Jon Fletcher 2020-06-19

What is structured data and how do I use it?

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The information on the internet is chaotic at best. For search engines to really be able to answer the intent behind search queries, they needed a way to make websites add a bit structure to their information so they can filter it faster. 

This standardized format is what we know as structured data, the web’s template for clearer information.

Structured data is a standard format for describing information about a page and the content it contains. Structured data is used for two main reasons: To help search crawlers understand the content of a site and to enable rich results in SERPs.

Adding structured data to your content page enables Google to ‘enhance’ search results with key information from your page. This can take the form of placement in the top stories carousel, host carousel, visual stories, and rich result features such as headline text and larger-than-thumbnail images. There are a variety of different structured data schemas available to generate these rich results, available for all different types of sites.




Here you can see from a search for the film Pulp Fiction, Google is able to extract the structured data from the schema and show it in a rich result.

The benefits of structured data

If Google wants websites to adopt a certain behavior to help make it more valuable, it is going to make it unavoidable to do otherwise. Structured data is hyper-organized and formatted in a standard pattern. This makes it easier to search and find in relatable databases.

Its counterpoint, unstructured data has no predefined patterns so it can’t be processed and analyzed as easily. Structured data makes it easier for crawlers to identify the content and topics of websites, making it easier to get more accurate search results. 

While it’s not a direct ranking factor, Google’s Gary Illyes of Google said:



“It will help us understand your pages better, and indirectly, it leads to better ranks in some sense, because we can rank easier.''
Schema markup will indirectly help your site rank. A Searchmetrics report showed that when just 0.3% of sites were using structured data schemas, these sites accounted for 36.6% of Google’s search results and ranked on average four positions higher than those that did not. 

Adding a featured snippet can be a chance to rank in what’s known as ‘Position 0’ as it is above the first organic result. A Backlinko study showed that this position gets 8.6% of clicks, a major chunk of the clicks the ‘natural’ first result would get.





Lastly, adding structured data schemas for rich results also helps you feature in voice search. Featured snippets that appear in “position zero” are the results read aloud on devices such as Alexa and Siri when they are asked questions they can answer. 


What format does structured data take?

There are three structured data formats that Google Search supports: 


JSON-LD

This is the recommended format for structured data. JSON-LD is a JavaScript notation embedded in a <script> tag in the page head or body which makes it easier to express nested data items. In addition, Google can read JSON-LD data when it is dynamically inserted into content by JavaScript code or embedded widgets from a CMS such as WordPress.


Microdata

Microdata nests structured data within HTML content. HTML tag attributes are used to name the properties to highlight as structured data.


RDFa


Similar to Microdata, RDFa is an HTML5 extension that adds HTML tag attributes to any content that you want to markup for search engines. 

You can catch any technical errors with the Structured Data Testing Tool and the URL Inspection tool to make sure your pages are displaying correctly.


What rich results can structured data generate?


Depending on the category of your site, there are a number of options to create rich results using structured data. 

The type of content that be marked-up using structured data schemas are:

  • News articles and blogs 

  • Books 

  • Big data sets 

  • Training courses 

  • Events 

  • Jobs and occupations 

  • Local business details such as contact info and opening times 

  • Product information such as prices, stock, and reviews

  • Fact-checking confirmation 

  • Media such as music, podcasts, videos and TV and movie details 


Then, if we filter by news we can see the specific types of rich results that structured data can help News Publishers achieve. 


Article

Marking up a news, sports, or blog article can add rich result features like headline text and large images in the Top Stories carousel. 




Carousel

Rich results can also display multiple articles from a single site in a sequential list or gallery. known as a host carousel. This rich result can feature multiple content types such as articles, recipes, restaurants, and reviews.





Fact Check

A structured data markup can also add a fact-checking summary to certain claims. 


Podcast

Podcasts can appear in Google Search with a playable link when properly identified using structured data. 


Speakable

Allows voice search applications to identify news content and the ‘position 0’ info in the search results will be read aloud on Google Assistant-enabled devices using text-to-speech (TTS).


Subscription and paywalled content

Google needs to differentiate paywalled content so users are not sent through to articles they can’t access—or worse deceived into clicking a link that purports to be free to access. This is a violation of Google’s guidelines. 


Video

Video structured data information in search results enables the option to play video, specify key segments, and live-stream content.


Why is my structured data not displaying in search results?

 

Adding structured data is no guarantee that your structured data will show up in search results— even if your page is marked up correctly. 

Using structured data enables information and features to be displayed, it does not guarantee that it will be.

The search algorithm tailors all results to the best search experience. 

This can vary from user to user, taking into account search history, location, and device. Even if there are many structured search options, it will at times decide a plain blue link is the most useful result.

There are many reasons why your structured data may not appear in search results.
  • It may not represent the main content of the page, or is potentially misleading.



  • The structured data is incorrect in a way that the testing tool was not able to catch.



  • The content referred to by the structured data is hidden from the user.



  • The page does not meet the guidelines for structured data described here, the type-specific guidelines, or the general webmaster guidelines.


Structured data may not be a direct ranking factor, but by tagging your content to appear as featured or rich snippets can get your site more traffic. 

As Google attempts to answer more queries using featured snippets a new strategy is appearing alongside traditional SEO. Webmasters are using structured data to win Position 0, and then provide compelling reasons to click through to the main content. 

For more information on SEO practices in 2020, watch the webinar recorded with our in-house SEO guru, Javier as he explains the winning strategies of 2020. 

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