What is structured data and how does it work?

What is structured data and how does it work?

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This article provides an in-depth look at the crucial topic of structured data. We will explain what it is, how it works, and how it fits into the bigger picture of SEO marketing.

In recent years we have seen major developments in structured data. Primarily with the introduction of schema.org in late 2011. 

This was a collaboration between Google, Yandex, Yahoo, and Microsoft! The aim was to help webmasters provide the information search engine crawlers need to understand their pages. Think of it as a shared vocabulary that uses different encodings, including Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD.

In fact, Schema Markup is so good for SEOs. So much that over 10 million sites are using Schema.org to markup web pages and email messages.

However, there is still a lot of confusion around how structured data works.

This article provides an in-depth look at the crucial topic of structured data. We will explain what it is, how it works, and how it fits into the bigger picture of SEO marketing.

What is structured data?

Structured data (aka. Schema markup) is code (semantic vocabulary) that you put on your website. The main aim? To help the search engines return more informative results for users.

It’s a way to provide information about a page and classify the page content. For example, on a recipe page, it can provide information on what are the ingredients, the cooking time and temperature, the calories, and so on.

Structured data is primarily used to add additional context to search engine results pages (SERPs) so they can be more useful for users.

Structured Data Vs Unstructured Data: What is the difference?

Structured Data

Structured data is quantitative data that has been prepared in a specific format, such as JSON-LD or RDFa. The purpose of structured data is to make it easier for search engines to read and understand the content on your website. 

Structured data can be used to improve the SEO of your site by helping search engines to better understand your content and provide better search results for users.

Unstructured Data

Unstructured data (qualitative data) is any type of data not prepared in a specific format. This would include text such as blog posts, product descriptions, and other content published on your website without being formatted in a way that makes it easier for search engines to read and understand.

Unstructured data is a major issue for all organizations. It’s difficult to analyze, difficult to extract meaning from, and difficult to put into context with structured data sets. In fact, Forbes reports that 95% of businesses surveyed listed managing unstructured data as a major issue.

How Does Structured Data Work?

Structured data is a way to organize and describe information on the web. Structured data can be embedded into your website’s HTML code, or contained in a separate file called an XML sitemap.

When search engines visit your site, they use structured data to categorize your content and understand the relationships between different pieces of information. This makes it easier for search engines to present relevant results when users search for something related to your website.

For example, if you’re an e-commerce site selling shoes, you can add structured data to your product pages so that Google knows these are shoe products and what type of shoes they are (e.g., running shoes). Then when users search for “running shoes,” Google will return links to all the best running shoe-related content on your site as part of its search results page.

Supported Formats for Structured Data

There are three ways to apply structured data markup: JSON-LD (recommended), Microdata, RDFa.

JSON-LD

JSON-LD is short for JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data. It is a lightweight data format used to provide structure to information on the web. It allows developers to create semantic markup without having to worry about the syntax or writing complex documents. 

JSON-LD inserts all of your markup into the head of the page using Javascript object. The results? A cleaner, simpler implementation, especially from a development perspective.

This option is relatively new compared with Microdata and RDFa. However, it seems promising because it doesn’t require any extra markup or code. In fact, it’s Google’s preferred format and the golden standard for structured data markup.

Microdata

Microdata is used by search engines to display rich snippets in search results. Rich snippets are little bits of additional information that appear next to a web page’s URL in search results pages such as bolded headlines or reviews from reputable sources.

The approach was originally recommended by Google, especially for SEO purposes. However, JSON-LD support significantly improved over the past few years.

RDFa

RDFa stands for Resource Description Framework in Attributes. This form of structured data makes use of attributes within HTML tags to describe the content of each page on your site. Essentially, it uses HTML5 format in  publishing data linked in HTML5 documents.

RDFa has been around since 2007. So if you’re looking for something simple with a long track record—this might be it! Nevertheless, it is not a top choice as Google doesn’t prefer it.

What is structured data used to display?

You might be asking yourself, what can I display using structured data? There are options:

Rich Snippets

These are search results that show users more than just a title and URL. They might include additional information like a product rating or author name.

For example, if you’re searching for a recipe and you get a result with a rich snippet applied, you’ll be able to see both the review score and cook time right at a glance. This can help make it easier for you to choose which recipe is best for you. Or, if you’re looking for a quick dinner option, which recipe is going to work with your schedule.

There are different types of snippets like review snippets, people snippets, product snippets, recipes etc. Rich snippets help your listing stand out in SERP and increase CTR (Click Through Rate).  They appear below the meta title or meta description.

Rich Cards

Announced by Google in May 2016, rich cards provide a new way of display search results.

Rich Cards are like rich snippets, except they’re created specifically for listing content in a carousel format. They’re only eligible for mobile searches. So non-AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) pages are not supported. 

Rich cards use schema.org structured data to display content in an even more engaging and visual format than standard rich snippets. So, they’re basically a step beyond rich snippets. Primarily, the goal is to make mobile searching more useful for users.

Knowledge Graph

Knowledge graphs are a type of graph database that allows you to store, organize and query data, in the form of entities and their properties and relations.

Knowledge graph is a term associated with Google search. It was first announced in a 2012 blog post by Amit Singhal, the then-senior vice president of engineering at Google.

Since 2013 Google has been collecting structured data from websites. This data is used to enrich the knowledge graph.

Knowledge Graph is part of Semantic Search and Artificial Intelligence/Natural Language Processing (AI/NLP) fields. Google uses it to enhance its search engine’s results with information gathered from a variety of sources.

Typically, it’s made up of details collected or generated by third-party sources, or directly by Google itself. It’s presented as direct answers and in informational boxes in response to user queries.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are an important navigation tool for all users. A breadcrumbs trail is a series of links at the top or bottom of a page that show the steps you took to get to the current page.

It helps a user understand the hierarchy of their location on a website. Also, it can help users navigate back to a previous section or the main page of the site.

Interactive Search Results

Normally when you search for something on a search engine, you get standard results. Interactive search results let you visually pick and choose more filters to narrow down your query.

For example, if you used the interactive search result “Drink” to search for that term, it will then show you options like “Coffee”, “Lemonade”, “Smoothies”, etc. These options will then give you a filtered search result for the drink that you are looking for specifically.

You can also use this feature in conjunction with other features to further specify your query.

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)

Major search engines are constantly looking for ways to improve the mobile user experience. In February 2016, Google released the first version of AMP. 

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) are a new way to create web pages that load faster on mobile devices. These pages use less data, so they can be accessed even if you’re using a slow connection.

AMP pages also provide a standard layout and design that makes your content more accessible, no matter what device or browser you’re using. This standardization also helps you with SEO—your AMP pages will appear in search results just like regular HTML pages do.

Social Cards

Social cards are a form of structured data that communicates with social platforms. They are also called Open Graph tags or JSON-LD tags. You can use them to control what gets displayed on social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Social cards are like meta tags for your website. They tell the platforms what to display when your web page is linked to from a social site like Twitter or Facebook. 

How Structured Data Benefits SEO

It’s no secret that search engines have a massive impact on the overall performance of a website. In fact, it’s estimated that 70-80 percent of all clicks on search results pages go to organic listings.

Not only that, but many people use search engines to find websites, products, and information. In fact, around 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine.

With numbers like that one, it would be stupid not to optimize your site for search engines. While there are many ways to do so, one of the most effective is schema markup.

If you’re unfamiliar with structured data and its benefits for SEO, here’s everything you need to know:

  1. Improve Website Ranking

If we believe the data released by Search Metrics, webpages that have schema incorporate rank four positions higher than websites that do not include schema. This is most likely due to the increase in CTR, which we know is a ranking factor by Google.

  1. Improve Click-through Rate

According to Search Engine Land, you can get up to 30% increase in CRT using structured markup.

Incorporating schema allows Google to display your content in various forms to the user, which can catch the attention of the searcher and provide a better click-through rate. For example, if you are a website that ranks in no. 2, you can have a better click-through than your rival at no.1 with the help of schema enhanced rich snippets. There are various forms of rich snippets and data suggests that they make a significant impact on the number of people that visit your website.

  1. Gain Rich Snippets in SERPs

It can help you gain rich snippets, which are special sections that appear in search engines like Google that include images and extra information about the website. In addition to helping you rank higher, rich snippets make it more likely that people will click on your page when they see it in results. 

By providing a full picture of what your site offers, these “rich results” can dramatically increase your click-through rate (CTR). In fact, rich snippets can double your click-through rate. That’s a massive increase in traffic – all from adding a few lines of code!

  1. Reduced Bounce Rate

More importantly, rich snippets also lead to lower bounce rates. Users get the information they need right there on the search engine results page. 

So they know whether your site is right for them before they even click on it. If it’s not what they’re looking for, they won’t click through—and that’s a good thing! It means you won’t be wasting time on people who aren’t interested in what you have to offer.

  1. Control Your Business SERP

With the attractive search result after uploading the schema code on the website, you can assist the Google My Business listing in controlling the SERP for your business name keywords.

  1. Higher Ranking in Voice Search

As the use of voice search grows, the way that people are searching is also changing. When people use voice search, they often ask longer questions as though they’re talking to another person. Structured data helps you rank higher in these long-tail keyword searches by helping search engines match up the long-tail keywords with your content.

  1. Better Search Engine Understanding of Your Content

In addition to helping with voice search, structured data also ensures that Google understands what your website is about and matches it up with more relevant results.

How Does Structured Data Help Online Business?

The goal of online business is to increase traffic and improve conversions. Schema markup can help achieve these goals by providing search engines with additional information about your business. 

For example, schema can let search engines know your business hours, the location of your physical store, the services you offer, and any special events you are promoting.

In addition to helping you get more visitors to your website, schema allows you to control how your business will show up in search results. It can be used to power rich snippets on search engine results pages (SERPs). You can even use schema to create a Knowledge Graph card that shows up next to your search result. This will help searchers find the information they’re looking for faster and increase the chances they’ll click through to your site.

Some business owners report that after implementing schema on their website, they witnessed a more than 50 per cent increase in traffic to the site. Therefore, as an online business, you should leverage the full potential of schema markup to increase your business presence and sales.

How To Add Structured Data To Your Website

Google has developed a Structured Data Markup Helper which you can use to add JSON-LD to your website. This tool allows you to add microdata/schema with just a few clicks of your mouse. 

Step 1: Choose your data type from the drop-down list

Step 2: Enter your URL or HTML into the field provided and click START TAGGING.

Step 3: Highlight each item you wish to tag and choose its corresponding itemtype from the drop-down.

Step 4: Preview your tagged data and click CREAT HTM at the bottom of the page.

Step 5: Copy and paste your code into the head section of your webpage and save.

Note: You can also use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to add structured data to your email. 

Where can I test my schema markup?

Whenever you make changes to your site, you’ll want to make sure they’re working as intended. There are a few different tools available to help test your site’s structured data.

Schema.org’s Structured Data Testing Tool

Schema.org’s Structured Data Testing Tool lets you enter the URL of a page that has structured date. Then it displays an overview of the structured data on the page, any errors or warnings for that structured data, and other information about the page.

Google Search Console’s Structured Data Report

Google Structured Data Report displays information about all types of structured data on your site, including what pages have structured data, what type of data is displayed on each page, and any errors or warnings associated with that data. You can also filter the results using different criteria; for example, you could see only errors associated with breadcrumbs.

Yandex.Webmaster’s Structured Data Validator

Yandex.Webmaster’s Structured Data Validator works in a similar way to Google Search Console’s tool. However, it focuses specifically on rich cards–a particular type of result that is displayed on web search when the search query is related to one of Yandex’s supported content types.

SEO SiteCheckup’s Microdata Schema Test

SEO SiteCheckup gives you a quick overview of how many markup items are detected on a webpage and provides basic information about those items. This tool will tell you whether your microdata passes or fails while also highlighting any errors it finds.

How long does it take to see results from my structured data implementation?

This depends on a variety of factors, such as how many pages you’re adding markup to, and how often Google crawls those pages.

Normally, it takes 2-12 weeks for search engines to pick up your structured data. This is because search engines crawl the web with bots, and this process takes time. The more frequently you update your site, the more frequently it will be crawled. 

If you have a large site that doesn’t change often, consider implementing News Articles or Blog Posts so that the site will be crawled more regularly.

Conclusion

Schema markup is an excellent tool that allows businesses to stand out from the competition, attract quality traffic, increase the click-through rate and increase brand presence. With Schema, a new dimension to SEO has been introduced, which businesses should leverage to expedite their growth.

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