It’s Friday afternoon and your team is looking forward to happy hour.
You’ve been to the same old bar in your office for the past few weeks and you decide it’s time to try something new. How are you? Going outside and walking around until you find a new place? No, you hop on Google and let it do the search for you.
Your ideal after work pub is nearby, open right after work, and has some gluten-free options for your entire team to attend. You paste those criteria into Google and have three viable options at hand – in a convenient map format to boot into.
Break. Have you ever wondered how Google can produce such accurate and concise answers in such a short amount of time and present them in such an easy-to-read manner? What are these restaurants doing to appear so dominant on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs)?
I would love my business to show up when consumers search for criteria that are relevant to me.
Nobody knows exactly how the Google algorithm works. However, there are a few ways to organize and optimize the content of your website so that Google knows what content on the SERPs to use for the various searches in order to find you.
This is where structured data comes into play. Structured data can make your company more visible to potential customers and increase your click rate by up to 30%.
Not sure what structured data is? That’s okay. By the end of this guide, you will be a structured data wizard – and your website will reap the benefits.
What is structured data?
Structured data is all data that is organized and structured in a certain way on a website. In the case of SEO, structured data is organized and given certain groups of text that help search engines understand the context of this information and can return accurate results to searchers.
We know that what searchers see online is very different from what search engines see.
As seekers see this …
… search engines see this:
View the source code for each website by clicking View> Developer> View Source.
This behind-the-scenes code tells browsers how to organize information on the website (as part of website development) and tells web crawlers what is being displayed on the page.
Structured data also play a role here. Embedded code tags (a.k.a. “markup”) in the entire HTML code of a website tell Google and other search engines what information should be displayed in the SERPs and what this information represents. It also helps social media platforms to aggregate your social media posts into snippets that use the Open Graph protocol (which we will discuss later) to preview the content.
This markup is important. It informs search engines what specific content is on the page. This creates more relevant, informed searches, and makes the website a candidate for improved results such as featured snippets, bulky snippets, image and video carousels, knowledge boxes, and more (which we’ll get into later).
Structured data and SEO
Structured data is important to SEO as it helps search engines find and understand your content and website. It’s also an important way to prepare for the future of search, as Google and other search engines continue to personalize the user experience and answer questions directly on their SERPs.
Google’s SERPs have not always been as easy on the eyes as they are today. Do not you remember? Take a look at this Google result for “Billiard Tables” from 2008.
Let’s compare. Here is the same result from today.
Impressive. It’s a world full of differences. Not only are these results easier to read, but the additional features make for a much more informative, intelligent search and shopping experience. Between the sponsored content and the live map (plus the product carousel, snippets of questions, and related searches not shown in the screenshot), Google has pretty much everything I need to know about pool tables.
Sometimes I search for something and find the answer right on the SERP – I don’t even have to click on a result. Does this ever happen to you If so, you can thank structured data.
How does structured data work?
At this point you might ask: How can there be a language (markup) that is recognized by search engines and people alike?
In order for this markup to be understood accurately and generally, standardized formats and vocabularies should be used.
Let’s get back to basics for a minute. When conveying information, whether you are communicating with a human or a computer, you need two important things: vocabulary (a series of words with known meanings) and syntax (a set of rules on how these words are used to convey meaning).
Most structured data markup terms can be broken down into these two concepts – vocabularies and syntaxes – and webmasters can combine the two terms they need to structure their data (with the exception of microformats).
Okay … that’s enough of the fancy developer. What should you use for your structured data?
Schema.org is the accepted universal vocabulary Standard for structured data. It was founded and is currently sponsored by Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex. It’s flexible, open source, and it’s constantly being updated and improved.
Note: Schema is known as such because it contains markup for a variety of schemas – or data models – for different types of content.
Here is an example of the schema markup language (which is good for SEO) from my article on branding.
“name”: “The Ultimate Guide to Branding in 2019”
“Name”: “Allie Decker”
Google also recognizes microdata and RDFa. Both syntaxes use HTML to identify properties in structured data. Microdata is usually only used in the side body, while RDFa is usually used in both the side header and side body.
On the other hand, JSON-LD is only placed in the page header. For certain types of markup, JSON-LD means that you don’t have to navigate subheadings, supporting copies, and the related style that is included in the HTML. Because of this, JSON-LD is considered simpler than the other two.
Ultimately, it all depends on the data you want to implement, what is the use of your website, and what would be easier for your team to share.
Structured data and mobile
Structured data has a slightly different effect on mobile devices – via Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Accelerated Mobile Pages is an open source project supported by Google that allows all mobile pages to be loaded quickly regardless of the device.
Pages with AMP markup are displayed in Google’s special SERP functions, e.g. B. Top Stories and News Carousels. How to create an AMP HTML page
Structured data and social media
Structured data markup works a little differently for social platforms. This requires Open Graph Protocol and similar languages, which will ensure that your website and blog content will be easily legible when you promote that content on a social network. Two common social media features that use the Open Graph protocol are Pinterest Rich Pins and Twitter Cards. We’ll talk about how to do this below.
Here is an example of the Open Graph Protocol language (which is social media friendly) using the same source.
Note: Unfortunately, structured data does not affect your organic search ranking (other than helping you get a spot in a knowledge window or a recommended snippet at the top of the list). Nor does it change how your content looks or behaves on your website – it just affects how and where it appears on SERPs.
Examples of structured data
Structured data is not visible to the average internet user. It’s hidden in the code that makes up our favorite websites and online platforms. How does structured data affect what we (and our customers) see? How does it look with the naked eye?
When webmasters adhere to structured data standards, search engines like Google and Bing reward their websites and organizations by presenting their content in a variety of SERP functions (another reason for using structured data).
Let’s talk about these features – specifically on Google. Google SERPs display a lot of information, but the information we talk about below is specifically influenced by structured data.
There are also several ways that structured data can benefit your non-SERP marketing efforts related to social media and email marketing.
Content functions are displayed as separate search results below normal search results.
Carousels are displayed as images with captions relating to a search, e.g. B. Movie actors, cars, or news articles. Searchers can click through these images to access a separate SERP for that search. Learn how to display it in carousels using structured data.
Videos work similarly to carousels, but they contain videos instead of pictures or other listings. Searchers can scroll through these results to directly access and watch any video.
Depending on how you tag your content, you can also qualify for video enhancements like LIVE badges and video host carousels. How to use structured data to appear in videos.
3. Selected snippets
Selected snippets display information relevant to a query – and link to a third-party website (which sets them apart from answer fields and knowledge panels found in public domain databases). They do not count towards the ten organic results of a SERP. So if you “win” the snippet, your website will appear twice.
Selected snippets can also be displayed as quotes, tables, jobs, rich cards (for films and recipes) or in the question area with the title “People may ask”. Learn how to optimize your content for the Google Recommended Snippet field.
4. Knowledge Panels (a.k.a. Knowledge Graph Cards)
Knowledge panels summarize the most important information from a search and display it as a separate panel on the right side of a SERP. This usually includes images, data and category-specific information, e.g. B. Share prices for companies or birthdays for celebrities. You can use structured data markup like “Scheme” to label your content with all of these categories. However, there is no guarantee that Google will reward you with your own area of knowledge.
Structured data does not promise anything; it simply makes it easier for search engines and social networks to interpret your content.
Also, Knowledge Panels aim to answer questions without the need for a click. Good news for seekers and bad news for businesses. Here’s how to make it easier for bots to crawl your website (to make it more likely that you will be shown in a knowledge panel).
Advanced search functions
In contrast to content functions, extended results functions improve regular search results. They are also known as rich search results or rich snippets.
According to Google, breadcrumbs indicate the position of a page in the website hierarchy. Breadcrumbs appear above the title of the results page and next to the site’s favicon (as of 2019) instead of a URL on mobile devices. They help searchers understand how one page relates to the rest of a website. How to use structured data to show breadcrumbs in your results.
2. Sitelinks and Sitelinks Searchbox
Sitelinks are additional links that appear under a search result and navigate to different parts of a website. Google pulls them into a SERP when it believes that additional results would benefit a searcher. Sites that have smart anchor text and alt text that is informative, compact, and repetitive-free have a good chance of using sitelinks to show a result.
The sitelinks search box is similar to sitelinks with a search bar that is included directly in the result. This search box is used by Google – not the featured website – which is creating a brand new SERP. Sitelink search fields only appear in branded searches.
Here’s how to get a sitelinks search box for your website.
FAQ can be used on any page that lists questions and answers – not just traditional Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages.
With this function, searchers can access your questions and answers directly from the SERP. It also expands your bottom line vertically, takes up even more SERP real estate, and helps your site stand out. How to use structured data to display frequently asked questions in your search results.
The guide is similar to the Frequently Asked Questions in that it shows the content of a page (if it meets certain criteria) on the SERP so that searchers can see this information. It guides searchers through a series of steps and can contain videos, text, and images.
In contrast to frequently asked questions, the individual steps in the procedure cannot be linked to one another. However, searchers can access the entire list of steps by clicking on your results. These results can be displayed in two formats, depending on their content: standard accordion layout or rich results carousel. How to use structured data to display content in your search results.
Structured data can also be used to extend non-SERP functions.
1. Social cards
Socially specific markup doesn’t have a huge impact on search engine optimization, but it is important for marketers to understand. Not only does this markup improve your social posts and advertising efforts, but it can also be read by search engines – which could contribute to SEO changes in the future.
Social cards display pictures and rich text when links are shared on social media. Any organization that uses social media to share content should use appropriate social markup such as the Open Graph protocol.
To make sure your social content shows social cards:
2. Email Marketing
Have you recently booked a flight or ordered something online? If you have Gmail, your reservation or order details may be summarized at the top of the confirmation email. This is due to an email markup.
When sending email for orders, reservations, confirmations, or bookings, consider using email markup to make the lives of your email recipients easier. Here’s how to get started with email markup in Gmail.
Adding structured data to a website
- Open the Google Structured Data Markup Helper.
- Choose your data type and enter the url.
- Highlight page elements and assign data tags.
- Create the HTML code.
- Add the schema markup to your page.
- Test your markup with the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.
- Identify and fix any problems you encounter.
- Be patient.
The concept of structured data may seem confusing, but it’s nowhere near as complicated to implement. In fact, there are a number of structured data tools that can help you with this, namely the Google Structured Data Markup Helper and Testing Tools. You can of course implement structured data by hand, but the Google tool ensures accuracy – and makes your life easier.
It’s important to note that adding structured data markup to your website doesn’t guarantee a featured snippet or sitelinks sitebox. It can take Google weeks to crawl your new HTML markup. Sometimes the information is not displayed at all.
However, the steps to implement structured data are critical. Google may be smart, but it cannot (yet) understand everything on its own. It seems like a lot of additional work, but using the properly structured data markup will ensure that Google makes sense of your content and may help you increase your click-through rates and visibility.
Here’s how to implement structured data using the Google Structured Data Markup Helper tool.
1. Open the Google Structured Data Markup Helper.
Open the Google Structured Data Markup Helper tool.
2. Choose your data type and enter the URL.
Make sure the Website tab is open. Select the type of data that you want to add the HTML markup to. Paste the webpage URL (or HTML) below and click Start Tagging.
3. Highlight page elements and assign data tags.
When the tool loads you should see your webpage on the left and data items on the right. Highlight different components of your website to assign data tags such as name, author and date of publication. (The tool suggests different data tags for different types of data, i.e. events or book reviews.)
When you select and assign data tags, the information is displayed in the right pane under “My Data Tags”. You can also add missing tags that may not be visible on the webpage. Just click on Add Missing Tags.
4. Create the HTML code.
When you have finished marking and assigning data items, click Create HTML in the upper right corner.
5. Add the schema markup to your page.
On the next screen, you should see your structured data markup on the right. The tool automatically creates the script as JSON-LD markup. However, you can change it to microdata by clicking the JSON-LD drop-down menu in the top menu.
Click Download to download the script as an HTML file. Click Article in the right corner above the markup for more information on adding structured data to your article (or any other type of data).
To “publish” your markup, copy the new HTML markup and paste it into your CMS or your website’s source code. Finally, click “Finish” in the upper right corner to read the next steps recommended by Google. Any of these steps will take you to the next step.
6. Test your markup with the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.
Open the Google Structured Data Testing Tool. You can enter any URL of a web page that you want to test, or you can enter HTML code. (In the example below, I’m analyzing the code that was previously created by the Google Structured Data Markup Helper Tool.) Click Run Test to begin.
7. Diagnose and fix any problems that are found.
The tool shows you your HTML markup on the left and the markup analysis on the right. Pay attention to any red errors or warnings. Click a row of data to highlight its markup on the left.
If necessary, you can edit all errors in the HTML directly in the tool panel before you “publish” the tested HTML markup.
8. Be patient.
This last step is easy, but arguably the most difficult – sit back and wait. Google may take weeks to recrawl new HTML. Even then, there is no guarantee that your content will be displayed in extensive snippets or other SERP functions.
As long as you follow the correct structured data standards and markup, give Google all the information it needs to know, and be patient, your website and business can benefit greatly from structured data and improved SEO.
Tools for testing structured data
1. Google’s Rich Results Test
Supports structured data in JSON-LD, RDFa and microdata.
The Google tool is a simple and free option that allows you to quickly check any webpage or even an individual snippet code to make sure your website is properly structured. The tool will flag any errors that could prevent your website from being ranked in search engines and offer suggestions on how to improve the structured data of your website or snippet.
With the Rich Results Test, you can share test results with other people for up to 90 days. So, if you need to send the results to your web developer or IT team, you can.
Best of all, the tool shows you what your page can look like in Google search results. This means that you can make changes to your structured data in real time and see how those changes will affect the appearance of your page, positively or negatively, in various search results on layouts, including desktop and mobile.
(It’s important to note that Google used to provide a structured data testing tool, but that Tool is now obsolete and replaced with the Rich Results Test.)
2. Bing Markup Validator
Supports structured data in HTML microdata, microformats, RDFa, Schema.org and OpenGraph.
Since Bing is the second largest search engine, it makes sense to try Bing’s own structured data tool to evaluate the health and performance of your website, and to make sure that you are following the structured data protocol to get your website rankings in the major search engine to obtain.
Bing’s free Markup Validator is part of Bing’s larger webmaster tools that allow you to monitor the health of your website, see what keywords you’re currently ranking for, and how Bing is crawling and indexing your website.
Unfortunately, Bing’s Markup Validator doesn’t support structured HTML, but it’s still a great check-out option, especially if you’re looking to improve your ranking on Bing.
3. SEO Site Checkup
Supports structured data in HTML and provides website SEO analysis.
Price: $ 39.95 / month
This is the only tool on this list that isn’t free (although it does offer a 14-day free trial that you can use to check out some websites first), but for good reason – it does a more thorough SEO analysis of your website.
In addition to providing feedback on your structured data (and competitor URLs if you are interested), you can use the tool to rate overall SEO health, including page load speed, URL redirects, broken links, responsiveness from mobile devices and much more.
In addition to evaluating your website’s standard data, the tool also checks your website for SEO issues such as page load speed, URL redirects, nested tables, broken links, mobile device responsiveness and much more. It serves as a one-window solution for optimizing your website for search engine ranking.
4th Chrome extension: Tool for testing structured data
Supports structured data in microdata, schema, RDFa and JSON-LD.
If you mainly use the Chrome web browser, this is a good alternative to Google’s Rich Results test, as it is essentially the same tool for Chrome users. The tool uses Google’s structured data testing tool to scan websites and provides both warnings and error codes. You can then export these error codes to your clipboard.
Best of all, you can use this extension on websites in the development or staging phase, or on password-protected pages to make sure your structured data is clean before launching your website. The extension scans structured data and also checks your rich snippets.
Get started with structured data today
Google and other search engines are continuously improving the way they aggregate and present information. They offer improved, intelligent search experiences for the customer. It’s up to you as a company to keep up, and you can do it through structured data.
Structured data benefits businesses – through increased visibility – and consumers – through better usability. Use this guide, tools, and resources to help keep your website organized and optimized to make your customers’ lives easier.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for completeness.