Getting Started with Structured Data
One of the reasons search engine optimization can feel so intimidating to a novice is all the esoteric terms that are flung around on a regular basis, often with no explanation of what they mean or what you’re supposed to do with them. Like schema markup or structured data, for example.
If you’re not familiar with this term or don’t feel completely at ease writing and implementing structured data for SEO, then you’re in the right spot. This piece will give you a brief overview of what it is and how to use it, with the goal that by the end, you’ll be ready to start using it on your own site.
What is Structured Data?
In the early days of the early internet, different search engines would each have their own specific syntax and vocabulary they preferred for interpreting the contents of a web page. As you can imagine, this led to some problems.
Then, in 2011, Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex got together with some of the other smaller search engines and created a shared language that they would all support. This undertaking led to the creation of Schema.org, which as you’ve probably already figured out, gives its name to schema markup, which is also referred to as structured data.
There’s a lot of complex information that could be included in here about encodings like Microdata and JSON-LD, but let’s keep it simple: structured data is a specific type of code (a.k.a. markup) used to make it easier for search engines to understand a website.
What is the Role of Structured Data in SEO?
The most important usage of structured data is that it makes it easier for search engines to deliver relevant search results. When the results match user intent, it puts the right pages in front of the right people at the right time.
Thus, while structured data probably won’t directly improve your rankings, it’s still extremely important for SEO. Think of it this way: a website selling pool noodles is probably going to have a handful of keywords in common with a pasta company, but a user searching for flotation devices isn’t interested in linguine. The use of structured data allows Google to discern which type of noodles this website offers for sale, allowing it to present it as a result to swimmers, rather than cooks.
More importantly, Google and Bing use structured data to determine which content to feature on search enhancements and content features known as rich results. These are used to provide searchers with quick information and come in several types, including:
These results are shown at the top of search results and offer more information than an ordinary search result.
Whereas an ordinary listing will usually only include the title tag, URL and meta description, rich results are featured in an eye-catching way that may include ratings, images or recipes.
As you could probably guess, this leads to a significantly higher clickthrough rate (CTR) for these pages. According to Google’s own case studies, the Food Network converted 80% of its pages to enable rich search features and saw a 35% increase in visits. Food giant Nestle discovered pages that show in rich results have an 82% higher CTR than non-rich results pages.
In addition to the benefit this brings in the form of organic traffic, an improved CTR can serve as a user behavior signal which can indirectly improve your rankings.
Another way you can leverage structured data to improve your search presence is by using it to populate the Knowledge Graph box. If you’ve ever searched for a company and seen the information listed on the right side of results pages, you’ve seen this.
Because this is used to present searchers with quick information about your business or brand, it’s important to control this information and claim this real estate.
Structured data is also used for Local Business markup, which helps you show up in local search, product markup that gives searchers product info right from SERPs, and Sitelink markup, which adds extra site links to your listing on results pages.
How to Add Structured Data
If you’ve followed along so far, you should already have a basic understanding of what structured data is and why you should use it. Now comes the scary part: HOW to use it.
If you know your way around a block of code, you can create your own structured data using JSON-LD, microdata or RDFa.
But since you’re reading an intro to structured data piece, it’s probably safe to assume you’re not comfortable with that. No worries – there’s an easier way.
All you have to do is go to Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper, select the kind of markup you want, paste in your URL and start tagging elements to be used for markup. From there, it’s easy to generate the HTML code, which can be copy-and-pasted to your site.
If this still sounds too technical for you, a lot of structured data markup can be added to your site via a plugin. For example, WordPress has a number available, including Schema Pro, Rank Math and WPSSO Core. These plugins are generally subscription-based, but if you’re not a coder, they can be well worth the price.
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Schema markup is a useful tool to help your website stand out in search results pages, but on its own probably won’t get you the traffic you want. For that, you need a comprehensive approach to SEO, beginning with a site audit all the way through performance tracking.
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