Structured Data: Your Path to Increased Visibility via @joshuacmccoy
Whether you participate in paid search advertising or are attempting to climb the rankings within organic search, the landscape is competitive.
In paid search, the uphill fight is a little easier as additional budget helps ease the effort.
Within organic search, you often are at the helm of massive amounts of content creation, expert strategy and the assistance of technical teams. Additionally, results take time.
With this in mind, I have always been a proponent of conversion rate optimization because this can lead to a faster and fatter return.
When it comes to quick wins in added real estate in search results, structured data is the way.
Let’s take a look.
What Is Structured Data?
Think of structured data as a way of combining your content with a predefined, standardized set of values which help search engines better understand your content.
Picture it as handing your website to a crawling search engine to review vs. sitting down with Google or Bing and thoroughly walking them through your site so that they truly understand every facet of your content.
In 2011, Schema.org was founded in collaboration with individuals from Google, Bing, Yahoo, and later Yandex. They formed the predefined, standard values I mentioned earlier and this was the birth of “schema”.
Schema involved a hierarchy of values including:
- Item Scope: Essentially, this acts like a container. The announcement of a new item, a group of name-value pairs.
- Item Type: This acts as the sub-container. All properties are associated with a specified type and will be noted with the URL of the type as found on schema.org.
- Item Property: This is the breakout of specific sub-values associated with the item type.
There are hundreds of item properties to choose from at schema.org.
You have to make sure that you are choosing the most specific and relevant properties to markup your content.
This is one of the many rules that Google has announced in offering the use of schema and structured data markup.
They also note understanding the location of your markup and when to and not to provide values for content.
With the implementation of structured data sets, you will see the availability of multiple formats of implementation including:
In 2017, Google announced that JSON-LD is the preferred format.
Here is a sample of JSON-LD format.
How Did We Get Here?
Why did structured data became a preferred use for webmasters by search engines? It is not hard to see when forming a historical timeline.
Looking back, shortly after the creation of schema.org, in 2012, the knowledge graph came to Google search results.
Here, we see Google moving from simply providing indexed organic content and paid ads to showing knowledge panels and cards with information pulled from website content combined from multiple sources in many informational formats.
Structured data from the website allows specific values of the card to be understood by Google and displayed on the page including contact numbers, logo, social profiles, etc.
In 2013, Google announced “Hummingbird”. This was a major revamp of Google’s algorithm. The major change involved was moving away from results based on queries in favor of results that began to cater to the intent of the searcher.
In the example below, searching for “Italian” from a downtown location years ago would likely result in information about the country or the language.
Now, we can see that Google is pairing results that are likely for someone interested in eating at a local Italian restaurant.
In 2015, RankBrain became responsible for understanding all the search queries Google had never seen before.
RankBrain is the artificial intelligence component to Google’s algorithm that continually learns search behavior in order to perfect the ability to provide searchers with results truly suited to their behavioral intent.
Considering the events of the last decade, your part in this timeline is to markup your content to help search engines provide the most relevant results.
Guess what? They are willing to reward you for it, too!
Why Use Structured Data?
So, this sounds like a lot of work, why are we doing this?
By helping Google and Bing better understand our website content we are rewarded with richer web results.
Once called “rich snippets”, these are now referred to as “rich results”. These can come in the form of cards, carousels, additional data in organic results boxes, etc.
Below are examples of common rich results and the schema types that can help you attain these display formats.
The ability to feature information about products before the user clicks into the website. This may entice more qualified traffic that knows the price, availability and rating preference of your products.
With events specifically, there is a saturated area of organic results.
Considering this, if your site can feature specific events or details about events you are able to stand out from the pack.
What, we have to do more than having verified Google and Bing business listings?
Yes, featuring location schema is what can help to deliver this type of information into your company knowledge panel sections.
WebPage (Search Box)
If you use an internal search feature on your site, then this schema markup has a great benefit.
You can service someone in search results that has likely found you via a branded search and knows the specific area of your site they are interested in visiting.
This allows for a shorter click path and ultimately helps lead a user to desired content faster.
I call this the second, third, and fourth chance to drive a visitor into your site.
The use of this markup allows for similar site pages to be featured with your organic listing. This is often a child page of the ranking page.
Nonetheless, a great way to snag a visitor if the ranking page is not enticing them.
While websites with job posting sections such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor will populate results into Google Jobs, Job Posting schema placed on your individual job pages will provide the clarification of data to likely feature Google listing your webpage vs. job sites.
This is great because now a candidate is only a click away from your About Us, Our People, Mission, etc. pages to truly understand the culture of your company.
Where Structured Data Is Headed
Alright, get excited! Schema opportunities continue to grow and will continue to do so thanks to voice search.
Over the past few years, we have seen the advent of How-to, FAQ and now Q&A schema types. These are great for finding your way into “position zero” placement ahead of first place organic searches results.
Their importance will only grow as voice search usage continues to grow as searchers often perform these types of queries.
What’s next in structured data?
Currently in beta, speakable is a new schema type which allows you to markup content on your webpage that is preferred for audible playback via Text-To-Speech.
Don’t get too excited yet as this feature is only available for qualifying news sites. It goes to show though that this is the direction that search is heading and the search engines are preparing for it.
How to Use Structured Data
If you have had a chance to check out schema.org and the markup seems confusing, you need not worry, tools can help.
Google’s Structured Data Helper is a great tool for helping you to create structured data from your website’s content.
Beginning with choosing your preferred schema types and providing a URL, you are then on to highlighting page content.
Once this is complete you can choose to download the JSON-LD formatted markup.
A benefit to doing this is that you can get a feel for all of the item properties available for a specific item type. This can quickly identify content which you are missing from a page that would help inform a search engine or even a user.
As a downside, if you only have few pages needing a specific schema type then this tool is perfect for you. If you have many pages to markup then further coding development or a plugin will be a need.
You’ve created your markup, but did you do it right?
Google can help here, too. Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool is an effective way for you to validate your markup on a per-page-basis.
The beauty of this tool is that it first will show structured data by item type. Drilling down into the tool you will be able to then review by property the error or warning issues that exist.
I’m Structured, Now What?
Now it’s time for the fun part, analyzing the progress of your rich results. Google Search Console provides in-depth review capabilities of your structured data by item type.
While you can see the overall impression and click behavior over time, the ability to move into the query, and more importantly, the page level will be of benefit to you.
In this, reviewing at a page level will allow you to review if impression levels are on the rise or in a decline.
For those in decline, these are perfect candidates to run through the Google Structured Data Testing Tool. Here you may likely see errors or warnings in need of correction.
If It’s Available, Use It!
I have always believed that if a search engine offers the ability to provide data then give them all that you can provide.
The more you can educate on the context of your content, the better your chances are to show up in rich results.
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Featured Image: Created by author, July 2019
All screenshots taken by author, July 2019