Structured Data: Brief Summary
Structured data refers to data or information that is intended to be understood by search engines. This data is organised in a standardised way and can be used to provide contextual information. This is important, because sites like Google and Bing have algorithms in place, which are designed to show users the most relevant search results. In this sense, the contextual information provided by structured data can help to ensure the right people see the right content.
Web pages that make effective use of structured data are beneficial for all parties. First of all, the page in question has a better chance of being understood by search engines, which then increases visibility on search engine results pages. Secondly, the search engine itself is able to better understand the nature of online content and present additional information, improving the user experience. Thirdly, the user is presented with more relevant online content.
Structured Data: Detailed Summary
Structured data is an example of metadata because it provides additional information about a piece of data. It can also be considered a markup language too, similar to HTML. Much like HTML, it follows a standardised format and, in this case, it allows for content to be annotated, without these annotations being displayed on the content itself.
Google, Bing and similar search engine platforms make use of algorithms, which are designed to help determine the best links to present users with after they carry out a search. These algorithms are complicated, constantly evolving, and are still not fully understood. What is known, however, is the fact that these algorithms rely on being able to understand what a web page or piece of online content is about, who it is aimed at, and why it exists.
When online content is created, it is generally created with a human audience in mind. However, to maximise visibility and boost placement on search engine results pages, the content should actually be created with both the primary human audience in mind, and also a secondary audience – search engines. In many ways, that is the basis for all search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts, but some SEO techniques can harm readability for human users.
This is where structured data comes in. In essence, structured data can be thought of as a standardised code, which communicates useful contextual information to search engines, allowing them to better understand what a website is, what sort of content is found there, what that content is designed to do, and who that content is aimed at.
By using structured data coding, website owners, marketers and other content creators can provide this information to the search engine, without affecting the readability of the content itself.
Structured Data and Rich Snippets
One of the most important ways that Google utilises structured data is to enhance search results through rich snippets. These are the pieces of information that are presented along with more traditional links on search engine results pages. Snippets can take many forms, but they stand out from the list of more conventional links.
To provide some examples, recipes on cooking websites can be enhanced with structured data, which tells Google that it is a food recipe. When the result is displayed on Google’s search engine results pages to a user, it will be displayed with additional content that is only relevant to recipes. This could be, for example, the amount of time it will take to make the food, or the number of calories that are contained within the dish.
Similarly, product pages can be enhanced with structured data, which will tell Google it is a product page. When these results are displayed on Google, users may also be presented with important product information, such as the price and whether or not the item is currently in stock on the online retail website in question.
When it comes to SEO, having content show up on search engine results pages as a rich snippet can be invaluable, because the rich snippets stand out, provide additional context, and give an indication to the user that the link in question is valuable and/or authoritative. This can then boost click-through rates, which is why many SEO experts emphasise the importance of using structured data – it allows you to access the benefits provided by rich snippets.
The rich snippets used by Google and other popular search engines rely on a coding format called Schema.org markup, or Schema markup for short. Schema.org offers a shared vocabulary for structured data, which website owners, web designers and content creators can use to give structure to their metadata, making it easier for the search engine to understand. Schema Markup can be inserted into the coding of a website, just like HTML.
Common Schema Markup Types
There are a number of common types of Schema markup that can be inserted into a web page’s code, in order to provide different types of information to Google. Some of the most common are explained below:
- Organisation – This structured data tells Google important information about an organisation, allowing it to be displayed as a rich snippet when a relevant search term is entered. Information provided to Google through this may include things like the full company name, its logo, where its headquarters is located and its website URL.
- Local Business – Similar to the organisation markup, this allows users to quickly find out important information about a local business. Information provided to Google here may include things like opening hours, physical location and a contact telephone number that can be clicked on for quick phone calls.
- Article – As the name suggests, this structured data informs Google that the content in question is an article. This then helps the search engine to better understand when to display it as a search result.
- Product – The product markup allows Google to understand that the page in question is a product page, meaning it will be displayed when users seem to be making a search with an intention of making a purchase. The most important information provided here to users is likely to be the price.
- Person – Finally, this structured data makes clear that the information provided on a page is about an individual. When a user makes a search for a celebrity, for example, they may see a rich snippet, showing important information and this will be the result of structured data providing details like name, date of birth, nationality, etc.
In all cases, the basic Schema markup code to use can be found on Schema.org. For each type, the website also provides some code examples and these can easily be modified and made relevant for any new content.
Structured data is a type of metadata and markup language, which provides additional contextual information to search engines, like Google. This information will help the search engine’s algorithms to better understand what a piece of content or a web page is about, who it is aimed at, what its purpose is and more. As a result, Google and other search engines can display results with further information, potentially enhancing click-through rates.