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By Max Kiniklis in September, 2018 | 7 minute read

Content Marketing - SEO - Web Design

The Benefits of Using Structured Data

Structured data allows you to tell search engines exactly what kind of content they will find on your website. Doing so can give search engines a better understanding of that content and sometimes display your page as a rich result.


If you were to look at a web page, it should be fairly easy for you to pick out the most important information from that page. As advanced as search engines have become, it can still be a challenge for them to do the same. Structured data gives search engines a helping hand by directly telling them what is on your webpage.

Implementing structured data on your website gives search engines a much better understanding of the content on each page. This can allow search engines to provide you with a whole bunch of different benefits, such as improved SEO or a different way of displaying your content on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Why Use Structured Data?

Before we dive into what exactly structured data is, let me explain why it should be used on your website. As I stated earlier, structured data tells search engines exactly what is on each of your pages and allows them to easily pick out the important bits of information they need. Now, don’t get me wrong, that definitely is useful and worth putting on your website as is, but what search engines do with this structured data is what most people are after.

Some believe that structured data will help with ranking or affect where your content appears on search results pages. However, there is no real evidence that this is actually true. Instead, it allows search engines to get a full understanding of your site, so they are able to more accurately suggest content when people type in relevant search queries. At its fundamental level, structured data is a tool to help with SEO and assist search engines so they can more accurately deliver relevant content.

When search engines know exactly what is on your page, they can do some pretty neat things with that data. Sometimes they will show your content as rich results in the SERP. Rich results are enhanced search results that display your content in a different way depending on what content is used. These rich results will go into more detail than traditional search results and usually contain images or other visual content.

Rich Cards

Rich cards are a form of rich results that gets displayed for articles, events, recipes, or countless other types of content. These rich cards will usually show a title, image, and slightly longer description of your content. Rich cards can boost the visibility of your website and by allowing your content to stand out from everyone else's. In today's online world, any way you can stand out on a results page, will give you an advantage.

structured-data-carousel

Rich cards can also be displayed in a list-like format called a carousel. Carousels of rich cards are a list of similar rich results that get grouped next to one another. These lists can be a combination of similar results from a variety of websites, or they can be host-specific.

Knowledge Graphs

On top of rich cards, search engines can also display knowledge graphs on their results pages. Knowledge graphs display important information for your business in an easy to read format,  directly from the search engine. They can include information such as an address, phone number, email, hours of operation, social media and more.

Knowledge graph from Google

It is important to note that putting structured data on your web page doesn’t guarantee you will receive rich results. However, it does help search engines which in turn makes it more likely for your content to be displayed that way.

What is Structured Data?

Structured data can come in a few different forms. At its base level, structured data is a process of marking up your website so search engines can quickly crawl your page.

When you markup your page, you specify exactly what kind of content will be on that page, and any specifics that go along with that content. If you wanted to put structured data on a blog article you wrote, your first step would be specifying that your page is a blog article. Then you would go into greater detail by including the title of the article, the author, the publisher, the publish date, etc., each of which give the browser more information that they don’t have to go searching for. Instead, everything is nicely laid out for them on your page.  

There are currently three widely used syntaxes for structured data: microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD. Both microdata and JSON-LD use the schema.org vocabulary, which consists of different tags that can be used to specify the kind of data that is being entered. Each of the three syntaxes works in slightly different ways:

microdata example

  • Microdata: Microdata is an open community HTML markup that incorporates the structured data into the HTML elements on your page. Whenever an HTML tag contains content you wish to be included in the structured data, you would nest the microdata within that tag so the browser knows what content is in that element. 
RDFa example
  • RDFa: Resource Description Framework in Attributes (RDFa) is a lot like microdata in the sense that it marks up HTML elements on your page. RDFa is an HTML5 extension that allows you to mark up user-visible content with structured data.
JSON-LD example
  • JSON-LD: JSON-LD is a javascript notation that centralizes all of your structured data between two <script> tags on your page. Unlike microdata and RDFa, JSON-LD does not have to be incorporated with any elements on your page. Instead it can be written and placed anywhere in either the head or body of your page.

Which Structured Data Syntax Should I Use?

Choosing which syntax you want to use for structured data depends on a couple of factors. The first and most important factor is search engine support. Not every search engine supports all three equally. Major search engines such as Google and Bing offer support for all three, whereas Yahoo only supports JSON-LD and microdata. Over time, this may change, but be sure to do a little bit of research first before you choose one.

Let’s say your desired search engine supports all three, which do you choose? At this point, your choice comes down to preference more than anything.  

In the past few years, JSON-LD has been the preferred syntax for developers and Google. Many developers prefer it solely on the fact that it is easy to use and read. Since all of the data is centralized between a pair of <script> tags, you won’t have to go crawling through your code to find specific elements. This makes it easier for you to read, understand, alter, and debug any problems you may run into.

Another reason JSON-LD has become a fan favorite is because search engines such as Google can read dynamically injected data on your webpage. This may not be as big of a deal for someone with only a couple of pages. However, if your website has hundreds of pages filled with content, the thought of going into each page and having to write out the structured data for that specific page is a tad daunting. Instead, developers can include javascript code or widgets to dynamically place the data on the page for them.  

For the purpose of this topic, I will group microdata and RDFa together. Both syntaxes get mixed in with the HTML code on your page. Each piece of data is nested in its corresponding HTML element. One large difference between the two is microdata uses schema.org vocabulary (as does JSON-LD) whereas RDFa uses its own vocabulary.

The real deciding factor is search engine support. Once you figure that out, it’s up to you which syntax you want to go with. There may be some positives and negatives to each, but choosing the one you feel most comfortable with will make the whole process easier. At the end of the day, as long as you have structured data on your website, it won’t matter how you got there.

Where Should I Use Structured Data?

Structured data can be used almost anywhere there is content for it. Generally you should only put structured data on pages that have supported content. This most likely means that not every one of your pages will contain structured data, and that’s fine.

When you add structured data, it should reflect visible content that is on that specific page. That means that if you write an article titled “The 5 Best Laptops for Students”, your article should actually have content relating to that topic rather than a list of links that compare the laptops.

Be careful about using structured data appropriately. Google is very strict about their guidelines and can block your website from receiving any rich results if you don’t use it properly. Once you have your data written, you can test it using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. It’s better to play it safe within their guidelines than go over the top in hopes of better results.

Conclusion

Structured data is a very powerful SEO markup that can be used on websites. It can cause search engines to display your content as rich results. Even if you never get a rich result, your website is still easier to read for search engines.

Structured data may not directly influence SEO, but when a search engine knows exactly what is on your pages, they are better able to recommend it with relevant searches. As long as you stay within the guidelines, you should hope to see some of the benefits.

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