The Importance of Structured Data

25 Jun 2019
Donna Kean

The search engine results pages are constantly evolving. Gone are the days of simple paid and organic results; now there is a myriad of options awaiting us once we hit search. From featured snippets to knowledge graphs, related questions to local results, we’ve never had more information right at our fingertips.

However, this means competition has never been fiercer to earn those coveted clicks. Google always wants to provide the best user experience possible, but – fortunately for us – it can’t do it alone. One of the biggest ways we can help it understand content is by utilising structured data. But, what exactly is structured data, how can you implement it and why is it so important for your website?

What is structured data?

Simply, structured data is a way of providing information about your content to Google. To do this, we need to use language it can understand. The most common language used is Schema.org, which supports three main formats: JSON-LD, Microdata, and RDFa. Google recommends using JSON-LD wherever possible, as it can be easily implemented and understood.

As search engines view content differently to users, this markup explicitly tells it what is on the page. By helping Google better understand your content, it can return the most relevant results to the user. This result usually takes the form of a rich snippet, which in turn, entices more users to click-through to your content above others. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

What does structured data look like?

Depending on the content, different fields will be required in the code. Google provides a helpful guide to the different types of markup available, outlining what structured data you need to implement for each. Within each type, Google specifies both required and recommended properties – marking up as many of the fields as possible increases your chances of engagement in search results.

Google also provides a Structured Data Testing Tool to highlight any errors, issues, and warnings with your markup, as well as a preview of what your snippet will look like. If we take Betty Crocker’s Ultimate Chocolate Cookies Recipe as an example, we can see the following rich snippet:

Betty Crocker Cookies Snippet

It contains the two required elements for recipe schema: the name of the dish and an image. But, it also contains several additional elements that enhance the snippet, such as star rating, cooking time, and calories. This provides a wealth of information to the user and entices them to click-through to the recipe itself – the high star rating is particularly compelling.

If we run this recipe through the Structured Data Testing Tool, we can see just how much information is given to Google:

Betty Crocker Cookies Schema

Key information such as ingredients, prep time, cooking time, step-by-step instructions, nutritional values, and even a video are all included in the markup for this page. In fact, we can see that there is only one warning for the schema; the recipe cuisine is missing, which is an optional field.

How to implement structured data

Using Google’s guide, you can begin to piece together the markup you need to add to your page. Once you have defined the required properties and as many of the recommended properties as you can, construct the code and add it to the page. JSON-LD code is usually added to the <head> of the page, while Microdata and RDFa are integrated into the <body> content.

The code itself will look something like this:

Betty Crocker Cookies Schema Code

Beyond the Testing Tool, Google has Rich Result Status Reports in Search Console to help you identify which pages are returning a rich result and troubleshoot any errors. You can also see which rich result types are being used for your site, such as event, product, recipe, and so on.

Google recently announced a new Rich Results Test that allows you to check how rich results are being rendered across both desktop and mobile. This is a crucial step to ensuring your structured data markup is up to scratch across all devices before Google defaults to mobile-first indexing on 1st July.

Why is structured data so important?

In case you haven’t realised, structured data is kind of a big deal. By helping Google better understand your content, it will increase your visibility in the search results and help you stand out from the crowd with enticing snippets.

Structured data is particularly timely with the rise of mobile-first indexing. Having a site that works seamlessly on mobile devices has never been more important and gaining those elusive clicks is made much easier when your results are eye-catching and informative.

Not only does structured data improve the appearance of your listings in search results, it helps voice assistants like Alexa and Siri understand your content. In turn, this helps match your content with voice queries, which are still an important part of the search landscape.

While it may seem daunting to implement code changes, there are a host of guides and tools (not to mention agencies) out there to help you on your way to mastering structured data. When in doubt, it’s best to remember that less is more – implement the required fields on your key pages before tackling the more complex properties.

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