One of the big topics that has been plaguing the Axon Garside office this week - structured data. With Google’s recent announcement that it will no longer support certain types of schema earlier this month, it’s more important than ever to review your site, and start using structured data to get the most out of your organic searches. Although undoubtedly part of the SEO world, structured data is often seen as too complicated or too code-y to implement, but with a range of tools now available to help, it’s much simpler. Well, slightly simpler.
What is structured data?
Structured data is any kind of organised data. You’ll find structured data in a spreadsheet, a database, anywhere that there is information that needs to be sorted. Structured data on your website is much the same thing - it’s information about your site, and your organisation, structured in a way that makes it easy to read by search engine crawlers. You can use structured data to help search engines identify what your content is, who has written it, and also point out information like prices, reviews and more.
You’re likely to spot structured data every single day, but you may not have noticed how much various websites use it in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Take a look at the SERP below for ‘Manchester News’ - how many examples of structured data do you see?
Trick question - this entire results page has likely been built with structured data. The column on the right isn’t a Google Business listing, but is actually all of the information that the search engine has about this company. ‘Topics they write about’ is also pulled from topical structured data across the site, and so is the ‘latest’ carousel. This is probably the most familiar element - you might see recipes and articles displayed in this way, with images, headlines and the ability to scroll. Lots of people think this is just ‘Google magic’, but it’s actually structured data!
To put it plainly, structured data is the reason that your searches result in images, snippets, and added information, rather than a wall of text. It means that you are telling Google what you are posting, what it is about, and the important information that should be shown to searchers.
What’s the difference between structured data and schema markup?
You might have heard structured data referred to as schema, or schema markup. There’s a simple difference between these two - structured data is the data itself, whereas schema markup is the language that you use to organise and define the data. Think of it in development terms - your website pages might be built in HTML, but without the CSS file to organise the code, you’d end up with a big mess. Stay with us, we’ll go through this fast: There are three syntaxes that the search engines use, called Microdata, JSON-LD and microformats. To read these, the engines use two vocabularies, but the main one (the one that we’ll talk about here) is schema.org. If you’re interested in the others, HubSpot has a further breakdown here, but schema.org was founded by the search engines, and is pretty much universally accepted as the vocabulary of choice. It’s also slightly easier to understand and use than others, particularly with the tools that Google has to offer. Here’s what it looks like:
Why should I care?
This is the big question - adding structured data to your website with schema markup is time-consuming, confusing, and often is a job best left to your developer. So why bother actually adding it?
Structured data can help boost your click-through rates via organic traffic, as it helps you take up more space in the SERPs, can up your chances of winning a rich snippet, and also signals to searchers exactly what they will get when they click your site. It can also help your site look more trustworthy, as you can add reviews and other information like so:
In this example, the page has schema markup to add an image of the dish, demonstrate the rating, how many votes it has, how long the recipe takes to cook, as well as how many calories per portion. It may seem like a small addition to the search results, but it can make a huge difference to your click-through rate.
How do I implement it?
Thankfully, Google has some really helpful tools to make adding schema markup to your website as easy as possible. Their Schema Markup Helper allows you to enter the URL of the page you want to add markup to, and then highlight and assign data as you go. Once you’re done, you just need to export the HTML and add it to your page header. The schema.org website also has a host of information to help you, with documentation and regular updates to make sure it’s working correctly.
Once you’ve added schema markup to your website, it’s important to run it through the structured data testing tool from Google to make sure that the search engine can actually read it. This should highlight any errors, in addition to letting you know how to fix them. If everything has been formatted correctly, just sit back and keep an eye on your results to see the changes!
Important things to remember:
- Structured data / Schema markup is NOT a ranking signal, and will not help you move higher in the SERPs. It can ensure that you are connected with relevant searchers, and potentially up your click-through rate, but it isn’t going to catapult you to page one.
- Structured data does NOT mean that you will get a rich snippet. This is a widely held conception, but it just isn’t true. Using structured data does make you eligible for a rich snippet, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee one.
- Some platforms automatically add some structured data, but to get the most out of it, you will need to add it yourself, or ask your developer.
Hopefully you now have an understanding of what structured data and schema markup are, and how they can impact your SEO strategy. The best way to get started is to use the tools above that Google recommends, as they make it much more simple to mark up your content in a way that the search engines can read. Using the correct kind of schema markup and highlighting information that your audience would be interested in can provide a serious boost to your SEO strategy, so it isn’t something that should be ignored.
Looking to build a complete SEO strategy for success? Take a look at our ultimate guide to SEO to find out what you need to know to start driving organic traffic.