What’s Structured Data?
To begin, “structured data” is a general term that refers to any organized data that conforms to a certain pre-defined format. It is hardly just a SEO-related concept, as it also applies to tools such as relational databases (where data is structured in DB tables with fields inside). This is also true to programming languages, where data is stored in objects or structures (e.g. C language’s “struct” type).
Following this idea, Structured Data helps search engines (by using special HTML tag attributes or a JSON object) better understand what the page’s content is specifically about. That is, whether the page is about a Book, a Local Business, an Article, etc.
What types of Structured Data do engines use?
When a website wants a piece of content to be representative of a “thing” – such as a product page, an article, or a job posting – its code needs to be marked up properly so engines understand it and index it without errors.
When using structured data, a website converts its HTML from an unstructured, general text blob into an engine-friendly document. The more a webpage looks like XML or a JSON object to a search engine, the easier it understands what the page is about and how to fetch its content.
Currently, there are 3 types of structured data in use by search engines:
Microdata is a WHATWG HTML specification used to nest metadata within existing content on web pages to optimize search results. Microdata uses a supporting “vocabulary” to describe an item and name-value pairs to assign values to its properties.
A collection of commonly used markup vocabularies are provided by Schema.org to structure information for items such as Person, “Place”, Event, Organization, Product, Review, Job Postings, etc. Although not Google’s recommended option, engines use Microdata information to extract a page’s most relevant content when crawling websites. Here’s a simple example showing how this article is tagged using Microdata using some of Schema.org’s properties used to define an “Article”:
RDFa (Resource Description Framework) is an HTML5 extension (that also supports linked data) that introduces HTML tag attributes allowing to describe the user-visible content in a way that becomes understandable for search engines.
RDFa Lite consists of five HTML attributes; vocab, typeof, property, resource, and prefix. The “vocab” attribute is, as with Microdata, a vocabulary provided by Schema.org, while property and content . Below is an example showing how to describe this article using RDFa’s tagging syntax.
JSON-LD (JSON for Linked Data) is the newest structured format and the one Google recommends for its search engine, even though it can also handle RDFa and Microdata.
It is also novel in how it is embedded on a page. Instead of tagging the page’s HTML elements JSON-LD exists as a <script> tag, where all the structured data is entered as a JSON object. JSON-LD is also different in that it can supply information about a page without there actually being any visible content to represent that info. Instead, the previous two formats require HTML tags with the required information to be able to add the necessary attributes and tags). This also simplifies content layout as the “crawler info” is separated from the user-visible information, making it a much cleaner option.
Advantages of using Structured Data
Google, Bing, and other search engines encourage webmasters to use structured data and incentivize that usage by providing, in return benefits to websites with structured data correctly implemented.
Some of these benefits include search result enhancements and content-specific features, such as:
- Rich search results: Includes visual enhancements to results, such as including pictures and improved styling.
- Rich cards: A variation on rich search results, similar to rich snippets and designed for mobile users. According to Google, they have primarily been designed to provide data to Google Search about events, products or opportunities on your website.
- Enriched search results: Includes interactive or immersive features. Currently, it only supports the following rich result types Job posting, Recipe, Course, Movie.
- Knowledge Graph: The Knowledge Graph is a knowledge base used by Google and its services to enhance its search engine’s results with information gathered from a variety of sources. This information is presented to users in a box to the right of search results.
- Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs added to the search result
- Carousels: A collection of multiple rich results in a carousel style.
- Rich results for AMP: To have your AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) appear in carousels and with rich results, you’ll need to include structured data.
These enhanced search results can also improve your click-through rate (CTR) and drive additional traffic, because they are more visually appealing and provide additional information to searchers. And improved CTR can also indirectly improve your rankings, as a user behavior signal.
Implementing structured data on your site is also a way to prepare for the future of search, as Google in particular continues to move in the direction of hyper-personalization and solving problems and answering questions directly.
Example: Post a Job offer
Google Search helps people find jobs more effectively by organizing job postings from across the web into one place as well as giving them a prominent place in result pages.
In order to add a job to search results, and assuming we want to use JSON+LD markup, the <head> section of the page where the job is offered should have a code similar to the following:
As you can see, structuring data using a schema makes it much easier for automated search engines to understand content and, in turn, improve search results while leaving out unrelated pages or websites.
How to add structured data to your website
There are a number of tools out there that can simplify the job of adding structured data to your website. It all depends on how your website works and what tools you already use.
For instance, if you own a static website, you can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper page to generate the data and then paste onto your pages. You can also create the code by hand or build it from a database’s tables on dynamic websites.
In these cases, it’s best to test the code by using the Structured Data Testing Tool (also from Google). This will make sure the code complies to Google’s guidelines and no violations occur.
If you use WordPress, you may want to check some plugins and use them to automatically generate the code from you posts. This save a lot of time and improves SEO without much effort.
TSome elements that seem perfectly obvious to people, such as the name of an article’s author, are almost meaningless to web crawlers. Structured data is added directly to a page’s HTML markup. Search engines use structured data to generate rich snippets, which are small pieces of information that will then appear in search results.