Structured data is a standardized way to provide information about a web page. It helps search engines like Google to better understand what your content is about.
But what’s in it for you, and how do you implement it?
Let’s get into it!
How structured data helps your SEO
First things first, structured data is not a ranking factor. It doesn’t directly help you to rank higher in Google. However, there are many benefits. We’ll focus on the four most important ones:
- Get rich results
- Get into Google’s Knowledge Graph
- Support semantic search
- Support your E‑A-T
1. Get rich results
Rich results are visually-enhanced search results with information pulled from relevant structured data. The most common type of rich results are rich snippets, like these:
These can often boost clickthrough rates and increase organic traffic to your pages.
2. Get into Google’s Knowledge Graph
Google’s Knowledge Graph is a knowledge-base of entities and the relationships between them. You, your brand, and your products can all become entities that are established and influenced by structured data.
The most direct implication of getting into the Knowledge Graph is having a Knowledge Panel that provides more brand visibility and authority:
3. Support semantic search
Semantic search focuses on the meaning behind search queries instead of traditional keyword matching. It’s how Google manages to return perfect results when you search for something as vague as this:
Because structured data helps Google to better understand what your pages are about, it may help them show up for more relevant search queries.
4. Support your E‑A-T
E‑A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trust. These three things are “what Google looks for in a web page.” Using structured data feeds Google information about your website, its content, and its authors, and makes it easier to assess your E‑A-T.
Schema markup, the cornerstone of structured data
Structured data needs to conform to a particular format. As is the case for any computer language, you must adhere to a correct syntax if you want the machines to crunch it properly.
Schema markup provides such a universally recognized format for structuring data on the Web.
If I want to tell search engines that my first name is Michal, I need to look up how to annotate it. Looking up “name” in the schema.org vocabulary brings me to the givenName property:
You need to use this in its exact form in your code. Using variations like FirstName, firstName, or given_name won’t work. Standardization is the key to structured data, and the schema.org vocabulary provides it.
Take, for example, an airline flight: schema.org has a lexicon to notate the type of aircraft, the departure gate, and even a description of the meal service:
That’s it for the theory. Let’s take a look at how all of this works on your website.
The three ways of structuring data
There are three main formats you can use to structure data on the Web.
JSON-LD is the format that Google recommends. It’s also the easiest to implement because there’s no need to “tag” HTML elements, as is the case with other structured data formats. Instead, you add JSON-LD as one big block of code that tells Google, “Hey, here are the main things you should know about the stuff mentioned on this page.”
Here’s an example of a very simple Organization markup using JSON-LD:
This script can be placed anywhere in theor section of your HTML.
Unlike JSON-LD, where structured data is in one big digestible block, Microdata is sprinkled throughout the page to markup content on-the-fly.
Here’s the same Organization markup as above, but in Microdata format:
As you can see, you mark up everything as it appears on the page. That’s fine for simple markup like this, but it can get very messy and near-impossible to manage for complex applications. Some SEO plugins use Microdata to generate your schema markup and do the work for you, though.
RDFa works like Microdata. You markup HTML elements on the page, rather than providing markup in one big block like JSON-LD. It’s probably the least-used schema syntax, but you will still occasionally encounter it because it’s what Facebook’s Open Graph meta tags are based on.
Here’s how that same Organization markup looks using RFDa:
So, nothing much different from Microdata. But how do you know that all of this is a valid markup?
Testing your structured data
No sane person would deploy code without testing it first. Go to Structured Data Testing Tool, input your code snippet or URL, and see if the markup is valid.
This is what I get when I test the Microdata snippet:
Unfortunately, Google will soon deprecate this tool, and only the Rich Results Test tool will remain. As you can tell from the name, it focuses on your eligibility for rich results, but let’s hope that Google will eventually combine both tools’ functionalities. Classy Schema is a great alternative tool as well.
Before you start marking up your content
Structured data isn’t rocket science, but it takes time to get into it, figure out what to prioritize, and learn how to deploy it at scale. Many CMS’ and plugins often take care of the most basic markup out of the box, but I want to make one thing clear:
For most people, there are way more important SEO tasks than deploying schema on your website. We expand on the prioritization and implementation in our dedicated schema markup post, where you’ll learn everything you need to know about this.
Structured data beyond your website
You can become a Knowledge Graph entity without ever deploying schema markup. That’s because mentions of your brand and products can be anywhere on the Web.
However, don’t start thinking that you need a Wikipedia page just because it’s often used as a source for Knowledge Panels:
First of all, there are many other sources that Google uses. Second, while it’s certainly a shortcut to becoming a Knowledge Graph entity, getting a Wikipedia page is quite a challenging process. And lastly, Google only states the source of the description, which many Knowledge Panels don’t even have.
In fact, unless you have huge media coverage on Wikipedia and Wikidata, your Knowledge Panel will likely be much simpler:
The point here is that you should convey consistent information about you or your business and link it all together.
So, make sure to unify all your company information on social media, other company profiles like Crunchbase, and authoritative websites in your niche. Then connect the dots using the sameAs schema property. We show how in our schema guide.
Structured data is powerful, but it’s unlikely to be an SEO priority for most websites. There are just almost always more important things to focus on.
That said, implementing basic schema like Organization or Person markup is relatively quick and straightforward. You can probably do that in a few minutes, and you can learn how in our guide to schema markup.
Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.