its overall organization. Plus, it makes your site easier for search engines to read, ultimately increasing your chances of ranking higher in the SERPs.
Why is structured data important for SEO?
Search engines want websites to include structured data so that crawlers can more accurately categorize and index content. When you add these elements to your website, the search engine will have more context and detail for displaying your page in the results.
Google uses structured data items to learn more about a web page’s content. The schema markup tells them pieces of information that might be especially helpful to users. This can lead to enhancements on your results listing, creating what are called “rich snippets.” Here is an example of what a rich snippet looks like:
Beyond the standard title tag and meta title, these types of listings contain additional information about the content on the page. In this case, users can see the movie rating, budget, release date, director, and genre.
Having this content readily available makes your search listing more appealing and can increase your click-through rate for SEO. Bing uses click history as a ranking factor, and Google results show a correlation between having more clicks and a better position in the results.
Types of rich search results
Because there are so many ways to organize your data, the end product can result in a variety of Google search listings. All in all, there are more than 30 types of rich results that you can have through structured data markup, including:
- Critic review
- Job posting
- Local business
- Fact check
- Image license
- Job training
- Home activities
- Sitelinks search box
- Math solvers
- Employer aggregate rating
- Practice problems
- Q & A
- Software app
- Estimated salary
- Review snippet
- Subscription and paywalled content
Carousel snippets come from recipe, course, restaurant, or movie tags and display information like star ratings and cooking time underneath a display that users can swipe through:
Another common type of search result is for local businesses. These show up in the knowledge graph on the side of the results page, showing users nearby options:
Breadcrumbs in the listing can help users figure out exactly where on the website they can navigate to for important information:
As a marketer, implementing some type of structure to your information can make the indexing process faster. Because you’ve already labeled pieces of the content, the search algorithms don’t have to analyze and interpret as much data.
It is especially helpful for Bing and Yahoo whose algorithms are not as good at interpreting semantic language. This may ultimately lead your content to rise quicker in the rankings, gaining more web traffic over time.
How to use structured data
When implementing structured data elements, it’s important to remember that they make it possible for your site to earn rich snippets or featured snippets. It doesn’t guarantee that your listing shows up this way.
Ultimately, the display depends on which type of result helps users the most. Google Search Central provides structured data guidelines from both a technical and quality standpoint.
There are two primary concerns when it comes to the technical side of structured data implementation.
The first guideline is to use JSON-LD, Microdata, or RDFa to mark up your content. You can use a combination of these approaches, but JSON-LD is labeled the least invasive and easiest.
The second technical guideline is to make sure the structured data is not blocked with a noindex html tag or a robots.txt file. These simple guidelines are necessary for the search engine to find and read your data markup, so be sure to double-check that you’ve followed them properly.
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For SEO purposes, you need to create content that helps the user and is accessible to the search engine. The same goes for structured data – it has to demonstrate the value of your content.
Marking up your metadata will only improve your rankings if the search engine can clearly see why the page is valuable to the user. Here are the quality guidelines that you must follow if you want your content to be able to generate a rich snippet:
- Content: Only markup web pages that have information that is visible, original, and does not promote violence or mislead users.
- Specificity: Use the most specific type and property for your content.
- Images: Make sure that you only mark up images for the page that they belong to on your site.
- Relevance: Match the data to the actual content on the page.
- Multiple items: If two pieces of data are connected, use an @id link to connect them.
- Location: Add the markup to all the pages it belongs to – not just the canonical page.
- Completeness: Include all the pieces of information that a user would need.
Remember, you have to follow these guidelines in order for the search engine to generate a rich result for your web page. If you need auditing your web pages for crawler-friendly data, there is a markup helper you can use.
Structured Data Markup Helper
If you struggle with coding or simply want a faster way to add certain properties to your content, use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.
This tool allows you to add structured data elements to a web page. All you have to do is go to the page URL, select the content clarifiers that you want, and generate the HTML code. Then, you can either paste the code into your page or download the HTML to replace your current page.
Before you use this tool, test your web page in an incognito Chrome browser to ensure that anyone can access it. This will ensure that the tool has the correct source code to work with.
Adding markup in WordPress
If you use WordPress as your CMS, you can add structured data to your pages either manually or with the help of a plugin.
The manual approach is best suited for people who have experience coding or doing web development. It can become confusing and cause issues with your entire website if incorrectly applied, so you should be confident in your understanding of the markup language and proper syntax.
For the majority of developers, using WordPress plugins saves time and helps guard against mistakes. Here are some of the most popular and easy-to-use WordPress plugins for SEO that allow you to add structured data:
- Schema App Structured Data
- WP SEO Structured Data Schema
- WP Review
- Yoast SEO
- Schema & Structured Data for WP & AMP
These SEO tools provide visual coding blocks and editors that allow you to add structured data markup without individually inputting each tag. They do this by auto-generating code for your website. Once you’ve successfully added the structured data, you need to test it for accuracy.
Structured data testing tool
You should have ownership over your website in Google Search Console – if not, you need to verify your property. Having access to the tools and information on this platform is important for improving your SEO.
After you have written or generated structured data for your website, open up the Structured Data Testing Tool and either paste the code into the search bar or enter your web page’s URL. Here’s what it might look like:
The tool is going to analyze the source code and look for signs of missing information and display warnings to you. It will show you all of the structured data elements that you have defined on the page, as well.
Don’t skip over this step, as you need to be certain that you’ve properly formatted all your data. If you haven’t, the search engine won’t consider creating a rich result for your web page. While this won’t impact the quality of your content, it also won’t help your SEO or lead to better rankings.
Get a complimentary SEO audit
The benefits of structured data apply to all businesses across the web. Whether you’ve been online for years or just started last month, adding schema markup may help you generate rich results for your web pages
If users see your site’s value in the form of rich results, this will make them more likely to click on your web page and it will improve your chances of converting them into customers.
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