October 11, 2018

An Introduction to Structured Data: Make Your Search Results Stand Out

by blackbird

What is Structured Data?

Structured data is a form of markup you add to your HTML to give its context to search engines. Created in 2011 when Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex (the then-largest search engine companies) got together to create a standardized list of attributes and entities that they all agreed to support. This “vocabulary” list still exists, and is still growing; it’s called Schema.org.

Have you ever searched for something and you get a bunch of semi-related results? For example, say we Google “Harry Potter series.” The search returns the books, the author, the movies, plays, and news about how one actor from it did this thing. You may have meant the book series, but the search engine didn’t know everything you wanted – it just regurgitated everything it could find related to the Harry Potter series.

This is where structured data comes in.

Structured data. aids search engines – instead of just crawling your site, the search engine can now understand the information it’s returning. Structured data is used to help search engines generate rich snippets, which then appear in search results.

It’s the extra information you see with the website name and description. For example, company basics are more easily determined, like name, address, and place, or even things like articles, products, and events.

Why You Should Use Structured Data?

Marking up your media, reviews, events, and such using structured data from Schema.org  will instantly help search engines understand your site’s content better. Structured data tells search engines exactly what the different parts of your site are and what they are about.

Websites that use structured data rank better by default than those without. One search engine, Baidu, used in China, chooses their first-page results based on structured data usage. By adding structured data markup to your site, more of your site’s functional and visual elements will appear in search results. This allows users to more easily reach the information you provide because more of your site’s functional and visual elements will appear directly in the results.

Although this has been around since 2011, structured data still seems relatively underused by SEO professionals. This is good news for you, as it means you may gain an edge on your competition. In terms of a local search, marking-up your 250 positive reviews with structured data will help get a lag up in terms of search engine visibility. If you were looking for a coffee shop nearby, which one would you pick? The one with 250 positive reviews or the one with none?

What does it look like in the search results? Is it really that much better?

Structured data appears in a of variety formats.

Basic Results

Often called “plain blue links,” breadcrumbs are the most common, lowest tier of structured data.

Breadcrumbs are one of the most accessible ways to include structured data on your site. Most popular website building tools such as WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace all offer a breadcrumb feature – whether natively or through a plugin or add-on.

Structured data - basic result

Rich Results

Rich results are designed to highlight key information. Presented in boxes, often accompanied by a gold star rating and an image or two, this type of result is more enticing to users. It also has the benefit of working seamlessly with voice search! Google Home, Siri, and Alexa all read these results out loud.

These results are most commonly job postings, recipes, and books.

Structured data - basic result

Enriched Search Results

Enriched results are an enhanced class of rich results which offer a more immersive experience. Enriched search allows interactive features, including displaying a popup of its page or a list of current open positions.

Enriched results enable users to search across the various properties of a structured data item, such as a senior level development job.

Structured data - enriched result

Knowledge Graph

If you search for a business on Google, a box may appear on the right-hand side of the results. A knowledge graph is a compilation of information from one or more pages on a website, displayed in a visual input similar to a rich result.

Essentially, a knowledge graph is Google’s systematic way of putting facts, people, places, and relevant information together.

Structured data - knowledge graph

Carousel

We’ve all seen them – the carousel search result on Google. You were looking for a crockpot dinner and got this side-scrolling list of several options that showed you an image, the reviews, and basic nutrition information. Or if you searched an actor, there’s that bar across the top of the screen that shows all the movies they’ve been in.

In addition to pulling things from your site to create these, Google Search can also automatically generate carousels of similar items from different sites.

Structured data - carousel

For successful inclusion into AMP or other Google programs like Google News, your site must reach a particular standard of structured data usage.

Make your content discoverable – link your pages. Keep your structured data markup the same across both the AMP page and canonical page.

So as you can see, there are many different visibility options related to how you implement structured data. In addition, structured data also works on mobile! It’s what allows you to book a restaurant reservation or purchase movie tickets from the search results.

Structured data - AMP and Google News

But I Don’t Write Code!

There are plenty of resources and services online to help.  Some options available are plugins, as well as Google’s webmaster tool [Structured Data Helper] which, with a little interaction, generates the HTML for you to add to your site. There are also online courses, and even books you can find at your library. There are also development shops in your area that would do it for you. It’s worth the investment in order to bump your native traffic, which in turn bumps your SEO, and it just keeps getting better from there.

There are also some things you can do as a marketer that don’t require code at all.

I’m a Marketer, How Do I Use Structured Data?

First, establish your business details with Google from your Google Business panel:

  1. Add your local business
  2. Register your website with search console
  3. Provide business contact markup

Next, provide your site’s name, logo, and social links. This basic marketing information will give your site a broader reach and recognition in search results.

And as we mentioned earlier, enable Breadcrumbs on your website. This indicates the page’s position in the site hierarchy and helps SEO quite a bit.

Using Structured Data as a Developer

While Google Webmaster Tools and Schema.org can help, we’ll provide more detail in our next blog article  on structured data.

Stay tuned!