10-MINUTE READ · By Tina Arnoldi on April 17 2018
Structured data contributes to SEO by making search results look more appealing. But what is it really, and how can you use it to the advantage of your business?
What is structured data?
Google defines structured data as “a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content; for example, on a recipe page, what are the ingredients, the cooking time and temperature, the calories, and so on.” Although we may feel frustrated at times with how Google does things and changes in algorithms, Google’s ongoing goal is to organize information and make it presentable which is why we need to pay attention to features, such as structured data. People today want more than just links in the search results and structured data helps us provide that.
You have come across sites that use structured data, such as in the below search result with compelling images. A result that includes more than the blue link is both visually appealing and simpler to read, making it more likely to be clicked on. Enriched search results may even be interactive, like mini applications, that provide the visual component in addition to interactivity. Structured data is what powers these features.
Why bother with structured data?
There is a lot in search that we cannot control as website owners. We cannot necessarily decide what Google deems important and may see a decline in our site performance at times if we’ve missed an algorithm update.
This makes structured data an incredible opportunity for website owners to organize the information on their site, which could result in increased CTR and engagement from organic searches. Since the order and content is customizable, it is one of the few opportunities for website owners to have some control over how results appear in search. And since not everyone is onboard with structured data, there is opportunity to get ahead of the competition who have not yet implemented it on their sites.
How to implement structured data
If structured data sounds appealing to you, first identify what will work on your website. If the available content types work for your site categories, such as articles, help that content stand out in search with structured data.
Review Google’s support guide on Structured Data to become familiar with the different features and supported verticals. For example, if you regularly share events, you can see how that may look in search once you apply some markup. Clearly the below image is more appealing than a simple list.
Monitor with Search Console
Search Console should already be in your toolbox. It’s a must for SEO since it is all about how search views your site. To review the impact of Structured Data, you will review the Search Appearance section of Search Console. This platform has recently got an update and now allows to track and report more website traffic data, so it’s important to know how to leverage it.
Search Appearance monitors which data elements were found on your site. A couple days after implementing structured data, you will look for issues in this section. If errors are found, you will need to go through each error so use the Structured Data Testing Tool to help you walk through each one. After corrections are made, recrawl and reindex your site. Also add your preferred sitemap, especially after making changes so Google sees what you want it to see.
Rich cards display your search results in a compelling way with images and often rely on structured data. Google highlights which ones display correctly in search and which ones need to be fixed.
With the Data Highlighter, you can add structured data to your site from that tool. You start highlighting and select a URL and the type of markup, such as a phone number for a business’s contact information.
This highlights any errors with your metadata. Although not specific to Structured Data, it’s a good idea to check it while you’re in Search Console.
Check Search Console for changes in performance, not just errors. Did your site receive more impressions since you implemented structured data? And did those impressions result in more traffic to your site? View these key stats in Search Console within Search Analytics.
A word of caution
The idea of improving how your site appears on search is appealing to any website owner. So it may be tempting to abuse the possibilities of Structured Data. Don’t give in to this temptation. Refrain from marking up content that visitors cannot see or marking up misleading content.
If you do so, you may get dinged by Google
In SEO, there are things that come and go, such as authorship. But since structured data genuinely benefits Google, it seems to be around for the long haul so review your site to see if structured data makes sense for you. (And although I live in Google world, there are specifications for doing this for Bing as well. At the very least, start with Google and consider Bing at a later date.)
Technically structured data is not required for rich snippets to display, but it is recommended by Google because it’s cleaner. I believe anything that helps Google properly see our site is worth it. The more details we provide, the better Google will understand the website and provide meaning to what we have and the better we’ll do with our online presence.
About Tina Arnoldi
Tina Arnoldi is Analytics and AdWords Qualified and one of the few people in the United States recognized as a Google Developer Expert(GDE) for marketing. Her agency, 360 Internet Strategy, is also a Google Partner. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn