SEO is often considered the snake oil of the web. How many times have you scrolled through attention-grabbing headlines on know how to improve your SEO? Everyone and their uncle seems to have some “magic” cure to land high in search results and turn impressions into conversions. Sifting through so much noise on the topic can cause us to miss true gems that might be right under our nose.
We’re going to look at one such gem in this article: structured data.
There’s a checklist of SEO must-haves that we know are needed when working on a site. It includes things like a strong
Search engines are getting smarter, however, and starting to move past the algorithmic scraping techniques of yesteryear. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are all known to be investing a considerable amount in machine learning, and with that, they need clean data to feed their search AI.
That’s where the the concept of schemas comes into play. In fact, it’s funding from Google and Microsoft — along with Yahoo and Yandex — that led to the establishment of schema.org, a website and community to push their format — more commonly referred to as structured data —forward so that they and other search engines can help surface content in more useful and engaging ways.
So, what is structured data?
Structured data describes the content of digital documents (i.e. websites, emails, etc). It’s used all over the web and, much like tags, is an invisible layer of information that search engines use to read the content.
Structured data comes in three flavors: Microdata, RDFa and JSON-LD. Microdata and RDF are both injected directly into the HTML elements of a document, peppering each relevant element of a page with machine readable pointers. For example, an example of using Microdata attributes on a product, taken straight from the schema.org docs:
based on 11 customer reviews
$1,000.00 In stock
0.7 cubic feet countertop microwave.
Has six preset cooking categories and convenience features like
Add-A-Minute and Child Lock.
April 1, 2011
The lamp burned out and now I have to replace
March 25, 2011
Great microwave for the price. It is small and
fits in my apartment.
If that seems like bloated markup, it kinda is. But it’s certainly beneficial if you prefer to consolidate all of your data in one place.
JSON-LD, on the other hand, usually sits in a
A welcome introduction to the implementation of JSON-LD on the web is Google’s allowance of fetching structured data from an external source, rather than forcing inline scripting, which was previously frustratingly impossible. This can be done either by the developer, or in Google Tag Manager.
What structured data means to you
Beyond making life easier for search engine crawlers to read your pages? Two words: Rich snippets. Rich snippets are highly visual modules that tend to sit at the top of the search engine, in what is sometimes termed as “Position 0” in the results — displayed above the first search result. Here’s an example of a simple search for “blueberry pie” in Google as an example:
Check out those three recipes up top — and that content in the right column — showing up before the list of results using details from structured data.
Even the first result is a rich snippet! As you can see, using structured data is your ticket to get into a rich snippet on a search results page. And, not to spur FOMO or anything, but any site not showing up in a rich snippet is already at risk of dropping into “below the fold” territory. Notice how the second organic result barely makes the cut.
Fear not, dear developers! Adding and testing structured data to a website is aq simple and relatively painless process. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be adding it to every possible location you can imagine, even emails.
It is worth noting that structured data is not the only way to get into rich snippets. Search engines can sometimes determine enough from your HTML to display some snippets, but utilizing it will push the odds in your favor. Plus, using structured data puts the power of how your content is displayed in your hands, rather than letting Google or the like determine it for you.
Types of structured data
Structured data is more than recipes. Here’s a full list of the types of structured data Google supports. (Spoiler alert: it’s almost any kind of content.)
ArticleBook (limited support)BreadcrumbCarouselCourseCOVID-19 announcements (beta)Critic review (limited support)DatasetEmployer aggregate ratingEstimated salaryEventFact checkFAQHow-toImage license metadata (beta)Job postingLocal businessLogoMovieProductQ&ARecipeReview snippetSitelinks searchboxSoftware appSpeakable (beta)Subscription and paywalled contentVideo
Yep, lots of options here! But with those come lots of opportunity to enhance a site’s content and leverage these search engine features.
Using structured data
The easiest way to find the right structured data for your project is to look through Google’s search catalogue. Advanced users may like to browse what’s on schema.org, but I’ll warn you that it is a scary rabbit hole to crawl through.
Let’s start with a fairly simple example: the Logo logo data type. It’s simple because all we really need is a website URL and the source URL for an image, along with some basic details to help search engine’s know they are looking at a logo. Here’s our JSON-LD:
First off, we have the